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There are two kinds of efforts commonly made to save wildlife these days. The first are attempts, often spectacular, at rescuing and rehabilitating individual birds and animals. The second are habitat restoration projects quietly undertaken—with little fanfare or media coverage—by outdoor clubs and environmental organizations.
Here are a few recent and typical examples from the first category:
?Dr. Lance Olson, a Spokane ophthalmologist, headed a team of veterinarians and technicians who tried to transplant a cornea from a badly injured eagle to the eye of a 3-year-old golden eagle. The dramatic scene was complete with crowds of reporters as well as a closed circuit television system to record the operation and give spectators a clear view. ("I felt very uncomfortable about it," says Olson with regard to the media attention.) Unfortunately, the eagle's eye had been damaged beyond repair, so the attempt had to be abandoned.
?A Laysan albatross with sheared wings and tail feathers was found wandering the streets of San Francisco. At the International Bird Rescue Center in nearby Berkeley, a pair of rehabilitation specialists took carefully measured feathers from a dead albatross and inserted them into the shafts of the living bird. It was then flown by airplane 5,000 miles to Midway Island—where albatrosses winter—and released.
?While visiting Florida's Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary with his wife, Eloise, in 1972, actor Pat O'Brien (who died in October) noticed a badly injured pelican. The bird's left eye had been snagged by a fish hook, and its right wing had apparently been severed by the plastic fishing line as it tried to free itself. O'Brien offered to pay for any care needed to save the bird. Doctors named the pelican after the actor and performed three delicate operations. Pelican Pat, though partially blind, survived.
?A couple of years ago Donna the Duck was featured on a number of network newscasts. Donna was a mallard hen living at the Sahara Country Club in Las Vegas, where a teen-age boy shot her through the chest with a target arrow. Rescuers succeeded in drugging her and then flew her by helicopter to a vet, who surgically removed the arrow, administered antibiotics and pronounced the bird on the road to recovery and a normal life. In an interview, a spokesman for the Nevada Humane Society said that the duck's case was a good thing in one way—it "made people aware of the plight of wildlife in the world today."
It's difficult to argue against the reporting of humane behavior. But it seems to me that media coverage of these dramatic efforts actually may serve to do more harm than good by obscuring the real dilemma facing wildlife—habitat destruction and deterioration.
A cornea transplant performed on a single eagle does nothing to explain or rectify the plight of eagles. Flying an albatross from California to Midway Island can be viewed as a costly way of ignoring the difficulties seabirds have surviving on our nation's polluted coastlines. While the recovery of Pelican Pat is a happy event, the real story is that 85% of the pelicans in that area are injured yearly by untended fishing lines and hooks.
As for the quietly undertaken projects that seldom make news but that usually make sense, I think one typical example will suffice in proving their effectiveness:
?Ten years ago, as a member of an Oregon fishing club called the Steamboaters, I was involved in a stream rehabilitation program on Cedar Creek, a tributary of Steamboat Creek, which is in turn a major tributary of the North Umpqua River. Portions of Cedar Creek had been badly overlogged. When trees are cut down along a stream's banks, the resulting loss of shade causes a rise in summer water temperatures. This can be disastrous to salmon, steelhead and trout. When too many trees are taken from mountainsides, heavy rains and spring snowmelt wash tons of earth down barren slopes, silting the gravel spawning beds that ensure the survival of anadromous fish.