Degenerated Science Part 6

More roads, more cars, more people!  Onward the new Utopia!

So why is the big eastern diamondback disappearing in the South Carolina lowlands? Ask Champion International, Weyerhauser, International Paper and friends.  In their unprecedented onslaught on trees, big lowland snakes that depend on large hibernacula have less and less places to go in winter—and they freeze to death.  Pine monocultures replace hardwood forests, and before the trees are even six inches in diameter, down again they come, providing sustenance for nothing while they live, and not even wood-humus after they are felled, their stumps and root systems removed by bulldozers and burned in great stacks.  Not even the termites escape this American dream.  North Carolina wildlife is being extirpated en masse for trees are being extirpated en masse.  There is a bounty on the very land beneath them, with the biggest payoff going to the biggest destroyer.

Meanwhile, the road system expands to keep up with an ever-growing human population. Roads bringing more cars, more suburbs, more strip malls, golf courses, and more and more roads for the sake of roads, if only to connect to other roads. The last remaining habitat of the timber rattlesnake in New Hanover County is already on the drawing board for a superhighway.  Will the "Scientific Council" try to stop that?  Don’t bet on it.  But if you find a snake in your own yard and put the damn thing in a cage and feed it like a king, why, they’ll be on you like flies with a warrant to have you jailed.  (Their strong arm officers might even run one over on the way to pick you up: oops!)  And then they'll kill your pet and put it in a bottle as "evidence."  Those cops need their roads the better to keep an eye on you . . . monitoring you for your own protection.

Putting a limit on the numbers of roads that can be built is apparently unthinkable: the American dream is, after all, the dream of easy transportation.  If 97,000 linear miles of state maintained roads exist in North Carolina today—enough tar to spread around the world four times!—we can expect this amount to double over the next decades, and increase exponentially after that.  For roads breed roads, needing always more roads to get to those roads.

Here is the great dream of our former Department of Transportation (DOT) chief, Garland Garrett (since dismissed for corruption): "My goal in office is that no person in North Carolina shall have to live more than 10 miles from a four-lane highway!"

His dream lives on, with or without him, for it is DOT's dream too.  Men and women whose goal is to "improve" our world.  So long as there is profit to be made from increase (providing more jobs, and more justifications for jobs) so Henry Ford's nightmare will increase also.  Property owners want roads, the more the better.  Roads to connect to, and subdivide, their real estate, so that they can sell high what they bought low. Property without a road to get there is worthless. The goal of the DOT is to make driving everywhere possible for everyone.  Garland Garrett was dismissed from office for too blatantly doing just that—he was (so the newspapers tell us) conspiring with landowners to show favor as to where he put roads.  I say "too blatantly," for he was dismissed not for actually building the roads (which everyone applauded), but for showing favoritism about which landowners got them built.  In short, he was dismissed for not building enough roads to satisfy everybody.

He must have satisfied plenty, for North Carolina has more paved roads than any state in the nation.  An odd fact when you consider that it is neither one of the biggest, nor one of the most populated.  Onward the automobile!  In a land endlessly transected until even 10 miles won't be near enough to get your wheels on a freeway, a creeping snake hasn't got a ghost of a chance.  And if 50,000 human deaths a year in the U.S. can't change people's minds about cars and roads, how can the death of a few billion reptile pests?  The "Scientific Council" members, in their avoidance of truth to satisfy their own prejudices that they might feel good about having done something good, play into the hands of the ignorant notions they sponsor, and unwittingly egg the nightmare on.  In the midst of it all, our law enforcement has found the appropriate venue for their talents: chasing children who keep pet snakes!

In North Carolina, where the diamondback is truthfully more of a nostalgic memory than an "endangered" species, the forces of human expansion have been hard at work for decades.  Hardly did the last hurricane get through with us than the timber people were right behind it cleaning up the "mess made of our woods" to make them look once more like the cultivated farms they are.  The stumps and half-leaning trees are cleared away, and the pine desert expands, for people need income to pay their land taxes and paper to wipe up after themselves.  And as the roads, clear-cutting and development expands, so the worthless ESA must expand to keep up with the problem. Today there are 200 "protected" species, in 10 years there will be 400.... Future "Scientific Councils" will see to it.  Multiplying as we humans multiply, soon all species will be protected—which is tantamount to saying that none will.  And none are now, save the conspicuous alligator, who bobs up now and then like a mascot for the success of an ESA which did, once upon a time, work for a few big and easily recognizable species (when the list wasn't so long you didn't need a lawyer to interpret it for you, and a calculator to keep up with the names).  But if Mr. Gator didn't live in the water, which no man owns (and which he could duck down under), he would have long since gone the way of the eastern puma, who had no comparable escape route.

Like the purveyors of roads, the bureaucratic goal of the ESA is to expand, in turn expanding the satellite enforcement agencies (such as the NCWRC) that depend on such endangerment to justify their jobs. The more endangered species, the more jobs.  The more jobs, the greater the room for advancement.  It is a vicious cycle, one hand feeding the other its carrion.  "Scientific Councils" like this one encourage the farce, dancing with the devil while the world burns.  They propose a law amendment—"protect rattlesnakes!"—then walk away happy that something "positive" has been done.  But the fact remains, you can only "protect" so many animals until the word becomes so undermined by its own repetition as to become meaningless.  It has reached that stage now.  A state of mindless, blabbered noise.

Protection advocates argue that laws like these will help them acquire habitat to save the animals.  "We have to declare formally that the animals are endangered before people will listen to us."  Ideally, this is their one saving grace.

And yet, with nearly 200 names already on their great list, you would think they had enough justification already.  When is this divine era of land acquisition going to begin? Answer: when Utopia comes. Why not just acknowledge now what everybody knows already, and doesn't need the "Scientific Council" to tell them: that everything is endangered and will only get more endangered as the musical chair ride of endangered species (from "Special Concern" to "Threatened" to state-listed "Endangered" to federal-listed "Endangered") reveals itself to be nothing more than a downhill slide toward the inevitable mass extinction of all living things!

And many people are sick of the ESA.  I quote from the Washington Daily News, January 2, 2000:

Overzealous law enforcement has resulted in landowners fighting back.... Landowners are killing every red cockaded woodpecker on sight, or any woodpecker that even resembles one, if they see it on their property. If they see a suspected nest tree for the bird they will cut it down and burn it quickly before the authorities find out that they have these birds on their land. Why shoot the birds? Because if wildlife authorities find out that you have a population (even a suspected population) of these birds on your land, you can kiss your right to control your land goodbye. You may pay taxes on it and you may have a piece of paper saying that you "own" it but the government has complete control of it. In other words, if you are even suspect for having an endangered species on your land, you can no longer do what you want with it.

If the ESA worked there should be less species on its list from year to year.  The fact that there are always more, and more of them being upgraded, only shows that, like every bureaucracy, wildlife protection is self-aggrandizing and self-generating.  Like the 300 billion dollar a year drug war (an amount far greater than the GNPs of the nations that supply the drugs) it depends on the existence of a drug problem for its own economically parasitic existence.

Wouldn't it make more sense to stop looking at this from a species standpoint, and start looking at it from a wilderness standpoint?  To start drawing lines on maps (as Costa Rica has done) instead of on meaningless lists in space; to save hundreds of species in one whack now and forever rather than sitting back waiting to put a new name on a wall calendar for a few scientists to ponder pensively?  To get out of the Police Business and get into the Park Business?  To get rid of a system that does not work and get into one that does?  And to take the money that supports the failed system and put it into land acquisition where it can have real value?

Every nickel given to the ESA is a nickel wasted.  We need an EHA (an Endangered Habitat Act), not a cumbersome and useless ESA.  We should be protecting biological life zones, and within these life zones humanity should be encouraged to interact, not shut out behind legal barriers so that these zones can have no useful reason for their existence.

