Obstacles in Their Path - Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish - James Prosek

Eels: An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish - James Prosek (2010)

Chapter 10. Obstacles in Their Path

Hydropower turbine

In the late 1990s, John Casselman, a biologist at Queen’s University in Ontario, began to expose an alarming decline in the number of juvenile eels returning to the St. Lawrence River in Canada, at the northern edge of the range of the American eel. The population of young eels coming up the fish ladder at the Moses-Saunders hydroelectric dam had dropped from nearly a million in the 1980s to a hundred thousand in the 1990s, to less than ten thousand in the late 1990s and virtually to zero in 2000. Casselman stated that, historically, female eels once had made up 50 percent of the inshore fish biomass of Lake Ontario at the head of the St. Lawrence; now, almost no eels were returning there at all.

“It is truly a crisis,” Casselman told me.

Even more alarming is that what Casselman was observing was not unique to the rivers of eastern North America. Populations of freshwater eels the world over were in serious decline. The American Fisheries Society Journal stated in 2003: “In recent decades, juvenile abundance has declined dramatically: by 99% for the European eel, Anguilla anguilla, and by 80% for the Japanese eel, Anguilla japonica. Recruitment of the American eel, Anguilla rostrata, to Lake Ontario, near the species’ northern limit, has virtually ceased.”

There was no way around the fact that for a migratory fish such as the eel, the existence of hydropower dams was a major issue, perhaps the major issue, contributing to the species’ decline. Construction of the Beauharnois and Moses-Saunders hydroelectric dams on the St. Lawrence in 1932 and 1958, respectively, had impeded the migrations of eels to and from what once comprised the single largest nursery in North America—the upper St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, and their feeders.* Even if a juvenile eel was able to make it upstream of the dams via fish ladders, the downstream gauntlet was nearly insurmountable.

During the fall migration the accumulated mortality from the turbines of both dams was about 40 percent, Casselman told me, but that didn’t account for the fish that were wounded and weren’t in good enough physical condition to make the long journey to the Sargasso. “Unfortunately,” Casselman added, “since the dams on the St. Lawrence are run-of-the-river and use all the flow, there is little or no likelihood that the eels can get by any other way.”

In April 2000, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) issued an extensive Interstate Fishery Management Plan for the American eel, recommending necessary steps to save the species. Despite further evidence in the report of a “very serious” decline along the eastern seaboard, the proposed plan was never put into effect. In March 2004, the ASMFC Eel Management Board issued a press release, recommending that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) consider protection of the American eel under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The USFWS failed to respond.

The evidence of a drastic decline was accumulating fast and becoming irrefutable. There were no longer enough eels being born in the Sargasso Sea to spread to the extremes of the fish’s historical range. There were still plenty of eels in South Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland, closer to the spawning grounds, but in places such as the St. Lawrence in Canada or the Mississippi, where eels were once abundant, they were hardly showing up at all anymore. Likewise, in Europe, populations were still somewhat healthy in rivers of France and England closer to the eels’ birthplace in the Sargasso, but beyond the strait of Denmark in the Baltic Sea or at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea (and up the Nile) there were far fewer. The European Union threatened to shut down the commercial fishery for eels in Europe, period. Pressure was mounting in the United States to do something as well.

Because of their sliminess and association with the snake and the phallus, the eel has a tendency to stir human uneasiness, even disgust. It is not, like the salmon, swordfish, or giant tuna, an easily embraced, bold, and magnificent emblem of the rivers and seas, attracting funds to the coffers of foundations. Who would step forward, then, on behalf of the eel? Maybe it would take someone a little different and tenacious, someone who moved in the opposite direction of everyone else, to become the spokesperson for the eel.

And so it was that Tim Watts, a janitor at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, was combing the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission website one day when, out of personal curiosity, he began reading the minutes from meetings of the ASMFC’s Eel Management Board.* He read papers delivered by John Casselman and other scientists and technicians, as well as testimony from amateur naturalists and professional fishermen. All the data and personal commentaries pointed to the fact that the eel population was nose-diving up and down the East Coast.

