America 2005

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World News archive. | Bird News archive for America |  America 2005

US Senate blocks Arctic drilling


Yesterday, in a 56-44 Vote, the United States Senate blocked drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - at least for the time being...

Opening a portion of the refuge to gas and oil exploration has been a goal of US companies for 25 years, and is a key objective of the Bush administration.

"We do not need to despoil the pristine wilderness of the Arctic Refuge. Readily available alternatives including energy conservation and efficiency with existing technology, can have a bigger impact sooner," stated John Flicker, President of the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the US). "We applaud the members of the US Senate who stood up to the special interests and voted to block this cynical abuse of power. They have demonstrated their resolute commitment to the environment, to the American people, and to protecting the great natural heritage we all share."

Alaska Republican Ted Stevens had attached the measure to the Department of Defense appropriations bill (an essential piece of legislation) in a desperate, last minute attempt to push forward the Arctic drilling provision. However, the Senate rejected the measure with a number of Republican Senators joining 41 Democrats in the vote to protect the refuge.

"Drilling in the Arctic Refuge will provide no relief from high gas prices, while robbing our children and grandchildren of a true natural treasure." - Bob Perciasepe, Chief Operating Officer, National Audubon Society

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has been called "America’s Serengeti", provides essential habitat for a wide range of wildlife, including polar bears which build dens and give birth on the Coastal Plain of the refuge, as well as caribou, musk oxen, wolves and wolverines. Huge number of birds, including Golden Eagles Aquila chrysaetos, Snowy Owls Nyctea scandiaca and many other species, are also found there.

Although the result of the vote is good news, the drilling legislation is likely to be presented again separately to the Senate.

Audubon denounces "Extinction Bill"


On 29 September, the US House of Representatives demonstrated its determination to roll back thirty years of conservation success when it voted to pass legislation that undermines the protection of habitat critical to threatened wildlife, say the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the US). HR 3824, more aptly called the "Extinction Bill", will also deliver a host of benefits for wealthy landowners and developers at US taxpayers' expense.

Since its passage in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has successfully protected many endangered species, including the Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus and Whooping Crane Grus americana. Only 9 out of the 1,800 species listed as threatened or endangered have gone extinct since the act has been in existence. The "Extinction Bill" puts many more species at risk of being lost forever, abandoned to commercial development and special interests. For 30 years the federal government successfully provided a safety net for them; this legislation tears that up.

"Through no fault of their own, America’s birds and wildlife face an uncertain future. Congressman Pombo's 'Extinction Bill' abandons responsible protection of threatened wildlife in favor of concessions to the wealthy and well-connected. We will take the fight to save the ESA to the US Senate, where more thoughtful, responsible deliberation may prevail." —Betsy Loyless, Vice President for Policy, Audubon

This wrong-headed bill, introduced by California Congressman Richard Pombo, will simply put all of America’s endangered species in harm’s way, say Audubon:

Habitat critical for the recovery and survival of threatened species will no longer be protected, ignoring the most essential element of any plan to protect them
The bill would exempt all pesticide decisions from compliance with the ESA for at least five years, ignoring the fact that pesticides have been a significant factor in the historic decline of species, including the Bald Eagle, and pose a current problem for many other species
The bill prohibits the Fish and Wildlife Service from using any scientific information about a threatened species that is learned after a conservation plan is completed. This is like prohibiting a doctor from using any medical information that is learned after the patient is admitted to the hospital
Audubon is celebrating its centennial year of protecting birds and other wildlife, and the habitat that supports them. Its national network of community-based nature centers and chapters, scientific and educational programs, and advocacy on behalf of areas sustaining important bird populations, engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds in positive conservation experiences.

Rare woodpecker's identity under scrutiny


The authenticity of recent sightings of one of the world's most enigmatic birds has been called into question by a group of ornithologists in a paper submitted for publication in the online science journal PLoS Biology.
In April 2005 a team of scientists led by John Fitzpatrick from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology announced in the journal Science that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis had been rediscovered in Arkansas, USA. The species was widely thought to be extinct in the US, with no confirmed sightings there since 1944, and the best hope of its continued existence being focused on a remote part of Cuba.