Try suggesting this to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the rest of their police factions and you'll just scare the hell of them.  "But what will happen to us?" they whine. Have them report next day for duty as Park Guards.  They can still keep their badges and guns.

Look at the bizarre laws the ESA spins off.  Killing animals in order to "protect" them!  Rather than let the "cruel hobbyist" have his pet alive they will cruelly take the poor animal from him and slaughter it—in the name of conservation!  A blood sacrifice to an insane god.

Captive reproduction of diamondback rattlesnakes (and other ESA species) is presently forbidden in North Carolina.  By law the offspring cannot be released or sold within North Carolina, and must be euthanized.  Due to previous Braswellian logic (and "ease of enforcement" written into the regulations), captive reproduction programs would have prevented state agents from determining if the keeper/collector had actual captive born animals, or wild caught ones.  Therefore, possession had to be made criminal.  A very interesting idea considering that, supporting Dave Davenport's challenge, nobody could even find a wild diamondback to collect!

With captive reproduction forbidden, reintroducing these snakes into the wild can never happen.  Nor at this stage, even if it were possible, is it likely to.  There simply isn't enough captive native stock to do it with, a dearth due entirely to the existing law.  And with the "Endangered" status to come, acquiring the already rare founder's stock will become impossible.  In South Carolina, even the famous Riverbanks Zoo can't keep a native South Carolina alligator, but must import their live displays from out of state!  Yet nuisance gators are executed in South Carolina almost every day as a matter of course.  Now North Carolina wants to buy into this kind of logic with rattlesnakes.

Here's the real irony: a competent reptile breeder could, starting with as few as 10 diamondback rattlesnakes, produce well over 100 offspring per year for the next 10 years, totaling more than 1,000 individuals!  These could be released in appropriate areas and soon Dave Davenport would no longer have any grounds for his challenge.  Nor would the present law have any further purpose in North Carolina.  A fact which would surely mortify the government agencies who depend on ESA to justify their funding.  Now, thanks to the short-sightedness of Alvin Braswell and his "Scientific Council," when the last North Carolina eastern diamondback disappears, there will not be a single reproductive pair in captivity.  The latter gentleman, who has already single-handedly killed more North Carolina reptiles and amphibians (and diamondbacks) than any other single taker of these animals in the history of the state (see further sections), would evidently rather look at these animals in pickling jars, which is where he puts the few nuisance examples that find their way into his hands.  All of these last facts may seem odd to the reader who expects endangered species to be "protected," but I assure you that the "Scientific Council" and NCWRC, who would gladly put a child's father in jail for possessing a bag of live snakes, feels quite comfortable deliberately killing those same animals themselves.

Like most Utopian concepts, the Protection Racket is doomed to fail.  Because it is a totalitarian concept, dependent on a police system to make it workable, it is as fragile as Russian communism, which showed the world once and for all that limitless bureaucratic expansion must end in bankruptcy of the nation.  Making people do as they are told is expensive.  It costs more and more from year to year, for people will not do as they are told, and there are always more and more people.  In order to make them do as they are told, at least cost to the state, the burden of proof must be placed upon the citizenry.  In short, it's the old "ends justify the means" con that haunts the dictums of all totalitarian philosophies. You can always tell degenerated justice by this one telling sign:  It is up to you to prove your innocence.

"Catching snakes is not a right, it's a privilege," the wildlife cop intones as he leads you away to a fitting cell among the murderers and thieves. "What you've done is the same as stealing!  You're stealing from all of us!"

One could burst into peals of insane laughter if the goon who is telling you this didn't have a gun at his side to back up his mania.  In the minds of the "Scientific Council," all creatures once "protected" by the state, belong to the state. The public has no longer any right of access to them.  "But we are preserving the animals for the public," our state-paid wardens blather.  We ask: Which public?  Where?  When?  Their jaws go slack a moment, and their eyes dull out.  After giving it a minute’s hard thought, they mutter, "Just doing our jobs, man."

The Obscure Issue of "Pet Suitability"

Human interaction with reptiles and amphibians is not the only right the "Scientific Council" seeks to take away from North Carolinians.  Here we have also a moral code which they have determined North Carolinians must live by, one called "pet suitability." This curious concept (for a group of "scientists"), which echoes Emily Post or Miss Manners, is coined solely within this proposal, for we can find it nowhere in the scientific literature. It seems derived from the hobbyist literature, ironically—the very hobby the "Scientific Council" argues their contempt for.  Be that as it may, we question its placement in a supposedly "scientific" document.

"Pet suitability," one of the Council's previously rejected (1998) amendment proposals tells us, is the ability for a given herptile to make someone a "good pet."  Since herptiles cannot even be considered "pets," but at best "captives," and are more related to livestock or even aquarium fish, the term is misleading.  The beginner collector of herptiles may purchase some of his stock from "pet shops" (except for venomous ones), but in essence he keeps a terrarium animal and not a valid and responsive "pet."  To help supply this trade and enthusiasm, or to provide herptile products (such as captive born animals, venom, skins), the hobbyist may advance to the professional market and breed these animals as livestock and sell the progeny.  North Carolina statutes guarantee the right of livestock ownership for any usage, commercial or otherwise.  This is an issue of which the Council seems completely unaware.

The Council acknowledges no connection to the pet trade and does not run pet shops or deal in "pet" animals.  They have not written any literature on the keeping of pet animals and are not known within the hobbyist literature for their advances in the maintaining of live herptiles in captivity.  They have no verifiable basis for their statements except that they, presumably, have once upon a time kept some pet herptiles—and from this have decided to disapprove of it for others.  While the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences keeps several small displays of North Carolina herptiles for educational purposes, and maintains some exhibits, their collection is no more noteworthy than that of many amateur hobbyists across the state—nor does it require any higher level of expertise to maintain.

A recommendation for "pet suitability"—and basing an entire report on such a cloudy issue— is indeed an odd statement for any committee of scientists to make.  Yet the "Scientific Council" did just that in 1998, entering into a fray more worthy of PETA than biologists.  An issue of "pet suitability" is all the more unscientific when applied to rattlesnakes, which cannot be considered "pets" in any sense of the word.  The obviously valid reasons for herpetoculturists keeping and propagating these and other snakes have been completely overlooked in their report.

While we appreciate the Council sharing their ideas on what makes one pet more "suitable" than another, this is hardly the stuff of good biology, and forcing those ideas upon the public under penalty of law seems a little extreme.  The Council should take care to note that there are over a dozen trade magazines available on what herptile pets are easiest to maintain in captivity, and North Carolinians do not require an unwieldy law restricting their rights in order to help them determine what they can, will, or want to keep.  Also, in this day and age, pet shops and other dealers, who obtain their live stock typically from private breeders, are well informed as to what items have "pet appeal" and do not trouble themselves to buy and sell those that don't (for they themselves must maintain the perishable item until it is sold, a process that can takes weeks or months before the pet finds an owner).  We know of no reptile dealer selling venomous snakes to underage or unqualified people; although certainly such a potential exists, and will exist, as long as there are unethical people in the world (but such will not be controlled by an unenforceable law like this one).  Dealers want repeat customers, as does any business, and they do not want lawsuits against them for selling dangerous animals that can harm their customers.  This is simply good professional judgment and the state of North Carolina should not be required to regulate common sense.

As shown, our investigations into the commercial "herp trade" in North Carolina reveal it to be rather low impact given the overall stresses to herptiles, and from most standpoints beneficial.  What "population stress" does the Council imagine it is controlling, that it is willing to drag a person into a courtroom and prosecute him for:

1) Possessing a snake in order to remove it from his property where it might cause harm to human life;

2) Rescuing the snake from a highway where it might be harmed;

3) Reproducing such snakes in captivity as a farmable product.

Statistically harmless to herptile populations as a whole, the herp terrarium is both the safest and most convenient means of public interaction with these forms of wildlife, and the one that causes wildlife the least of all environmental pressure because it does not affect habitat.  The North Carolina Museum of Sciences itself makes use of this educational tool.  Equally, public interaction with herptiles helps allay fear of herptiles, with persecution of herptiles, especially snakes, much reduced from years past.  In short, "it builds awareness."

