Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's not what they don't know that's dangerous...'s what they know for sure that just ain't so.

That sentiment has been attributed to Ronald Reagan, Herbert Hoover, Mark Twain and a bunch of others. For the record, I don't know who said it first.

But I was reminded of it while reading a thread on the DELMARVA HERPS list. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources came up with a proposal to experimentally reintroduce northern pine snakes to the Pocomoke State Forest in Worcester County in Maryland. After soliciting comments from the public, a panel of three experts recommended against the idea, saying there was too little evidence that the snake was a recent part of the ecosystem in that area.

There have been disgusted, dissident voices on the herps list. The claim is that fauna occur in some areas where their presence is kept "hush-hush" (possibly for landowners to avoid dealing with the endangered species act?). The same writer claimed that New Jersey chorus frogs occur in Delaware but are ignored in frog counts.

Another writer claimed to have found mating northern red-spotted newts in vernal pools in early fall in south-central Pennsylvania. He reported this to a local professor, who claimed they were actually congregating due to "a change in barometric pressure," and weren't really mating. The writer sourly observed, "I still marvel at his ability to judge this from the comfort of his office while on the telephone with me."

Another and more troubling accusation was this:

"Most remarkable is the credentialed recognition of naturalists by the government regulators (many of whom are nothing but office bureaucrats). Many field workers are government-approved consultants who pay for a professional permit in addition to a regular license in order to qualify for site surveys. Others are involved with research projects associated with the institutions where they are professors and hence subject to academic as well as political pressures. The product of all this is a "good-old boy" (or sisterhood) system of conformity and subordination. If you don't abide with the policies and philosophies of the authorities, you don't land lucrative contracts to survey for endangered or threatened species on sites scheduled for development. If your research isn't consistent with the dogmatic doctrines of the state, you don't publish." [Spelling and punctuation corrected in this quoted passage]

Is this true? I know a couple of local naturalists who do contract work, and the ones I know are scrupulously honest. Furthermore, given the figures I've heard quoted, the contracts are anything but "lucrative."

But I would like to know if others regard the situation adduced above as a serious problem. Whatever one may think of legislation like endangered species laws, it is important to have a true picture of the presence or absence of threatened species in a given area.

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