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IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.

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"....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.”

-- Hamlet

"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer

Thursday, April 16, 2009


-- 'Accomplishments....' --


US Fish and Wildlife has released an "Accomplishments Report 2008" (pdf) for the IBWO search --- I assume this is the long overdue official summary report for the '07 - '08 search season, such as it is (or maybe this is just a summary, of that summary?). On a first reading, appears to be pretty much o-o-o-old news by now, with a few added details and numbers fleshed out (maybe I'll say more about it later after a second reading, though not necessarily).

Addendum: just a few further notes about the report... for the '07 - '08 season South Carolina is reported to have had the most "potential encounters" (20); western Tennessee is deemed worthy of further effort (which it got this season); not much found in the Big Thicket of east Texas and the search there is set to conclude this month; the only searching reported in Florida is Auburn's efforts in the Choctawhatchee area --- a bit odd since there are so many other regions of interest in central and southern Fla., at least some of which got some attention this season. And finally, no mention at all of Mississippi except for the Cornell mobile team's brief look there, even though that state too clearly has areas of interest.

Found it interesting as well that in reference to various ongoing research taking place, the report mentions that, "An important issue that the research will address is the potential limiting influence of predation on the productivity of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker population." ...Given the difficulty of just consistently finding and photographing the birds, seems pretty early to be much concerned with 'predation' issues just now; if the species has made it to today they've done so without much micro-management from us. Pretty clearly what they need is continued habitat conservation and limits to human encroachment on that habitat. Any human interventions beyond that could have unforeseen ramifications.

"limits to human encroachment on that habitat"

If by this you mean the conversion of the habitat into other land uses, like subdivisions, soybean fields, and WalMart distribution centers, then I agree. If however you mean limits on humans entering the lands and at all, I very much disagree. There is really not much evidence that the birds were adversely affected by the simple presence of humans, so long as those humans were not shooting them or cutting their trees down. And hunters are one of the major reasons that much of this habitat even exists today. With the exception of Congaree, the recent "hotbeds" of activity have generally been in areas that have been open and regularly used by hunters for generations (both in human and woodpecker terms). Cutting out hunting is political and sociological suicide, setting you at odds with all your neighbors, and there's no good reason to believe it is necessary.
I love this little bit of understatement from the report:

A significant obstacle to the recovery of this species is the lack of information about the biology and ecology of Ivorybilled Woodpeckers in bottomland hardwood forests of eastern Arkansas, Florida, and elsewhere in the southeast.Translation: nobody can find the birds. Jeesh!But worry not, they have a plan B:

In 2007, through an agreement with Arkansas State University, an intensive study was started on the breeding biology of Pileated Woodpeckers in the Big Woods area to provide data on large woodpecker demography and ecology in the bottomland hardwood forests of eastern Arkansas.Pileateds are not closely-related to Ivory-bills, either phylogenetically, or ecologically. Why should anyone study Pileateds as a surrogate? I think a better biological argument could be made for studying some of the Picoides, such as Red-cockaded, or Three-toed Woodpeckers. They seem to have somewhat similar ecology and breeding biology to the IBWO, though the IBWO was studied so little when it could be found, it is hard to say. Heck, a much better case could be made for studying extant Campephilus in the Neotropics. How about studying C. magellanicus in the temperate forests of South America? Something might be learned there, but I'm sure it won't be done because (a), quite a bit is already known about them, or, (b), USFWS does not want to spend the money, or take the flack, for, studying a "foreign" bird. For that matter, why not make an all-out effort to see if there are any IBWO left in Cuba. (Yes, I'm aware they are likely a different species.)

Here we see government science at its worst--marching on with tomfoolery, trying to save face instead of doing something useful.
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