About the same time, in the autumn of 2004, Tim’s brother, Doug, a journalist living in Augusta, Maine, started noticing hundreds of dead eels showing up below the Benton Falls dam on the Sebasticook River, a major tributary of the Kennebec. On the phone one night, the brothers discovered that their observations on both the national and local levels converged. They felt they had to do something.

Unable to contain their anger at the U.S. government’s lack of action regarding the eels’ decline, in December 2004 the two brothers submitted a citizens’ petition to list the American eel as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. Because of the thoroughness of their research and the irrefutable evidence in their petition, the U.S. government was forced to take their plea seriously, promising to carry out a full-blown status review of the species. It was a triumph for the brothers, for blue-collar America, and for the eel.

The brothers’ passion for the eel made for a compelling story and garnered national media attention. The New York Times and USA Today as well as several National Public Radio programs ran pieces about the brothers and the eels’ plight. Doug and Tim Watts’s action demonstrated that individuals had the ability to make a difference. With pen and paper, two ordinary citizens had forced the United States government, at the very least, to listen.

Soon after reading in the New York Times of the proposed listing of the eel under the ESA, I tried contacting Doug Watts. I was given his home number in Augusta by a friend who’d worked with him on the ESA listing of Atlantic salmon in Maine. He warned that Doug could be somewhat unpredictable and was notorious locally as a fist-pounding activist who sometimes did outrageous things to make his point.

“Is this Doug Watts?” I asked when I called.

“Yes,” he answered in a low, gravelly voice.

“I’m a writer working on—”


I called back, thinking we’d had a bad connection, but no one answered. I called about a dozen more times. Nothing. I left him alone. Maybe he was getting threats from eel fishermen.

Unable to get to Doug in person, I began to follow the work of the Watts brothers through their website, Glooskapandthe Frog.org (Glooskap is a hero in Penobscot Indian creation myth). One post showed a provocative and, frankly, odd picture of curly-haired Doug Watts with no shirt on, holding in front of his face an eel that had been killed in a hydropower turbine in one of Maine’s dams. Behind him was a picture of the folk music legend Blind Lemon Jefferson. The post was titled, “What Is Right and Wrong?”

It’s frustrating, if this slaughter involved monarch butterflies, roseate terns or the sea turtles … the public outcry would bring turbine blades to halt and rattle to rubble a thousand dams that haven’t powered a mill for half a century.

Because fish are being slaughtered, slimy eels, we minimize and justify the slaughter as the price to pay for Green Power.

Dams on our rivers, especially our co[a]stal ones are to our rivers and their aquatic ecosystems are what pesticides once were to our ecosystems on land. The difference is awareness, as of yet there has been no Rachel Carson to write the story and challenge the status quo.

In addition to shocking pictures of dead eels, quotes by Henry David Thoreau, and the arresting phrase”Complacency Kills!” in bold type on the home page, the website had beautiful photographs taken by Tim Watts of glass eels and elvers successfully scaling the wet wall of a bridge abutment to get above a defunct dam. The power of the eels’ resilience to overcome the obstruction was inspirational, as were the love and patience Tim must have had to document this segment of their long journey.

If you look at a map of eastern North America and imagine that the rivers coursing through the land are the blood vessels of a human body, that body most certainly would be experiencing cardiac arrest. Few rivers flowing east from the Continental Divide to the Atlantic Ocean are now free of dams. The health of the earth’s circulatory system, a network of interconnected ecosystems—from springs and swamps to rivers and ocean currents—depends significantly on a free exchange of organic and inorganic matter.

The effects of dams on the ecosystem are not always easily seen. For example, the entire length of the Susquehanna River used to be thick with freshwater mussels, which naturally filtered the water and provided food for numerous creatures. Biologists at the U.S. Geological Survey, after completing a survey of freshwater mussels on the Delaware River, which essentially has no dams and supports about two million mussels per mile, wondered why freshwater mussels were now virtually nonexistent in the nearby Susquehanna basin. The researchers found that the larvae of freshwater mussels attach themselves to hosts that help distribute them up and down the river before the larvae drop off and become small mussels. It happens that the most common species of mussel, Elliptio complanata, prefers to attach itself to a particular species of fish known for migrating nearly the entire length of the river system—the freshwater eel. In the early 1900s, a series of large hydroelectric dams was built in the lower reaches of the Susquehanna, preventing eels from populating the upper reaches of the river.* Without the eel, the freshwater mussel lost its host distribution system and disappeared.

