Publisher’s Message
Neither Good nor Bad – Just Different

An interesting drama, involving the tidal marshlands of the San Francisco estuaries, an invasive species of plant, and an indigenous bird, is occurring in California. The bird, the endangered California Ridgeway’s rail, lives among the Pacific coast’s fragile salt water marsh ecosystem. The marshes have decreased by 75 percent due to development since the 1960s, accompanying the huge population growth buildup of Silicon Valley.

When early Silicon Valley construction decimated the marshlands, an important habitat migration corridor for many rare birds, the Ridgeway’s rail became almost extinct. In recent decades, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, among others, have begun to reclaim some of the wetlands. The native marsh grasses, nearly eradicated by progress, was replanted with an East Coast Spartina marsh grass introduced to the area by USACE.

The East Coast Spartina took over most of the marshlands, pushing out indigenous plant species.
Several years ago, a non-profit environmental organization was hired to eradicate the invasive Spartina and regrow the native marsh grass, and basically return the wetlands to its original ecosystem.

The interesting part of this story came about when environmentalists and environmental scientists took opposing views on eradicating this new species of Spartina. What environmentalists were calling an invasive Spartina grass was successful in bringing back the California Ridgeway’s rail from extinction.

The original marsh grass was not lush enough to protect the Ridgeway’s rail from predators, but the new Spartina, much thicker and taller, allows the rail, which forages for its food during low tides and rarely flies, to once again flourish in the marshlands. This, in turn, has allowed other species to thrive as well.

Scientists suggest that what many call an invasive species is neither good nor bad, just different. Nature is continually changing and evolving, and a natural order tends to keep most systems in check. Scientists think that the environmentalists are wasting their time and efforts to eradicate something clearly benefiting the marsh environment.

Scientists claim that the attempt to restore the original systems that made up the marshlands is predicated on human fear of change and the need to maintain the status quo, not necessarily because of desire to support natural systems.

A reflection of this natural evolution and conflict is seen in modern day economic, political, and social systems. Before big-box stores like Walmart, Barnes and Noble, Home Depot, and Costco, there were small stores lining Main Streets across the United States.

When Home Depot was popping up in every state, it was considered an invasive species by local hardware store owners and even their patrons. People feared the end of small-town America. Many communities rallied against Walmarts moving into their area, none more so than Vermont, which was the last state in the union to host a Walmart.

Lately, Amazon is eating everyone’s lunch, putting out businesses that once dominated the retail landscape, such as Sears and JCPenney. It is important to note that Sears was once considered an invasive retail species by traditional nineteenth-century general stores.

The dynamic continues to change. The decline of malls due to big-box stores and online buying has regenerated downtowns. Where once Barnes and Noble, Borders and Amazon put small bookstores out of business, small bookstores and other niche retail shops are starting to pop up again. People want to shop in a brick-and-mortar store, and with stores offering goods, services, and experiences found only in the customer-service oriented small store.

The newest replication of this natural evolution and conflict is primarily between the gig economy and twentieth-century economy. A good example is the division between city Uber drivers and licensed taxi drivers. Before Uber came to town, a standard hack medallion in New York City cost almost a million dollars. A whole financial industry had sprung up to lend money to taxi drivers for the medallion; anyone who could obtain a medallion in New York City was a lucrative bet.

When the invasive Uber species moved into the New York City mix with artificially low prices, there was a substantial downturn in taxi riders and in medallion costs. Uber is artificially undercutting taxi companies to aggressively increase market share Uber is floating on a boatload of investment capital, Uber drivers don't need to purchase a hack’s license, and the company considers their drivers as independent contractors without benefits.

Uber is doing to taxi drivers what Walmart did to local stores, and Amazon is doing to Walmart. Just like the East Coast Spartina, new companies move into an ecosystem and force out the indigenous business species. Unfortunately, in each natural evolution, there are winners and losers.
Is it good or bad that Uber and Lyft decimate the taxi industry? Can the two species finally find a natural balance with each other? Will anyone care ten years from now as long as they are able to get a fast, safe, and reliable ride to their destination?

Here in Vermont we still have the general stores that Sears might have pushed out of business, except that they’ve evolved and/or fulfill a local need. We still have bookstores and hardware stores, we now have four Walmarts, and we welcome the tech and gig economies. We need to replace the loss of 20,000+ population over the last two decades with new blood and new business, and if we are like the marshlands, we will thrive.