David Luneau, Scott Simon
Ivory-billed Woodpecker search
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
27 Jan 2005
- Dagmar State Wildlife Management Area
- 34.888 -91.318
Show: ELVIS (Ivory-billed Woodpecker)
Log of DAT #4
Engineer: William McQuay
Date: January 27, 2005
JF = John Fitzpatrick
SS = Scott Simon
DL = David Luneau
CJ = Chris Joyce
Bill = Bill McQuay
Chris Joyce and Scott Simon, Bill McQuay and David [?] heading off in the canoes.
Bobby in another canoe. Chit chat until 28:22 when Bill records a minute of AMBI.
28:22 - 29:32 AMBI quiet bed on the river [Good = G]
28:58 FX Wood ducks
Chit chat with Bill about cameras, fresh scaling on trees, paddling which I am not logging until 47:40 when: "We're about to hit shore" + Ambi of landing to 48:16
Second boat with Chris and Scott arrives.
48:20 AMBI: Bill walking
48:32: Bill ID. So all that was spaced omnis on the 27th
Chris and Bill set up two DATs, two mics:
CJ: I want to be able to get a clear chronology. Gene started the ball rolling I guess when he did the first siting. Who was the first to find out? Fitz or Scott?
JF: My first encounter with it was Tuesday, March 2  because I had just flown back from Minnesota on the 1st. And that Tuesday morning Tim Gallagher was in my office telling me the story. He looked bad.
CJ: Gene saw it first. Who did he go to first.
JF: He went to his kayak site.
SS: After Gene was in the woods with Tim and Bobby, and after they had all been together [JF: That was on the 27th], he was convinced that there needs to be conservation of this place. So at the same time that Tim Gallagher was talking to Fitz, Gene called me about the same day. And he said this will make your week. I can guarantee you this will be the most interesting call you will have had all week.
JF: But prior to that Gene had put his sighting on the web which had made its way up to Tim's office in the early 20s or late teens of February. Tim called Bobby and they agreed to meet .
SS: I think I was probably the third person that Gene had called. He called Conservancy's board member, and another birder, then me. The day after that I talked to all those people. At the end of the day I got a message from my assistant Susan Bornay [sp. could be Mornay], John Fitzpatrick, who's a member of TNC Board and Director of the Lab at Cornell wants to talk with you tomorrow at 10am in the morning. And at 10am Fitz called and introduced himself, very gracious, asked about me, and just described he had a research project.
JF: Right, we had worked very well with the Conservancy at the Pearl River in 2002, and I knew privately that we couldn't do what we needed to do which was to get in and start looking around and get some acoustic devices going. We couldn't do that without good aerial photography, TNC is a specialist in that, so I knew we wanted to work with TNC if for no other reason than just logistically, but also this is a conservation story - huge - and it's going to be eventually that we work with TNC anyway, so I said let's just first get some photography, so I started asking Scott do they have a GIS office, yes, of the White River area, yes¿..how far north
SS: North to like Bayadaview.
JF: Cache River¿.So you know Bayadaview.
CJ: At this point you didn't know that he knew
JF. No. I assumed he did not.
CJ: And he knew that you did not know that he knew
JF: Yes. He also, I assume had a strong sense of why I was calling.
SS: I completely knew why you were calling. It was obvious. I had not had a phone call from a member of the Board of Governors before. But I also knew that this was an effort that would be lead by the researchers, and that we wanted to support it. And it was something that to be successful, it needed to be pretty low key. We wanted to do the research without a lot of extra attention. I had already talked with everyone I knew who knew a little bit. And I had been assured that at least in Arkansas it was a small circle of four people: four people in Arkansas, one person in Alabama, and two people in Cornell.
JF: So when I said, oh you know about Bayadaview, he said oh, yah, I was just out there floating down it about a week or two ago. Have you been talking about it recently? Like the last few days. Yup. So you know some stories that are coming out of there. Yup. [laughter] At that point Scott was dancing with me.
SS: Fitz was really gracious because he also wanted to make sure this was kept pretty quiet. And somehow one of us mentioned the name Gene, then it was all over, and I then recounted what I had learned in the last 12 hours.
CJ: So at what point did you then decide ok, we agreed on what we should do, plan of action.\
JF: Huge sigh of relief for me. Knew had to get research going, and get immediately into conservation. We said we ought to start working on this project together.
SS: I also had a big sigh of relief. It was obvious this was going to be a very collaborative approach, just in the way that Fitz starting talking about this, we're going to work on this together. He set a very positive tone. So what we focused on in those first few days was three things:
First, getting to know the other people who were part of this effort whom we hadn't met face to face, and just to get to know each other on the phone, so there was a lot of phone calling,
Second, the searchers needed some very specific aerial photography support and other support because time was running out in the winter/spring season. They wanted to get in here as soon as possible.