One might ask, what were the consequences for the Susquehanna ecosystem of losing the eels and freshwater mussels? It is thought that eels once accounted for 25 percent of the total fish biomass of East Coast rivers and streams. Certainly that biomass was now no longer available to feed other creatures, from ospreys to raccoons, herons, and striped bass. But there were other consequences. In a healthy system such as the Delaware, the mussels were filtering more than two billion gallons of water per mile each day. Without the mussels filtering the Susquehanna, how was the river’s general health being affected?

Throughout much of their native range Pacific salmon can no longer reach the headwaters of the great rivers to spawn; neither can shad, alewives, or other migratory fishes. It is not only the salmon’s existence that is at stake, but the existence of every creature that their stray eggs and post-spawn carcasses once supported—the caddis flies, the grayling, the rainbow trout, the eagles, the bears. What is at stake if we lose the eel?

“The eels may be sending us an important message,” John Casselman told me. “The question is—are we reading it?”

A few years after I first called Doug Watts, I tried him again, this time by e-mail. By chance, he had seen an article I’d written for a fly-fishing magazine about the conservation of native trout.

“I saw your piece,” Doug responded. “I’m kind of disenchanted with fly fishermen these days. I think for lots of them trout are golf balls that swim. Your comment to that effect in your piece was spot-on and much appreciated.”

He said I was welcome to come up and visit him in Augusta, Maine. We set a date, and I drove up.

Doug lived with his wife in a modest home in the industrial outskirts of town. She was a potter, and Doug had his hand in other arts and music besides his sporadic freelance writing gigs and activism.

We sat down across from each other at a table in the kitchen, beside a few potted spider plants and African violets. Doug had wild brown eyes, a lean body, and curly brown hair. He gave the general impression of a fugitive, pulsing with nervous energy. One of the many cats milling around jumped on his lap. With unwavering intensity, Doug told me what had pushed him and his brother over the edge.

“The Sebasticook comes into the Kennebec about twenty miles above Augusta, and Benton Falls is the second dam on that river,” he began. Benton Falls is a hydrodam. It was constructed in 1987, the last new hydrodam ever built in Maine. Doug had already known from reading Maine Department of Natural Resources reports that this particular dam was slaughtering big female eels. These were eels that had gone up the Sebasticook to the headwater lakes as juveniles, before the dam had been built, and lived there until their hormones clicked and they were ready to return to the sea to spawn. “Only now,” Doug said, “they couldn’t. You’re talking about thirty-, forty-year-old animals. I’ve handled hundreds of eels maimed by hydrodams, whose skin has been pulled off like a sock off your foot. I tell people it’s like sticking your hand in a window fan, except the fan’s much bigger and the metal’s much stronger.”

Doug is not gentle with his metaphors or visuals. His website shows other pictures of mutilated eels, one with the following caption: “Those are the eel’s gills hanging out of her mouth. The force of the turbine blade strike blew them out of her throat. Picture yourself getting hit in the abdomen with enough force to spit your lungs up.”

Doug went down to the dam and hunted around in the water. The river bottom at the base of the dam was covered with eel carcasses. Some of them were dead, in pieces; some weren’t dead yet, just maimed and swimming in circles. Doug called the state and told them what he’d seen. The state said the power company that operated the dam was not doing anything illegal—the dam wasn’t breaking any laws. But they asked the power company to voluntarily shut off the turbines. The dam owner, down in Atlanta, Georgia, said, in essence, “Screw it—we don’t care.”

