Who's doing the identification?

Melissa McCanna Parmeliamm at AOL.COM
Wed Oct 23 19:16:54 CDT 1996


In a message dated 96-10-22 14:00:59 EDT, you write:

<< I've also been led to suspect that environmental consulting companies are
 doing more and more of the plant identification in the USA.  I'm not
 aware of any taxonomy students I've known who've gone into this line
 of work.  I wonder about the level of competency in their identifications,
 especially if they don't have a herbarium.  They're not interacting with
 ours.

 Michael Chamberland
 Michigan State University Herbarium >>

I am in the consulting business and I know from personal experience, most
consultants are not taxonomists, nor do they try to be.  I live in Norfolk,
VA and the closest herbarium is a 5.5 hour drive away (Virginia Tech in
Blacksburg, VA).  My company - ignorant architects and engineers - does not
see the value in increasing my botanical knowledge base.   Also, on some
unspoken level, they and the company clients (mostly municipalities and the
Commonwealth) prefer their "scientists" be ignorant - "see no evil"
mentality.

Also, the Army Corps of Engineers' methodology for delineating wetlands
stresses identifying only the dominant species.   This, in my observation,
leads consulting "scientists" to generalize and gloss-over plant communities.
 The tyranny of the time-sheet also discourages investigating and identifying
individual species.

The ACOE methodology - as out-dated as it is - is the only methodology
validated by the general public, ie the engineers and architects that make up
most consulting firms.  If all one needs for official documentation are the
dominant species, then (the mentality continues) why should profit be spent
on any extra work on any other "environmental" work?   The ACOE methodology
has silently become the standard for all environmental work.

I've had to struggle for every minute of my time dedicated for plant
identification and my training for field-work.  Most of it I am forced to do
on my own - fortunately I love the challenge of taxonomy.  Even my
"scientist" co-workers snub my efforts to be more precise in my ID.   This,
of course, may be workplace politics, but overall contributes to the negative
attitude regarding precise ID.

I agree with you completely, Mr. Chamberland.  I battle the consulting
culture every day to be recognized as a valid member of the team.  Some
people give up and are content to have a weekly paycheck.

-Melissa McCanna




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