Every day, I look to nature for inspiration, hoping for a model of success to save the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
One of the “greats” is the little snowy egret. All wading birds were almost hunted to the point of extinction during the feathered ladies hat craze of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and because the snowy egret was the most desired of all birds for its beautiful nuptial plumes, it, more than any other wading bird, was hunted.
There was great motivation to hunt birds as at the time, their feathers were worth more than gold.
It is well documented that the plume hunters shot birds by the thousands in rookeries through out Florida, especially the Everglades, during breeding season when the birds’ feathers were most beautiful. The birds were shot right off their nests with the baby birds left to die. Entire rookeries disappeared.
After witnessing such, many hunters reported feeling sick at the “sight of thousands of little hanging necks over the nests” and “repented,” refusing to go back after being part of such cold blooded carnage.
But times were tough and there were alway more men behind them to take their place. In the late 1890s the Ornithologists’ Union estimated that five million birds of all kinds were killed annually.
The story of what birds remain and have rebounded is yet another story of American inspiration though everyday people demanding more of their government.
In 1886, Forest and Stream editor, George Bird Grinnell, was “appalled by the negligent mass slaughter of birds.” Based on studies of painter John James Audubon from Ornithological Biography, he created an organization devoted to the protection of wild birds and their eggs. Within a year the the Audubon Society had over 39,000 members including very prominent figures of the day and eventually a US president. Their numbers and financial support grew and the organization evolved throughout many states. Letter writing campaigns ensured, many from churches, state laws were passed starting in New York, banning the sale of plumes, and by 1920 similar laws were passed in other states. In 1918 US Audubon lobbied for the Federal “Migratory Bird Treaty Act” and convinced the US government to support the National Wildlife Refuge system, the first being Sebastian, Florida’s “Pelican Island.” Today migrating and resident birds are protected, or at minimum, regulated, by hunting license in all communities.
So again, the stories are many of mankind’s propensity to kill the world around “him,” and then to pull back from the brink of total destruction by the intervention of a small group of people.
The story of the Indian River Lagoon will hopefully be a similar tale to tell. So when you are around town and see a little snowy egret, feel inspired!
US Federal Migratory Bird Act: (http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/migtrea.html)
FWC 2011 Report Snowy Egret: (http://www.myfwc.com/media/2273400/Snowy-Egret-BSR.pdf )
FWC Bird Regulations: (http://m.myfwc.com/hunting/regulations/birds/)
Birds of North America/Snowy Egret:(http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/489/articles/introduction)
Wikipedia’s History of Plume Hunting in the US: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plume_hunting)