“There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of eels all over the bottom of the stream,” Doug said. “The state wouldn’t do anything. The dam owner wouldn’t do anything. And so Timmy and I talked on the phone. And, you know, we were livid. We were just livid to the point of wanting to go do violence to things. Mostly because the state of Maine just threw up their hands and said, ‘We don’t care.’ ”

What happened next was the kind of activism that had made Doug Watts notorious in the state of Maine. He walked right off the street into the Maine Department of Environmental Protection offices in Augusta with a plastic grocery bag containing five huge dead eels. “You don’t believe me? Here you go,” he said to the officials, dumping the carcasses on their carpet. For Doug it was all-out war.

After repeated efforts, Doug was getting nowhere with the state. Tim pointed him to the ASMFC website and John Casselman’s research on the decline of eels in the St. Lawrence River. He said to Doug, “If this guy Casselman is right, it looks like the whole population is starting to go down.” Telling the story to me, Doug raised his voice angrily. “You can only beat an animal so hard before it finally just gives up. You can only subject them to so much cumulative abuse before literally their back breaks and the population just crashes.”

Doug offered the passenger pigeon as a very useful analogy. In the nineteenth century, John James Audubon wrote of clouds of migrating birds that numbered in the billions. The population of passenger pigeons was estimated to be over six billion, representing 25 percent or more of the total bird biomass of North America. Even though millions of passenger pigeons were being killed every year, it seemed the resource could never be exhausted.*

“And that’s what they also said about the Newfoundland cod,” Doug continued.” ‘There’s no way you can—’” Doug cleared his throat and raised his voice even louder: “‘There’s no way you can fish out cod.!’ ” He repeated himself more slowly, and even louder: “‘There’s no way you can fish out the Grand Banks cod population off Newfoundland! That’s insane! That’s like saying you can catch all the plankton! Like you can catch all the salt in the water.’ And guess what? There are no passenger pigeons anymore—we have confirmation of that. And there’s no Newfoundland cod fishery—it’s gone, it’s done.”

Similarly, it was once said that the superabundant eel population of the St. Lawrence could never be diminished. In an article in the New York Times on October 18, 1880, the author wrote, “The eel fisheries of the St. Lawrence are probably the most productive in the world, and the quality of its eels is considered to be unsurpassed. This mysterious fish seems to hold its own against the demands of civilization better than most others. It seems likely … that this valuable supply of food will remain abundant here for an indefinite period.” But in the early years of the twenty-first century, warning shots were being fired; the eels were disappearing.

“And so,” Doug said, “that’s why we filed the petition. Because the ASMFC voted to send a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking them to do a status review under the Endangered Species Act. We’re like, ‘Hey, if the ASMFC is actually seriously talking about eels getting listed, it’s like, holy crap, this is bad!’

“But we knew nothing would happen,” Doug added. “I said to Timmy, ‘The ASMFC isn’t going to submit a formal petition to list, and without a formal petition it isn’t going to trigger the process. But hey, wecan.’ ”

So they did. They filed their petition in November 2004. And shortly thereafter, a journalist from the Associated Press wrote a story on the brothers that ended up running in major newspapers across the United States.

Being a reporter himself, Doug admitted he could see what was happening. “The reason this is getting coverage,” he said, “is because the lead is so good: ‘A Massachusetts janitor and his brother, an unemployed writer, have petitioned the federal government to list the American eel, a slimy, icky thing that no one cares about, as an endangered species.’ It’s such a ridiculous story, they put it on the wire. ‘The two brothers want to protect probably the most unlikable animal in the world, next to, I don’t know, hair lice.’ ” He cleared his throat.” ‘A Massachusetts janitor is concerned about the welfare of the tick!’”

Doug got up to stretch his legs and make some coffee, shaking his head and laughing. I asked him how one went about the process of writing a “petition to list.” He answered me with a smirk in his thick eastern Massachusetts accent.

“I went on the Internet,” he said, putting water in the coffeepot, “and typed in a search for ‘petition to list Endangered Species Act.’ I looked at a bunch of other petitions and saw the legal format that they used. So all I did was, every time I saw ‘Alaskan sea otter’ I crossed it out and put ‘American eel.’ Total cut-and-paste.” When Doug saw I was falling for his joke, he broke into uproarious laughter.

