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POACHING

I've been meaning to put my thoughts on this subject down for some time. I may need to re-word this a few times in order to get my exact thoughts in order.

The term poaching means to trespass on another persons land to take fish, game, or plants. Basically, a poacher is someone who removes something from the wild off of someone else's property without permission.

There's two different kinds of plant poachers; those who remove the plants in order to re-sell them, and those who take the plants for their own use.

From years of talking to people, there's two types of poaching mindsets. Those who don't give a damned, and those who think they are helping the plants out. But the latter should never exist if the person REALLY cares about the plants. If you come across some plants that seem doomed, then the only thing that separates you from being a poacher is getting permission from the land owner to remove the plants. Getting permission does several things. First, it legalizes you removing the plants, as well as grants you permission to be on the land, thereby no longer making you a poacher. Second, you receive information from the land owner on whether or not the plants really are in any immediate jeopardy. And finally, even though some lands with plant stands have for sale signs on them, it doesn't mean that they will be developed. The location may be important enough that a private conservation group is actively seeking to purchase the land.

There are some sites which are doomed. No doubt about it. There's no need for the plants to simply be destroyed if the land owner does not care if they are removed.  If you get permission to remove the plants, try to get in communication with as many people as possible to let them know that the plants are in need of rescue. If you're not sure who to contact, I would recommend contacting the Nature Conservancy for that State. Most Sarracenia's (the likely US plant that would need to be rescued) has their locations monitored by TNC. They can tell you if the plants at the location would be of interest by other parties as well, such as for seed banks and site specific specimen studies.

The point being this: There isn't likely to be a single plant stand anywhere that I couldn't talk myself into being a doomed site. It's very easy to simply say to ourselves, "these plants are doomed."  If you really think the plants are going to be destroyed, then you should have no problem finding the owner and asking permission to remove the plants.

As far as Sarracenia is concerned, poaching can wipe out some species in as little as an afternoon. S. alabamensis and S. jonesii are only known from a handful of locations, but very few of these have any significant number of plants at the site. S. oreophila is the same way. Most of the sites have very few plants, so if a major plant site is poached, a good percentage of the wild population is affected. Even the once abundant S. leucophylla is seeing its habitats destroyed at such a rate that poaching can seriously start to affect its numbers in the wild. Another problem with Sarracenia is that with the massive amounts of habitat destruction, plant stands have to rely upon themselves to repopulate their local bog area. By removing any plants from the remaining bogs, especially mature flowering plants, their ability to survive in the location decreases. Many bogs on the gulf coast contain more than one species of Sarracenia.  It becomes more and more difficult for the true species to reproduce themselves our their numbers decrease, when they are also within a hybridization zone. It simply becomes much more likely that the species flowers are fertilized by a hybrid the fewer species plants there are. So by removing some of the species, a balance in the bog can be tilted. And with former adjacent bogs destroyed, the species have no way of repopulating an area.

So, do I frown upon poaching? Yes. There is never a reason to poach, and the very term itself means that two illegal acts have occurred; trespassing and theft.

Do I frown upon legally removing plants from the wild? No. There are times when this is a necessity. There are even times when this is desirable from a collectors point of view, such as finding a color variant or new hybrid which has commercial qualities. But in these cases, a single plant only should be removed, and should be sent to a location where mass propagation can be performed. (ie: tissue culture) Plants should not be collected for trade, but rather a single specimen collected for propagation efforts. Of course, this should only be done with the owners permission, and some research should be done to ensure this particular plant isn't already in propagation.

There's never a good reason to poach simply to add plants to your collection. If you are a serious collector, then all of the species and color forms can be obtained from nurseries and other collectors. Some are harder to obtain than others, but all can legally be obtained.

The sad thing about poachers is that, although many probably say they do it in order to protect the plants from imminent demise, its simply because they want or need plants. There are several locations in Alabama where private landowners regularly burn their property in order to keep the Sarracenia stands in good health. Yet they all have stories of people poaching from their property. Some properties have had non-native CP added to the site, only to have those plants poached as well. If you see a stand of S. minor in Alabama, odds are 100% that the land owner intends for them to be there, the site is not in imminent danger, and you will not be allowed to legally remove the plants.

Anyways, that's my thought process on the subject.

 

Below: This site is a bog located in southern Alabama. It's the bog where I first  found S. alata growing in the wild, so there is some sentimental value as well. Back in 1991, I performed a plant count in the bog, the bog was made up of about 20% S. leucophylla, 20% S. alata, and 60% hybrids and backcrosses of the two species. 

Sometime in 2000, the bog was heavily poached. Afterwards, the bog was made up of about 99% hybrids.  Evidence of many shovel holes with Sarracenia roots sticking out of ground were everywhere. It looks like the poachers were going after the true species, and not the hybrids (based upon where the digging was prevalent. ) The number of plants taken would seem to indicate that the plants were taken for retail trade, and not for a private collection. It's extremely distressing, since the number of true species plants have been reduced so that the bog may never be able to recover any number of true leucophylla's and alatas. This bog also produced plants which nearly looked identical to a true alata or leucophylla, but was in fact a very complex backcross. Alatas with very faint areoles and leucophyllas with a hint of alata have been growing here since I first visited the site. Unfortunately, if the poached plants made it into the retail trade, the consumers could easily be receiving a complex hybrid and not the true species. Poachers and nurseries who poach often lack the skills in determining if a plant is a true species or hybrid. Poachers who dig plants for nurseries do not care if they end up shipping a hybrid instead of a true species. After all is said and done, we, the consumers, end up getting ripped off by receiving the wrong material. We all get ripped off by losing what very few sites we have left for seeing these plants in the wild. And we allow nurseries who lack the skill in propagating these plants correctly to continue to operate. Sarracenias are very easily and inexpensively propagated in a greenhouse setting anywhere in the US with the possible exception of southern Florida. There is absolutely no reason for these plants to be collected from the wild for the retail trade.

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Below: Another view of the South Alabama site. Some people collecting from the wild do so under the pretense that a site is doomed to be destroyed by development. This site could be interpreted this way by a casual visitor, but it is not. This site has been in the very same shape for nearly twelve years. At one time, there was a for sale sign on an adjacent property. That  was twelve years ago. The only "doom" these plants have faced is by people who either lack self control, or collect under a false pretense that all CP bogs are doomed and that you're doing the plants a favor by yanking them out of the ground. Do you see the highway in the background of this picture? On the other side of the road grew a stand of very large S. alata. One pitcher measured nearly four feet when I visited the site about 5 years ago. There are no plants growing there now. Why? Because someone decided that these plants would be better off in their personal collection, or would be better off sold on the market. In any case, they're probably dead now. And for the person who collected them under the pretense that the bog was doomed, guess what? The bog is in very good shape. It has the proper soil and moisture to sustain a very healthy pitcher plant population. It is NOT undergoing development. It has NOT been developed in any way in the past 15 years. And the only imminent doom the plants faced then, as they do now, is people with a shovel who lack self control.

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