As the herping season is now in full swing in the San Francisco Bay Area, more and more herpers are hitting the field. Although field herping is not the most popular outdoor hobby (compared to, say, hiking or birding), it is certainly more interactive in regards to direct contact between nature and people. This being true, herpers should understand that their actions greatly influence not only the animals, but the habitat as well.
Recently, I have noticed that many of the spots that I visit to observe herps (in particular, rock outcroppings that serve as prime habitat for the highly sought after California Mountain Kingsnake) have been worked over by other people. One could easily tell that other people have been there doing what I do- looking for snakes.
This is perfectly fine. It is great to know that other people appreciate these animals as much as I do. It is amazing to know that other people share the same knowledge and understanding of the natural history of these often misunderstood and dismissed animals.
However, what is not fine is when other herpers forget about basic herping etiquette. Foremost, it is not OK to leave a spot in ruins after you have herped it. At a spot where I regularly find mountain kingsnakes, rocks have been flipped and not placed back correctly. Logs have been shredded and displaced. Under some of the rocks that were carelessly flipped and flipped back, there were many crushed lizards and ring-necked snakes.
Do these people, these “naturalists”, these “herpers”, not realize the damage they are causing to the animals and habitat? Aside from the obvious deaths of those crushed lizards and snakes, the displacement of habitat (rocks, logs, etc) will hinder the usage by other species. It takes years for rocks and logs and other forms of cover to become prime spots for herps to utilize - the formation of burrows under rocks, the moisture seal of logs and rocks, just to name a few. It just takes a second to rip a rock out of place and have the sun dry out the moisture and the elements to destroy the burrows in which the very snake you are looking for utilizes for thermoregulation.
When you flip a rock over, put it back exactly how you found it. Tap down the dirt around the rock to reseal it. Don’t shred up logs- many herps, as well as other creatures, rely on the moisture that exist within the log. Shredding it will expose it to the elements and dry it out.
Is it so hard to appreciate the habitat that your favorite snake or lizard lives in? Is it so hard to understand how a snake lives in its habitat? Do these people not realize our impact on the environment, even at this micro-habitat level?
You are not a naturalist if you cannot treat the natural world with respect.