Actually, Doug was quite learned about the process, having been involved in listing the Atlantic salmon as an endangered species in Maine. When a group sued to force the listing of salmon, he was a plaintiff in that lawsuit. He wrote the eel petition in a week, Tim having done most of the research. It is thirty-five pages of very readable and seemingly endless historical and contemporary evidence, all pointing to the same sad fact.

“Once the formal petition is submitted to the government,” Doug explained, “it starts a statutory clock. The ESA has ninety days to decide if the petition has enough scientific backing to warrant a full-blown status review of the species.” Doug said it took the government six months to complete the ninety-day review. But in July 2005, the USFWS published the ninety-day notice, determining that the Watts brothers indeed had presented enough scientific information to warrant a full status review.

“It was very empowering,” Doug said. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, I can literally sit at my computer and write up this document that can force the government to do something. All this for a forty-cent stamp!’ ”

Eels are native to the entire Atlantic seaboard. They also historically went all the way up the Mississippi and its tributaries—the Ohio, the Tennessee. At one point eels were essentially native to about two-thirds of the continental United States. Doug realized that because the eels’ range was so huge, a listing of eels under the ESA would affect every single facility that puts water into or takes water out of every river or stream east of the Rockies. Doug said to his brother, “You know something, Timmy? This is the H-bomb of listings.”

Doug got up and refilled our coffee mugs, adding a few heaping spoons of sugar to his. “Timmy and I, we knew the fix was in, because if the service ever listed eels, even as a threatened species, which is a lower protective threshold, it would affect so many places, so many people, so many businesses, so many industries. We were like, ‘Yeah, right. This ain’t goin’ nowhere.’ ”

Once the petition to list is submitted and the government determines that a status review is warranted, it has one year to make a decision about the listing. In the case of the Wattses’ eel petition, eighteen months went by and there was still no word from the government. Tim kept in touch with Heather Bell, the biologist at the USFWS assigned to assemble and write the status review, asking her when they might have a decision. She said she didn’t know. A few more months went by. They had just about given up on getting a response from the government at all. Then, out of the blue, a law firm in Washington, D.C., that specialized in ESA litigation contacted the Watts brothers to take on their eel case, pro bono.

Meyer and Glitzenstein sued the USFWS for its tardiness. That lawsuit dragged out for six months. In January 2007, the USFWS finally promised it would come out with a decision by February.* “If we had not sued them in federal court,” Doug said, “they never would have come out with a decision. There was no need to; why bother?”

On February 2, 2007, the USFWS announced in a thirty-page report, written by Heather Bell, that listing American eels under the Endangered Species Act was “not warranted.”

“While the eel population has declined in some areas,” Bell wrote, “the eel population as a whole shows significant resiliency. If we look at eels over time, we see fluctuations in the population numbers, so a decreasing number of eels right now does not necessarily forecast an irreversible trend. The species’ overall population is not in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future.”

“The conclusion itself is insane!” Doug said. “I’ve read tons of this stuff. This one, I could tell they cooked the books.”

In standard status reviews, they identify all the different things that are negatively affecting the species under investigation, from birth until death. And then, at the end of the report, they consider how all these effects together are contributing to the potential extinction of the species. This is called a cumulative effects analysis. In the USFWS final report, Doug said, they looked at all the factors affecting the eel separately, in isolation, but never considered them together.

“In the real world,” Doug said, “eels are being affected by all this stuff at once—toxics, dams, fishing, habitat degradation. Perhaps climate change, disease—there are even some nasty nematode parasites spreading through the population. What they never did was ask, ‘Might all these factors together be a threat to the continued existence of the freshwater eel? ‘ You know, I read over the thing like ten times, and I said, ‘There’s something missing here.’ ”

A cumulative effects analysis tries to predict what all those problems can do together—as Doug calls it, “death by a thousand paper cuts.” This is routinely addressed in standard reviews, such as those for the Atlantic salmon or the Atlantic sturgeon, and is one of the most basic components of an ecological report. It was also clear to Doug, from the length of the report and the breadth of the research cited, that the government hadn’t done its homework, or didn’t want to.

