Chapter

Salvation Through Science? The First Life-History Studies of Endangered Species

in Nature's Ghosts

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780226038148
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226038155 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226038155.003.0010
Salvation Through Science? The First Life-History Studies of Endangered Species

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The heath hen once ranged across the northeastern part of the United States, as far south as Virginia, perhaps even South Carolina, and as far north as Maine. The ornithologist Alfred O. Gross, a Harvard-trained biologist with a position at Bowdoin College, was commissioned to find out as much as he could about the bird's life and behavior. The heath hen was the first endangered species to be subject to intense scientific study. By the time Gross began his research in 1923, however, the bird was already on the verge of extinction. The demise of the heath hen occurred during a period of deep rancor within American wildlife circles as naturalists, sport hunters, government officials, nature lovers, and other interested parties argued about the proper scope and goals of conservation. This chapter chronicles three studies—which investigated ivory-billed woodpeckers and California condors—that were born of an optimistic belief that if enough could be learned about the life history, behavior, and ecology of vanishing animals, they might be snatched from the jaws of extinction.

Keywords: extinction; heath hen; conservation; Alfred O. Gross; life history; ecology; endangered species; California condors; ivory-billed woodpeckers

Chapter.  18132 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environmental History

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