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“The Brown Pelican Is Back”

An Environmental Protection Success Story
Detail from the Bank of New Orleans, Magazine Street.

Detail from the Bank of New Orleans, Magazine Street.

The brown pelican, a species that was driven nearly to extinction by use of the pesticide D.D.T., has grown back in strong enough numbers that the admirable bird has been removed from the endangered species list. The decision was announced Wednesday by officials of the U.S. Interior Department in a ceremony with Senator Mary Landrieu at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge [1]in Lacombe, Louisiana. The brown pelican was declared endangered in 1970. Pelicans would eat fish that contained traces of D.D.T., and the pesticide’s weakening of calcium in the eggshell [2] would cause the birds’ eggs to be so thin that they would break during incubation. Bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and other birds were similarly affected. D.D.T. was banned in 1972 (but we’re not safe yet [2]).

Christine Harvey of the [3]Times-Picayune [3]explains the announcement [3] in illuminating detail. She reports that Senator Landrieu used the occasion of the visit by Interior assistant secretary Tom Strickland and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services director Sam Hamilton

to convene a closed meeting between the Interior officials and about 75 coastal restoration “stakeholders” representing state agencies, universities, local governments and environmental groups in an effort to press the Obama administration on its commitment to speeding the state’s coastal restoration process.

“I think we understand now that this is an issue that affects people, affects commerce, affects our nation’s energy production,” Strickland said. “It’s a national priority and it will be a national priority for the Obama administration to step up in a more responsible way as a federal partner to work with the state and local effort.”

We applaud Senator Landrieu’s focus and dedication to the restoration of Louisiana’s coast.

We take the pelican’s new out-of-danger status as an auspicious sign of the state’s possible environmental restoration. The pelican was chosen as the state bird of Louisiana mainly because it is known for its especially nurturing attitude toward its young. Legend has it [4] that the pelican is so generous to its young that it would even wound itself to feed the chicks its own blood when no other food could be found (known as vulning [wounding], or “the pelican in her piety”). We like to think of the pelican as symbolizing the state of Louisiana at its best, at its most generous, sharing with the less fortunate, as with the caregiving of the Ursuline nuns and Charity Hospital [5] that has (until recently) operated in the city of New Orleans since the 1730s. As a symbol of the social contract and a protected environment, we welcome the pelican and wish it many generations of sturdy eggs, healthy, well-fed young, and a replenished Louisiana coastline in which to thrive.

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Click here [6] for a gallery of photographs of the brown pelican by Times-Picayune photographer Scott Threlkeld.

Click here [7] to read about Rachel Carson and here [8] to order her book Silent Spring, the groundbreaking 1962 environmental classic that alerted the public to the dangers of D.D.T. and other pesticides. Elizabeth Kolbert [9], environmental author and writer for The New Yorker, writes that Silent Springlaunched the modern environmental movement [10].”

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