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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

Saturday, June 15, 2013


-- Follow-up --


Read the prior two posts, if you haven't already, to be up-to-date for this post….

I was disappointed that no one has sent along any personal knowledge, or research, of the prior Goodwin/McClellan exchange that would clarify matters. It makes no sense to me that such a claim as voiced by Mr. McClellan wouldn't have been swiftly pursued by USFWS at the time, and there be some record of it. I assume in some form it was investigated, and nothing came of it.

This weekend I found an hour of time for my own quickie Web search... The closest possible 'smoking gun' reference I can find to the whole matter comes in this 1980 USFWS IBWO report which at the bottom of page 9 briefly makes note of a December 1967 message from Mr. Goodwin to a Roland Clement, which I suspect (but don't know with certainty) is referencing the same matter as originally uncovered by "Houston":
"In 1967. the U.S. Corps of Engineers halted the timber management plan at Dam B Reservoir on Neches River, Texas, in deference to ivory-bills. Federal and state wardens in area were alerted and public appeal received positive and gratifying response (Harry Goodwin in lit. to Roland Clement 16 December 1967)."
The timing is so close to the September 1967 note from McClellan to Goodwin it's hard not to conclude that they refer to the same situation… and possibly McClellan (in his note) was trying to have the foresters/timber industry take credit for actions the US Corps of Engineers had already put in place (just guessin'). At any rate, the several well-known claims for Ivory-bills at that time in the Neches (Texas) area, by John Dennis and others, were tantalizing, but of course never confirmed upon major followup efforts; indeed Tanner and others, upon studying the region, believed all such claims to be mistaken (still hotly debated to this day).

One could further research what major timber/logging companies were operating in the Neches area in 1967, but I'm guessing whoever was there 1) did not have any Ivory-bills under protection (even if they sincerely thought they did) and 2) may have been acting, not so much out of any real conservation concerns, but simply under the constraints of the Corps of Engineers (although I could have the actions in reverse, and perhaps the Corps only moved in AFTER true concerns expressed by the timber company?)

In short, I'm satisfied for now, that the fascinating story uncovered by "Houston," likely gets us nowhere... But if anyone finds evidence that the IBWO population referred to by Mr. McClellan in fact resided somewhere other than the East Texas Neches region, let us know… or again, maybe further pertinent documents will fall into the hands of Houston at some point.

(BTW, the whole 10-page USFWS report is worth a read, although it's mostly a re-hash of info available elsewhere. The report's author, J. W. Aldrich, concludes at the end that, "From the evidence presented, I believe that a few ivory-bills still exist in the United States [1980], but they are so nomadic that it will continue to be difficult to verify the occasional sighting."):


Nice find, Ct! You may well be right about the connection. Then again, I expect to see other correspondence referencing sightings, searches, and land management in other states, connected only tangentially by subject and time period, having been prompted by passage of the Endangered Species Act and the Dennis reports. My guess is that the McClellan letter referred to lands in Louisiana or South Carolina, but I have nothing to support that at the moment, other than the lack of any other documents in the Texas batch linking it to that state.

A small detail I noticed about that letter: It looks as though the "s" in the first use of the word "areas" was squeezed in after the word "where" was typed. This suggests that the typist consciously considered the singular "area" to be inaccurate, and changed it to the plural form. Combined with the plural "lands", it suggests that the timber company may have had more than one site where it believed ivory-bills to be present. The letter also reads as though they were certain the birds were ivory-bills, and were not just investigating internal reports. Would a timber company making making a lot of money harvesting mature trees put a moratorium on cutting multiple sites if it weren't certain about the identity of the birds? So regarding your thoughtful list of reasons for the letter, I think McClellan was either sincere or telling a good steward lie. But we'll probably never find out.
I meant to say that McClellan was "sincere and correct or...". I just can't see them voluntarily putting large tracts of land off limits without being certain it was necessary. But I could be wrong.
Thanks for the thoughts Houston (and interesting 'catch' & speculation about the 'squeezed in' "s", but of course different interpretations are possible; I'm not convinced they're talking about anything more than a few small adjacent areas).

Am still hoping more info might be forthcoming from somewhere -- or someone will have the time to do deeper searching (emailing people, more FOIA requests, more Google searches, etc.) than I've had time to do.

I tend to think McClellan is sincere but being fed misinformation by a subordinate... The most likely scenario in my mind running something like this:
the 60's claims for the Big Thicket area were VERY prominent; even covered by the national news, including the NY Times (and even Dennis would later admit that the numerical claims he made were probably overly optimistic). The point being there was a lot of pressure to DO SOMETHING! So I can imagine the timber industry, either on its own or under nudge from a Gov't. agency setting aside some land for protection near the claims even without IBWO presence being definitive. Later when the furor died down and no IBWOs were confirmed, it may have been too embarrassing for either the industry or the Gov't. to talk about the matter or any actions they had taken, and thus nothing ever hit the public airwaves… nothing but speculation on my part.

My underlying, fundamental belief (from an Occam's Razor approach) is that it would require an impossibly grand conspiracy for the timber industry and USFWS to know of a confirmed living group of IBWOs under protection in 1967 and never have had that information made public… can't completely rule it out of course, but would be flabbergasted if solid evidence for that possibility emerges.

And Houston, I'm not clear, have you now received ALL the documents you believe you'll get through your Tx. FOIA requests, or is it possible there are any more to come?

Your scenario makes a lot of sense, the more I think about it.

I have been advised that there may be a few documents still to come referencing Texas, arriving later than the others because they must pass through an FWS "regional solicitor" first. This suggests that documents may be withheld or have information redacted. Feel free to speculate.

I should still receive a lot more historical documents on sightings and searches across the southern states. Those could arrive in a few days or a few years. Again, documents may be withheld or have information redacted for a variety of reasons.

Any of your readers hoping for bombshell information should seriously lower their expectations. If, for example, there really were/is some "grand conspiracy" to protect a persisting ivory-bill population, we won't find out about it just because I submitted a FOIA request. As I understand it, government agencies may withhold information on the "nesting sites" of endangered species, but I'm guessing that phrase would have a very elastic definition in the case of ivory-billed woodpeckers.
Is there any chance of getting contemporary documents from USFW? There are several modern sightings by staff that are considered legit internally, but have not been released publicly.
I'm doubtful, Jennie, that those sightings (or any other current discussion) will be readily released -- and don't know if there are any means through certain FOIA filings to force their disclosure.
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