Plant Importation and Lacey Act Provisions (Hannon)

Sun, 12 Oct 2008 09:50:49 PDT
I agree in the main with what you say here. One theme of yours that I think
is particularly important to emphasize, especially to beginning collectors,
is that successful and enduring collecting ethics (both garden collecting
and wild collecting) are self-generated and not the result of any legal
strictures. If we fail to develop our own independent good judgment in these
things, from the literature and from one another, then we end up inviting a
government framework that is exasperating precisely because it cannot
possibly perform the job it sets out to do. A lack of funding, training, and
field knowledge may be lesser impediments for dedicated private parties than
for bureaucracies constrained by administrative standards.

"One can feel pretty confident that the views of PBS members were not high
on the list of priorities of the signatories to the Convention on Biological

Even if our views could be distilled for such a meeting, the CBD makes no
provision for regulations that would affect our import-export concerns.
These redound to individual countries, which as we know are often
ill-prepared or unprepared to issue required paperwork. This makes the
corruption of the export process more likely.

On a practical level many countries may come to realize that the more
onerous and generalized precepts of CBD cannot be implemented. Anything that
can be propagated and moved from place to place as propagules will always be
difficult to control, and there is recognition of this fact by various
agencies. There are signs things are changing for the better in some
countries. After all, it looks like priorities are badly sorted when
sounding the alarm over a few packets of seeds while fantastically diverse
forests are set alight every day.

Dylan Hannon

On Sun, Oct 12, 2008 at 3:04 AM, Tom Mitchell <>wrote:

> Collecting plant material in the wild and trading it internationally
> is a vexed issue from both legal and ethical perspectives. I find it
> helpful to separate the two perspectives - what ought we do and what
> the law says we must do - when trying to figure out my own position.
> A third perspective - the pragmatic question what happens in the real
> world - further muddies the waters.
> Of course, I have a vested interest - I collect seeds in the wild and
> would like to be able to exchange them with friends and sell them to
> customers internationally, including in the USA, ideally without
> breaking the law. This makes it terribly hard to remain objective.
> There are good arguments on both sides of the opinion divide and one
> must resist cherry-picking those that suit.
> Ethically, the only serious objections to unregulated wild collecting
> that I have encountered are: (a) the danger of bringing about
> extinction of wild populations through over-collecting; (b) the risk
> of introducing invasive species and (c) the risk of inadvertently
> introducing diseases. There isn't space to go into the reasons but,
> personally, I reject as totally specious arguments that genetic
> material 'belongs' to the temporary geopolitical entity in which it
> happens to be located at the moment it is collected.
> These are all arguments for intelligent regulation, not arguments
> against the trading of plants. The difficulty with regulation is that
> the individuals appointed to do the regulating are usually inadequate
> to the task. In many developing countries no authority exists that is
> adequately resourced to regulate plant exports or, if it does, its
> officers are typically corrupt. If we were to insist that only
> exporters with a valid permit were allowed to export plants, what
> we'd in fact end up with is exporters capable of paying the largest
> bribes.
> At the import end, things are often no better. In Australia, for
> example, it is legal to import seeds of Helleborus x hybridus but
> illegal to import seeds of Helleborus orientalis. Go figure. The
> point though, is that there ain't a customs officer on earth who
> could tell the difference between the two. So, again, if we insist
> that all plant material is inspected and 'passed', quantities of
> plant material that isn't what it claims to be will enter the
> importing countries.
> Ironically, those few people competent to regulate plant exports and
> imports with respect to the identity and conservation status of the
> plants in question are often the collectors themselves.
> Which brings me to the legal perspective. Laws governing
> international trade are constructed by bureaucrats to be the least
> bad compromise among the wishes of powerful vested interests in the
> treating countries. One can feel pretty confident that the views of
> PBS members were not high on the list of priorities of the
> signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
> My attitude to these laws, therefore, is that they should be treated
> with a healthy degree of contempt. Anyone who finds this attitude
> shocking might ask him or herself whether he has ever broken the
> speed limit (illegally endangering life), taken a pinch of seed from
> someone else's garden (theft), or failed to declare income on a tax
> return (tax evasion). Of course, we should aspire to influence our
> legislators to make better laws, but I'm not holding my breath.
> In the end, what happens in the real world is a messy compromise.
> Most members of the PBS list want to grow plants that are native to
> other plants of the world. Those that want to grow only native plants
> should try living in a country that was under half a mile of ice a
> few thousand years ago.
> Personally I advocate self-regulation. Gardeners, like hunters, make
> good conservationists. We want the habitats where our plants
> originated to be conserved. An anecdote illustrates my point. In May
> this year, I collected a small piece of Actaea spicata rhizome from a
> large colony growing by a roadside in Slovenia. I went back to the
> site last week in the hope of collecting seed. The place is now a car
> park. I was rather upset by this and not because I'd missed out on
> the seed I'd hoped to collect. The only surviving plant of this
> colony in the world is now in my garden, from whence, properly
> labeled and vegetatively propagated, it could eventually be re-
> introduced to the wild.
> The flora of the Balkans is threatened by post-war reconstruction and
> by development as more countries accede to the European Union. These
> developments are warmly welcomed by most local people. The flora is
> not in the least threatened by my collecting activities, nor by the
> few other enthusiasts who bumble around the region in search of
> interesting plants.

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