“Ad mortem Ammodramus maritimus mirabilis ad maius bonum” –Tropical Audubon Society
(Translation from Latin: “Death to the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, for the greater good.”)
Over the past century, the plucky Cape Sable seaside sparrow has survived wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and of course, loss of habitat due to us pesky humans and our desire for things like food, water and shelter. But now, the poor little bird, having survived everything that Mother Nature and Darwinian theory can throw at it, has finally met its match: betrayal at the hands of the very organization sworn to protect it: the Tropical Audubon Society.
But don’t worry, bird lovers. While the adorable sparrow will almost certainly go the way of the do-do, there is a compelling argument in favor of wiping out this species of “controversial bird.” In an opinion piece written by Erin Clancy, the Tropical Audubon Society’s new conservation director, she argues that while flooding the sparrow’s nesting grounds would destroy its last remaining habitat, it would be for the greater good of many other species, some of which aren’t even birds:
For example, the critically endangered Snail Kite urgently needs the restoration of natural flows to survive, as opposed to the “just right” habitat needs of the Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow.
It is precisely these kinds of competing interests that have confounded environmentalist and conservation groups for decades as they compete for dollars, media attention, and legislation in support of their myriad causes and missions, almost all of them in direct conflict with the single species at the top of the food chain: humans.
The opinion piece, while startling, is a signal that the Tropical Audubon Society has been co-opted by other South Florida environmentalist groups that are beholden to wealthy donors dreaming of pristine landscapes outside their vacation homes. The Cape Sable seaside sparrow will be sacrificed on the altar of “Buy the Land” property owners / activists who are so arrogant they believe their beachfront property values are more important than others, who are all too happy to sacrifice one little bird if it means their political goals stand a better chance with a unified front.
Of course, there are some conservationists who don’t own property in South Florida, and who aren’t beholden to Paul Tudor Jones for their daily bread.
Shannon Estenoz, Director of Everglades Restoration with the United States Department of the Interior, says the Tropical Audubon Society’s position is so “surprising and concerning” that she couldn’t wait to contact Clancy to correct “important factual errors” and “the significant misunderstanding reflected in this piece.” She ripped into Clancy for claiming that “the sparrow is an impediment to restoration” with an immediate comment on the WLRN website, which reads in part:
“Everglades Restoration has been the centerpiece of the recovery strategy for this species for a very long time. Put simply, far from being inconsistent with Everglades restoration, the continued existence of the sparrow actually depends on it. Unfortunately, this piece echoes an old narrative that has proven to be as durable as it is incorrect.”
Clearly, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Tropical Audubon Society have competing viewpoints. The primary differentiator between those vowing to protect the bird and those that would sacrifice it, is whether or not they depend on contributions from South Florida environmentalist donors.