Collecting, Watching, and Catch-And-Release

Chris Durden drdn at
Fri Jun 18 12:43:24 EDT 1999

>Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 11:39:56 -0500
>To: drdn at
>From: Chris Durden <drdn at>
>Subject: Re: Collecting, Watching, and Catch-And-Release
>In-Reply-To: < at>
>References: <19990618141858Z26609-9902+26322 at>
>  Another note on collecting. There are a lot of lost places in the world
where I wish there had been some collecting before habitat was inevitably
destroyed. Specimens are easier to study than are fossils, and are easier
to extract DNA from. Unless we reverse the growth of human population, we
shall have less natural habitat each year in the future. Let's get out and
collect a sample of what we have now before it is all gone.
>  What species lived in the primeval forest of the North American Atlantic
Coastal Plain along with *Franklinia*, *Torreya* and *Chardryas ismeria*
before it was destroyed in time for the American Revolution. What species
lived in the primeval forest of the North American Gulf Coastal Plain along
destroyed in time for the Bicentennial of the American Revolution? What
species lived in pristine habitats of Mexico along with the QUETZAL and
*Prestonia clarki* before they were destroyed in time for ....
>.............Chris Durden
>At 10:30 AM 1999:06:18 -0500, you wrote:
>>  John Acorn and I are probably very similar in our observational
>>behaviour.  I rarely carry a net on home turf and find I see more this way,
>>and get better looks. I do however carry a net in unknown terrain, not
>>knowing what to expect and not wanting to carry the memory of a half view
>>of some unrecognized puzzler.
>>  What I dislike about those members of NABA who are acting to supress
>>collecting is their discouragement of youthful collectors. Collecting is
>>the best way to learn the species in your area and learn to accurately
>>identify them. Without accurate identification all the observations in the
>>world are suspect, especially the ones we are most interested in. 
>>  Regarding the effect of collecting on rare species - I know of no
>>instance where collecting of butterflies has been the force primarily
>>responsible for extinction of a species or subspecies. In all cases I am
>>aware of, loss of habitat and foodplant, with accompanied range reduction,
>>caused by unrelated land use practices or industrial practices, has
>>preceeded any collecting pressure on the population. I could say a lot more
>>on this subject related to bug-zappers, outdoor lighting, use of Raid in
>>your tent in National Parks, fogging for mosquitos, spraying for fire ants
>>and medflies, chaining rangeland, sagebrush suppression, and habitat
>>restoration, but I won't, but please lay of the little kids who want to
>>make a butterfly collection. A lot of naturalists and naturalist-scientists
>>strated out this way. Most collectors are unlikely to take more specimens
>>by net than they already do with their cars.
>>............Chris Durden
>>At 08:24 AM 1999:06:18 -0600, you wrote:
>>>Butterfliers and Lepidopterists,
>>>Chris Durden wrote about himself:  "Why am I not a member of NABA? I am not
>>>willing to
>>>encourage the efforts of some of their members to suppress butterfly
>>>collecting."  I would like to comment, as a member of both NABA and the
>>>When I began promoting butterfly watching as an alternative to
collecting, I
>>>did so for two main reasons:  1) it was clearly possible to identify
>>>butterflies at a distance, at least to the extent that one can identify
>>>birds, and 2) collecting is hard work, and that discourages people.  I
>>>meant to give the impression that collecting was evil, only that there
is an
>>>alternative way.  But the world has always wanted to believe that butterfly
>>>collectors are evil (just look at how they have been portrayed in film and
>>>literature), so I soon realized I had little control over that.  As C.
>>>Eugene Emery Jr. wrote in the Sceptical Inquirer, "The human brain seems
>>>programmed to give more weight to one well-told story than to piles of data
>>>suggesting that the story is false."
>>>Soon, however, I realized that the people I was influencing also felt that
>>>chasing butterflies while fiddling with binoculars was hard work.  They, on
>>>thier own initiative, gravitated to catch-and-release.  So I thought about
>>>it, agreed with them, and started promoting catch-and-release.  On my
own, I
>>>use optics more often than not, by the way, and leave the net in the car,
>>>but clearly many people find it much easier to learn about butterflies with
>>>them in the hand.
>>>Then I found myself in a middle ground, where some pro-collectors
mistook me
>>>for their enemy, and some anti-collectors mistook me for their enemy.
>>>it seemed, were evil too-- and nerdy.  But we have had such great success
>>>with catch-and-release here in Alberta, I can't let go of the idea that
>>>is yet another fine way to promote butterfly appreciation, based on an
>>>angling model, so to speak (trout fishermen especially, are now almost
>>>fanatical about catch-and-release), rather than a birding model.  After
>>>butterflies are not birds, and they are not fishes, so why not explore the
>>>I agree that NABA serves to suppress collecting, even though they
>>>deny it, and may not realize how strongly their actions affect traditional
>>>entomology by influencing the decisions of protected areas management, and
>>>the hands-off approach to nature in general.  The greatest sadness I feel
>>>about NABA is that its publications give the impression that butterfly
>>>watching is a fully developed idea, and not a work in progress.  "American
>>>Butterflies" is in my opinion not an open forum for discussion of new ways
>>>to approach butterflies, but rather a vehicle for promoting one particular
>>>activity while suppressing all mention of the alternatives.  As such, it
>>>presents "one well-told story," and subtly works against the rational
>>>discussions that we need so much right now.
>>>John Acorn

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