Monday, October 24, 2005

Poaching in National Parks

The Washington Post reports that the Park Service has recorded instances of poaching in many American national parks. The poaching tends to focus on items that are hard to find outside the protections nominally offered by the park system - especially items with a high resale value:

In Shenandoah National Park, the ginseng and the black bears that thrive along the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains are the biggest draw for poachers. Wild ginseng sells for $400 a pound on the open market, 10 times the price of cultivated ginseng. And a black bear's dried gallbladder sells for $1,000 in Asia, making it worth more per ounce than cocaine.
Poaching is harming rare species and other resources:
Thieves take at least one archaeological artifact from a park every day, they say, and a 1988 federal survey found poachers had taken 105 wildlife species from 153 parks the year before. That illegal take included 12 threatened and endangered species, including the desert tortoise, Steller sea lion and Schaus swallowtail butterfly.
It is shameful that people are poaching natural resources - especially endangered species - for profit. While I would not want to see the national parks turn into a scene from Capitol Hill or the White House, I tend to agree with the conclusion of the article that more staff is needed to reduce the losses that our parks are taking. The article cites a figure of 51 agents to cover 388 parks, a figure that seems low to me, and ought to seem low to policy makers as well.

One thing that will be interesting to watch is what happens to the sources that talked to the Post about funding shortages. The last time a Park Police employee discussed funding issues with the Post while the matter was before Congress, she was fired.