Ivory-billed woodpecker

The ivory-billed woodpecker, shown on the right, has been declared extinct twice before

The ivory-billed woodpecker may soon be declared extinct ... again. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposed rule on Sept. 30 in the Federal Register that would remove 23 species from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants, due to extinction. The Fish and Wildlife Service will be accepting comments until Nov. 29 on the proposed changes. 

Included in the 23 species is the ivory-billed woodpecker. It's familiar territory for the ivory-billed woodpecker, which has been declared extinct twice before rising from the ashes like a fabled phoenix. 

"Ornithologists ruled the bird extinct after 'the last pair' was shot in Florida in 1924. Then, a Louisiana state representative shot one in Louisiana in 1932 just to prove they were not extinct," said Geoffrey Hill, a biological sciences professor and researcher at Auburn University, where he is the curator of birds. "When that small population disappeared, they were for the second time declared extinct, until a Cornell University group filmed one in Arkansas in 2004. The recent declaration that the birds are extinct is simply the follow-up to that 2004 discovery — the end of round three. I think this cycle will continue."

Hill, the author of the 2007 book "Ivorybill Hunters: The Search for Proof in a Flooded Wilderness," contends that the ivory-billed woodpecker is merely effective at eluding researchers and conservationists. Of the 23 species listed as extinct, 11 of them are birds. Hill said the reasons those birds were listed are different than those for the ivory-billed woodpecker. 

"Nine of the 11 birds proclaimed to be extinct are Pacific Island birds, and their story is completely different than the two mainland birds. Bachman’s sparrows, one of the two mainland bird species, likely were specialists of canebrake habitat, which was the first habitat to be plowed in when people of European descent moved into the Southeast. They likely disappeared with their habitat more than 100 years ago," said Hill. "In contrast, the ivory-billed woodpecker was shot to near extinction. Habitat loss had very little to do with the decline of ivory-billed woodpeckers. There has always been extensive habitat for ivory-billed woodpeckers in the southeastern U.S. 

"These birds were systematically hunted until all vulnerable individuals were dead. The few birds that remained were very good at staying away from people. They still are."

Those wishing to submit comments on the proposed rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may do so electronically or by mail. 

To submit a comment electronically, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov and enter the appropriate docket number in the search box. The docket number for the ivory-billed woodpecker is FWS-R4-ES-2020-0109. 

Submit comments by mail to:

Public Comments Processing, Attn: (Insert appropriate docket number;), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275; Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

Will the ivory-billed woodpecker defy the odds again? It's likely. 

" Since ivory-billed woodpeckers are still flying around forests, at least in Florida and Louisiana and probably in Alabama and Mississippi as well, I would say that it is just a matter of time," said Hill. 

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