Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pythons for Musk Rats

By Ivy

Today we visited Kinderdijk, a beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing the largest collection of working old school windmills left. Prior to our tour we were able to listen to two excellent lectures, one from the Waterboard of Rivierenland and another with 35 years of experience in Dutch water management.

Similar themes as our previous lectures wove through each discussion: the basic framework of water management, enforcement, and implementation from a local, national, and international level, parallels between Dutch floods and Hurricane Katrina, and more or less the 'fight against nature' that the Dutch battle each day.

Each lecturer made a number of fascinating points, but I'd like to talk about just two: musk rats and deserts.

The first lecture discussed the main problems facing the Dutch in their fight to keep their feet dry: land subsidence, peat oxidation, rising sea level, increased water flow from the rivers. But then he raised a new issue: musk rats. Apparently these cuddly mammals have infiltrated from the east, making fine homes in little burrows built into the sides of riverbanks... out east this is ok... but in The Netherlands, making holes in the river banks is not ok. It is making a hole in the dike. Due to this inappropriate behavior, the Dutch have taken to exterminating roughly 20,000 rats each year. I found this an interesting parallel in two ways: not only are they fighting nature physically, but also biologically. Which begs the question: How much "nature" can you really control? Similar invasive problems occur in countless other regions, with Florida as no exception. Pythons released in the Everglades are wreaking havoc on the natural ecosystem balance, with efforts begun to eradicate the overgrown pets from the area. Why not export them to The Netherlands to eat the musk rats? We'd probably also have to export some warm weather for the python to survive, which would probably also do the country some good.....

The second lecture, after giving one of the best explanations of the need and means to pump water from the lowlands to the sea, had a funny but poignant alternative. He mentioned that it would probably be cheaper for all of the Dutch to get together, forget about maintaining the dikes, buy an equivalent sized piece of land in the US desert and start over. Economically, it would probably be cheaper. It was a silly idea, but I think the point was showing how much of the resources of the country go to fighting against the forces of nature. Just something to think about. Personally, I wouldn't mind at all if the Dutch all moved into the U.S..... as long as they bring their cheese and wit...

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