Double Standard

March 11, 1996

     We all know the meaning of a ³double standard.²  A rule applied to one community somehow does not apply to another.  And, of course, most often that unregulated community includes ourselves.  Iım experienced so I can drive a little over the speed limit.  Or this candy wrapper Iım dropping wonıt make that much difference.

     Those examples represent common self-serving acts, but they are at least individual acts.  They donıt advocate speeding or littering.  Unfortunately, today we go far beyond this: whole communities defy laws simply because they donıt like them.  Still worse, not only are the laws defied, but law enforcement officers are vilified as though they are the culprits.

     We have, for example, recently heard government personnel referred to as ³jack-booted thugs.²  Today as one result Fish and Wildlife Service field workers must often travel in pairs because of threats to their lives.  I find that a dismal commentary on modern society.

     Reading this column so far, conservationists are probably saying to themselves, ³Ah, this columnist is finally going to speak out against the National Rifle Association.²  I do have concerns about extremists in that organization just as I do about extremist ³conservationists² who drive nails into trees to cause injury to lumbermen.  However, I write today instead about a group few of us would consider offensive: lepidopterists.

     What vision do we conjure up of butterfly collectors?  Probably that of goateed men in pith helmets or women in sunbonnets dashing about meadows with white nets.  Surely inoffensive folks and certainly not lawbreakers.

     Sadly, some of those ordinary people have come to a sorry turn.  For several months I have followed Internet postings by a professional butterfly collector who was caught poaching by Fish and Wildlife officers and subsequently convicted.  One of the crimes he and two others committed was collecting endangered butterfly species on federal lands.  As part of his sentence he was assigned community service, but he is evidently using that time to attack those who caught him.

     What most concerns me have been the many responsive Internet postings by people I formerly held in high regard: academic lepidopterists who support these law-breakers.  They argue: the laws are bad, permits are too difficult to obtain, only habitat destruction affects insect populations.  Their conclusion: therefore it is acceptable for these poachers to act illegally.

     Weıre not talking here about an individual chasing a few butterflies.  One poacher bragged of plans to collect 20,000 in one season. Among the defenses offered is that their words have been taken out of context.  How do you take out of context writing: ³Yours in poaching² or ³Because some of the things you sent me are on the endangered-species list, I will be careful not to reveal where I got them...itıs best to trade Œunder the tableı like this²?  (Those quotations are taken from Ted Williamsı excellent article in the current Audubon Magazine.)

     Many defenses of these law-breakers are self-serving because the poachers contribute to the defendersı museum collections.  But others, instead of seeking to change what they consider inappropriate regulations through recognized avenues, simply believe that they should make their own ³expert² determinations.

     Just before my lifetime egg collectors helped to drive the passenger pigeon into extinction.  Are we to allow butterfly collectors to drive rare and often spectacular butterfly species to a similar fate?

     I support the collection of butterflies — and birds for that matter — when those activities are performed within the law.  But I register my disgust with those, whatever their community, who not only consider themselves above the law but have the additional temerity to attack those responsible for law enforcement.