Secrets

Geopandion at aol.com Geopandion at aol.com
Thu Mar 7 19:49:52 PST 2002


Dear Fellow Birders,

Hal Opperman's comments to Eugene Hunn beg a reply. Eugene is in
Connecticut for a conference and won't be back in the Seattle area until
Sunday. Since I was with Gene on Saturday when the "rumor" was divluged, I
feel sufficiently involved to respond.
The issues surrounding the privacy rights of the homeowners who have
had the bird visiting their properties have been aired extensively.
Certainly any landowner has the right to privacy and the right to limit
access to his or her property to the fullest extent of the law. I happen to
agree with Gene's statement that absent harm to the bird, harm to the
environment, or harm to some person; or a violation of a person's security;
or the creation of a public hazard or nuisance, then getting the word out
about a rare or unusual bird ought to take place as quickly and as widely as
possible. I also concur with David Chelimer's point-by-point rebuttal of
Steve Mlodinow's statement. Having said that, I sense that the real issue is
not one of privacy, but, as Hal suggested, it concerns a breach of trust. To
begin with, I suggest a careful reading of Gene's statement does not suggest
that we "should always operate in full disclosure mode". As noted above he
was very careful in outlining reasons for protecting a bird or a site.
However, by Saturday morning, March 2, 2002, something other than the
protection of the location of the Bunting site was going on. I don't know
how many people had knowledge of the Bunting and its location on Saturday,
that is not particularly relevant. What is relevant is that instead of
keeping that information completely secret so that the homeowners would not
be disturbed, SOMEONE chose to SELECTIVELY divulge the information that
there was a first-state-record bird in Seattle, and also gave out directions.
Only those involved in the transfer of that information can answer the
question of whether they crossed the line of "trust" in the birding
community. How many people were going to get preferential treatment before
someone said, wait a minute, this is wrong? I want no part of secrecy.
Secrecy destroys community and erodes trust. When I was offered the chance
to see the Bunting with the caveat that I could not pass along the
information, I immediately said I did not want to know the details if I had
to keep that a secret from the birding community.
The decision was made to check to see if the bird was still there and
then alert the birding community. After seeing the bird at 3:15, I called
several birding friends and gave information on the bird to them. I felt I
had an unwritten obligation to others to let them know of the sighting.
Clearly the first responders are the ones who were (in this case) and
always will be the ones confronted with the dilemma. If a landowner calls
the Audubon Society, and someone gets a photo or otherwise documents a bird,
and the homeowner does not want the information divulged, then the "secret"
must remain there. It's a very slippery slope downward from there toward
some hierarchal birding caste-system where a few "elite" are privileged and
the rest of us eat crumbs, if information is selectively given out.
After seeing the bird, showing the neighbor and her son the bird, and
learning that the viewing point was on Seattle City property, I had no qualms
whatsoever about divulging that information. Those of you who were in the
"know" and chose to give out the information "selectively" might do some
soul-searching on that decision. Secrets have a way of getting out.

George Gerdts
Bainbridge Island, WA
geopandion at aol.com


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