Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Turning a Profit with Invasive Species

It’s the dog days of summer, traditionally the hottest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and that is certainly true this year.  Much of the country has been locked in hot, dry weather and the continuing drought is threatening crops throughout much of the Midwest.  In addition reports out last week indicate that economic recovery is occurring very, very slowly.

The term “Dog Days” dates back to Roman times when the hot weather was associated with Sirius the dog star.  It was also interpreted as a time of bad luck.  But I can’t see it that way.  Any season can herald new problems or new opportunities.  In fact, over the years I’ve come to view many ‘problems’ as ‘opportunities’ if viewed in the right context. So perhaps it’s not surprising that a Facebook post about dog treats from my friend Jim Rives got me thinking about opportunities to harvest invasive species to make money.

Marsh Dog is the very first pet food company to offer an all-natural Nutria-based dog biscuit

Benefits:

  • Nutria meat has more protein and less fat than chicken or turkey
  • Nutria contain no artificial hormones
  • Nutria thrive on a pure fresh marsh vegetation – lots and lots and lots of it.  This is why it is so good to harvest the nutria and prevent them from destroying coastal marshes.

Barrataria Bites is the name of Marsh Dog’s dog biscuit a product made of wild nutria and seven other ingredients provided by Louisiana farmers.

If this seems too good to be true, visit the March Dog website at: http://www.marshdog.com/MarshDog/Biscuits.html

The marketing strategy is brilliant.  I don’t even have a dog and I want to buy some! So if nutria can be harvested to create an artisanal food product for man’s best friend, what other business enterprises could be developed using invasive species?

Many invasive species can be used to make medicine and food.  Buckthorn,  purple loosestrife, garlic mustard and autumn olive create opportunities for cottage industries.  See Harvesting invasive species http://www.frontpagemilwaukee.com/site/Viewer.aspx?iid=23538&mname=Article

In fact invasive plants have a long history of providing food, medicine, clothing, and shelter to our ancestors.  For example cattail was apparently ground into cattail rhizome flour prior to the discovery and domestication of wheat and other commonly used grains. http://www.world-grain.com/News/News%20
Home/Commentary/2011/2/New%20research%20proves%20an%20even%20
earlier%20milling%20start.aspx?p=1&cck=1

Phragmites has been used  for food, smoking, tools,  implements, transportation and housing material.  For more information see: The Ethnobotany and Economics of Phragmites sp. (especially P. australis) http://site.www.umb.edu/conne/leslie/ethnopage.htm

Japanese Knotweed shoots taste like rhubarb but without the stringent taste.  In addition it and other invasive species can be . dried and ground into feed for livestock. Some invasive plants have more protein content than more traditional food sources.

Kudzu – Kudzu flowers, shoots, root, etc. are edible and have been used as human food as well as medicine. William Shurtleff (who wrote the Book of Tofu and introduced the west to that food) wrote a series of other books, including the Book of Kudzu. Kudzu fabric was used for fine kimonos in Japan. The roots are a good source of starch. The foliage makes a hay with nutritional properties similar to alfalfa. One of the major isoflavones in kudzu root (puerarin) has curious effects on the serotonin metabolism (especially the 5HT-2 receptors) and has been used for treating migraines, cluster headaches, and alcoholism.  These and other ideas for uses invasive species are discussed at:  Permies.com Invasive Species – business http://www.permies.com/t/10624/plants/Invasive-species-business

In a more recent experiment reed canary grass was harvested and converted into pellets for wood stoves “Production and Use of Reed Canary Grass as a Biomass Heating Fuel” http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dleg/LSSU_
Final_Report_299137_7.pdf

Of course one challenge will be to identify the location of invasive species.  Happily, there’s an app for that!  – Help Map Invasive Species Using New Smartphone Application http://dave-lucas.blogspot.com/2012/05/help-map-invasive-species-using-new.html

There are downsides.  For example if the goal is to support eradication of undesirable flora or fauna then it is necessary not to encourage growing  more of it and making the problem worse. Biofuel Crops Make Great Invasive Species http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/23589

This is challenging because there has to be enough of an invasive species to make a profit harvesting it: An Old Fashioned Strategy to Keep Asian Carp at Bay in the Great Lakes: Eat Them http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/science/july-dec12/carp_07-26.html

In the best of all worlds a long term strategy would include replacing the undesirable invasive species with a more desirable native species to continue to support the business enterprise.

The harvest and economic use of invasive species may not lend itself to large commercial enterprises.  But like Barrataria Bites, they might be perfect for an artisanal niche industry.  Americans are known for being innovative and creative entrepreneurs.  It is past  time to apply more of that energy to finding opportunities to make money by improving the environment.  It’s a win win.

For a related Strange Wetlands post about cooking with nutria meat, see: http://www.aswm.org/wordpress/strange-wetlands-when-wetlands-cant-bear-it-wear-it/

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