Eradication by Mastication

Assistant cooks pull apart turkey meat at the Invasive Species Cook-Off and Dinner. In the foreground is Matt Bennett’s feral pig sausage.

At the Invasive Species Cook-Off and Dinner at Chintiminti Farm, in Philomath, Oregon, I did my part in destroying alien invaders yesterday. While chefs Jason Biga, Rick Browne, and Hamid Serdani competed to cook the winning meal of wild pig, dandelion greens, and blackberries for three judges, Matt Bennett, of Sybaris Bistro, Albany’s premier restaurant, prepared dinner for the rest of us, a crowd of about two hundred. Matt’s invader-rich creations included crawdad-stuffed piquillo peppers, wild boar sausages, potato and frog leg salad, pulled turkey, dandelion spanakopita, Japanese knotweed custard, and Himalayan blackberry crumble.

I hadn’t known that crawdads were exotic. The invaders, I learned, are specifically rusty crayfish, an Eastern species that eats fish eggs and displaces the native signal crayfish (which, by the way, is an invasive species in Europe and Japan). Oregon schools have sent for rusty crawdads for science lessons. Presumably some kid or teacher couldn’t bear to let the mudbugs die at the end of the day.

I knew turkeys weren’t native, of course. Farmers, gardeners, and even small-town residents all over western Oregon complain about these invaders from the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest. Just this evening, on Sally’s farm on the way to our book group meeting, I drove through a flock of fifteen, who will probably eat up all of Sally’s grapes tonight. We have our own state government to thank for this particular plague. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), which imported the turkeys to provide “recreational opportunities”—opportunities, that is, to kill— boasts that “turkey numbers and distribution as well as turkey hunting opportunities should continue to expand through the next decade,” because the turkeys reproduce quicker than people can shoot them. This is not good news, ODFW! Lessening restrictions on hunting might help. Matt Bennett put quote marks around the word wild on the label for his pulled turkey dish, because he couldn’t legally provide us with true wild turkey meat.

Countering the ODFW is another state agency of sorts, the Oregon Invasive Species Council, which through grants and volunteer labor combats such problems as feral pigs, transported firewood and the bugs that travel with it, and zebra mussels, tiny mollusks that stick to the hulls of boats, cut waders’ feet, and clog up water treatment plants. Many of the worst invaders, though, are flora, not fauna. If you keep a garden in the Pacific Northwest, you will want a copy of the Council’s GardenSmart Oregon: A Guide to Non-Invasive Plants.

Co-sponsoring the dinner along with the Invasive Species Council was the Institute for Applied Ecology, a nonprofit organization based in Corvallis that promotes habitat restoration, teaches children and adults about ecology, and works to make native plants more available and affordable. The dinner and the auction that followed will provide funds to support the Institute’s work.

If you’d like to contribute to the campaign against invasive species, consider registering for next year’s Invasive Species Cook-Off and Dinner, or simply arm yourself with a hoe or a shovel or the teeth in your mouth, and go fight the invaders in your own backyard. Some of them can be very tasty.