Shocked into silence

Sometimes we need to be reminded that not everyone shares our admiration and respect for the rare and beautiful things found in nature.

The Native Orchid Conference is an online group dedicated to "fostering the study, conservation, and enjoyment of the native orchids of the United States and Canada". They’ve put together an extraordinary package of information for beginners who want to take on their own long-term studies of orchid populations in the areas they live. Workgroup leaders have volunteered to help guide people so that data is scientifically collected and tabulated, and the results are expected to be invaluable for conservation purposes. It’s a wonderful project for outdoorsy folks who plan to live in one place for years and years, and naturally there is (was, actually) lots of enthusiastic chatter about it on the Native Orchid Conference list.

The ever-wise and usually humourous Aaron J. Hicks brought everyone back to down to earth with the following comment:

"Not that I don’t love you all, and it’s not directed towards anyone in
particular, but is everyone comfortable with discussion of specific
sites with sizable populations of orchids?"

He was, sadly, very right in pointing out the dangers of disclosing the locations of wild orchids publically, on the internet. As Aaron pointed out, orchids are vulnerable not only to collectors who will pay a high price for wild-collected specimens. They also

"could be threatened by any one of a number of anthropologic
threats — digging, vandalism, random acts of stupidity…"

Another member agreed, and added:

"It may not even be the "Orchid Thief" who becomes a problem. Not too many
years ago in Kansas, members of the Kansas Herpetological Society were
monitoring one of two known populations of a threatened species of
frog. They told the owner of the property he should keep a protective eye
on the pond. The owner bulldozed the pond to be sure they were all
exterminated so no government agency could tell him what to do on his property."

Another member quickly chimed in with more stories of wild orchids lost to a similar fate in Kansas and near Chicago.

A shocked silence seems to have descended on the list. I suspect people have taken the message to heart and have moved their conversations over to private email, where they – unfortunately – belong.

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