In February 2004, a chance encounter in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas, had changed that. Over the next 14 months, teams of experienced observers made six further sightings, all within three kilometres of one another. Brief but crucial video footage was obtained that, despite technical imperfections, seemed to show a number of diagnostic features allowing the researchers to confirm the species’ identity.
However, another team led by Richard Prum of Yale University speculate that the bird in question is the similar, but much commoner, Pileated Woodpecker Dryocopus pileatus.
"The key thing now is to gather incontrovertible evidence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s presence in Arkansas. Although the initial sightings seemed highly credible, it’s clear that further proof that this magnificent species has survived in the US would be of enormous benefit." - Dr Stuart Butchart, Global Species Programme Coordinator, BirdLife

Alison Stattersfield, BirdLife’s Head of Science went on to add, - There are many species on the edge of extinction. Any evidence of their continuing existence must be followed up with appropriate conservation efforts. In the 1940s, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were lost from their last-known stronghold in Louisiana because of logging. In the case of the Arkansas sightings it is vital that the possibility that the woodpecker still survives should be taken very seriously even though the supporting evidence of the birds’ presence is not as good as the ornithological community might wish.

"A finding of this magnitude will certainly be subject to thorough review by the scientific community, as it should be in the name of good science. National Audubon Society believes that the evidence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's presence in eastern Arkansas is very strong, and we support all efforts to preserve and protect the floodplain forests of the Southeast, which are critical habitat for many species of birds." - National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the US)

Until the Prum paper and response from the Cornell team is published, BirdLife is not in a position to make a judgement on the veracity of the recent sightings. In the meantime however, the future conservation of this species would clearly be best served by all of the parties in the debate cooperating fully with each other.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker found in Arkansas


The Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis, one of the largest and most spectacular of the world’s woodpeckers, has been rediscovered in North America. Both sexes are striking black-and-white birds, and males have flaming red crests.

The news, the subject of an announcement by the journal Science, has stunned ornithologists world-wide, as the species was widely assumed to have gone extinct in North America since the last confirmed sighting in 1944.

A series of sightings between February 2004 and April 2005, in the Big Woods forest of the Mississippi River basin, involved at least one bird, a male. One observer secured brief video footage which, despite technical imperfections, yielded at least five diagnostic features of Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

More may be present, since potential habitat for a thinly distributed source population is vast at over 220,000 hectares. The Big Woods is regenerating after systematic logging which contributed to the woodpecker’s disappearance. If breeding pairs do exist, most of the conditions believed to be required for successful breeding and population growth are becoming more available to them.

The species was once uncommon but widespread across lowland primary forest of the southeastern United States. No living Ivory-billed Woodpecker had been conclusively documented in continental North America since an unpaired female was seen in cut-over forest remnants in 1944.

"All of us who share this planet owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the individuals and organisations whose tireless efforts led to the rediscovery of this bird." - John Flicker, President, Audubon (BirdLife in the US)

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is one of six North American bird species known or suspected to have gone extinct since 1880. The others are Labrador Duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius), Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis), Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis), Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) and Bachman’s Warbler (Vermivora bachmanii).

"All of us who share this planet owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the individuals and organisations whose tireless efforts led to the rediscovery of this bird," said John Flicker, President of the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the USA). "Thanks to their dedication, we all have a second chance to save this magnificent woodpecker from extinction. As it inspires our hopes, this resilient Ivory-billed Woodpecker must also inspire our commitment to protect the habitat it needs for survival."

"This extraordinary rediscovery provides hope for the 18 species classified as Potentially Extinct, such as Jamaican Petrel, Javan Lapwing and Pink-headed Duck," said Dr Michael Rands, Director and Chief Executive of BirdLife International.

Dr Rands added, "These species are judged likely to be extinct, but confirmation is required and some hope for their survival remains. Listing as Extinct has significant conservation implications, because conservation funding is, justifiably, not targeted at species believed to be extinct. Conservationists are therefore reluctant to designate species as Extinct if there is any reasonable possibility that they may still be extant, in order to avoid the ‘Romeo error’, where we might give up on a species before it is too late."

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World News archive. | Bird News archive for America |  America 2005

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