Fish & Wildlife Service Action Encourages Destruction of Cypripedium montanum
Report and editorial by Carson E. Whitlow, 4 April 1999

In the latest move by the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), plants of the mountain lady-slipper orchid, Cypripedium montanum, cannot be considered salvaged because they statistically do not exist! Cyp. montanum is found in a national forest in Washington, on some of the trails to be cut for logging. Because of the clearing and logging, the plants on these trails will either be destroyed by the hauling operation or by the burning sunlight. But, they don't exist in the quantities that are there to be seen and readily counted, because the Office of Scientific Authority (OSA), FWS, says they aren't there. For the area the trails make up and from the average number of plants per acre, there are only 35 plants there, not the hundreds that were readily visible. Thus, the most one could possibly salvage would be maybe 40. The other hundreds, they don't exist, statistically. This is a complete misuse of statistics and indicates how little the OSA knows of the plants they are supposedly "authorities" for.

However, the Office of Management Authority, FWS, then took this "information" and not only refused to issue a CITES permit for the salvaged plants but basically accused the individual of being in violation of the Lacey Act. Since the plants "could not have been there," they must have been removed from another area which the collector did not have permission to collect from. A person gets what are supposed to be the proper permits to collect, provides documentation to the Fish and Wildlife Service necessary to document the legal removal and salvage, and end up being called a liar and thief. This is the reward for trying to do it "right".

Much, if not all, of the confusion could have been resolved by a simple phone call to the individual for some explanations. No phone call was made. On the other hand, since the FWS office was contacted about the progress of the permit on several occasions, there was plenty of opportunity for the FWS to ask for clarification. But, none was asked.

The Fish & Wildlife Service apparently does not grasp the concept that those applying for permits and trying to do things correctly are in most cases not the problem. The criminals are not going to bother with the paperwork - they will dig up plants and ship them, and the only time FWS will ever know about them is when a shipment is confiscated, when the lawbreakers are caught digging, or when someone reports the losses. The FWS should be working with the people applying for permits and guiding them in order to facilitate legal activities, not intimidating them and making them feel like criminals. The FWS approach only encourages more illegal activity.

This is a recurring example of the Fish & Wildlife Service's lack of leadership and knowledge in supposedly protecting our native species and of the handling of people applying for permits. They are so blatantly inept and incompetent it is embarrassing to recognize them as a governmental agency, and frightening that they have any authority.

It has been noted that, in other countries, trying to salvage CITES listed plants, especially any of the orchid species, is all but impossible to do. Those governments officials have so little trust in people as to believe that with all the material available to collect from, in areas being deforested and laid waste and the ease with which it can be collected, that the collectors might decide to collect from areas they shouldn't. Apparently our own government is not much different in lacking trust in their own people.

This case further exemplifies the lack of knowledge and understanding government officials, "scientific authorities," have of the real world and how the plants live and die. In other cases inappropriate comparisons, invalid approaches to data and illogical information has been passed off as "fact" in justifying refusals for permit issuance (see note below). They seem to be oblivious to the truth. They know that in most cases the individuals will not go to court for the matter since they could never recoup the costs involved. If that isn't enough, they try to intimidate them by accusing them of committing a crime. There seems to be an agenda here which we are not aware of, not to protect our plant life but to keep them out of anyones hands if possible, even if they are going to be destroyed. That is not what CITES was set up for, as I understand it.

It is time to remove as many of the orchid genera and species as possible, and others as well, from the CITES listing and require valid, well documented information for the inclusion of any plant of the CITES lists. The abuse of power by the Fish and Wildlife Service must be reviewed and stopped.

(To be continued)

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(The approaches and conclusions described herein resulted from an application for a CITES permit to export some of the salvaged plants. Source documentation is on file.)