Daughter of former Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall President, Montpelier Consulting
Here on our Virginia farm, we share the land with many animals—some that we see regularly, and some that we never see. Black bears, coyotes, bobcats, red and gray fox, wild turkeys, and all manner of birds and flora roam this land. There are also endangered species here—the smooth purple cone flower and the red cockaded woodpecker—and they, too, are part of this community. I know they have their own reasons to be here that are equal to ours.
That the land and wildlife around us should be treated and cared for as a community came to me early in life, and stayed with me. My siblings and I grew up exploring the wild places in the West, often with our father as leader—down the Colorado, Salmon, Green, and San Juan rivers, and rambling around in national parks, wilderness areas, or any wild place we could find. I remember so many family evenings around the fire, with readings from Aldo Leopold, Loren Eisley, and John Muir, reminding us of the uniqueness and mystery of each living thing.
One of my earliest memories of an endangered species was in the early 60s, seeing a bald eagle soaring above us on a trip down the Grand Canyon. They became endangered by the use of the chemical DDT, as did the Peregrine falcon and brown pelicans, just as Rachel Carson cautioned us in her writings.
In February of 1967, my father issued the first endangered species list—even before the Endangered Species Act was signed into law. The list included the bald eagle and other significant American icons such as the whooping crane, ivory-billed woodpecker, grizzly bear, Florida panther, American alligator, timber wolf, and red wolf. Now, forty years later, we are successfully saving species from extinction and taking them off the list. The vast majority of species remaining on the list today are stabilizing or improving. And since the passage of the Act, we have lost very few species.
But one only has to look at the public excitement in 2005 and 2006, when some researchers thought, for sure, that they had “rediscovered” the ivory-billed woodpecker. Countless articles and TV news stories across the country reflected the public’s exhilaration that maybe, after all, we could be absolved of one more fellow creature’s demise. The stories of ivory-billed sightings have reached mythical proportions, and some are still convinced of the woodpecker’s survival in the deep, old-growth forests. Whether or not one believes this survival story, it is a symbol for other creatures that is played out over and over again, every month, every year. Those ivory-billed stories called to me, saying that, in our heart of hearts, we all know that each loss is a break in the chain, a crack in the circle, a tragic beginning without end.