Eric Scigliano raises concern about the ethics of birding, when one's carbon footprint damages the same birds you cherish.

Birding in the time of climate change

Are nature lovers who pursue experiences of the natural world becoming the new buffalo hunters?

By crisscrossing the state throughout 2012, Sherry and Arden Hagen recorded 370 bird species, 11 more than the previous record holder and about 40 more than actually reside here.

Here in Washington, transportation — mainly automotive — produces about half of carbon dioxide emissions, the prime driver of greenhouse warming. The delightfully obsessed Hagens logged 31,531 driving miles chasing those 370 species, not counting however many boat and air miles their quest also entailed and however much they drove in their nonbirding lives. Certainly there may be worse reasons to drive that much. But there’s no free carbon lunch.

The sad fact is that fuel-guzzling nature lovers — not just birders but divers rushing to see the great reefs before they bleach and mountaineers scrambling to beat the melting glaciers — are the new buffalo hunters and cod catchers. In the act of pursuing the natural treasures we cherish, we contribute to their destruction.

I feel the allure myself, of course. I’d love to be flying off to Hawaii or the Caribbean right now to dive among the fading reefs.

The same argument has been used to justify any number of destructive practices, from trophy hunting to keeping elephants in zoos: It will teach people about the natural world. When do the costs justify the benefits? What kind of calculus can tell us what sort of Big Years and grand tours the planet can afford?

I don’t know. I just know that we forget to ask the question when we reach for our wetsuits and binoculars. [emphasis mine]

Tags: birding, carbon footprint

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Replies to This Discussion

I disagree with this.
Birders have ethics. My professors taught us ethics in my ornithology classes. Additionally the American Birding Association has a code of ethics that birders follow. http://www.aba.org/about/ethics.html
PRINCIPLES OF BIRDING ETHICS



Everyone who enjoys birds and birding must always respect wildlife, its environment, and the rights of others. In any conflict of interest between birds and birders, the welfare of the birds and their environment comes first.
Code of Birding Ethics
1. Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.
1(a) Support the protection of important bird habitat.
1(b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.
Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area;
Keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.
Use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups.
1(c) Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities.
1(d) Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.
2. Respect the law, and the rights of others.
2(a) Do not enter private property without the owner's explicit permission.
2(b) Follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing use of roads and public areas, both at home and abroad.
2(c) Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people. Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.
3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.
3(a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean, and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh weather.
3(b) Maintain and clean nest structures regularly.
3(c) If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation from cats and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.
4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care.
Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.
4(a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.
4(b) If you witness unethical birding behavior, assess the situation, and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action, and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.
Group Leader Responsibilities [amateur and professional trips and tours].
4(c) Be an exemplary ethical role model for the group. Teach through word and example.
4(d) Keep groups to a size that limits impact on the environment, and does not interfere with others using the same area.
4(e) Ensure everyone in the group knows of and practices this code.
4(f) Learn and inform the group of any special circumstances applicable to the areas being visited (e.g. no tape recorders allowed).
4(g) Acknowledge that professional tour companies bear a special responsibility to place the welfare of birds and the benefits of public knowledge ahead of the company's commercial interests. Ideally, leaders should keep track of tour sightings, document unusual occurrences, and submit records to appropriate organizations.
Please Follow this Code and Distribute and Teach it to Others
The American Birding Association's Code of Birding Ethics may be freely reproduced for distribution/dissemination. Please acknowledge the role of ABA in developing and promoting this code with a link to the ABA website using the url http://www.aba.org. Thank you.

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