by Max Brantley
Nature, updating a "recovery" plan for the ivory billed woodpecker, paints a bleak picture about the bird's existence and raises questions about spending on the search and recovery.
In 2005, a team reported1 videotaping an ivory-billed woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) in eastern Arkansas, in what seemed to be the first documented sighting of a creature thought to have become extinct at least 50 years earlier. Other experts have challenged the claim, although the team members maintain that they spotted one bird.
But after five years of fruitless searching, hopes of saving the species have faded. "We don't believe a recoverable population of ivory-billed woodpeckers exists," says Ron Rohrbaugh, a conservation biologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who headed the original search team.
The FWS has spent $14 million trying to document and conserve the ivory-billed woodpecker throughout the southeast United States, including $8 million for habitat preservation and $2 million for search-associated costs. The hunt was suspended last October after it ran out of money. Chasing down a string of dubious and faked claims of sightings added an extra burden, undermining already-stressed wildlife programmes, experts say.