data release

Michael.Chamberland 23274MJC at MSU.EDU
Wed Dec 4 12:18:00 CST 1996

> From:         Anita Cholewa <anita at MOZART.CBS.UMN.EDU>
> The recent comments regarding dissemination of data, particularly
> with respect to rare plants, touches on an issue with which I have
> been grappling for a long time.  It is true that there are some
> people who have no scrupples and are the type who prefer that they
> have something rare/unusual and not others.  However, how do we
> decide who is such a person?  I'm hearing in this discussion and
> in past discussions with others, that anyone who is not a "researcher"
> should not get the details.  Others have said that gardeners should
> not get the info.  This kind of categorization smacks of elitism
> and says that everyone (except researchers) is guilty unless proven
> otherwise.  I know a lot of gardener types who are extremely
> ethical and thus are unfairly painted by such attitudes.  On the

There is another category to consider; the neophytes who have recently
aquired an interest in plants (especially orchids, cacti, carnivorous
plants, or wild edible plants).  These people often know little or nothing
about plant biology, and are often uniformed about plant conservation.
Rare plant locality data may be used to find and collect plants in
ignorance of their conservation status.  It is especially troubling if
exact rare plant localities are linked to pretty pictures of the plants on
a hobbyist web page.  Collection is not limited to hardened poachers.

Another danger; over-visitation of rare plant habitat may impact the
habitat through clearing of paths, compaction of the soil, and trampling
of plants, even if no collecting occurs.

> other hand I know some researchers who are not ethical at all and
> yet would be assumed (under this line of thinking) to be of good
> botanical morals.  A related issue with such thinking is who is
> to decide who should be given access to the data.  Are the curators
> of collections the decision makeres?  Government agency personnel?
> Heritage Program people?  I know of one instance where a researcher
> was denied collecting permits because the permit granting agency
> didn't think the researcher had a good enough reason for wanting

At MSC we have a specimen of Cypripedium arietinum with the locality data:
"Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near Otter Lake; exact location
kept confidential under the recommendation of the National Park Service".
I see this as a troubling development.  Herbarium specimens voucher plant
locality data.  Locality data filed away at the Park service (without a
specimen) is not connected to the voucher.  Therefore I think it is imperative
the precise collection locality be stated on the herbarium label.  This
however requires conservation agencies to entrust this data with herbaria.
Herbaria need sound policies of data disclosure which will satisfy the
conservation agenda of agencies depositing specimens.

> the permit.  Also there's the issue of the Freedom of Information
> Act--if pressed the data would have to be given out.  We live in a
> free society (at least for now) but that means that the bad comes
> with the good; we can't make people do the right thing.  Bottom line
> is this problem is not an easy one to solve.

How much "information" would be made "free" through this act?  I sure hope
some info (ie. medical records) is not.

Michael Chamberland

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