We should note that these beneficial effects are thanks not to the effects of law enforcement, but to the positive influence of education.  And, as is easily shown, modern use of herpetoculture to propagate wildlife effectively reduces wild collection in direct proportion to number of animals captive propagated. Wild collected herptiles, being always more difficult to acclimate to captivity, will always be in less demand by hobbyists.  The Council's proposal does not acknowledge this beneficial role of herpetoculture, and obstructs the herpetocultural agenda.  Laws to prevent herpetoculture would increase commercial reliance on wild populations to a degree greater than any that has yet been seen.

By far the most effective tool in protecting wild herptiles from exploitation is to encourage captive propagation of herptiles and give captive propagators all the latitude they need to do their work well.  We look forward to a day when captive propagation will effectively end most reliance by human beings on wild caught stock by providing a cheap and affordable product identical to that taken from the wild, but produced in captivity.  Increased captive supply = reduced demand for a wild collected substitute, and deflates economic incentive to wild collect.  But the Council's 1998 proposal was exactly the reverse "strategy."  If implemented, it would have destroyed captive propagation of herptiles in North Carolina and thus increased demand for a wild-collected substitute.  The "problem" would not have been solved, it would have been compounded.  And it would have generated a new problem in North Carolina:  an "underground market" in herptiles where none exists presently.  For no matter what law NCWRC makes to stop people keeping snakes, it will be disobeyed because it cannot be enforced.

A fact that must cause the NCWRC to smile.  For with every new arrest, there is yet another arrest in the offing, and thus another "success" to publicize.  Another reason for them to keep their jobs, and another opportunity to magnify the strength of the Enemy. 

On the naiveté of the "Scientific Council" as regards commercial trade

In 1998 the "Scientific Council" made a failed attempt to shut down trade in 148 species/subspecies of North Carolina native herptiles (all but eight native species in the state).  It may seem striking and bizarre that a group of scientists would ally themselves to such a cause, but their 1998 "Report by the Amphibian and Reptile Scientific Council on Commercial Trade" made their intent plain.  This intent is ongoing, and the new law protecting venomous snakes is merely a highly abbreviated extension of it.  Indeed, the new law was constructed to that very purpose: an incremental fulfillment of an older idea waiting on regulatory approval.

In that earlier proposal, the Council revealed not only an embarrassing naiveté about the functional aspects of commercial trade, its potentials, and overall effects, but repeatedly gave evidence of not knowing what even constituted a valid pet trade item.  This was nowhere better expressed than by the "Scientific Council's" own recommendations for "no trade" items; over 100 of which have never been significant commercial trade items in North Carolina or anywhere else. One can only wonder where the Council derives its ideas, which have no realistic basis.

Let's look at some examples.  In one of their typical assessments, we learn that common native toads (Bufo americanus, B. terrestrialis, B. fowleri) are being endangered by over collection.  They warn us how "populations [of toads] are easily exploited at the breeding site," implying a vast hidden industry of toad exploiters lurking out there in the foggy commercial distances.  I couldn't help wondering just who were these poor devils that were reduced to collecting toads for a living.  It was very esoteric knowledge indeed, for in our attempts to investigate this matter, no reptile dealer or pet shop we could find, inside or outside of North Carolina, would agree to purchase toads from us or even accept them for free!  No, they emphatically did not want our toads at any price!  What then was the incentive to "exploit" toads?

In a passage designed to strike fear into the hearts of parents of children who might play with toads, they warn us that: "The toxic skin glands contain bufotoxin and contact with eyes and other sensitive tissues can cause serious irritation. . . . Handling by small children should be closely supervised. . . ."  For over 200 years American kids have played with toads and now its a national emergency!  Clearly another lesson in why we shouldn't exploit toads.

We learned how "Excessive mortality [of the mountain chorus frog] would be expected in commercial operations."  And couldn't help asking just what sort of commercial operations now exist in North Carolina involving these kinds of frogs.  We asked the Council to tell us, and to show with facts and figures what numbers these alleged operations harvest.  Three years have now passed and still they have not replied.

Strangest of all, we learned of the plight of the Dekay's snake at the hands of pet-o-philes: "The brown snake [Dekay's snake] is a small delicate species that would likely suffer excessive mortality in normal commercial operations."

What "normal commercial operations" exist for Dekay's snakes?  A drab common species the size of an earthworm, that is impossible to keep alive, has never been commercially collected or sold in the U.S. or elsewhere, and appears on no dealer's price lists, and for which no specific technology exists to find them!  Indeed, what financial incentive would lead any one to want to bother?

We learned that Hyla andersonii was "very attractive and easily exploited. . . numbers suspected to be declining" and how "Hyla versicolor should not be collected commercially" because "a good collector could collect virtually all the males from a local population by zeroing in on their calls when breeding conditions are prime."  We learned, among other madness, how "commercial trade in Ambystoma maculatum was almost certain to occur because of the species high pet suitability. . . this species will be lost in some areas."  They warned us of the lucrative business of "laundering" a dozen other species of salamanders through Tennessee and yet other species that could be laundered through North Carolina, and on and on to the tune of 148 species/subspecies on North Carolina native herptiles.

The vast majority of the animals were to be "banned" merely because of their potential as a pet trade item.  I repeat potential—they did not have to have any demonstrated precedence as such.  Apparently, our "Scientific" activist group simply thought they might make good pets (using their own criteria) and so they decided on that basis they shouldn't be sold.  After this flimsy "science," they deigned to allow North Carolinians access to the following few species they felt "appropriate."

Species that can be captive propagated for commercial sale:

Salamanders none
Frogs Rana catesbeiana (Bullfrog)
Rana utricularia (Southern leopard frog)
Turtles Trachemys scripta (Yellowbelly slider)
Clemmys guttata (Spotted turtle)
Lizards none
Snakes Elaphe guttata (Corn snake)
Elaphe obsoleta (Rat snake)
Lampropeltis calligaster rhombomaculata (Mole king snake)
Lampropeltis g. getula (Eastern king snake)

This is the actual wording.  Out of 156 species, the Council deemed you could breed eight!  They noted further, however, that among snakes, no offspring could be sold once exceeding 15.2 inches!

With that incredible report, the "Scientific Council" made their objectives clear.  They were not out to control or manage the use of these animals (merely recommending a "bag limit" could have achieved that).  No, the "Scientific Council" was out to shut down all trade in all North Carolina native herptiles.  And if they had to make even grammar school kids into criminals, then so be it.

Fortunately, the Council's ludicrous recommendation did not meet with state approval, and we do not today live in an Orwellian society where our children are going to be arrested every time they walk out in their backyard:  only if the happen to find a hognose snake or a suspicious green snake with smooth scales or a pine snake or a Carolina salt marsh snake or a bog turtle or a diamondback terrapin or an eastern spiny softshell turtle or a stripe-neck musk turtle or a bog turtle or a mimic glass lizard or a mudpuppy salamander or a Weller's salamander or a zigzag salamander or mole salamander or a longtail salamander or a four toed salamander or an eastern hellbender or a Neuse river waterdog or a dwarf salamander or a river frog or a mountain chorus frog or a (I am running out of ink!). . . .  They haven't listed them all yet, there are still a hundred to go!  More and more reasons piling up year after year to keep Randy Wilson and his useless Nongame Office in the green.  Protecting us from ourselves.

Sternly criticizing their proposal, I wrote to each of the "Scientific Council" members asking if they were not also intending to reclassify the entire state population of young people into juvenile delinquents as well!  They'd need not only bigger death camps for the reptiles, but more prisons for our kids!  I also asked them to verify their recommendations with studies and numbers.  Almost three years have passed and I have not received a single reply from any of the 11 members.

