Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gardening for Ivory-bills

In 2005 groundbreaking news was passed around the University of Arkansas one day as I was working away on my thesis up in my lab.  The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a bird not seen since the 1940s, had been rediscovered in the cypress swamps of eastern Arkansas.  It was the news of the decade - no wait, the CENTURY, if it proved to be true.

Image: Ivory-billed woodpeckers

I was part of the search team, deployed to two areas of Arkansas, the Cache and White Rivers, with one mission - to find and obtain evidence of the existence of the "Lord God Bird".  I did not see, hear, smell, taste nor touch the bird while in those steamy mosquito-laden woods that April, nor did anyone else gain any worthwhile evidence that season.

Today, I have mixed feelings.  Does the bird still exist, tucked away in the remote, rugged, woolly, swampy forests somewhere in the southeastern United States, eluding searchers (though some claim to have seen them, including my old Auburn ornithology professor, Geoff Hill)?  Or is this a case of wishful thinking?  I can only hope this majestic bird still flies out there, but I may never know for sure in my lifetime.

Anyway.  The point of this post is not, exactly, about Ivory-billed Woodpeckers at all, but rather about an article by Jesse Greenspan that I read in the September-October 2005 issue of Audubon.  Whether or not the bird exists, there is value in conserving the habitat it shares with numerous other creatures, including hundreds of birds, black bears, cottonmouth and water snakes, many species of amphibians, and numerous small mammals.  The cypress swamp is a unique habitat, declining drastically, that I was able to experience first hand, and, trust me - it is worth protecting.

So - in order to save the cypress swamp, one must preserve the cypress trees.  Old growth mystical looking giants rising out of the water, surrounded by their own "knees" - stumps rising to my kneecaps, a tell-tale sign of cypress.  And they are being logged at an alarming rate, for...  mulch.  That's right.  You can run down to the local Wal-Mart, Home Depot, or Lowe's, and for a couple of bucks walk out with a bag of wood chips that used to be one of these majestic living organisms to spread around your peonies.

PLEASE be mindful of your daily actions.  You, as a consumer, are powerful.  Choose pine bark at the store, or even better, rake up those pine needles and leaves around your yard and recycle them!  Don't buy cypress mulch!  For the Ivory-bills!  :)

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