The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 5, 2013

Race is to the swift-ish

Daily Item

---- — To the Eastern spadefoot toad, the Pennsylvania bog turtle, the Northern redbelly dace, the three-spined stickleback and, of course, the now famous Eastern sand darter, we differentially yield the right of way.

These are among the endangered 28 fish, 11 amphibians and reptiles, and 10 species of mostly unrecognizable invertebrates, which are protected by the Fish and Boat code from variations of molestation including catching, taking, killing, possessing, importing, exporting or offering for sale or purchase, dead or alive, without special permit from the executive director.

The inherent problem with endangered species is that their numbers are supposedly so few as to be uncommon and, therefore, less likely to be encountered frequently enough to require protection.

Which should make us all wonder how 19 of 38 turtle racers showed up at the annual New Berlin Turtle Derby with box or wood turtles that were ineligible on the grounds of endangerment. In the march of time and civilization, the likelihood of children poking about in streams probably constitutes some force of nature that will be impossible to stop and difficult to regulate.

We share with many the regrets over lost innocence that comes with environmental awareness at this level of civic responsibility. There are, doubtless, few gentler, more appreciative and concerned caretakers for the varieties of life and wonders of nature than the young children who engage in the fun of collecting, observing and "racing" turtles, frogs, crabs and snakes (snakes?).

Biologists and conservation professionals, however, speak with more authority about what stresses threaten mollusks and crustaceans out of their life cycles to the detriment of disappearing species.

Rather than see this as a repeated opportunity to express differences and voice regrets over the heavy hand of regulation, the great turtle derby raid may open a new direction for the 40-year-old contest.

To their enduring credit, organizers, volunteers and past participants made the most of the moments of disappointment, using the occasion to educate youngsters so that the derby may continue in future years, legally and reliably on the strength of more abundant turtle swiftness.

If we could figure out how to turn this task and similar contests into educational activities that are as much fun as a turtle race -- which would not be a lecture, slide show or movie -- then we might pick up the pace of environmental awareness as it happens, naturally.