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Friday, September 05, 2014

100 Years of Solitude: Extinction Story Calls for Action Today

This week marked a dark centennial in our relationship with animals. On September 1, 1914, the last known passenger pigeon, Martha, died alone in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.

It’s rare that we know the exact date a species became extinct, but in this case, we know it’s been 100 years since the extermination of passenger pigeons, which used to number in the billions in the United States.

New-pass-pigeon
The passenger pigeon's extinction story has modern implications.
iStock.com

The birds were once so common that they would darken the skies for hours or even days at a time. Yet they were wiped out in just a few decades in the late 19th century, largely due to unregulated market hunting, even on their nesting grounds.

This vast commercial slaughter was enabled by new technologies such as the telegraph, which helped to lead hunters to their flock locations, and railroads, which transported box cars of pigeon carcasses to buyers in urban cities.

The plight of the passenger pigeon is a reminder 100 years later that we must redouble our efforts to protect imperiled species and do all that we can to crack down on the commercial killing of wild animals.

The Endangered Species Act is now under attack by members of Congress who want to roll back protections for rare creatures on the brink of extinction. The House has passed H.R. 4315, which would undermine the work of professional wildlife scientists and obstruct their efforts to list species as threatened or endangered. And it's considering a raft of other bills next week to continue gutting the ESA.

The Senate is considering S. 2363, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act,” seeking to punch holes in our federal conservation laws by encouraging the trophy killing of threatened polar bears and the pumping of toxic lead ammo into the environment which poisons eagles, condors, and other birds.

A century later, we still have commercial killing of wild animals for profit, although it’s sometimes dressed up as "wildlife management." Elephants and rhinos are butchered for their tusks and horns. But fortunately states are taking action to ban the trade in these products, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to tighten the rules on ivory sale.

Wolves, just recently stripped of their Endangered Species Act protections, are killed for trophies and fur pelts, but Michigan voters are fighting back and working to stop the abuse by politicians and special interests. Black bears are lured to piles of jelly doughnuts and rotting meat and caught in traps so professional guides can sell an easy kill at point-blank range to rich trophy hunters. Maine voters are working to end those cruel and unsporting practices and will vote on the issue this November.

As we take on these critical fights to end the slaughter of elephants, rhinos, wolves, bears, and other wildlife, let’s remember Martha, the last passenger pigeon, and a symbol of our past errors. Our nation can do better for these creatures and help ensure their humane treatment and their survival for future generations.

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