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Passenger Pigeon: Painful Reminder of Needed Protections

PHOTO: Monday is the anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The bird once numbered around 5 billion in North America. Photo credit: Tim Lenz/Flickr.
PHOTO: Monday is the anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The bird once numbered around 5 billion in North America. Photo credit: Tim Lenz/Flickr.
August 29, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas - Monday marks the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The commemoration is being used to urge protection of other species that may face the same fate and for the law that protects them.

The Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973, but Jake Li, director of endangered species conservation for Defenders of Wildlife, said there needs to be a new commitment to keep it strong, since some in Congress are trying to dismantle key pieces of the act and eliminate or delay protections.

"These are species that have actually warranted listing for over a decade, and yet there are proposals to delay that for another five, 10 years - and oftentimes it's to avoid the perceived inconvenience of protecting endangered species," he said. "There are other proposals to actually undermine the science that's used in endangered-species decisions."

The passenger pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, numbering as many as 5 billion, but after decades of hunting and habitat destruction, the last one - named "Martha" - died at the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 1, 1914.

Li said hundreds of other animals across the nation also could disappear if the act is not protected.

"There are about 1,500 species in the U.S. that are threatened or endangered with extinction," he said. "and about 95 percent of these species are threatened by habitat loss, many of the same factors that actually caused the passenger pigeon to go extinct."

In Texas, species that are imperiled include the lesser prairie chicken and the ocelot, which is also found in Central America.

"That is something really unique to the U.S.," he said. "There aren't too many species that are found in Central America and in certain portions of the U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, using the Endangered Species Act, is trying to help recover and conserve ocelot in southern Texas."

According to Defenders of Wildlife, the Endangered Species Act has proved an incredible success over the past 40 years, protecting more than 2,000 foreign and domestic species from extinction.

More information on the passenger pigeon is online at defendersblog.org. Details of the Endangered Species Act are at fws.gov/endangered.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - TX