Review of : Rapport sur la situation de la rainette faux-grillon de l'ouest (Pseudacris triseriata) au Québec. Jöel Bonin & Patrick Galois. 1996. Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Faune, Québec. vii+39 pp. - F.W. Schueler, 1999, Canadian Field-Naturalist 113(4):699.
Despite the fact that surveyed boundaries are credited with much of the ecological damage commercial People have inflicted on North America (William Cronon, 1983. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. Hill & Wang, New York. xiii+241 pp.), one sometimes feels that conservationists, and the agencies that sponsor them, think we can overcome these problems by producing ever more categories and boundaries. If there is a calculus-like limit theorum at work here, it does not seem to have been formally expounded, but it sometimes seems to be a core assumption of the conservation and endangered species movements.
The process that led to the present document is serverely constrained by boundaries.. The report is a workmanlike example of its genre: the status assessement written into a prescribed format. It concludes that "Recent studies show a decline of the species in the region south of Montréal where only a few relict populations remain. Major causes of this decline are probably modification and loss of habitat due to intensification of agriculture and urban development. In the Outaouais Valley, where the species is more common, habitat loss has been limited. The long-term future of the Western Chorus Frog however depends on the perpetuation of existing habitat conditions" (authors' English abstract).
Two sets of boundaries make the studies that provide the data for this report unsatisfactory, and unlikely to lead to a full understanding of its causes. The first is geographical. The biological problem addressed is the decline of Chorus Frogs in the St Lawrence and Ottawa Valleys since the 1950s. The area considered is restricted to the limits of the province of Quebec, though the problem (to judge by my surveys in the 1970s and 1990s) extends to southern Renfrew County and Kingston in Ontario, to Burlington in Vermont, and to Plattsburg and Pulaski in New York. Secondly, the reason the problem has been studied in Quebec, and not in Ontario, is that the periferal character of the Quebec populations entitles them to special status as a potentially 'endangered' species. While declines in eastern Ontario (and in New York) have been, in my opinion, equally great, the perceived continued abundance of Chorus Frogs elsewhere in southern Ontario has resulted in official indifference to their fate in eastern Ontario (I discovered the species in Vermont in 1975, and it is evidently extirpated there).
Because anuran meta-populations fluctuate widely, we can only understand the reasons for their declines while they are still abundant enough to escape classification as 'endangered.' While it is nice to get government support for the study of endangered periferal populations, such studies, if they are to hope to reach a full understanding of the declines, must extend to the biological limits of the decline, not be cut off at the political boundaries of the sponsoring jurisdiction. I don't know if it's practical to expect boundary-minded bureaucracies to support studies outside their territory, or of declining and fluctuating species too abundant to fit into legislated categories of rarity, but naturalists must do all they can to study real problems, even if these don't fall neatly into arbitrary formal categories.
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