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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.

Web ivorybills.blogspot.com

"....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, November 18, 2010


-- The Elephant In the Room --


At one point in Stephen Lyn Bales' recent book he writes of James Tanner's concern over frequent inquiries from Louisiana locals about the monetary value Ivory-billed Woodpecker specimens might have. Indeed, through much of their decline their dollar value increased substantially as their numbers decreased. Hunting of Ivory-bills was no doubt routine throughout their North American existence, including even in the 30's when laws may have been more stringent (but hardly enforceable in backwoods swamps).

In his work (with 2 other authors), "The Travails of Two Woodpeckers," Noel Snyder writes openly that significant restrictions to human activity, especially hunting, would be needed to insure any conservation chances for Ivory-bills IF they were ever confirmed in a tract of habitat (not because hunters, in general, are irresponsible or law-breaking individuals, but because it only takes a couple of bad apples to have a devastating effect on such a small species population). Yet, few in an official capacity want to voice that concern out loud; just not terribly PC to do so.

Indeed, agencies in charge, seem intent on saying they can work with hunters and other recreationalists to maintain freedom of access and use of land, while also protecting any birds in question. Uhhh, sure....
Ivory-bills, if ever found in numbers in a locale frequented by the public will almost certainly, on occasion, be poached, and even strict access restrictions could only diminish such law-breaking, not end it, given this bird's allure. That is the world we live in, where a dead, stuffed IBWO, in certain circles, holds more value than a living, breathing one. Indeed, one wonders how many may already sit atop mantelpieces or in attics of out-of-the-way ramshackled domiciles of the rural south... such is the acquisitive instinct simmering deep within humans.

For a whole school of reasons I've already heard before, many will lambast any suggestion that public land holding Ivory-bills (if ever found) ought be cordoned off from most human activity, as best as physically possible; yet anything short of that is likely just a hopeless spinning-of-wheels and pretend IBWO conservation. Still, realistically neither political correctness nor practicality will likely ever allow it to happen --- the hunting community and its cohorts aren't to be meddled with by their tepid and weakly-empowered counterparts/accommodationists in conservation (in fact, attempts to control such human activity/behavior probably only lead to fiercer backlash against such controls). Instead, most likely, we will cordially dance around the elephant... while it stomps out remaining birds.

In closing, I'll quote these passages from the Snyder volume:
"Focusing on the values of preventing habitat loss and encouraging the public to believe that successful conservation of ivory-bills can be achieved without significant sacrifice of hunting privileges on lands where ivory-bills occur may be politically attractive because these policies minimize immediate opposition to conservation efforts. But efforts limited to such policies may well be too timid to be effective in conserving the species... for a reasonable chance of success with ivory-bill or imperial woodpecker recovery, it appears essential that the needs of remnant populations for safety from shooting be recognized and accommodated in a truly effective manner....
"We submit that until ivory-bill and imperial populations are truly out of extreme endangerment, no losses to shooting and other depredations should be tolerated in recovery efforts, and this does indeed mean exclusion of shooting activities from confirmed use areas by whatever means may be feasible. The reserves at Aransas in Texas and Red Rock Lakes in Montana that appear to have been crucial in allowing recovery of the whooping crane and the trumpeter swan, respectively, were established specifically to conserve these species by protecting them from shooting, rather than to promote traditional hunting activities. It is only prudent to assume that such protection would be essential for any ivory-bill or imperial population unambiguously rediscovered today."

....of course the operating phrase above is "unambiguously rediscovered" --- for now, this entire post is moot unless a confirmed room with Ivory-bills in it is actually found.
I submit that it's entirely possible that rogue hunters have purposely extinguished known birds to prevent their hunting grounds from being declared "off limits".
This is a little off topic: but does anyone think that a pair of binoculars with a camera attached to it would be a good idea when searching for the bird? I am sure the megapixels are low and the shutter speed bad, but it could make the difference in the field.
Ah, a subject I can post about without worrying whether my background--or rather lack thereof in the sciences or IBWO searching--is adequate or not...

The "hunter mentality" is certainly a perplexing issue. Here on Planet Utah, in 1998, the electorate was assaulted by "Proposition 5," a ballot proposal instigated by the hunting crowd, ostensibly to "protect Utah's wildlife and hunting heritage."

Which was a crock; it originated out of fear activists would use a ballot initiative to outlaw bear baiting and mountain lion hunting (99% of which is done with the use of hounds which tree the cat--in winter where the tracks are easily found--which is then shot at essentially point blank range). A ban on such hunting actually passed in California a few years earlier...

What Prop 5 did establish--after being passed by only a simple majority vote--was that all further voter initiatives deaing with wildlife must be passed by "super majority," i.e a 2/3's vote of the electorate, in order to be valid.

Seriously... Full disclosure here: I used to be a hunter and don't see anything wrong with it if strict ethics are followed and the meat is consumed responsibly. I don't hunt deer or elk anymore because it's expensive and too much work for the rewards in my judgment. Additionally, I've never eaten a waterfowl that didn't taste to me like it was marinated in soap. Many of my friends decry trophy hunting, saying it's immoral to target only those animals; my experience is that anyone who eats the rut-soured meat of such a quarry gets what they deserved, and the impact on populations is minimal because they are in their prime for at most two or three years. Taking smaller bucks is probably more detrimental to the gene pool...

I could easily see myself hunting pheasants in the future, except there's no decent habitat for public hunting within a couple of hundred miles of here... Pheasants are, afterall, an introduced species...

Quail are numerous in many areas, but of course only a damn fool would invite a certain ex-vice president on such a venture...

Okay, sorry; I had to get that one in since Cheney is clearly obsessed with revising history now that he's been reduced to footnote status.

What is necessary is recognizing that ethical hunters (thanks Mike, for making that distinction with "rogue") have been responsible for many effective conservation measures even if one doesn't share their motives. And they do represent a powerful and moneyed interest...

Unfortunately, my experience is they are usually gullible sorts whose malleability allows them to be manipulated regularly (more disclosure: my old man is an NRA lifer, and he's plenty smart but still goes cuckoo when the Second Amendment is raised). Anyone who's easily convinced they need a gun handy at all times for self-protection clearly has issues in the paranoia department...

(to be continued since I apparently exceeded a size restriction)
Part II...

As for how to persuade such individuals, well, Cyberthrush pointed to the dangers of backlash, and even though our efforts here were in response to a stupid mandate from the legislature (those hillbillies I warned about in another post) to increase deer numbers, the paranoia-pushers demonstrated that reasoned arguments are less effective than scaring people with bogeymen.

I was able to content myself publishing a few one-liners about providing enough deer for the road hunters and making sure visiting Texans were able to get their testosterone fixes, but otherwise I didn't get much satisfaction.

I haven't, incidentally, seen any evidence to suggest the gun-totin' crowd in, say, Lousiana or Arkansas--where IBWO's are believed to persist--is any different belief-wise from our Rocky Mountain variety.

Perhaps an approach pointing out how IBWO conservation would be beneficial for all wildlife--even if human encroachment is severely restricted--might help to persuade many, but you can expect the fearmongers will still engage in their histrionics...

Quite loudly, no doubt...

I reserve the right to shoot back and offer the suggestion that ducking might be prudent if one doesn't own a Kevlar vest and suitable helmet... Speaking strictly metaphorically, of course...
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