The US Fish and Wildlife Service has published a decision that the ivorybill should be listed as “Presumed Extinct”. As a result, I believe the formal delisting process will begin and will provide details about that process and how to respond when I have more information.
I won’t engage with the document in depth, at this time, but I think it’s a shoddy piece of work, clearly driven by political not scientific considerations. (Even the photo credit at the top of the document is erroneous.)
There’s a good chance this decision, and perhaps many others, would not survive a legal challenge should one be brought. Among the many problems with it, the arbitrary shift to a burden of “conclusive proof” is novel, and it imposes a thoroughly, slippery, circular standard. The existence of a controversy makes it self-evident that conclusive proof has not been obtained. And that’s the authors’ dodge.
My own submission, which argued that the evidence obtained amounts to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, was misleadingly cited to support this “conclusive proof” standard. This intellectually dishonest sleight-of-hand is tantamount to an admission that a new and unscientific standard, higher than beyond a reasonable doubt, is being applied.
I suspect that the Service will end up regretting this decision, and perhaps many others that are part of this massive, politically-driven push for delisting. Indeed, it appears to have been based on a quota imposed by higher-ups. Regardless of one’s views on the ivorybill, this document is part of a broader assault on the Endangered Species Act.
We will press on. Computer analysis of the audio we collected this spring is gearing up; I’m very excited about that based on my very limited review of a few deployments. While we’ve hit a few technical bumps in the DNA analysis, we expect those to be resolved before too long. We have several samples from both cavities and foraging sign, as well as samples from at least one known Pileated roost. We are also making plans for next year.
Jay’s post on Lazarus species is being reconsidered and may be revised and reposted in future.
WWNO just ran a long story on our search effort. You can listen at the link (recommended) and/or read the text. I’ll share some thoughts about it below, but first a brief update.
As April came to an end, Steve Latta, Jay Tischendorf, Tommy Michot, Phil Vanbergen, and I collected the AudioMoths that had been deployed in early March, completing the effort for the season. Jay, Tommy, and Mike Weeks will be returning to attempt some more DNA collection, and Tommy, Mike, and Phil will continue to service the trail cams. But the bulk of the work has come to an end.
We plan to get an earlier start next winter. And on the technical end, the lab is continuing to tweak the software and refine the machine learning; this has taken took a little longer than anticipated. Similarly, the DNA testing protocols are being refined. I don’t have a time frame for when detailed results will be available and can’t offer any information on if, when, and how results will be presented. But work is ongoing, and for next season, we hope that we’ll be able to turn the audio results around rapidly and get actionable information that will lead us to nesting or roosting sites.
To expand on something that’s mentioned near the end of the WWNO piece, I can say that I’ve cursorily reviewed perhaps .5% of the total audio, (from 3 or 4 of the first round deployments, February – early March). Most of this review involved scrolling through sonograms and listening when it seemed appropriate (meaning I likely missed a lot). It gave me greater appreciation for the technical challenges and the potential for false positives, especially when two or three potential confusion species are vocalizing simultaneously. While I have not heard extended bouts of kent-like calls at close range, I have heard more than enough suggestive sounds, both calls and double knocks, to be encouraged.
Changes to Project Coyote are in the works. Among these is a name change, to Project Principalis – to avoid confusion; I hope retaining “Project” will be enough of a reminder of Frank Wiley and the early days of our partnership. But there’s an existing NGO known as Project Coyote that focuses on actual coyotes, so the change is overdue.
It’s also likely that the blog will move to a different site and take on a somewhat different form. In the interim, there will probably be a guest post on Lazarus species by Jay Tischendorf, sometime in the next few weeks, and perhaps another one from me to detail the changes once they’re finalized. These plans are tentative at the moment. Stay tuned.
Hearing the WWNO story was a little disorienting. I’ve done a lot of media over the years, mostly unrelated to the ivorybill. I’ve never been the subject of such an in-depth profile. And I didn’t expect to be so much the focus. This is all about the ivorybill and the habitat, and while I won’t pretend to be above wanting acknowledgement for all my hard work, I am not the story.
I was disappointed that Phil Vanbergen and Matt Courtman, who made the March 2017 recordings and played a major part in bucking me up when my spirits were at their lowest, were not mentioned by name. I pushed for their inclusion as best I could.
Travis Lux, the reporter, first approached me about doing a story on Project Coyote back in 2015. He was just starting his career in radio and was planning to pitch the piece as a freelancer. Travis landed a job in Texas, continued to follow the blog but had otherwise been out of touch until he heard about the AudioMoth deployments, by which time he had returned to Louisiana. When he reached out to me in February, I think we both assumed that the focus of the story would be on the current effort. Apparently, the interest was there for a longer piece.
Listening to it was weird. I think it was the first time I’ve heard Frank’s voice since he died, at least in more than a very brief snippet. That jarring moment aside, four year seems like a lifetime. My thinking about the ivorybill and many of my perspectives have evolved since 2015. Today, I’d be a lot less excited about the bark scaling that’s a focus in the first part of the story than I was then. I’ve refined my scaling hypothesis considerably due to things I learned that year and later. I’ve also gotten more jaded, so I don’t think I’d be quite as overflowing with optimism.
The experience was a little like watching a movie based on a beloved book. The story wasn’t told in quite the way I would have liked; topics that seem important to me were glossed over; but I don’t see it through the eyes of an outsider. Taking that perspective as best I can, I think it was a well-constructed and illuminating piece. I hope you enjoy it too.
Here’s a gallery of photos from the recent trip.