"....The truth is out there."
-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
-- Looking Ahead --
Soon we'll be entering the last couple months of this potentially final extensive search season for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. What a ride it's been; full of sound and fury, a cast of characters to fill a novel, books, websites galore, and at least 3 independent films... and, as Yogi B. would say, "it's not over, 'til it's over." Three possible outcomes come easily to mind:
1. Definitive documentation is obtained this season insuring further field work on behalf of the species.
2. Better, but still not conclusive, documentation is obtained (either in the form of multiple, more complete/credible sighting reports, or improved, yet still not definitive, photographic evidence), inflaming even further the division over how or if to proceed... NOT a wind-up to be wished-for, but can't be completely ruled out.
3. No better evidence for the Ivorybill's existence is found this season than already stands from past searches, drying up interest and funding in most quarters for continuance of the effort (except on a small scale, or by independent searchers, and the IBWO Foundation which is committed to the search). Even worse, many skeptics will take perceived failure to document the species in the 2005-8 period as confirmation that the species went extinct in the 1940s; a leap impossible, if not outright foolish, to make.
Time is getting short, and there may be no new ideas to be tried. As always, March - April are potentially two of the best months for Ivorybill searching. Moreover, IBWO reports of the past have most often popped up unexpectedly, out-of-the-blue --- the photo documentation now demanded could likewise come at any moment, from a human or from a 25-day-old automatic camera snapshot revealing a bird never seen by ground searchers, and now long gone from the area... or... it may simply never happen, and that must be recognized.
Just a couple of points I'd reiterate:
1. MOST of the concentrated effort looking for Ivorybills the last few years has been in Arkansas' Big Woods and Florida's Choctawhatchee region, two areas that historically, hardly registered as locales to look for IBWOs. More recently South Carolina's Congaree and Texas' Big Thicket, regions with much greater past IBWO gossip, have been focused on. But other areas of historical significance may still not have received the attention they need (though Cornell's Mobile Team and other independents are checking most of them out --- again I'd be thinking in terms of central and south Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi).
In short, negative results from Big Woods and Choctawhatchee, two areas not of great interest 5-6 years ago, threaten to curtail interest in other areas, not to mention casting an even greater cynical pall on future sightings turned in and meeting with knee-jerk ridicule.
2. I forfeited most hope some time ago that the Ivorybill could be saved even if found. The search for the IBWO is for me a largely scientific endeavor now to prove once-and-for-all how easily a large bird can evade detection (as defined by conclusive photographic documentation) for 60 years; to demonstrate that scientific hubris, and non-empirical, conjecture-slathered hubris alone, is what has backed the notion of IBWO extinction.
(Not to be mis-understood here, I'm all for making efforts to save the species, even if they are doomed in the long run, just as I'm all for efforts to save C. Condors and Whooping Cranes, or Blackburnian Warblers for that matter, all of which, given enough time, are no doubt doomed, despite temporary upticks in their populations). We treat human beings when they are sick even though we know eventually they will die; species can be treated with that same consideration, despite the demise they ultimately face.
3. Finally, some folks (or, in the case of Cornell, institutions), claiming sightings, have put future reputations and credibility on the line for this bird, even more-so than those of us who argue persistently from a keyboard on its behalf. For them especially, a definitive conclusion to this saga (which of course means documenting the bird!), is needed lest they be sequestered to a limbo-land of doubt well into the future.
In short, even with a negative outcome in the next 2-3 months (and I still have significant hope for this season), there are reasons not to abandon the effort altogether, though the chorus for pulling the plug on public funding will swell. And "believers" must be realistic about the widespread perceptions at this late date, if no documentation is forthcoming.
Harking back to a blog post from over a week ago, it is probably better to keep expectations low, and be happily surprised by a positive outcome, than to hold expectations very high and then have to slink from them come May. Plenty of possibility remains, but time and patience run thin. What would appear to be needed at this late point in the game is not so much skill, or technology, or planning, or foresight, but plain, old-fashioned... luck!
I wish the very best of luck to all the hard working searchers.
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