Let's look at what the "Scientific Council" does know about commercial trade. And how their Chairman Braswell and his State Museum are among the greatest beneficiaries of trade in native herptiles that North Carolina has ever had.

At home with the moralists

Alvin Braswell of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the guiding hand in creating the new amendment proposal.  Flanked by his fellow crypt-keeper at the Museum, Jeffrey Beane, he has assembled one the largest collections of dead carcasses on earth, and surely below the Mason Dixon line.

When not inventorying dead bodies, Alvin’s protégé Mr. Beane doubles as the publications secretary for the North Carolina Herpetological Society—a club meeting quarterly among the cadavers at the museum.  Jeff writes the newsletter—a collection of romantic reminiscences about the pretty critters he has found in the wild, looked at, and like a good citizen, walked away from, leaving them safely intact where he found them (a point he goes to great lengths to reiterate).  Which, of course, would not account for all the dead bodies he works among, but we won’t ask about that.  Be that as it may, I share his sentiment: I have not collected an American herptile for nearly 20 years: I too leave them where they lie (unless I find them in the road where I promptly rescue them and release them).  Unlike Jeff, however, I don’t kill and mummify them.  And unlike Jeff, I think people ought to be able to decide for themselves what they do with their lives.  Yes, I support even Jeff Beane’s right to do what he does, even though I don’t like it.

Jeff has his own ideas about how other people should live, and he is pleased to share them with you.  "I don’t approve of people keeping snakes in cages," Jeff Beane bleated in a private moment at the public hearing. "It’s cruel.  It's pure self-indulgence."  And in a recent interview in Wildlife in North Carolina Magazine, he warned us again of the insidious pet trade which he is entirely against, that we might recognize the distinction between him and them:  what he did was for "science"; what they did was self-indulgence: keeping snakes is something he "outgrew" long ago.  "No man more self-righteous than a reformed sinner," as the saying goes.  While Jeff was thus expostulating—perhaps returning from injecting a live lizard with deadly formaldehyde—I couldn't help thinking how his brand of science must be one of the most self-indulgent activities of which humans are capable.  Counting scales on the hides of dead snakes is a fairly meaningless endeavor to everybody except fellow scale counters: it's a secular experience.

Taxonomy (something I've given my share of time to) has yet to save a single animal from extinction, and if tomorrow all the wild pythons and boa constrictors on earth suddenly disappeared along with their forests, it would be thanks to the 15 year old keepers of snakes, and their grown-up counterparts, not morticians, that the snakes would still exist, whether he liked the terms of that existence or not.  Certainly no one could resurrect them from his million dead, or the frivolous papers of the vacillating science whose value he preaches.  But thanks to snake fanciers, there are by now tens of thousands of captive born pythons and boas on the American commercial market, most of them born in captivity.  This is a reserve bank greater than all the zoological institutions on earth combined.  The snakes don't seem too unhappy about it.  Fat, lazy, asleep in their cages, their brains, not much bigger than the brains of fishes, don't know enough to tell them that its cruel.  Or is keeping snakes in captivity somehow more cruel when Jeff Beane does it, than when other people do? 

Because Jeff doesn’t approve of people keeping snakes, you won’t find he’s written very much about their lives, or told us anything particularly new or interesting about what snakes do.  His newsletter is dead-set against people keeping them, so they don't print husbandry articles on snakes.  Since there are more snake keepers in NC than NCHS members, its not surprising they don't have many subscribers.  No, Jeff hasn’t really advanced our knowledge about reptile behavior.  But when we read his newsletter, we learn a great deal about his own behavior, to be sure . . . Real soliloquies.  You see, his writing is mostly about his own personal reactions to the creatures he has found, and the people he went with to find them.  He tells us these things in the purple, self-indulgent prose of the writer who has no editor to answer to but himself, and limitless ink.  

While Jeff Beane doesn’t approve of putting snakes in cages, he has no objection to killing them and putting them in formaldehyde filled jugs.  Or cutting them open and implanting radio-transmitters in their body cavities so that he can follow them around.  For while the NCHS Newsletter expressly forbids placing ads for the sale of herptiles, and prints no articles relating to their care and keeping in captivity (this was written into the by-laws by founding fathers Alvin and Jeff at the Museum), Jeff Beane has found a way to bend the rules in the interests of science.  In an April 1999 issue of the NCHS Newsletter, he placed a want-ad petitioning herp club members for legally obtained southern hognose snakes (the same species he was also, at that time, advocating protection for); and pine snakes (already protected) so that he could perform his curious dissections.  Whether he expected them to be donated, or planned to pay for them, one can't actually say.  Certainly no snake fancier would have given up his pet to have a meaningless surgery that would probably also kill it, so we must assume the animals he requested were all wild caught.

Implanting a transmitter in a snake is not a very kind thing—at least from the snake's viewpoint, it would be hard to think so.  Scientists say its harmless—at least the scientists who do telemetry will tell you that.  To gauge, by way of comparison to yourself, the size of a radio-transmitter implanted into the body cavity of a little hognose snake, you must picture a king size Coca-Cola bottle imbedded in your own peritoneum.  Please, if you do not feel quite comfortable or "normal" afterwards, don’t let on; if you feel sluggish and want only to hide or run away, don't let the scientists know.  They'll want to be recording only "normal" behavior.   Snakes must be monitored for "their protection," as we well know; and "protected" species need it especially.

Even granting that the snake recovers from its operation, motoring about in the woods like a mechanical toy for our scientific entertainment, once the transmitter goes dead the snake will be impossible to find and have to live with its implanted battery forever—which may not be long.  There's not much good you can say about radiotelemetry from the snake's viewpoint.

Here is Alvin Braswell telling us how the eastern diamondback rattlesnake can be "protected" by having its body cut open and this rather large transmitting device inserted into its coelomic cavity.  I quote from his recommendations (the ones that were mistaken by NCWRC for studies) for up-grading diamondbacks to "endangered" status:

These highly venomous and conspicuous snakes can never be protected from individual persecution.  It is therefore important that a survey be made to locate populations in those few remaining wilderness areas where public access is limited, where suitable habitat can be preserved, and where the natural history of the species can be studied.  Radiotelemetry has been used successfully to study the movements and home ranges of diamondback rattlesnakes in Florida (pers. communication, D. Means), and this technique might well be employed for similar studies in North Carolina.

And he would perform life-threatening surgery upon the last remaining diamondbacks in the state in order to do some self-glorying research that is by now old hat; for these things have already been done to death by other scientists in other states where diamondbacks are plentiful.  Or perhaps he has only thrown in this last bit so as to sound "smart" and "up to date" (we're kind of behind the times here in N.C., you see).  He doesn't actually believe (and neither do I) that he could find enough diamondbacks in NC to make such a folly meaningful.

Note how Alvin admits, within the very first sentence, that a venomous snake cannot be protected from persecution!  And yet he advocates protection.  Why?  Who is he protecting the snakes from?  From the developers and road builders?  No, for the law excludes the mass destroyer of habitat.   Is it a law for Farmer Brown and his hoe?  Farmer can always claim his life was in danger and avert any legal proceedings.  No, Alvin is protecting these snakes from the herpetoculturists who might reproduce them in captivity and sell them!  An activity he is morally against.  An activity which steals his thunder as the Biggest Snake Collector in the Land.  He is using the ESA for a covert purpose, to eliminate the competition and shut down the "insidious pet trade".  As for himself, he does not mind tampering with "endangered" snakes' insides, operating on them, or putting them in alcohol. . . That is "valid scientific research."  As though we didn’t already know (1) where diamondback rattlesnakes live; (2) that they will hide and winter in stump holes; (3) that they eat rodents and rabbits and quail; (4) that they need large tracts of land.  No, his self-glorying research won't discover a thing to help the snakes, but will do a great deal to help his career, as he hair-splits among other self-indulgent scientists like him those esoteric particulars that keep them haunting committee rooms looking for bigger boosts to their vanity than can be garnered by their academic accomplishments.

