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Long time gone - the Passenger Pigeon

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Labor Day (Sept. 1) 2014 is the 100 year anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. The last known living Passenger Pigeon, ‘Martha,’ died in a zoo on Sept. 1, 1914, spending her entire life, 29 years, in captivity.

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Once the most prolific bird in the United States, the Passenger Pigeon died out due to over-hunting (the meat was used to make a pie), habitat loss and infectious disease may have wiped out entire colonies. 'Martha's' remains were stuffed and have been displayed by the Smithsonian Museum for a century.

The realization that the Passenger Pigeon was gone for good and no living bird would ever be seen by future generations set the stage for legislation that today protects all species in danger of extinction, from the lowly Delta Smelt to our majestic national symbol: the American Bald Eagle. Through conscientious and consistent conservation, the Bald Eagle has come back from the brink. It has now been removed from the list of U.S. endangered species.

The California Endangered Species Act of 1970 created the categories of “Endangered” and “Rare." The California Endangered Species Act of 1984 created the categories of “Endangered” and “Threatened.” On Jan. 1, 1985, all animal species designated as “Rare” were reclassified as “Threatened.” Endangered mammals on the list include the Gray Wolf and the Humpback Whale.

The California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) approved approximately $30-million in grants at its quarterly meeting Aug. 28 to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California, said WCB Executive Director John Donnelly in a press release.

Some of the 29 funded projects will provide benefits to fish and wildlife – including some endangered species – while others will provide the public with access to important natural resources, explained California Department of Fish & Wildlife spokesperson Dana Michaels.

“Several projects will also demonstrate the importance of protecting working landscapes that integrate economic, social and environmental stewardship practices beneficial to the environment, land owners and the local community,” said Donnelly. “The funds for all these projects come from bond initiatives approved by voters to help preserve and protect California’s natural resources.”

Funded projects in Northern California include:

  • An $805,000 grant to the California Waterfowl Association to acquire a conservation easement over approximately 226 acres of land for the protection of Giant garter snake, Swainson’s hawk, Black Rails, and wetlands near Marysville in Yuba County.
  • A $4.8-million grant to the American River Conservancy to acquire in fee approximately 1,080 acres of land for the protection and preservation of riparian and woodland habitat that includes native fisheries and oak woodlands, and to provide for potential future wildlife-oriented public use opportunities on land fronting the Cosumnes River in El Dorado County.

For more information about the Wildlife Conservation Board go to www.wcb.ca.gov. To view California Fish & Wildlife’s list of wildlife currently on the threatened and endangered species list in California, go to www.dfg.ca.gov/biogeodata/cnddb/pdfs/TEAnimals.pdf .

The Passenger Pigeon was once so numerous it “numbered in the billions,” according to the Smithsonian which adds: “With such abundance, it seemed unimaginable that the Passenger Pigeon could ever become extinct.”

Sacramento Nature Examiner Carol Bogart is a career journalist and professional writer. Read more of her work online at WestSacWeb.com and on Hub Pages.

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