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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Jamie Rappaport Clark, The Philadelphia Inquirer

How can we visualize the number five billion, especially when it comes to thinking about a wildlife species?

Worldwide, it’s hard to find a species, outside the insect world, with a population equivalent to five billion. But during the Civil War, there were that many passenger pigeons in the skies, making it the most abundant bird in North America. And yet, by 1914, the bird was gone forever.

September 1 marked the 100-year anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s extinction. It was on that day 100 years ago that the last of the species — “Martha,” named after George Washington’s wife — took her last breath.

With Martha’s death a species that once dominated the skies over America disappeared forever. And although this sad tale seems long ago, the same factors that caused the passenger pigeons’ demise continue to imperil our native wildlife species today.

In the 1700s and 1800s, citizens regularly recount seeing massive migrating flocks of passenger pigeons — millions of wings beating in unison. In 1813, famous naturalist John James Audubon witnessed a flock of birds so large he said it blocked the sun and took a total of three days to pass by.

But unregulated hunting and development throughout the birds’ critical nesting grounds depleted the bounty of passenger pigeons faster than the birds could reproduce. And, by 1890, they were nearly gone, with only a few small flocks still alive in the wild.

By 1910, Martha was the only one left, living in a cage in the Cincinnati Zoo, the last surviving relic of a vanished species.

Unfortunately, as the birds declined in the late 1890s, Americans were only just beginning to understand the impact that our westward expansion would have on the natural world. We were not monitoring the passenger pigeons’ numbers and there were no mechanisms for protecting the bird and balancing consumption with conservation.

Although the birds’ extinction has left a haunting mark on American history, there is a silver lining to this tragic tale.

The disappearance of passenger pigeons spurred an awakening and awareness about the value of preserving wildlife in our country. Indeed, I would argue that it was the passenger pigeons’ extinction, and later the rapid decline of species like the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle, that led directly to Americans’ current commitment to wildlife conservation.

By the 1970s, this country had concluded that we should never again be responsible for the extinction of a native wildlife species. That is why Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, our nation’s most important safety net for imperiled animals and plants on the brink of extinction.

Though the ESA came too late to protect the passenger pigeon and Martha, it has effectively shielded thousands of species from their same fate. Thankfully today, gray wolves, Humpback whales, Southern sea otters, Florida manatees, peregrine falcons, and Florida panthers still walk this planet precisely because we vowed to protect them through the ESA.

Though long gone, Martha’s story continues to teach us an important and urgent message. It serves as an ongoing reminder that we must work together as a nation to protect our imperiled wildlife and the important law that assures those protections.

Without a strong ESA, the decline of many species would accelerate, until they too vanished, even ones so numerous they darken the sun and the face of the earth.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. Clark wrote this for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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President Trump and former Vice President Biden at first 2020 presidential debate

Screenshot from C-Span YouTube

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

Donald Trump is claiming that he will still debate despite the rule change that will cut off the candidates' microphones while their opponent delivers his initial two-minute response to each of the debate's topics. But everything else Trump and his campaign are saying sounds like they're laying the groundwork to back out.

"I will participate," Trump told reporters Monday night. "But it's very unfair that they changed the topics and it's very unfair that again we have an anchor who's totally biased." At his Arizona rally Monday, Trump attacked moderator Kristen Welker as a "radical Democrat" and claimed she had "deleted her entire account," which is false. Trump's campaign manager, Bill Stepien, went further in his whining about the debate.

Stepien touted a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates as "Our letter to the BDC (Biden Debate Commission)." That letter came before the CPD announced that it would mute microphones for portions of the debate in response to Trump's constant interruptions at the first debate, though Stepien knew such a decision was likely coming, writing, "It is our understanding from media reports that you will soon be holding an internal meeting to discuss other possible rule changes, such as granting an unnamed person the ability to shut off a candidate's microphone. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden."

Shooooot, here I thought it was generous to Trump that the microphones will only be cut to give each candidate two uninterrupted minutes, leaving Trump the remainder of each 15-minute debate segment to interrupt.

But what did Stepien mean by "other possible rule changes," you ask? What was the first rule change? Well, it wasn't one. Stepien wrote to strongly complain that "We write with great concern over the announced topics for what was always billed as the 'Foreign Policy Debate' in the series of events agreed to by both the Trump campaign and the Biden campaign many months ago." Welker's announced topics include "Fighting COVID-19, American families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership," Stepien complained, using this as a launching pad to attack Biden on foreign policy.

Except this debate was never billed as a foreign policy debate. It's true that in past years, the third debate has sometimes focused on foreign policy, but here in 2020, the CPD's original announcement of debate formats and moderators said of the third debate, "The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate," and the first debate "will be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator."

So even before the CPD finalized the decision to prevent Trump from interrupting for two minutes in each of six segments, so 12 minutes out of a 90-minute debate, Team Trump was falsely complaining that the debate was rigged. No wonder—as a Biden campaign spokesman noted, the Trump campaign is upset "because Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous Covid response."

Trump has lost one debate and backed out of one debate. If he goes into this one with the attitude he's showing now—attacking the moderator, attacking the topics, enraged that he can't interrupt for two entire minutes at a time—he's going to lose this one, badly, once again hurting his already weak reelection prospects. So which will it be? Back out and have that be the story, or alienate one of the largest audiences of the entire presidential campaign by showing what kind of person he is?