Plant conservation Was: Rare plants & seed trade ethics

J.E. Shields
Tue, 24 Jun 2008 14:57:50 PDT
I always enjoy reading the discussions about conservation.  As Iain and 
others point out, it is a terribly complicated problem.  Reintroduction of 
rare plant species from cultivation into the wild is rarely successful, at 
least from the stories I have heard.

If anyone knows any exceptions, I'd certainly like to hear about them.

However, preserving wild habitat, 'in situ' conservation, is also 
complicated and expensive.  It is by far the most desirable approach -- but 
it is only going to succeed in rare, isolated cases.  The current high 
price of gasoline is being used as an excuse by many politicians (at least 
in the USA) for opening nature and ocean preserves to oil drilling.  This 
is staggeringly short-sighted of them (but they are after all 
politicians!)  But it shows which way the wind is blowing.

However we go about it, I am absolutely convinced that, in the long run, no 
wild plant and animal species (except rats, cockroaches, and dandelions) 
will survive without direct human intervention to oversee and manage their 
preservation.  I am sure it will take every conceivable approach we can 
think of to accomplish even a little bit of this.

There is also to be considered the fact that rare species are not 
successful species in evolutionary terms, and that humanity continues to 
drastically change the evolutionary equation while we discuss this.  Even 
if humanity were not aggressively attacking the remaining wild areas on 
this planet, nature would not preserve all of the genetic diversity we can 
still see around us.  Biology is change. We are not going to save them 
all!  An incredible, broad genome project might do some of that, to at 
least preserve their memory for as long as computer data files can be 

I do think we need an intelligent, carefully thought out, approach to 
preserving plant life.  the big organizations like The Nature Conservancy 
and the WWF succeed only by "saving" pandas, tigers, and elephants.  The 
general public of the world could scarcely care less about the fate of some 
odd small bulbs in Chile, even though it is of real importance to us in 
this and similar groups.

There is a huge amount of work to do in the area of botanical 
conservation.  It won't happen on the scale of the well-publicized (and 
apparently not succeeding, as far as I can see) campaigns to save tigers in 
Siberia and India, for instance.

Arguing over 'in situ' vs. 'ex situ' conservation is a 100% sure way to 
save almost nothing!  The fact that well-meaning but ignorant people can 
screw up proves nothing except that it is all going to be a very, very 
difficult job to do well.

Jim Shields

Jim Shields             USDA Zone 5             Shields Gardens, Ltd.
P.O. Box 92              WWW:
Westfield, Indiana 46074, USA
Tel. ++1-317-867-3344     or      toll-free 1-866-449-3344 in USA

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