Worrisome trend of Dudleya farinosa poaching in California

#1

I was just reading a worrying/depressing article about the problem of succulent poaching on the NorCal coast, and wanted to share the issue (I hope that’s OK).

https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9327697-181/plant-smugglers-take-massive-toll

In particular, I wanted to alert other local naturalists so they can keep an eye out for these people. Just gross.

From the article:

“Investigators now believe several hundred thousands plants worth tens of millions of dollars on the Asian black market have been torn illegally from bluffs along the Northern California coast over the past several years, in some cases stripping whole areas of the plant species, said Adrian Foss, a captain with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.”<

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Obscuring Observations of Species at Risk of Poaching
#2

there may be a case for obscuring some dudleya species on inat that don’t have official rare status yet, based on this trend. I don’t like going overboard when obscuring isn’t necessary, but in this case, it may be worth it.

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#3

Agree @charlie, this is clearly a case where curators need some latitude to respond to immediate threats. Maybe even with the ability to put a lock on the status that only staff (or other selected super-curators) could unlock?

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#4

From reading the article, the poachers already know where to find it, and it is not a rare plant. I think what is more needed than obscuration, is more naturalists in the area documenting what is there, and capturing evidence of the poaching to pass on to the authorities. This is not just a few plants to feed the family or pretty up the home garden, but wholesale rape of the land. Catch them in the act, prosecute hard, and send a strong message…

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#5

That might be a bit knee jerk though… personal safety above all else!

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#6

yeah that is a good point. I kind of think that’s true for all of it. Plus a few ‘honey pot’ observations orchids and turtles, with some game cams and wardens ready to swoop down and make back a years worth of wages on the fines extracted from whoever they catch. But… we are left cobbling together what little we have i guess.

The premise of hiding stuff is a little sketchy and not data driven though i think it does have a time and a place. I have heard stories of populatins of plants disappearing that only biologists knew about… things like that. Or a certain other naturalist data recording site that obscures everything but the guy who runs the site and anyone he deems ‘trusted’ can see the locations. Dude could be selling tons of herps on the side for all i know. Not cool. But… this is perhaps way off topic

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#7

I agree with @kiwifergus that obscuration isn’t a great tool with species that are widespread and easy to find. Dudleya farinosa is common on pretty much any coastal terrace along the central coast. While illegal collecting is a concern, finding these populations (which is the piece of the puzzle iNat could potentially play a role in) is unlikely to be the bottleneck thwarting poachers. The bottleneck in this case is likely policing of protected areas and enforcement of laws and demand for these plants.

For what its worth, California Native Plant Society conservation statuses are up to date in iNaturalist for Dudleya with all rare Dudleya species are being obscured.

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#8

yeah that makes sense, you know i am an obscuring skeptic in terms of this stuff anyway.

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#9

I know it’s never as simple as it “could” be, but I imagine that if a non-profit organisation was set up to train and manage collectors that would take low numbers of these on a sustainable basis, and then put those out to the markets that are taking them on a black market basis, then the profitability of it is crippled, the market need is met, and any “profits” could go to policing the environment against illegal takes.

To my thinking the worst part of this behaviour is the damage done that is completely avoidable, but because we are dealing with people that have no regard for the law, they also typically have no regard for the damage they do in the process of collecting. Instead of wholesale taking in a large area, one plant taken from every 10sqm (ie 3m between plants taken) would likely allow the environment to recover very quickly. Those taking illegally want to get as much as possible in as short a timeframe as possible, to minimise the chances of being caught.

Reaching hearts and minds… much harder to do than say!

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#10

probably they aren’t that hard to propagate so in a few years you could just go to growing them commercially. ,Totally on the same page though. Hiding data doesn’t work that well to deter illegal behavior and in some cases may make it worse (people do more unsavory things when no one is watching). I wonder the extent to which things like iNat make poaching/collection more VISIBLE because more people are looking… that could incorrectly be attributed as an increase in collection. Though this dudleya thing seems to be off somewhere else.

We need better native plant nurseries!

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#11

They are easy to propagate, but apparently the desired plants are the weather beaten and bug eaten ones, which become more colourful and interesting. Wouldn’t be difficult to replicate in a nursery setting though…

cheers
Mark Tutty
kiwifergus@gmail.com

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#12

imagine being the person who is paid to abuse cultivated Dudleyas in a nursery!

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#13

Just wanted to add that a San Francisco NPR station recently did a call-in segment about this: https://www.kqed.org/forum/2010101870252/california-succulents-attract-native-plant-enthusiasts-and-smugglers

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