A SHADOW AND A SONG: Extinction of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow by Mark Jerome Walters

A SHADOW AND A SONG: Extinction of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow

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Walters (The Dance of Life, 1987) movingly chronicles the extinction of a species. The dusky seaside sparrow, indigenous only to the salt marshes of Florida's Brevard County, bad rich brown feathers, narrow saffron eyebrows, a ""vibrant gambol yellow"" highlighting its wings, and a ""proud thrush-like presence."" But in 1960, NASA bought 140,000 acres of land for the space program and, suddenly, Brevard County was flooded with technicians. Land prices leaped, and county commissioners had dollar signs in their eyes. Only one problem--the dense colonies of mosquitoes in the area. After heavy spraying in the 50's, Brevard bad created the world's first DDT-resistant mosquitoes. Residents resorted to diking the salt marshes and flooding them with fresh water, which denied mosquitoes proper breeding grounds. But this flooding also destroyed the cordgrass and salt marsh in which the dusky sparrows lived. As early as 1955, naturalist Rupert J. Longstreet warned that, as a result, the dusky ""will become extremely rare. It may entirely disappear."" Indeed, by 1968, only 34 birds could be found. But the county and the real-estate developers kept diking--it raised land values. In 1969, Brevard announced plans to build a four-lane highway through the middle of the birds' habitat; the only function of the wad was to siphon off some of the millions of tourists headed for Disney World. The engineer in charge stated that it was senseless to waste money to try to save an inconsequential species like the dusky. When a task force was assembled to rescue the bird, it took it two years to write a 15-page report, and Fish and Wildlife two years to study it. By then, only five sparrows survived: They were sent to Disney World and died in captivity. Exceeding well written and one of the most depressing records in recent memory of the triumph of greed--enough to make the angels weep.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Chelsea Green