The Poison Paradigm

In a broadly defined sense a paradigm is : a philosophical or theoretical framework of any kind. I’ve been contemplating John J. Ewel’s definition of “restoration” all week trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance in my head regarding the use of poison to wage a “war on weeds”. We know how the “war on drugs” and the “war on poverty” turned out. Can we poison our way out of this invasive species mess? Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

My metaphor only works if you view invasive species as a kind of environmental poison. The work of The Creator was “altered”, by the White European invasive species, and now we confront the reality. Do we simply let nature run its course and allow a new equilibrium amongst the invasive and native plants to emerge? Or, do we intervene, as if in some kind of archaic revival, and try to “restore” an ideal?

Any gardener worth his/her salt has walked and knows every square foot of their vegetative domain and I aim to garden the Sand Prairie. I intervened at the square foot level the past two days deciding with my brush cutter emphatically that, NO, I won’t let nature run its course; these weeds must be stopped! My work at The Springs is like a castle made of sand so long as people believe we can address the invasive species issue with poison and assume that others, i.e. the government, or some crazed Don Quixote volunteer, is handling it. Nope, unless we have a raising of consciousness, and people prioritize the land and natural law over profits and war, we’ll be poisoning invasive plants forever.

I had the pleasure of meeting two consciousness raising educators and their group of 18 aspiring photographers at The Springs this past Tuesday morning. Listen to John Hallagan, 4rth grade teacher at Magee Elementary School and Pete “Laser” Nielsen, Biology teacher at Kettle Moraine High School, describe their awareness altering adventure.

I invite John and his students to post their Scuppernong Springs slide show right here, and I sincerely hope that I can persuade Pete to allow me to post his pictures of the Scuppernong Springs Hotel here as well.

My agenda on both Tuesday and Wednesday, July 23-24 was the same i.e., spray buckthorn and other invasive plants along the cut-off trail in the morning, and then brush cut weeds on the sand prairie.

Good Morning Springs!




I thoroughly enjoyed the day!


Check out this Blandings turtle catching some dinner below the marl pit bridge.

The north breezes began to wain as evening fell and the skeeters were thick around my bug net as I watched the sun go down at Ottawa Lake.



Wednesday was almost a carbon copy of Tuesday and I managed to cover almost the entire sand prairie whacking weeds as well as cherry, oak, hickory, buckthorn, honeysuckle and sumac brush. This is not what Ewel would call a “sustainable” restoration but, nevertheless, I do aspire to the sand prairie ideal.


I’m sorry to say that I hit and killed my first deer on the way home Wednesday night. I swear to god, I remarked to myself proudly, as I was getting in my truck to drive home, that I had never hit a deer!


See you at The Springs!

14 thoughts on “The Poison Paradigm

  1. Paul, I believe the natives had the right idea centuries ago. Burn the prairie to control it. The more we try to artificially control with poison, the more work we get into or the more we poison the land. Work harder or work smarter.. No offense to your intensity and desire to garden, just think there is a natural way to manage the land but that takes time.

    • Some of these weeds can tolerate fire pretty well. The spotted knapweed flourished after the fire this spring. Likewise, a lot of buckthorn was only top-killed by the fire and it is coming back like gang busters; not to mention the explosion of buckthorn seedlings in the areas that we cut. There is a natural way to handle these invasive species by manually digging them out but there aren’t many volunteers for this type of work and the DNR, at current funding levels, cannot afford to pay the army of people it would require — hence the need for consciousness raising so we can stop using poison. Maybe some creative persons will invent new ways to attack these weeds without using poison or digging them out. We need some new ideas; a new approach to the invasive species problem (see Einstein quote above.)

    • Thanks Rich! No, didn’t think of that; I’m vegetarian. I located the deer to make sure it was dead, and not suffering in agony, and I pulled it out of the brush to the roadside. I did call the Waukesha Sheriffs and wait for them to arrive to file a report , and insure that the deer would be picked up and not left to rot. It was on the east side of Hwy 67 about 150 yards south of the intersection with C and CI, right in your backyard.

  2. Paul and Rich. Thanks for all your work and efforts in Southern Kettle Moraine. I don’t know if either of you have had the chance to read “1491” or “1493” by Charles Mann. I believe these books to be very well written and researched and changes conventional thinking about the Columbian exchange started in 1492. The changes in biota go below the soil since earthworms were not in the Upper Midwest and New England being killed off by the ice age. The invading night crawlers and red worms change soil nutrient budgets and recycling of rotting plant materials and even microscopic worm gut biota so that complete restoration is, in my mind, not realistic. We can, however, do some control and slow the assimilation preferably without toxins but by restoring burning, etc. Rich, you hit it on the head, it is a slow process in all directions and trying to force it can cause as much disruption as the initial invasion. Unfortunately there is no way to completely remove all invasives. Some of them would have occurred anyway. Realistically the habitats in 1491 were ALWAYS in a state of transition anyway so do you pick a year or a decade or a century and say this is what we shoot for ? I encourage you both to read these books and thanks again for all your time and efforts that have been sorely needed and neglected for years. These are difficult subjects to discuss and grapple with which is why it has been allowed to proceed for so long completely un-checked. The global and local climate changes currently underway and extremes of precipitation and temperatures that we have been experiencing the last number of years should have shown us that change is always and will always be with us.

  3. Just a minor quibble. The War on Poverty gets a lot of bad press. But actually the social programs instituted were a success in reducing the poverty rate. Certainly it led to the Reagan backlash, but it actually was successful in what it set out to do. Like any govt effort, of course, there were wastages and failures. But I cringe a little when I see clichéd right wing talking points uncritically repeated. … this short message was brought to by the Institute for Liberal Studies, in partnership with the Church of Instant Gratification.

    • The parallel is that The War on Poverty ( was really just a battle (to extend the “war” metaphor) in an attempt to address a systemic problem, not a solution. As the link explains, interest waned and now it is indisputable that the gap between the haves and the have nots has increased. So in the same way that we cannot simply rely on governments to solve the problem of economic disparity, we cannot rely on the DNR and the use of poisons to solve the invasive species problems. Both issues require a raised level of consciousness in the human species to realize a solution.

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