Preservationism gone mad (was: rare plants - Nature article )

Tom Mitchell
Tue, 22 Feb 2011 12:25:07 PST
I couldn't agree more with the points that Aaron and Max have made.

Nature is a very high impact journal and it uses its position to stir  
up controversy. Fair enough, but it would be a shame if it were  
allowed to get away with publishing an article distinguishable from  
gibberish only after several passes through Google's Chinese-English  
translation service. It could do no harm, surely, to write to the  
editor of Nature on this point.

In addition to the flaws that Aaron and Max have pointed out, there  
are some disturbing passages in the article by Shirey and Lamberti.

"The FWS and other government agencies face an enormous challenge in  
trying to manage biodiversity loss in the face of climate change with  
inadequate resources. Individuals and citizen groups should not take  
the lead on this because of the risks associated with introducing any  
species. Instead, the FWS should carry out controlled pilot studies  
first, possibly using the resources of volunteers."

In other words, don't worry folks, the Feds have it all under  
control. You guys just sit back and let us experts sort this one out.  
Are they insane? The authors are seriously suggesting that the people  
who care most about the long term survival of plant species diversity  
should just take a back seat and wait for government agencies to deal  
with it.  When you wait for the Federal government to look after the  
environment you end up with Illinois.

Or how about this one?

"The agency could also restrict the ability of consumers to buy  
hybrids bred from endangered species. Currently, these are not  
formally regulated — allowing breeders to cultivate the unique  
characteristics of rare plants while evading endangered-species laws."

Excellent idea! Let's criminalise anyone attempting to propagate and  
distribute rare plant species, taking advantage of the fact that  
there is a market for interesting variants of these species. These so- 
called nurserymen are obviously evil. Good one, guys.

Finally, my favourite.

"About half the endangered plants available to buyers in the United  
States are sold in states outside their native range. Some are even  
sold overseas."

Oooh, surely not overseas? Isn't that where Osama Bin Laden comes  
from? I mean absolutely no disrespect to the USA or to my many  
American friends when I point out that ex-situ conservation of plants  
in the botanical gardens of Europe has been going on since before the  
USA existed.

The cretins who wrote this article really need to think about what  
they want to achieve. Are they trying to preserve ever tinier  
populations of plants in their 'native' ranges (what do they mean by  
that anyway - native now, native before man, native since the last  
glaciation?) or would they like rare and endangered species to  
survive? If the former, Nature should be ashamed of publishing the  
article; if the latter, they should realise that gardeners,  
nurserymen and passionate plantspeople are allies not enemies.


Message: 6
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2011 07:19:16 -0800 (PST)
From: aaron floden <>
To: Pacific Bulb Society <>
Subject: Re: [pbs] rare plants - Nature article
Message-ID: <>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=utf-8

? ? ? ? ? ? I agree Max, I don?t
see how this article was seen as fit for publication as it loosely links
together completely different issues merely by mention ? Melaleuca  
tied to the
30 billion mentioned as damage caused by non-native plants on the  
of non-native plants (crops). They don't seem to mention the  
cultivation of sugarcane in the Everglades which damaged that  
ecologically sensitive area far more than Melaluca. Nevermind the  
amount of native plants and habitat destroyed by CRP programs, grain  
cultivation, soy, etc. But, since it was featured in Nature and
subsequently on NPR I bet it won?t be long before there is a new gov.  
set up for exactly what these two were writing about.

??????????? First they
claim that 10% of the 753 federally listed plants are available for  
sale for in-state
purchase, then go on to say that most of these sales are illegal, as  
more than
50 sellers offering the plants for interstate
sales only 4 had the proper license. Seems there is disconnect  
between the two
as in-state and interstate are completely different issues as the  
authors later note. The authors then complain that half
of the endangered plants are available for sale outside their native  
state, or,
almighty benevolent government forbid, overseas?. Example:  
Asteropyrum asterias
native to a small area of Mexico
and Texas can
be bought as cultivars in at least 6 states and several countries!  
They also
say they discovered that Brighamia was available for only 29.95  
online yet is
known from only 10 wild plants. And, Echinacea tennessensis is now so  
available that it might be removed from the federal list! They warn  
that a
recent hybrid between it and E. purpurea might infiltrate it genes.  
E. tennessensis occurs with two other Echinacea species in its native  
Echinacea taxa are nearly as promiscuous as Aquilegia and  
phylogenetic analyses
have suggested that many taxa are merely ecoptypes. It was offered as  
a hybrid
in the nursery trade to circumvent the stupid law that limited its  
and nearly doomed it to extinction.
??????????? I guess the number one issue is that the nursery trade  
and individuals who propagate plants have been far more effective at  
increasing the quantity of a rare taxon and making it available in  
cultivation than the government has in its 40 year existence of the  
federal program. The argument could also be made that the government  
created many rare taxa; the bald eagle, American barberry, the wolves  
out west, etc......

??????????? To combat potential hybridization of
hybrids with endangered taxa they suggest that the sale of hybrids  
with an
endangered species as a parent be banned.


--- On Tue, 2/22/11, Max Withers <> wrote:

From: Max Withers <>
Subject: Re: [pbs] Changing seasons + rare plants
Date: Tuesday, February 22, 2011, 1:10 PM

On another topic, I wanted to note a somewhat confusing article in  
the LA
Times about a call for enhanced regulation of the trade in rare plants.
Excuse me if this was discussed here before, but I just noticed it:… 

The equally confusing Nature article referred to is here (for  

The argument about Brighamia insignis is nonsensical -- if ex-situ
conservation is the only chance of a species's survival, shouldn't  
that be
encouraged? I'll avoid further pontification, but I did think it  
that Nature saw fit to publish this.

Max Withers
Oakland CA


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