Jeff Beane has learned the correct patter from his mentor:  "I am a scientist, not a hobbyist!" he cries out for his just due.  It seems to convince those in state government.  Yet when Jeff is not caring for the crypt at the Museum, he also manages the live displays.  He says he does it "just for the public."  You can tell he doesn’t really  "approve" of what he is doing, for his live displays lack the enthusiasm of projects undertaken from love or passion.  Animated cadavers that never breed and if they do breed, their offspring go into alcohol afterwards, rather than risk making some 12 year old kid happy.  "We can't let these out to the general public," he postures snobbishly.  "They just aren't qualified."  It must irk him to know that the "unqualified" public can see displays maintained just as expertly as his in the nearby pet shops; that many 16 year old boys have collections as good as his.  But it must give him satisfaction to know that there are certain species the other kids can’t have. . . Species he and his comrades have protected from everybody but themselves.  Now if they could only shut down the exotic trade too, they could be the undisputed Kings of the Roost.  Someday. . . .

Exploitation of herptiles and use of commercial trade at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Shut it down or not, the North Carolina Museum of Sciences has long enjoyed the benefits of, and supported commercial trade in herptiles since its inception. This is verifiable by the locality data on herptiles obtained by the Museum, a great deal of which can be linked to commercial trade.  While the museum rarely purchases these animals, but receives them from donation, they have for many years obtained them from numerous sources who themselves have acquired them through commercial trade. The museum has patronized such individuals and businesses on a regular basis for over 30 years, and solicited their help (pers. communication, George Tregembo, Jerry Brewer, Tote-em-in Zoo, suppliers of the Museum of Natural Sciences since the 1960s). This can be physically demonstrated by the bodies of these animals that were donated alive to the museum, but later killed (in many cases unknown to the collectors) and preserved as scientific specimens.  The catalogue entries that accompany the thousands of dead carcasses may be viewed by the public upon request, and will verify the origins.

The vast majority of these live animals were killed at the Museum by one of three methods: (1) put alive into formaldehyde; (2) injected alive into the heart cavity with formaldehyde; (3) put alive into a freezer.  This is standard practice at the museum.  It's no wonder Alvin doesn't shrink at turning NCWRC into a state-run death camp for reptiles.  He's already running one!

We will not discuss the dubious merits of torturing and killing thousands upon thousands of live animals, many of them "endangered," for the sake of an esoteric science.  Instead we ask:  If the North Carolina Museum of Sciences does not approve of commercial trade in live reptiles for others, then why approve of outright killing them?  Moreover, if commercial trade should be "shut down," then why this 40-year petitioning of commercial traders for live specimens?

I quote from the acknowledgments section of Palmer and Braswell's Reptiles of North Carolina:

It is a pleasure to thank George, June, Robert and Paul Tregembo for numerous favors over the past 30 years. From the Tregembo's we have learned much about the diverse and often abundant reptile fauna of the lower Coastal Plain; their assiduous fieldwork and generosity are largely responsible for the fine collection of specimens from southeastern North Carolina in the State Museum of Natural Sciences.

We should note that this "fine collection of specimens" was obtained through the use of commercial trade: the Tregembo's operate southeastern North Carolina's largest zoo, the Tote-em-in Zoo.  They are also dealers in live reptiles, as a sideline to exhibition.  The reptiles in question were collected from the wild by the use of the "bounty system," where the general public received pay for collecting them and bringing them to the zoo. Confirming the Berish factor, zoo co-owner Jerry Brewer notes that most of these reptiles were collected by the public as "nuisance animals...they would otherwise have been killed by the public had they not been offered a chance in captivity instead."  Most were found by accident on roads or in people's yards, not from deliberately looking for them.  Rather than kill them, the collectors would bring them to the zoo.

In return for their "numerous favors over the past 30 years," and for their "assiduous field work" from which "so much was learned," Alvin Braswell contrived in 1998 an amendment proposal which denigrated the "kind Tregembo's" collection methods, and would have effectively put them out of the reptile dealing business!

Commercial trade in herptiles has been going on in North Carolina in varying degrees for the past 100 years without creating any directly attributable decline of wild populations. The Tote-em-in Zoo at Wilmington has been purchasing live reptiles from the public since the 1950s, and this has resulted in no noticeable decline in herptile populations in New Hanover County and surrounding regions.  (Development, on the other hand has had widespread and devastating effects in New Hanover County, to the extent that this region can rightly be considered an "ecological disaster area.")

My question is: If herptile collection causes herptile decline, why would the Museum of Natural Sciences have endorsed it—indeed, participated in it—for over 40 years?  What is the reason for their abrupt about-face, after all this time? Is the cause scientific—or political?  We can certainly perceive valid motives.  However, we can say factually, based on the catalogue entries accompanying the over 100,000 preserved carcasses at the museum, that the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is itself the single greatest consumer of wildlife in the history of the state of North Carolina!

But who is the greatest taker of Special Concern, Threatened, and Endangered species in North Carolina today? Is it a roadside zoo, a private collector, a reptile dealer or hobbyist?  Is it the skin industry?  Is it a smuggler to foreign countries?  Think again.  It's the Chairman of the "Scientific Council," Alvin Braswell, and his Museum of Natural Sciences!

Let's pay a visit to the North Carolina Nongame office, where Alvin's permits to collect these animals are on file.

In a renewable 1995 permit issued by North Carolina Nongame Office, Braswell is given carte blanche in North Carolina to collect all the "Special Concern" and "Threatened" species he can carry.  Indeed, the names are all there: the very species this paper pertains to: pigmy rattlesnake, diamond-back rattlesnake, coral snake, and more besides....

The wording on the permit is deceptive.  The recipient (Braswell) is allowed to collect only two individual specimens of each species.  Well, now, that's not so bad! Only two! But look closer—you will note that he is allowed to collect those two specimens from any one location.  And since "location" is not defined or delimited, it actually means that he can collect two from here and two from there and two from just about anywhere he damn well pleases, ad infinitum.

Power corrupting, and absolute power corrupting absolutely, no wonder Alvin Braswell constructs his proposals as he does.  Where you or I would be sent to face criminal charges for having even one of these animals, he can fill a truck with them.

But it's not enough for him to do it himself. Braswell uses his friends to look after him. In a permit issued to David Jones, director of the North Carolina Zoological Park, no less than 10 persons as well as Jones are authorized to collect five specimens of each state-listed "Threatened" and "Special Concern" species.  The names of these 10 persons are: John Groves, Lorraine Meller, David LaPlante, Laura Reynolds, Ron Morris, Stan Alford, Bobby Roberts. Scott Davis, Kenneth Reininger, and Debora Zombeck. Significantly, there is a proviso that the specimens must be deposited in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.  This means quite simply that the animals must be sent to Alvin Braswell!

Now unless my arithmetic is off, 10 collectors of five species can produce 50 specimens of each "Threatened" and "Special Concern" species, adding up to several hundred examples in all.  And all to be returned to Braswell's death camp—as if he didn't have enough of them already rotting in jars and vats, after five decades of the museum collecting them.

I will not bother to elaborate on the permits issued to Braswell and his benefactors subsequently (since 1995).  The CHS Bulletin does not have so many pages.

More permits to collect (and kill) North Carolina endangered species have been issued to Alvin Braswell via the museum than the sum total of all other permits issued in North Carolina.  A law the rest of us must obey, Braswell ignores with impunity.  Exploiting his special connections with the North Carolina Nongame Office, at whose behest he constructs his law proposals (providing them a reason for their existence), Alvin writes himself a special immunity.  Under the auspices of the museum, Alvin will be unaffected by the laws he spends his time dreaming up for the rest of us.  While you and yours may go to jail, he simply walks two blocks and has lunch with his old friends.

