From: John Flicker, National Audubon Society
Published July 3, 2005 12:00 AM

A Second Chance -- A Guest Commentary

At first some of us didn’t know how to react to the rediscovery of an ivory-billed woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. After all, we environmentalists aren’t used to such good news.

I thought about former Audubon president John Baker, and wished he were still alive to see this miraculous event. In 1942 he led a desperate effort to stop the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company from cutting down the bottomland forest in Louisiana where the last ivory-bill had been seen. Chicago Mill and Lumber refused, the trees were cut, and Baker watched what everyone thought was the last bird disappear.

But nature outsmarted us again. Other ivory-bills secretly survived in the Big Woods of Arkansas, unknown to anyone until now. Some are calling it lucky, but I disagree. It was more than just luck.

We know what did and didn’t happen to make this “luck” possible, and it provides a compelling lesson for the future. First, what did happen: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set aside critical bottomland forest habitat as wildlife refuges that would protect birds and other wildlife. Next, what didn’t happen: The service did not jeopardize wildlife protection by opening the refuges to incompatible uses like oil drilling, logging, grazing, and water diversion projects—even though no one could prove that such intrusions might harm something like an ivory-billed woodpecker.

Americans are fortunate to have a system of protected national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges that are the envy of the world. But Congress and the Bush administration have been aggressively opening these protected areas to development. Just recently, Congress voted to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and President George W. Bush authorized construction of logging roads in some 58 million acres of national forest wilderness. Just as John Baker fought to stop the logging of Louisiana’s forests in 1942, Audubon fiercely opposed these decisions, and we are not giving up.


Ivory-billed woodpeckers are not alone. Audubon’s annual “State of the Birds” reported last year that nearly 30 percent of all bird species in the continental United States and Canada are in serious decline. The primary cause is loss of habitat. Birds are wonderful indicators of our overall environmental health, and as the environment is stressed and biodiversity reduced through habitat degradation and loss, the most sensitive species send out the signal first. The federal government should be heeding these signals and guarding the public land that has been set aside as national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. Instead the administration has been opening the door and welcoming developers, and reducing the enforcement of environmental and conservation laws.

For more than 60 years environmentalists have lived with a nagging sense of guilt about the ivory-billed woodpecker. Was there anything more we could have done? Now we have an incredible gift: a second chance. This time we can get it right, both for the ivory-bill and for all the other birds sliding toward extinction.

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Source: An ENN Guest Commentary

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