Longform

For the Birds

Page 7 of 7

In recent years, perhaps no one has spent more time in the field with the Cape Sable sparrow than Lockwood, the field biologist, who is a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who since 1993 has been studying nesting habits. She has documented the damaging effects of high water and fire on sparrow reproduction as the numbers have steadily declined.

Lockwood remains optimistic. "The principles that will work for the sparrow will work for the other species as well," she says. "The world did not collapse when we lost the dusky, so will it if we lose the Cape Sable? Probably not. But is that an ethical solution, to play God and let it go? The only way I can imagine that happening is by accident."

Lehtinen agrees. "That bird does not have to go extinct," he says. "But we have to get real on single-species management and practice some tough love. The enviros are doing all they can to make [the bird] charismatic. They want to make it everything. They practice Animal Farm equality: Some are more equal than others."

Everglades restoration is huge, and the Cape Sable seaside sparrow is small. But the fate of each may be intertwined for years.

And who can know when or if the sparrow will sing its swan song? The dusky disappeared, but the northern spotted owl is still here, as is the snail darter, a now-renowned little fish that led the U.S. Supreme Court to halt work on a Tennessee dam back in 1978. "Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!" Keats wrote of another bird, in another time. To which the sparrow might reply: Tli-zheeeeee!

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Mike Clary