I think working on a draft of field herping ethics is a great idea, Chad. Mind you, I don’t know how likely this fractious group is to actually come up with any kind of guidelines that most everyone would be willing to get behind, but it seems to me that just making the effort could do some real good.
I’ve been involved in the herp hobby in one way or another for a long time now, and there have certainly been plenty of changes both good and bad in that time, mostly stemming from the hobby’s growth. Here are the points I’d like to stress in this effort:
- I’d really like to see us as a group consciously take a much broader perspective. Of course I realize that herps are the principal common interest that draws us here, and I also recognize that efforts have already been made to at least provide for a broader perspective (witness the Birding, Fishing and Invertebrate Forums here – and kudos to Scott and anyone else who played a part in their creation). But while a clear division of topics is desirable for smooth forum function, I am often dismayed at how narrow many folks’ thought processes seem to be when tackling any given subject, particularly when the subject is or relates to conservation. Surely we all realize that not just herps and their habitats but all wildlife and wild lands are worth conserving, indeed need conserving? That herps are not the only nor even the only important creatures to keep in mind during our pursuits?
- I’d also really like to see us, with that broader perspective firmly in mind, develop rational priorities for guiding our own actions and evaluating the actions of others. We all have pet beliefs born of our own particular experiences, inclinations and emotions, sure, and maybe those pet beliefs are always going to get at least somewhat more than their due share of our efforts. That’s just being human. But as a group (and individually, too, I firmly believe) we should strive to apply reason to the process, and also to be open to the reason of others – mind you, I didn’t say merely the argument of others, but rather whatever real logic and/or evidence might lie behind the argument – even when it demotes our pet beliefs on the priority list or speaks against the way we’re defending them.
One case in point that’s always been with us: The deliberate or accidental sharing of information. People have widely differing views on how much information a successful field herper can or should share with others about his/her exploits, and if any information is indeed to be shared with anyone, exactly how it should be done, and with whom. About all that most everyone can agree upon is that at least some restraint on sharing is warranted in a public venue, and that there is at least some potential for harm to result from sharing. Otherwise opinions lie all over the map. This debate has been ongoing at least since Carl Kauffeld’s day, and shows no sign of being resolved anytime soon. I frankly doubt that it will ever be resolved.
Another case in point that I’ve only seen emerge fairly recently (in the overall scheme of things): The collection or in some cases now even the mildest of disturbance of animals. I suspect this debate stems directly from the growth of the hobby, from a belief that as there are more and more of us, it becomes more and more important that each of us do less and less harm – or preferably none whatsoever – in our pursuits. That makes a lot of sense, so far as it goes. Unfortunately, opinions lie all over the map, too, about what actually constitutes harm, and whether/how much a potential harm might be offset by an associated good. I believe that better education about how populations actually work could certainly help with this in many cases – if the folks involved are receptive to education, that is – but it seems pretty clear that in many others it will have no effect whatsoever. People feel the way they feel. Even more unfortunately, some people have become downright militant in their stance, viciously attacking others who espouse differing views.
Ok, so we’re a diverse group with accordingly diverse perspectives. It makes sense that we should each do as seems best to us, and even that we should try to persuade others to adopt our own view. But the aforementioned broader perspective and a set of reasoned priorities arising from that perspective give us a way forward in any event, if we’re willing to adopt them. We might disagree on whether a herp hunting spot should be shared or an animal be collected, but compared to all of the other things that we could and should be devoting effort to on behalf of wildlife and wild lands conservation, and considering how capable we are as a united group as opposed to divided factions in addressing those things, such arguments seem awfully small to me. Vastly overblown petty squabbles, really.
- Finally, I’d really like to see us make a conscious goal of uniting our community. The myriad problems that wildlife and wild lands face are huge, and with the rare exception of stellar individuals who can by themselves make a big difference (think Kauffeld, Rachel Carson, etc.), we truly need each other to make a difference of any real substance at all. We should each of us individually and all of us as a group always be looking for ways to bring people in and then bring them along. Sadly, instead it seems that many of us are constantly seeking ways to exclude others from our circle of friends, our clique, our club, our forum. Maybe it’s always been so, but to me that particular problem seems to be worsening rather than improving. I honestly don’t know whether we can reverse it, but I think I have a pretty good idea of what will happen in the future if we don’t, and it’s not good.
Anyway, those are my general points. I’d be thrilled to work with whomever on a mission statement and set of priorities, I’d be happy to work on a codified set of ethical guidelines, and I’d be fine with simply helping others do so if that is folks’ wish. I have less and less tolerance for the aforementioned petty squabbles and the people who start them or keep them going, though. (And it’s my firm belief that the incessant squabbling is what has driven some people away from this forum, by the way, not whatever particular side of a given squabble one might be on.) I reckon it just depends on what folks here really want to do. Try to hope for the best even when there’s reason to expect the worst, I say…
To answer the specific questions you raised, Chad…
chad ks wrote:
Information on how and when to find cottonmouths in southern Illinois is obviously low hanging fruit, but information on how and when to find zonata has the potential to be damaging. Or does it?
I think both have the potential to be damaging. But I also think the potential amount of damage is very modest, and downright miniscule in comparison to other issues we could/should be addressing instead. I further think that sharing information or at least not worrying so much about sharing information offers potential good as well as potential harm, and in many cases probably more of the former than the latter.
chad ks wrote:
Would you support legislation that protects a species based on insufficient or no data?...
It depends on what kind of protection we’re talking about. More specifically, I think that stronger protections should require stronger justification, and weaker protections less justification.
chad ks wrote:
Would you support legislation that permits collection of a species without sufficient data to suggest that the collection is sustainable (this is the default position as it appears to me)?
The best way to determine and then positively affect the status of a resource is to manage it, and the most effective way to begin managing a resource not known to be at any particular risk is to allow a controlled harvest of it, so yes. Licensing and associated fees are part of a controlled harvest, though. For the record, I'm not a fan of uncontrolled harvests of any kind.
chad ks wrote:
Do you believe that posting stories and accounts of field trips is harmful to habitat and to populations because it promotes/advertises a pursuit that has the potential to become very popular (think fishing)?
I believe it’s generally not harmful in the slightest, but is instead beneficial. I recognize that there are times when it can be harmful, but as I mentioned, applying a broader perspective and reasoned priorities it is at worst a very modest harm. The situation would be extremely unusual – and already extremely precarious for reasons other than herp hunting – where more than a very modest harm could occur. Herpers simply don’t have anything like fishing’s huge drifting gill nets to use in their pursuits; the two aren’t directly comparable.
chad ks wrote:
Do you believe that posting stories and accounts of field trips is beneficial to the future of field herping because we as a community promote an ethical standard for herping (= "they're going to do it anyway, we may as well be there to show them how to do it correctly")?
I do, but more importantly in my mind, I believe we should be encouraging the growth and solidarity of the community, and sharing our experiences is a great way to do that. Yeah, I know that on a personal (read “selfish”) level it sucks to run into other herpers or see evidence of their activities at what we’ve come to think of as our spots, but it seems to me that such individual desires should rank quite low on any reasoned set of priorities. It’s not that selfish desires don’t matter at all, mind you, but they just shouldn’t matter all that much.
Unable to help being long-winded, but hoping to also be useful,