No wonder Alvin Braswell likes these laws, and labors conscientiously to construct them. Given a monopoly on North Carolina reptiles and amphibians, at liberty to keep these animals alive or dead as he pleases, he has become the "ultimate collector"!  For it can be just as prestigious for a museum curator to pile up the latest carcasses as it is for a collector of live pythons to have the latest color-morph.  Whether for "science" or for "artistic beauty" the mania to possess remains the same.  But there is more than the accolades earned by corpses, for Alvin has placed himself in the powerful and desirable position of dictating which persons in the state will be able to work with these animals in the future—further amplifying a position he has occupied for more than a dozen years as advisor to his pals in NCWRC.  And what better business to be in than State Herpetologist, when it comes time to monitor the "declining" populations you have spent years identifying and recommending for state protection lists?  A life of endless field trips for yourself and underlings, away from the stagnant basements of the formalin stinking picklings of all the thousands and thousands of dead animals you have immured there.

Don't worry, Alvin, USFWS and North Carolina Non-game will still love you.  For you and men like you keep them in jobs patrolling our shores for that most dangerous environmental criminal of the New Age: the amateur reptile hobbyist!

The silent coup

In Feudal times, people woke up one day to find that in exchange for the "protection" offered them by their lords, they had given away everything else besides.  The woods in which they hunted to provide food for themselves had become the property of the barons, its products off-limits to the people who worked the land.  At first the excuse was "for your own safety"—the enemy (the insidious enemy) might be lurking about.  When this was questioned, the reason was re-invented: you might be mistaken for the enemy.  And so completely might you be mistaken for such, that to be in the woods at all indicated you were in conspiracy with the enemy, perhaps plotting an attack!  In order to guarantee that you were not the enemy—in order, indeed, to escape their all purpose accusations—you simply learned to stay out of the woods.  It was the least troublesome course to take.

Over time the woods became so identified as the sovereign property of the barons, that the animals and plants too became "his".  Touch the baron's game and you were branded a "poacher", prosecuted, penalized, and perhaps even hanged.  Even the plants you harvested—the crops you grew—belonged to the baron.  You worked the land, raised the grain and harvested it, and when it was done he kindly let you keep a small share for yourself.  Throughout the whole middle ages the people labored to feed these despots in order to be "protected" from the threat of an enemy exactly like the one that had enslaved them and called himself their friend. 

Whether a mafia "protection racket", a government taxing a people into oblivion in order to fight a war against an unseen enemy in a foreign country, or an out of control Drug Enforcement Administration costing more money to keep-up than the dollars value of the drugs themselves (and making possible a vast illicit empire with the monetary power to influence whole countries), it is always "protection" that is being offered to the saps and suckers who buy into it.   The witch hunters were protecting us from witches, the Nazi's from the evil Jews, the McCarthy mob from communists, and in everyday life, insurance companies protect us from the fiendishly expensive hospitalization costs they themselves have incurred for us by virtue of their own free-booting existence.  And now this newest in protection schemes having the dollars potential to exceed all other rackets that have ever been upon the earth:  the Environmental Protectors, protecting our environment from ourselves!  Their humble left wing, the "conservation movement" is but one of its most insignificant subsidiaries. 

What is actually happening?  Nothing less than a quiet "take over" of the natural world.  Wild resources are defined as a metaphorical "country" (the ESA delimits its borders) which is then "claimed" by a special hierarchy that puts itself in charge.  It's your land, only suddenly its not your land because it has a rare species of plant or animal living on it.  And that rare species belongs to "the people"—provided those "people" are scientists or officials on the government dole.

It is only natural that the agents of this siege should use themselves as models for the system they have adopted.  You will note that all the members of the "Scientific Council" subsist on state monies, as do the strong arm agencies (e.g., NCWRC) with whom they collude.  The antithesis of the free enterprise system, the institutions and agencies are themselves part of a communistic society: state owned, its members are state paid, vending (by permit) a product that is essentially "owned" by the state.  Their very ideology is modeled on the state funded institutions that employ them.  Their doctrines are replicas of this system, and of and from this system their regulations emanate.  They are a communistic society, closed to outsiders behind their institutional Walls, boasting of no commercial affiliations, and yet subsisting on the tax profits won by the capitalistic society they hypocritically condemn. 

One rises within their society, or not at all, and the extent of ones "freedom to use" is determined by decree.  The result is a hierarchy in which we, the public, become their subjects.  Commercial use of wild resources is an anathema because it is non-communistic in nature; simply, it defies their moral ideology.  Moreover, it thwarts submission to their hierarchy: the rules they have labored to make for non-members so as to better define their own higher value to society.  For wild resources can be used if one bows down to the communistic schism by which their model is derived, and becomes part of the group: for the institutions have literally written themselves outside of the law!  The regulations provide a legal to loop-hole to the team players: by virtue of being on their team, one gets to make use of the product, so long as it is used in the way accepted by the other players (e.g., "scientific").  While free enterprise is condemned, money continues to change hands among those in charge of the resource, along the indirect channels of grant monies and public funds.  These they invariably bestow upon their own membership.

This is not the free enterprise system in which a person earns his living by his own efforts.  There is not even any enterprise per se except that which generates grant monies, or enables one to plug in deeper into public funds.  One does not earn a living, but advances to various degrees of permission to receive a living from the state.  The extent of this permission is conferred upon you by your title and influence within the membership.  Good comrades get the most; non-comrades get nothing.  One does not collect or buy wild resources, one obtains permission to claim wild resources.  The state is the owner of the resource, and does not "sell" (e.g., give a permit) to those outside its membership.  One does not vend wild resources to the public; one "protects" wild resources from the public, keeping it among the members of the society.  The product is simply traded back and forth among the membership at the continued price of obeying the membership's dictates.  The reward for joining the club is access to the product, which is available only to members.  As such, it becomes desirable to become a member.  That is why there is no shortage of new recruits petitioning to be brought in, and willing to bow down to the society: because it profits them to do so.  A telling sign:  In order to gain adherents, the society has to give incentives to its own membership that exceed those given to the general public.  If all were equal, why join the society? Remove the incentive, and the membership dwindles until opposition overtakes it and it is abolished.

We have seen how this works in North Carolina.  Another example is the American Zoological Association (AZA).  Zoos join the AZA for the same reason people social climb; but also because they are given good incentives.  By joining AZA (1) they become "AZA accredited", which means they are "good people" and get to hang up a shingle; (2) they get to trade and receive wildlife from other members at no extra cost; (3) they become eligible for AZA grants and government aid.

But there is a price-tag for all this goodness.  One must pay heavy dues to the club; but even more, one must do exactly what the AZA tells you.  What the AZA tells you is not always pretty.  For while the AZA "gives" captive born wildlife to other AZA members, one cannot trade this wildlife outside the society.  As a result, when the offspring becomes genetically redundant and a surplus of a certain species arises, and if the breeder cannot keep up the animals himself, and cannot find takers within the society, the AZA demands the offspring be euthanized rather than be traded to the public.  Hundreds if not thousands of rare and endangered animals or their eggs are destroyed every year in the United States thanks to the insidious AZA and its bogus SSP (Species Survival Program).  Thus far, the Species Survival Program has killed many times more animals than it has saved, and indeed, it is not known to have "saved" a single species.

Noah's Ark is not big enough to hold the babies of all the animals on board its ship.  And the AZA insists there be but one ship—their ship, crewed by their members.  Release the surplus animals to the public, and there is no explicit reason to join AZA.  In order to gain adherents, the society has to give incentives to its own membership that exceed those given to the general public.  If all were equal, why join the society?

