"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
© 2001 NASI
Sound off! Send a letter to
Enjoy Audubon on-line? Check out our print edition!