Richard F. Hoyer wrote:John and others:
By initiating this thread, my purpose was to inform with the prospect that some individuals would rethink their positions.
But the reality is that a change in thinking needs to occur within wildlife agency leadership. Such leadership would need to acknowledge that the current policy of placing species in a protected, hand-off status has absolutely no conservation value and instead, conserving and protecting habitat is imperative if species are to be truly protected.
To understand this reality, one only has to examine what has transpired since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed in the early 1900s. The MBTA placed non-game birds into a no-take, 'protected' status. Of course, there never was demand for most species such as sparrows, wrens, swifts, vireos, swallows, warblers and the like which never have been
'harvested' either for food, feathers, or for pets.
Yet a fair number of such species have ended up being federally and / or state listed in some category of concern including threatened or endangered not because they were harvested but because their habitat has been degraded and / or converted to other human use. It thus should be clear that the original placing of such species in a 'protected', no-take status did not protect such listed species at all.
To further understand that the blanket no-take, protection policy is of no value, we only have to examine what has transpired with the exceptions inherent in the MBTA. That is, many 'game' species were exempted. Millions of such game birds have been harvested for many decades yet have maintained sustainable populations.
It seems reasonable that some wildlife officials understand the above. But because bureaucratic policies tend to have there own inertia and the current practices are so widespread and accepted as being the norm, change is not likely until some individual with stature and influence takes positive steps that could set a precedence.
Richard F. Hoyer
There was an article in National Geographic not long ago about the plight of migratory birds in Europe, which face a gauntlet of nets, sticks coated with lime, shotguns, and other man-made hazards between their breeding grounds and their wintering grounds in Africa. In Europe, their birds are dealing not only with habitat loss but with significant hunting pressure which may actually drive some species extinct within a matter of decades or less. Now, if we lifted protection for non-game birds, we wouldn't necessarily have thousands of people out trapping and shooting sparrows and vireos, but there's nothing to say that some people wouldn't go out and try to create markets for them. People do eat (and wear) songbirds. We already know, from what happened to our wading birds during the millinery era, that a big enough market can destroy bird populations. So what would the other options be besides blanket protection? Trying to determine bag limits and seasons for each of the 900 or so non-game species in the country? That's a monumental waste of resources.
Bird scientists and enthusiasts worked really hard around the turn of the last century to change the way our culture interacts with birds. Back then, we shot anything we could sell or eat, and anything that we thought was a pest (raptors in particular). Now, our non-game species are almost universally left alone, and there are even quite a few hunters who are also birdwatchers. You're not really going to find any birders who think this is a bad thing. That's one of the big differences between the herping and birding communities. Birders have their little squabbles over taxonomy, playing tapes and sharing owl roosts, but there's no rift over collecting. We all agree that the hands-off legislation is a good thing, because whether or not it is helping bird populations at this moment, it may be able to prevent future calamities like those that have happened here not too long ago and are already happening elsewhere in the world, and it also goes hand-in-hand with maintaining the popular view of birds as an important and respected part of the environment that we have worked so hard to cultivate. We are then free to focus on the more pressing issues like habitat loss, pollution, global warming, etc. Despite what some posters here are suggesting, nobody's sitting around thinking the MBTA is protecting bird populations from being decimated. We're not idiots.
I don't think it's possible to apply all the lessons of bird conservation to herps, or vice versa. For one thing, birds are much harder to catch, keep, and breed than most herps. I can't really picture dozens of amateur bird breeders establishing a captive-bred population of Kirtland's Warblers or Bermuda Petrels. It's also much easier to enjoy birds hands-free than it is for many species of herps. Catching, collecting, and breeding should always be part of herping, for educational value alone. Birds are popular, and bird enthusiasts (both birders and hunters) are big players in driving the conservation movement. Herps are nowhere near that level right now. The popular perception of herps now is about where the popular perception of birds was 150 years ago, or more.
I think it's entirely possible to have some sort of general consensus that total hands-off, blanket protection of herps, right now, is a bad idea. That's a fairly reasonable argument to make. We all, at the very least, have to get our hands dirty to enjoy our hobby, and there are very few of us who don't handle or manipulate herps regularly. From there, we can argue over what species to protect, whether or not to have bag limits, what they should be, rules for breeding and selling, etc. I think that trying to make your broad argument that protection is a flawed concept in general detracts from your very good argument that states using blanket protection of herps as a conservation tool is a bad idea.