To the social climbing bourgeoisie who has not earned any other individualized distinctions, being part of a distinguished mob has its appeal; to rise to a position of power within that mob, or another similar one, can fill the holes in a lifetime of uncomfortable anonymity.  The loss of individuality and personal empowerment to mob consensus is a small price to pay for one who has never known freedom, nor is brave enough to expect it.  And in trade for submission, the mob offers candy to the emotional children who cling to its skirts.  The zoos trade their internal freedom for access to the AZA 's social accreditation.  And because there is no tyranny greater than that exerted by a former slave who has himself risen to power, the slave may enjoy being made part of the chain of command, finding himself on special committees to crush out competitors who do not "qualify", or will not submit as he has.  But there are more treasures than these glorious gains, for members are given access to the "pool" of surplus wildlife produced by all other members of the mob.

Thus no matter what its propaganda, theirs is still an indirect commercial trade: (1) the zoos sell tickets to see the wildlife (they are in the entertainment business, after all, a sort of exalted circus, and that is pure commercialization of wildlife); and (2) the AZA owned product (wildlife) is vended to its own membership at the price of heavy club dues (one must pay for AZA annual inspections, &c.,).  The AZA is what SAM'S Wholesale Club is to Walmart, with only the thin veneer of exclusivity to disguise the fact that they are both neatly the same thing.  At SAM's one pays on the way in (by becoming a member), at Walmart one pays on the way out (at the cash register).  The AZA is a big scheme for moving large quantities of merchandise within an elite system, in exchange for an additional bureaucratic appendage which, like an unwanted parasite, extracts its own profits from every transaction before any transaction is made.  As on a roulette wheel, one participates in the game in the hope of getting back more than he has put in—but as in all sucker's games, one is more times disappointed than not. 

There is very little difference between this system and the totalitarian communism now being adopted by our government.  John Public is the equivalent of the non-AZA member, forbidden access to wild resources because he is not "accredited", not a part of the group.  If he wants access to the group, he must pass their tests; afterwards, he must do what the group says.  His individual rights have been compromised, indeed, stolen away from him by a tiny minority who have written themselves into positions of power over him, with a strong-arm government to enforce their doctrines, and an exclusive right to use the product.  If the special memberships (the groups and institutions) had to obey the regulations they write, they would not write the regulations as they do.  Because they do not have to obey the regulations, they restrict the rights of non-members to the extent possible, amplifying the incentive to join their team.  The mob grows.

And like all mobs given power, at some point they become corrupt.  Their corruption reveals itself in a hundred little ways, from practices that betray democracy ("guilt until proven innocent"), to hypocritical and exclusionary law-making, to death camp overtures for the species they claim to be protecting.  They give you "good reasons" for what they do—but their reasons never quite hold up under logical examination.  Like the logic of madmen, their reasons always seems a little cracked, a little sick.  And what is sickest about the mad is that they can't see how sick they have become.

I shall never forget David Cobb's expression when he told me point blank (with the TV cameras upon him) that the "illicit" rattlesnakes he intended to confiscate from the public would be put to death.  I had seen that expression before: on a dog that had been caught eating something obscene. Yet Cobb's expression, more firm and resolved than any sinning canine, was such that I realized he was in for keeps: he would fight to keep the indigestible matter down rather than admit the noxiousness of the material he had swallowed.  He had a "good reason", you see.  There are always "good reasons" to be found for anything when it is only your own authority you have to justify.

A last look at the pathology

The "Scientific Council" and their cohorts in NCWRC have decided that we shall remember them, if not for saving wildlife, then at least for their farcical sense of humor.  Let's review what we have learned so far:

(1) That there is a decline in snake populations even though no one knows how many snakes there are, or ought to be; 

(2) That snakes that were so rare 50 years ago that only a handful of people had ever seen one have suddenly become "Endangered," and moreover, this happened after they were granted "Special Concern" protection;  

(3) That snakes that are so secretive that no one can find them, can be determined to be in decline (e.g., southern hognose; coral snake, etc.,); 

(4) That the ecological variations in the urbanized northern United States can be applied verbatim to the agriculturalized south; 

(5) That the state with the highest incidence of snakebite in the nation does not have enough rattlesnakes to bite people; 

(6) That it should be illegal to kill a dangerous snake but legal to kill a harmless one;

(7) That a child who catches a common species of snake or other reptile in his own yard is a criminal, while cars will squash thousands of those same snakes at night while he sleeps, totaling millions each year; 

(8) That in order to protect snakes and other reptiles you must make it illegal to rescue them from roads before being run over by cars; 

(9) That an animal so small that it can hide beneath a single oak leaf can be rendered extinct by flabby overweight snake-men toting bags and hooks while walking on weekends in thousands of square miles of dense forest, thickets and swamps;

(10) That the greatest opponent of these supernaturally gifted snake hunters is also the greatest collector of snakes in the state (A. Braswell); 

(11) That you can increase wild populations of snakes by banning captive reproduction of them; 

(12) That a law that cannot be enforced and will not be obeyed will protect snakes few people can properly identify;

(13) That an animal must become "endangered" before it can rate a grant to study it; and so the more endangered species the more grants and money to be made by scientists;

(14) That a list of endangered species increasing from year to year indicates a successful management approach;

(15) That there is more money to be made in protecting wildlife than in selling it;

(16) That the greatest exploiter of herptiles in the state created the laws and will be least affected by them (A. Braswell); 

(17) That animals preserved as a resource for everyone can be used by no one (exception A. Braswell and Company); 

(18) That it is cruel to maintain captive born animals alive in captivity but not cruel to take them from the wild and kill and mummify them; 

(19) That in order to protect animals the state must kill them.

Recommendations

(1) Abolish the North Carolina "nongame" status in North Carolina and reclassify all herptiles as "game."  All herptiles have historical usage and therefore precedence as "game."  And snake hunting is a valid sport.

(2) Allow the public to collect the herptile as a live or dead product.  All persons qualify regardless of institutional connections.  This will put institutional personnel on an equal footing with the public and prevent irresponsible exclusionary lawmaking (e.g., such as that done by the "Scientific Council").

(3) Manage the collection of herptiles by quota, exactly as other game animals.  Thus their use can be regulated, and need not be banned.  The collector purchases a stamp for each example he or she wants to harvest.  The fee will be geared to reflect 50% of the wholesale resale value of the animal (25% of retail), which will vary according to current market price.  This will remove profit from and discourage wild collection, and force a reliance on a captive born product.  The resulting monies (which should be considerable) should be managed in a way that will help herptile populations (e.g., acquire habitat, sponsor breeding programs to re-introduce depleted populations of some species).

(4) Ban certain forestry practices that hurt herptile "game" habitat, such as uprooting and removal of tree stumps (management of herptiles as game animals will enable the state to dictate land usage to some extent, as is already being done for other game species).

(5) Do not permit destruction of essential snake habitat for this damages the game product.

(6) Establish a licensing system for captive breeders of herptiles.  Applicants will purchase a breeder's license and be exempt from any other fees, except those originating with the collection of the original founder's stock or any further stock taken from the wild. There are no additional licenses required to export offspring or wild collected adults from North Carolina, provided the original quota fee is met.

(7) All species, including ESA species, will be permitted to be reproduced in captivity. The applicant will pay the state the full current retail price for each example of ESA species collected.  The offspring of ESA species will be PITT tagged (so as to make enforcement for wildlife agencies practical) and logged with the NCWRC office.  No further fees will be exacted for offspring, which will encourage captive reproduction (discouraging wild collection).  There are no limitations on destinations of sale (they may be sold within state or without).  If an ESA species is sold within the state, a copy of the permits and PITT tag number will accompany the specimen.  Free trade in captive born ESA species will encourage captive reproduction of them, and attempts to rebuild wild populations in some seriously depleted localities will be encouraged by the State.

(8) Exempt children under 16 from collection fees (unless ESA species) so long as the specimens are not resold.  Do not exempt them from the quota, however.

