Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 11th, 2008
Photo by Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal
Allan Mueller of The Nature Conservancy trolls through Bayou DeView in east Arkansas, where there were several ivory-billed woodpeckers sighted in 2004. The continuing search has been fruitless — and expensive — with development projects delayed. “We’ve got to get a picture,” he says.
The Commercial Appeal of Memphis has an update on the search for the ivory-billed woodpecker. One thing is for sure, skepticism is on the increase because the hunt is costing millions of dollars.
Elusive woodpecker hatches controversy
Millions have been spent on the hunt, but there’s still no definitive proof of the ivory-billed woodpecker
By Tom Charlier (Contact)
Sunday, May 11, 2008
BRINKLEY, Ark. — The life jackets have been stowed, the paddles secured and the water bottles packed. But as far as Allan Mueller is concerned, the canoes aren’t quite ready.
“Every boat needs a camera,” says Mueller, avian conservation project manager for The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas, as he totes digital equipment to a canoe that’s about to be launched.
Here in Bayou DeView, a languid stream that seeps through a trackless realm of tupelos and several-hundred-year-old cypress trees, Mueller has every reason to be obsessed with photography.
In this swamp 75 miles west of Memphis, he and others have been trying to solve a tantalizing mystery and intensifying debate over an iconic, majestic bird — the ivory-billed woodpecker — thought to be extinct since World War II. And there’s only one way to do it: “We’ve got to get a picture,” Mueller says.
Although federal officials announced the apparent rediscovery of the woodpecker here three years ago, questions about the existence of the bird — and the money and effort devoted to it — have been mounting ever since.
In east Arkansas alone, the federal government and its partners have spent more than $5 million on searches, land acquisition and conservation work related to the woodpecker. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently set forth a $27 million recovery plan aimed at securing the bird’s long-term survival.
At the same time, concerns about the woodpecker have delayed a major irrigation project, adding as much as $54million to its cost.
Now, despite surveillance involving robotic cameras, helicopters, remote sensing equipment and thousands of hours spent by volunteers and experts, another search season has ended with no definitive proof of the woodpecker known as the “Lord God Bird.”
Many officials remain convinced of the bird’s existence, but as far as skeptics are concerned, the searchers might as well be looking for Bigfoot.
“This is a big bird. They haven’t found a feather, they haven’t found a pile of dung,” said Dennis Carman, chief engineer and director of the White River Irrigation District; the district’s Grand Prairie irrigation project costs have soared during a delay for environmental studies of possible impacts on the woodpecker.
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