Loving Nature from a Safe Distance


by Tom Barnes

Today, we’re talking about how, in some cases, our passion for nature can actually end up doing more harm than good to the cause of conservation. Some of the world’s problems are so obvious, like pollution and poaching, that we end up missing what’s right under our nose.

Sometimes that problem has to do with collecting. When people collect rare and endangered species, like bog turtles and Plymouth red-bellied cooters, they can actually end up destroying and fragmenting breeding populations. So hands off! Many turtles have to survive a number of years before they’re able to reproduce, so removing them from their homes can truly affect the size of the population. Not to mention, removing them from their habitat can stress them out. Even moving them can be harmful, as they may try to get back to their original home or destination, passing new threats along the way.

This plant is just the size of a quarter! Credit: USFWS

<—Picking a bouquet of Robbins’ cinquefoil is a federal crime. Just say no. Photo credit: USFWS

The first plant to be recovered under the Endangered Species Act was actually pushed to near extinction by collectors and hikers — by 1973, centuries of people taking and trampling Robbins’ cinquefoil on Mount Washington almost led to it disappearing entirely. It’s tragic — that unknown to the avid fans of these flowers, their love is contributing to their decline. It’s sort of like some celebrities these days.

Did you know we haven’t had a native cougar population in our region for over 70 years? The last records of eastern cougars are in Maine in 1938 and New Brunswick in 1932. Now, any cougars here are released pets or from the West. You might love that cuddly cat when it’s a kitten, but are you ready to handle a 100-plus pound cat eager to feast on deer from your backyard? Not to mention, some states have specific laws governing ownership of large, claw and fang-possessing animals like cougars.


Baby cougar! Look, but don’t adopt. Photo via.

Have you ever seen a sign that said, “don’t feed the animals?” (Alas, they have a sign over my desk that says “don’t feed the intern.”) Despite how much fun it seems to interact with these animals, over time people feeding animals can create problems. Wild animals can become used to people, the extra food can lead to explosive population growth, and worse yet, the food could actually hurt the animal.

Hardly anyone wants to harm wildlife and habitat. The problem gets complicated when our attempts to help these creatures ends up harming them in the long run.

This post originally appeared on Conserving the Nature of the Northeast.