Listing vs restricting collecting

Mark Walker MWalker at
Mon Aug 30 18:42:41 EDT 1999

Michael Gochfeld wrote:

> However, I would also counter the oft-expressed view that butterflies 
> can't be overcollected.  As they become rarer and their value 
> increases, 
> there are commercial pressures to collect them for sale or 
> trade. People 
> who we like to refer to as "unscrupulous" will return day 
> after day or 
> week after week to collect as many as they can.  Although serious 
> lepidopterists (such as people on this list) probably don't engage in 
> such commercial exploitation, it is naive to assume that this doesn't 
> happen.

This would seem to be the one broken cog in this whole issue.  As a
collector who has argued vehemently against regulation and anti-collecting
policies, I have to admit that I've witnessed collecting behavior that I
find both unscrupulous and unethical.  I wish that this were not the case,
for I know that this "overcollecting" is the one thing that can bring a
regulated end to my passion.  My own solution to this has been to entirely
avoid the commercial aspects of this hobby, and to attempt to personally
capture all of those insects that I intend to display.  I understand that
this places a serious limitation on what I can display, but it helps to
clear my mind with regards to whether I am part of the problem or part of
the solution.

I am certainly not passing judgement on others here.  Like anything else, it
is perfectly possible to engage in commercial collecting in a responsible
manner.  Unfortunately, the specimens most sought after (which also carry
the highest prices) are those that are difficult to find.  If I were in the
business of selling specimens, and I could get lots of money for a
particular species that I knew how to collect, I can see where the
temptation to collect as many as I could find would exist.  Under these
conditions, I DO think it possible to eliminate an entire population.  

There's a catch-22 here:  The longer this sort of behavior is tolerated, the
sooner someone will be knocking on my door to tell me to hand over my net.
The problem with regulation, however, (besides the obvious bureaucratic
inefficiency and waste) is that once any form of net-swinging is outlawed,
all people with nets will be considered outlaws.  This is pretty much where
we stand today.

As usual, I'm rambling.  I don't know what the solution is.  As collectors,
we really should avoid purchasing any wild-caught butterflies that have a
limited range.  Rather than provide the market for overcollecting, see if
you can't go and find the species yourself (or use sources which insist on
rearing all specimens).  If not, be content to look at it in a book (this
goes for museums and universities, too).  Sorry to all net-swingers who are
making money doing it - I'm just concerned that if we abuse the resource, we
will bring an accelerated end to our fun.  

Obviously, regulating the buying/selling of wildlife isn't working.  Neither
will regulating the collecting of wildlife.  Hard to find species will
become harder to find, the price will increase, and so will illegal
collecting pressures.  Meanwhile, all of the data-gatherers (unless
appropriately affiliated with some permitted institute for higher learning)
will be left at home.  Heck, we can't be trusted in the wilderness anyway.

(geez, when did I become so cynical?)

Mark Walker
in Houston, TX

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