Ivory-billed woodpecker. Worth the cost for the hunt?

An article in today’s NY Times.

I don’t have an opinion. I’ve searched for the elusive pecker on this board. And found threads by our expert Colibri saying it probably does still exist. I hope I haven’t misreprsented his position.

I just want to know if it’s worth it to spend $27+ million dollars on this?

It’s a little unclear from that article, but it sounds like the money isn’t going just to hunt for the bird, but to conservation efforts to restore its habitat. So even if the thing does turn out to be extinct, the money will still have presumably done some good.

In any case, 27 million doesn’t sound extravagant to prevent the extinction of a species. That’s less then one-tenth what a bridge to nowhere costs. I imagine other dopers will be by with their own favorite examples of silly things the gov’t blows much more money on.

I thought it HAD been found–a few years ago. A definite sighting, with footage and recording. Hang on, I’ll go look for it (the cite, not the bird!).

Here you go: found!
Was it worth it? Why not? I don’t know if this happened, but perhaps there was some serendipity that occurred with the re-discovery. Things like learning more about the ecosystem and habitat that may help other species or even fields like medicine or science in some way. I’m of the opinion that is sure is nice to hear some good news re rare animals rather than the ever-lengthening list of extinct and endangered. YMMV.

$27 million bucks to search for this thing? How many of 'em does it take to build a piano?

Sadly, not much (effectively-none) evidence has been found this past season supporting the birds’ existence (the link in post 3 above is 3 years old). Plenty of sight records but no photos or films. This of course provides fodder for a certain brand of skeptic who likes to crow, “I told you so!”, but you have to wonder why, during all of these sightings, not one person thought to snap a picture. I get the impression that there weren’t many hotshot pro photographers combing the woods, rather a bunch of amateur birders, with a decent set of binoculars if they were lucky. Now the birds’ purported existence isn’t stopping a certain private group from building an airport near one of the “hot spots” in NW Florida. I personally still have hope

They’d have to be pretty damn delicious to make finding one worth 27 million US dollars.

It’s certainly not a matter of no one “thinking to snap a picture.” Birds can be very difficult to get a photo of, since even if they are close enough so you can see them clearly through binoculars they don’t take up much space on the frame and also are apt to move suddenly before you can take a shot. The teams looking for these birds are equipped with cameras, but haven’t been lucky enough to get a convincing photo yet. And they are far from a “bunch of amateur birders;” they include highly experienced professional ornithologists as well as non-professionals with a lot of birding experience.

As I’ve said before, it is my considered opinion as an ornithologist and a birder that Ivorybills still exist in the US. I am the chair of the Panama bird records committee, and we regularly evaluate sight records by birders. In my opinion, the details accompanying both the Arkansas and Florida reports are sufficiently detailed, the fieldmarks observed sufficiently unequivocal, and the observers sufficiently experienced to make the records credible even in the absence of photographic evidence. There is also the matter of recordings obtained in both areas, which are consistent with calls of Ivorybills (and, in my opinion, unlikely to be those of other birds such as Blue Jays). But some ornithologists won’t accept anything short of a clear photo or other unequivocal evidence in order to accept the records. It’s a bit of a Catch-22: Ivorybills are believed to be extinct because of the lack of confirmed records; but sight records that would be acceptable for other rare species are not accepted because the species is supposed to be extinct.

At this point, the best evidence is coming from the north Florida locality. There actually seems to be a population there, and there have been repeated sightings and many recordings have been made. The Arkansas records are more equivocal, because there seem to have been no more sightings from that area. I believe that the original records were authentic, but the bird(s) have since moved away (or died). There probably is a population somewhere in Arkansas, but it hasn’t been located yet. Based on a record some years ago that I and many others found credible, there may be a population in Louisiana as well.

As to the question in the OP, it’s impossible to evaluate due to the lack of detailed information in the linked article. I don’t know how the proposed funding is to be allocated, and how much is going to the searches and how much to habitat protection. So I really don’t know what the “real” costs of the hunt itself may be. And efforts to protect habitat will benefit many other species as well.

However, even the figure of $27 million should be put in perspective. The most expensive paintings sell for upwards of $100 million, and a single fighter jet may cost upwards of $40 million. Yet, unlike these things, the Ivorybill is irreplaceable* - once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Considering this, to me at least it doesn’t seem to be out of line.

*While the original of a painting is irreplaceable, copies can be made that would be indistinguishable to the average observer.

Colibri, I’m on your side-don’t shoot the messenger! My opinion is that you can’t just arbitrarily sweep all the sight records under the rug because they aren’t “hard” evidence. But in at least one forum I sometimes hang out at (not much anymore), the almost gleeful attitude of some skeptics at the non-evidence this last season didn’t bring forth is almost suffocating. I just wish someone would shoot a National Geographic-quality print and shut these dillholes up once and for all-and that includes that Nelson guy. I was just wondering exactly how many expert togs with expert equipment were out there-the impression I got from reading the journals of several bloggers is that few Ivory-Bill sojourners go out there loaded up with 800mm lenses or the like.

See that’s what I’d need to know. Look, the IBWP is not Shrodinger’s cat. It either still exists *or it doesn’t *and no hunt will change that. And even so, if there is only one, it could be a “Martha”. Thus, IMHO, the hunt should not be Taxpayer funded. But if we save the habitat, we could save future generations of IBWP and other species. That is worthwhile.

Incidentaly, Colibri, how sure are you ornithologists that the recent IBWP spotted is that species and not the Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) or the Cuban subspecies (C. p. bairdii). Or that the Imperial / Ivory-billed isn’t a subspecies of the other?

The cost for the hunt? I’d pay anything to hunt one of those.

I think that preserving the habitat is worth spending some public money. To me, the evidence is pretty convincing that the birds still exist. The brief video made in 2004 has been subjected to exhaustive analysis which concluded that it shows an ivory-bill. I know that some scientists who viewed it were not convinced. I’d be curious to read what **Colibri **thinks of the analysis I linked to.

Hunt. The cost for the HUNT.

$27 million? That hasn’t been a lot of money since about 1973.

I was born in 1973 and I can verify that it was a lot of money back then. There was a lot more ignorance back then too but it dropped off sharply for some unknown reason. That isn’t a lot of science money these days though. My lab in grad school had about a third of that and we used mainly undergraduates to study some obsure sexual differentiation questions.

Nothing to add here - just thought I’d drop by.

The pecker jokes are not appreciated, BTW.


Mrs. Lantz? Is that you?