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Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter, 2000, 1:21-22
© 2000 by Chelonian Research Foundation

Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter

What is PARC and Why Should You Care?

J. Whitfield Gibbons
University of Georgia, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Aiken, SC 29802
http://www.parcplace.org

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) is a recently developed initiative designed to address conservation of reptiles and amphibians. PARC is poised to find the solutions to the problems faced by herpetofauna. People who have an agenda that in some way involves snakes, frogs, turtles, salamanders, lizards, or crocodilians should find out about PARC.

The PARC Mission Statement puts it succinctly: To conserve amphibians, reptiles and their habitats as integral parts of our ecosystem and culture through proactive and coordinated public/private partnerships.

These beleaguered animals and their habitats may at last have people on their side in North America and perhaps the whole world. Reptiles and amphibians have been steadily disappearing from much of the United States during the past few decades. Everyone is familiar with the amphibian problems, but the reptile plight is every bit as severe. One example is the southern hognose snake, a small harmless species that once lived from Mississippi to North Carolina. No specimens have been seen in Alabama or Mississippi for more than 18 years. Another is the eastern indigo snake, the last sighting of a native specimen being reported from Alabama more than 40 years ago. And, of course, an amphibian, the flatwoods salamander of the Southeast, is the most recent species to be added to the federal list of threatened species. And the list goes on and on, from California to Maine to Florida.

PARC could be the answer to helping maintain the herpetofaunal component of our country’s natural heritage and recover some of what we have almost lost. PARC’s organizational meeting in Atlanta in early June was the first national gathering. Based on attendance, PARC is the most diverse group of individuals and organizations that have ever worked together to address the problems confronting reptiles and amphibians on a national and global scale.

Diversity has become a symbol of strength, health, and well-being in biological communities, and so it is with societies and organizations. The more than 200 individuals who attended the organizational meeting represented 170 organizations. Included among the participants were representatives of museums, nature centers, state wildlife departments, universities, federal agencies, conservation societies, research laboratories, forest products industry, the pet trade, and environmental consultants and contractors. The attendance included participants from 33 states, Canada (British Columbia), México (México City), and the District of Columbia. Many of the groups are unaccustomed to working together, but the time has come to put aside differences of opinion and to hear all sides. No one has an interest in eliminating more herpetofauna, but solutions for the conservation of wild populations vary among government agencies, conservation groups, and private industry. All sides must be listened to, all must be allowed to participate, because all can contribute to solving the problems. The diverse mix of people and organizations will not only be able to identify the problems confronting native herpetofauna but also can implement solutions, and provide the support needed to assure the effective conservation of native herpetofauna.

One consensus among the participants at the PARC meeting was that the only sustainable approach for conservation of reptiles and amphibians is to familiarize the public with the organisms and their habitats so that everyone develops an appreciation for them. Public support of such an effort, with any group of fauna or flora, is a vital ingredient for a long-term solution.

Some people have asked, “Why should people care about reptiles and amphibians?” My first response is, ask the millions of people in the country who do care. For every person you can find who says he does not care about what happens to turtles, frogs, or salamanders, I can find ten or more who do care. Most people have just never been asked. In fact, a majority of U.S. citizens would be supportive of a nationwide conservation effort, not just for reptiles and amphibians, but for all wildlife.

Herpetofauna represent a major part of our natural heritage. If these animals are in trouble, we are in trouble. Reptiles and amphibians are sentinels of our environmental health. If they are declining and ultimately disappearing, we need to make amends. What happens to herpetofauna is a sign of what could happen to other wildlife and maybe even to us.

PARC is not looking for scapegoats but instead is looking for partnerships with people who want to do the right thing, who want to set the score right in the nation’s conservation efforts towards herpetofauna, towards all reptiles and amphibians. My impression is that the PARC concept will be highly successful and lead this country and others onto the path of conservation of native wildlife. PARC has a vision of providing the remedies necessary to correct the environmental problems that confront this group of animals and their habitats. It may be the last chance we will have for us to assure that humans and herpetofauna can live harmoniously in today’s world. Let us know if you want to participate (parc@srel.edu) or check the PARC Web site (www.parcplace.org).

What Can You Do to Help Reptiles and Amphibians?
1. Visit the PARC Web site, now located on http://www.parcplace.org. or communicate directly with PARC.
2. Determine how you might contribute to PARC’s Priority Conservation Needs for Reptiles and Amphibians (see the PARC Web site).
3. Lend your support to efforts by nature centers, museums, or schools in your community that are involved in educational projects directed toward reptiles and amphibians.

How is PARC Different?
Included among the characteristics of PARC that make it distinctive from all other groups with a focus on herpetofaunal conservation are the following:
PARC includes reptiles under its purview as well as amphibians.
PARC is habitat focused and is taking a strategic and cooperative approach to developing a broadly based conservation plan.
PARC includes state agencies and the private sector, such as the timber industry, as well as specialists and non-specialists with an interest in herpetology.
PARC will focus on not only endangered and threatened species but will also work toward the objective of “keeping common native species common.”