Friday, May 19, 2006

Still No Ivory-billed Woodpecker

The 2005-2006 search season has ended with no new sightings of an ivory-billed woodpecker in the Big Woods of Arkansas. This winter and spring witnessed the most thorough search for an ivory-billed woodpecker yet, with hundreds of volunteers covering a carefully planned grid through the swampy woods. If this search failed to produce any new evidence, chances are that the bird is not there. Whether the original sightings were misidentified or whether the bird has left the area is an open question.

The CLO still has thousands of hours of audio recordings that have not been properly analyzed. Several observers reported hearing kent calls and double-knocks. Spectrographic analysis will be more reliable than field observation for determining if those were really produced by ivory-billed woodpeckers. But even those without solid field sightings will not be definitive.

Some will argue that the whole project was a waste of money. I have sympathy for that position because of recent draconian cuts in NPS and FWS budgets. However, if the lands around the Big Woods are permanently preserved, and if the search teams gathered data on more than the ivory-billed woodpeckers, the searches will have done some good, even if they failed in their ultimate objective. A few million dollars for the ivory-billed search is piddling compared with the billions being wasted in other areas of the federal budget, and it is those billions combined with an anti-public ideology that are the real cause of the crunch at the NPS and FWS.