JF: Before leaf out.
SS: So our GIS shop were working on trying to get best aerial photography, infrared processing it the way the searchers wanted, and then being able to produce maps when they got here;
Third, we were refining our conservation plan. We'd had one that we had been refining for 20 years written by Tom Foty [sp] at the Heritage Commission with a lot of partners. We wanted to update it with this new information, so that when the member of the Board of Governors came to Arkansas we had a clear vision of where we were going to go for the next ten years with this info.
JF: What we knew was that we could bring our expertise into the thing by putting expert field people on the ground basically for the rest of the spring, trying to learn hat we could about the bird or birds, trying to get a good photograph, and really concentrating on learning some of the biology that would ultimately feed the conservation measures that we knew we would take. And of course, we all looked at the photographs and immediately had this huge hope, and daunting task of 1/2 million acres, we needed to look in, so we knew we needed a short term plan we basically exercised all spring, namely get people into this part of the place in earnest, and the long term plan which needed funding. We immediately began to work together with the knowledge we needed to raise some money to get going on the bigger picture.
JF: Since you're on the Board¿..decided go get the money through TNC?
SS: No, there was a circle of people whom we knew would be supportive of this. Some were Conservancy friends, some were Cornell friends, and it was really very fluid, because our focus was the success of the project, and whoever needed the funds for any particular part of it, we just matched up a donor's particular interest. JF: That continues now almost a year later. We're still trying to engage private partners into the process, so we have enough money not just to conduct a pretty expensive research, but even more important in terms of dollars get pieces of land optioned and purchased prior to the public release of the story, because who knows what that's going to do to perception of land values.
SS: A really neat part about the chronology, just a couple of weeks later, when Fitz came to visit, and all the people who knew this story got to meet face to face. We ordered pizza, gathered at the Board room, and told the history and talked about not only how we were going to manage the search but also refined the way we were all going to work together to manage the project and make decisions, because everybody had individual goals, aims, concerns. But we felt all could be realized in such a way that would conserve the place and do it in such a way that it was a benefit to the people who live here, benefit to the critters who live it here, and a benefit to the scientific community in general.
JF: So by end of March, early April, we are identifying very explicitly that we know this story is not going to stay private forever, and it shouldn't. But we'd like to get a bunch of information laid, not just about the bird itself, and the conservation and the habitat, but also to begin to engage the agencies that we knew would ultimately be responsible for managing the land and the people who want to come see the bird.
So little by little getting them thinking about what if this bird showed up on their property, and how to deal with communication issues if the story leaked. So a fairly complex set of things we were thinking about, all doing pretty cooperatively, and we agreed almost immediately, let's talk every week, and that's gone on every week since March of 2004, we've had a every week conference call with all the people who know the story.
SS: We've got a simple 5-part plan, which we collaboratively developed on our first visit:
1. the search strategy
2. conservation strategy
3. work on how to downplay any rumors, keep it in a tight circle, keep it quiet
4. where we can get some private funding to take care of the effort.
And we really had two main precepts for our calls and our process together:
1. We weren't going to keep secrets from each other. We were going to share all information within the group. If someone doesn't agree, we work it out.
2. No unilateral decisions.
SS: My role is as facilitator. This is a true team effort where everybody brings great strengths and expertise to the process. [1:08:21]
SS: The third major thing we decided early on. We weren't going to share the information with somebody just because we felt we had to. We felt they would be hurt if they didn't hear it. And that's a really hard thing to expect of everybody. What we knew was that we were only going to bring people into the circle in a measured way, as they could assist with and help with the search. And we were probably looking for three types of things: 1] they would be able to keep it discreet with us; 2] they did have something to add to the research or conservation effort, and 3] that they would be fun and easy to work with, because this crowd in just a few weeks had developed a real bond and a real style with one another.
JF: Which is not to say it has not had its disagreements.
CJ: Such as.
JF: Differences of opinion about whether search plan A is better than search b plan, someone should work singly or in pairs, but the great thing is - to the person - this group has maintained the bigger sense of the story, and that has pushed in and contained other potential tendency to bug off and do their own thing.
CJ: Very early on, you had a cover story as to what you would do if it did leak, how do you downplay it, is there a standard response that you share with each other, and this is a response that we give, or is it each person on its own¿..
