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March 16, 2006

Sometimes Extinction is Forever

DodoRemember that thing about the ivory-billed woodpecker -- alive in the swamps of Arkansas -- not extinct after all? Well, maybe not so much.

In a new article in the journal Science, renown bird expert David Allen Sibley says that the evidence is insufficient and that the famous video of the bird is actually the rather common pileated woodpecker. Sibley joins Kenn Kaufman and a number of other bird experts in his assessment. In the surprisingly fractious world of birders, I'm sure the debate is far from over, but I'm ready to conclude that the ivory-billed has gone the way of the dodo.

When I blogged about the rediscovery last spring, I quoted a NY Times article on the importance of bread-and-butter conservation. The author argued, "The reason for the astonishing re-emergence of a mysterious bird is as mundane as can be. It is habitat preservation, achieved by hard, tedious work, like lobbying, legislating and fund-raising."

That point is worth remembering. Habitat preservation is not usually the sexiest environmental work there is. There's no technological silver bullet that promises to save the day. And it's aligned against some of the most powerful forces of our times, like road-building and suburban sprawl. But when we don't do it -- when we don't put safety first in our land-use decisions -- we rob ourselves (and our children) of the natural beauty and diversity that we inherited.

Posted by Eric de Place | Permalink

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