"Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." H.G. Wells's dictum seems more apt than ever in today's world of unprecedented extinction. In this issue, Audubon trains its spotlight on a few herculean efforts to save some of the world's rarest species. Wilf Carter and Bill Taylor of the Atlantic Salmon Federation have been battling the currents to rescue this noble fish, whose numbers have dropped 75 percent in North America in the past 30 years ("Swimming Upstream"). The Bronx Zoo has mounted a powerful exhibit to raise money to protect vanishing gorilla habitat in Congo ("The New Zoo").

Sometimes, though, catastrophe seems to be pulling ahead of education. How else to explain the unconscionable actions that Audubon investigates in Minnesota and the Dakotas ("Red Baiting"), where the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to poison 2 million red-winged blackbirds a year to protect the sunflower crop? The department's animal-control unit is pushing the plan even though a mere 1 to 2 percent of the country's $500 million sunflower crop is affected, and even though the department's own data indicate that the plan won't work. Scientists at another federal agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, fiercely oppose the practice, in part because of the potential threat to mourning doves, dark-eyed juncos, and other species. And environmentalists are up in arms over the dangers that poisoning poses to species on the Watch List of birds "that need our help." Unfortunately, there is a dearth of reliable data about the poisoning. "If the risk is uncertain," says Kevin Johnson of the Fish and Wildlife Service, "would it not be prudent to find out the threat before proceeding with the program?" That seems like a perfectly sensible way to avert a catastrophe.



© 2001  NASI

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