the need for more, not less, scientific collecting

Dennis Paulson dpaulson at MAIL.UPS.EDU
Wed Dec 4 15:57:31 CST 1996

Many of us wear at least two hats.  As environmentalists, we fight to
prevent land from being developed, i.e., to preserve it.  This has
interesting consequences for the other hat we wear, that of museum

Lately I've come to realize that there is a rather black-and-white
dichotomy when it comes to the fate of many parcels of land:  either
development or preservation.  Preservation very commonly involves
*complete* preservation, i.e., no more collecting of specimens, scientific
or otherwise.  I studied shorebirds for years and collected specimens to
learn about them.  I had only three good places to do this on the
Washington coast.  Subsequently one of them was destroyed by a storm that
ruined the estuary, and the other two are in preserves!  I think it's great
that the areas are preserved for posterity, but effectively I can't collect
these birds any more, one of several reasons I decided to switch my
research to dragonflies.

When I visited Texas a few years ago, I travelled through the eastern and
central parts of the state, enjoying the natural scene, but I soon learned
that the *only* public land anywhere over large areas was in the state park
system, with a few national wildlife refuges on the coast.  Everything else
was private, behind intimidating barbwire fences.  Almost nowhere we
stopped could we go beyond the barbwire line ("without getting shot," one
acquaintance told me), including places that just cried out to be explored.
The owner of a given parcel of land was rarely obvious, if we had wanted
to ask permission to enter, and people advised me very strongly against
trespassing.  It was clear in my mind that I would avoid applying for a job
as a museum curator in Texas (anyone in Texas have a response?).  Here in
the Northwest, at least we have huge national forests and state-run
wildlife areas, and so far they are as available to scientific collecting
as they are to other resource uses.

For all the talk about the need to collect in tropical rain forests, I
would say we're on the way to facing a crisis in many parts of the U.S.,
where collecting of specimens will become more and more restricted, as much
by land availability as by permitting problems.  As all we will have are
private lands, parks, and reserves ultimately, one of the goals of the
systematics community should surely be a continuing attempt to educate both
private landowners and stewards of the parks and reserves about (a) the
continuing need for collecting, and (b) the innocuousness of it.  The ASC
can obviously play a part in this, but it would probably be more effective
if contacts were made on the local scale.

Dennis Paulson, Director                           phone 206-756-3798
Slater Museum of Natural History                 fax 206-756-3352
University of Puget Sound                       e-mail dpaulson at
Tacoma, WA 98416
web site:

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