SS: This gets into an important¿. Nobody wanted to lie to their friends, and nobody has lied to their friends, or anybody, I think they just wanted to be able to say Oh,yah, I heard some things, those people are crazy, or There's people looking all over the Southeast for these birds, and there have been sightings from Louisiana, South Carolina, and wouldn't that be great,
JF: We have the honest cover story. We did this in 2002, the Lab did it, David Luneau and Martjan were on it, and got big NPR, NYT, WP coverage, about the search which came up dry. That was great, because it kind of let out that we are still paying attention to this, and from then on kind of poking our ribs saying are you still serious, so we can say we're still pursuing leads. So someone might say, I hear you're going to Arkansas, some news out there? Or a couple of cases, hey, I heard there's a rumor of a sighting out in the Mississippi drainage, and we can just say there are sightings in a number of places, we're checking them out. One other thing to talk about is the local population and the concern you've had from the beginning about that.
SS: Arkansas is a small community, and eastern Arkansas is an even smaller community, and it's definite that people who live here notice that there is more activity in more places. And what have described it as is a research project. These are wonderful woods, we have been working on conservation here for a long time, 20 years, and we own some of the property with the Heritage Commission that we've been visiting, so we're just cataloguing the great animals, plants and birds that live here.
JF: That having been said as we chat about things as we do in code in restaurants, we already know for sure that the word has crept out in the community that there's some, I mean after all there's cars with New York license plates here all the time, and a lot of people with binoculars and canoes, so it's pretty clear to the community that something's up, and our basic statement to them is that we're inventorying this really beautiful place and working with TNC to understand the woods. Yet, there are rumors about the search for some extinct bird.
SS: But the rumors really go nowhere as long as our core group don't necessarily substantiate them. And so as people may ask them, everybody just kind of fades on it.
JF: These are really nice people here. It's tough to keep it a secret. That is the hardest thing of all.
CJ: Can you get into what you were telling me in the canoe about the next step being the people who own the land other than the Conservancy, which is the State and the Federal government, and how that's been managed.
SS: The land ownership and the land management is also really collaborative. The land is owned by the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Game and Fish Commission, Fish and Wildlife Service. There's really a small group of us that try to together with public input make the land decisions, so that what we've done is in a very fun, low key way with friends think about the future, what if somebody came to us and said you have an ivory billed woodpecker on your property, what would be the steps that one would want to take on all aspects of conservation and protection of a place and a species. And just think it through a little bit. And we're doing that. CJ: We meaning? SS: just the landowners in the area. CJ: the Feds, the State and TNC. SS: Yes, And mostly as a group of friends, so if John Fitzpatrick comes and says our research is completed, those of us who own land have thought through a little bit about what the next steps would be.
JF: We've talked to the agencies with some level of seriousness from the summertime on, because we had some knowledge about the high probability of success in the search here, and we did not want this thing to suddenly come out of the blue to them. We needed them to take the possibility very seriously. They have.
They recognize that ultimately the vast majority of the land that's going to be holding this population is federal or state owned, and those are the people who are going to be faced with the management decisions day to day, faced with the human relations issues about birdwatchers and the competing potential uses of the land.
So getting them to really think seriously over the long term and to get more and more specific about it, required a certain amount of raising the level of seriousness of the discussion without actually coming out and saying what we knew. So it's been a little delicate. But the sense I have is that all the agencies recognize the seriousness of this thing and are sort of coming up with us in the knowledge of what's going on and how important it's gong to be.
CJ: No pun intended, but eventually it's not going to be a matter of black and white. It's unlikely to be. Evidence of this sort is always never enough, and getting confirmation is, at some point, someone is going to have to make a scientific call, and that's going to be you [Fitz].
JF: That's going to be me, but remember scientific calls by the virtue or nature of science are just best guesses with the evidence at hand. And public statements about that and allowing the scientific public to scrutinize the evidence that we've got. So if you think about what science is, all it is is organized curiosity and always embracing the possibility that you're wrong in your interpretation of something and that's when we finally go public, exactly how we'll do it. Here's what we know, here's what happened, here's our evidence. We treat it as conclusive by that point, but it's available for others to examine, and they can interpret what we've got differently.
CJ: Be in a journal.
JF: We definitely want this to be scrutinized by the scientific public, so it will be in a scientific journal. In fact our hope is that it come out in SCIENCE.
CJ: usually it takes 2 or 3 months. So if you submit this summer, won't come out til the fall. Do you have a timetable for this?
JF: A lot of different things are going to come out around the same time. That's the way we're dealing with it right now. The scientific community has not had the information made available yet. We intend this spring to have that happen. And hopefully it will all coincide with a general release. [1:21:45]
CJ: Can you arrange it so that scientists can do there peer review - silently?
JF: Big international science journals do that routinely for very high sensitivity questions.
SS: Probably the next major milestone is that as the research project concludes, we will be visiting with the agencies, enlarge the team, okay, how do we go forward¿