(9) An ESA without habitat is worthless; but habitat without the ESA is tenable.  State and federal government should therefore work toward abolishing the ESA and replacing it with an EHA (Endangered Habitat Act) or similar program intended to conserve the biological life zones of herptiles and all other wildlife simultaneously.  The state should make it profitable for landowners to sell or donate their properties to the state for the conservation of all wildlife.  An effort should be made to de-emphasize protection of individual species so far as possible, so long as this can be construed not to do significant damage to wild populations.  An attempt to determine population numbers and expectations should be made by the state, monitoring the effects of harvest according to locality.  This can be accomplished by licensees reporting their collection findings, through the quota system.

Future of a state and federally controlled "Scientific Council"

I do not see any future for a "Scientific Council" that does not use science, nor for a group of scientists employed by state and federal government who act out the roles of independent scientists while preserving clear and admitted biases.  I believe that it is time for the "Scientific Council" to step down from attempting to influence state lawmakers. They have proven themselves ill-equipped for the task, and by their own admission reveal an unwillingness to abide by laws imposed upon the general public.  We ask that an independent investigation (or ad hoc committee incorporating a broader public input) not related to the "Scientific Council" or its membership explore these matters further.  We ask that any scientific material intended to influence the lives and health of North Carolinians be published in a recognized journal of peers and then reviewed by the whole scientific and medical community (e.g., public health), not a closed society, before being presented clandestinely to lawmakers.  We ask that the Scientific Council cease presenting inaccurate or unconfirmed "opinion" designed to look like fact to our state agencies, and use the standard scientific protocol that is appropriate to all good science.

We ask that the NCWRC develop a set or guidelines and standards by which a species can qualify for ESA protection, to prevent whimsical and unfounded applications such as have characterized this issue. 

We recognize snakebite as a public health issue.  We ask that the NCWRC also recognize this, and if intending to pursue this course, to place it first for review by the appropriate health agencies.  We ask these things as a formal request.

References and Suggested Reading

Allen, W. B., Jr. 1992. Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). In W. B.. Allen Jr., The Snakes of Pennsylvania. Reptile and Amphibian Magazine, Pottsville, Penn.

Adams, L. W., and Geis. 1983. Effects of roads on small mammals. Journal of Applied Ecology 20:403-415.

Bartlett, D. 2000. Notes from the field: Low country. Reptiles 8(5):32-36, 38.

Berish, J. E. D. 1998. Characterization of rattlesnake harvest in Florida. J. Herpetology 32(4):551-557.

Brown, W. S. 1993. Biology, status and management of the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus): A guide for conservation. SSAR Herpetological Circular Number 22.

Brown, W. S., L. Jones and R. Stechert. 1994. A case of herpetological conservation: notorious poacher convicted of illegal trafficking in timber rattlesnakes. Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc. 29(4): 74-79, 1994

Bush, B, R. Browne-Cooper and B. Maryan. 1991. Some suggestions to decrease reptile road kills in reserves with emphasis on the western Australian wheatbelt. Herpetofauna 21(2):23-24.

Case, T. J., D. T. Bolger and A. D. Richman. 1992. Reptilian extinctions: The last ten thousand years in conservation biology. Pp. 91-125. In: P. L. Fielder and S. K. Jain, editors, The theory and practice of nature preservation and management. New York: Chapman and Hall.

Clamp, H. 1994 Tales of the diamondback. Bull. Coastal Carolina Herp. Soc. 1:7.

Darnell, K., 2000. The venom gypsy. In press.

Ditmars, R. L. 1937. The making of a scientist. New York: Macmillan.  

Edgren. R. A., 2001.  Heterodon to 1950, An historical assessment.  Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc. 36(6):121-123, 2001

Enge, K. M. 1993. Herptile use and trade in Florida: Final performance report. Tallahassee: Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission.

Fahrig, L., J. H. Pedlar, S. E. Pope, P. D. Taylor and J. F. Wegener. 1995. Effect of road traffic on amphibian density. Biological Conservation 73:177-182.

Fitzgerald, L. E., and C. W. Painter. 2000. Rattlesnake commercialization: long term trends, issues, and implications for conservation. Wildlife Soc. Bull. 28(1):235-253

Fowle, S. C. 1996. Effects of roadkill mortality on the western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta belli) in the Mission Valley, western Montana. Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.

Goodman, S. M., M. Pidgeon and S. O'Connor. 1994. Mass mortality of Madagascar radiated tortoise caused by road construction. Oryx 28(2):115-118.

Griswold, W. G. 2000. The southern hognose snake (Heterodon simus). Reptiles 8(6):32-38, 40-45.

Greene, H. W. 1997. Snakes: The evolution of mystery in nature. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1990. Hawks, eagles, and falcons of North America. Washington: Smithsonian Inst. Press.

Kauffield, C. F. 1957. Snakes and snake hunting. Garden City, NY: Hanover House.

Klauber, L. M. 1972. Rattlesnakes: Their habits, life histories and influence on mankind. 2nd ed., 2 vols. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. California Press.

Krivda, W. 1993. Road kills of migrating garter snakes at The Pas Manitoba. Blue Jay 51(4):197-198.

Lakatos, I.   1978.  The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Langmuir, I. 1989. Pathological Science, Physics Today 42(10):36-48

Madsen, T., R. Shine, J. Loman and T. Hakansson. 1993. Determinants of mating success in male adders, Vipera berus. Animal Behaviour 45:491-499.

Martin, W. H. 1992. Phenology of the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) in an unglaciated section of the Appalachian Mountains. Pp. 259-277. In: J. A. Campbell and E. D. Brodie, Jr., editors, Biology of the pitvipers. Tyler, TX: Selva.

Means, D. B. 1997. A preliminary consideration of highway impacts on herpetofauna inhabiting small isolated wetlands in the southeastern U.S. coastal plain. Tallahassee, FL: Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy.

Miniter, F. 2000. The money trial. Outdoor Life 205(2):46-49, 100, 107.

Officer, C., and J. Page. 1996. The great dinosaur extinction controversy. New York: Addison-Wesley.

Palmer, W. M., and A. L. Braswell. 1995. Reptiles of North Carolina. Univ. NC.

Reinert, H. K. 1992. Radiotelemetric field studies of pitvipers: Data acquisition and analysis. Pp. 185-197. In: J. A. Campbell and E. D. Brodie, Jr., editors, Biology of the pitvipers. Tyler, TX: Selva.

Ripa, D. 1989. (on the low profit in snake collecting) in The Western Lands by William S. Burroughs. New York: Viking.

Ripa, D. 1994. Reproduction of the Central American bushmaster (Lachesis muta stenophrys) and the black-headed bushmaster (Lachesis muta melanocephala) for the first time in captivity. Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc. 29(8):165-83.

Ripa, D. 1996. Confessions of a gaboon viper lover. Pp. 105-115. In: Gary Indiana, editor, Living with the animals. New York: Faber and Faber.

Ripa, D. 1997. Range extension for the viper, Bothrops leucurus. Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc. 32(2):25-26.

Ripa, D. 1999. Keys to understanding the bushmasters (Lachesis spp.). Bull. Chicago Herp. Soc. 34(3):45-92.

Rosen, P. C., and C. H. Lowe. 1994. Highway mortality of snakes in the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. Biological Conservation 68(2):143-148.

Russell, F. E. 1982. Snake venom poisoning. Great Neck, NY: Scholium International, Inc.

Sexton, O. J. 1959. Spatial and temporal movements of a population of the painted turtle, Chrysemys picta marginata (Agassiz). Ecol. Monogr. 29:113-140.

Shine, R. 1991. Australian snakes: A natural history. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Snyder, B. 1949. Diamondbacks and dollar bills. Florida Wildlife 3:3-5, 16, 19.

Solórzano, A., and L. Cerdas. 1989. Reproductive biology and distribution of the terciopelo, Bothrops asper Garman (Serpentes: Viperidae) in Costa Rica. Herpetologica 45(4):444-450.

 

If you would like to contact the author regarding this article please write to:
Dean Ripa
Ripa Ecologica

4608 Cedar Avenue, Wilmington, NC, 28403  USA 
or email him at
Ripa Ecologica