“The status review for Atlantic salmon was three hundred pages,” Doug said. “The one for eels was thirty.”

Doug called Bell, the author of the eel report, and held her accountable.

“I said to her, ‘This is Ecology 101. If you submitted this as a master’s thesis, you’d fail!’ I said, ‘Heather, do you honestly think you could publish this in the American Fisheries Society Journal? You couldn’t, they’d reject it. You’re putting out an official USFWS legal finding that you know would be rejected in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Would you honestly submit this? ‘ No, she wouldn’t, because an attorney wrote it. It wasn’t a scientific document; it was a legal document. I said to Heather, ‘I know this isn’t you; you’re smart. This is you under duress.’ ”

Besides not having a cumulative effects analysis, the report made an audacious assumption about the life cycle of the freshwater eel that absolved the dams of their effect on the species. The findings basically said that eels don’t need freshwater habitat to survive. Doug threw up his hands in exasperation. “That’s like saying bald eagles don’t need trees to nest in! They can use telephone poles.”

The status review uses a paper written by Katsumi Tsukamoto to support this argument. Katsumi’s paper basically says that yes, eels can complete their full life cycle without entering freshwater, that eels are not a true catadromous fish but have a choice of whether or not to enter freshwater. This behavior is called facultative catadromy.

“The eel is a very plastic species,” Katsumi said. “You can tell by strontium and calcium deposits in the fish whether or not they’ve been in freshwater. And we found that some never go up the rivers.” This phenomenon of eels living in estuarine waters of various salinities was later documented by scientists for all the northern temperate species of eels, including the American eel and also the New Zealand eel.

Time will tell whether eels will be able to adapt to these new conditions. They are certainly resilient and have, after all, survived ice ages, when major parts of their northern freshwater habitats were covered with ice for millennia. There is no arguing, though, that the larger the amount of habitat and rearing area eliminated from the eels’ historic range, the fewer eels there will be.

In fairness to Heather Bell at the USFWS, she did her job thoroughly.

Mike Miller at the Ocean Research Institute in Tokyo argued, “The government under the ESA is not evaluating whether the eel is in severe decline, or in trouble, or getting killed by the millions, they are trying to determine if it is threatened with extinction. Now, that may be more a flaw in the system—that there is no organization taking preemptive measures to protect species in steep decline.”

The USFWS held at least four major workshops that assembled scientific experts from many fields of eel biology and ecology to determine and discuss the present state of knowledge about the American eel. They concluded that there is no evidence of possible extinction. Population size reduction is irrefutable, however. Dams are likely a big factor, but Miller, who was flown to the States by the government to participate in the workshops, told me, “More evidence is building that the problem may be in the ocean. The timing of the decline does not coincide well with the building of most of the dams in North America, but they do coincide better with changes in the ocean atmosphere system, it seems.”

John Casselman’s primary concern was not that eels would become extinct, but something more abstract.

“What I fear,” Casselman said to me, “is not that we’ll lose the eel completely, but that we will lose our association with them. The eel fishery was highly productive for our First Nation people like the Iroquois, and enabled them to survive when all else failed.”

* The St. Lawrence River, which drains the Great Lakes, contains about 17 percent of the freshwater habitat within the range of the North American eel.

* At the March 29, 2004, meeting of the American Eel Management Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, Eric Smith, the commission’s Connecticut representative, stated: “I just want to see that the issue doesn’t languish until such time as five years from now, we say, okay, now we’ve got some landings [data] and can deal with it. This thing has been troubling for some time now that you look at the slides.”

* The Maryland Department of Natural Resources MBSS Newsletter, March 1999, states: “The most dramatic example of the decline of American eel abundance is dam construction on the Susquehanna River. Prior to the completion of Conowingo and three other mainstem dams in the 1920s, eels were common throughout the Susquehanna basin and were popular with anglers. To estimate the number of eels lost as a result of construction of Conowingo Dam, we used MBSS data on American eels from the Lower Susquehanna basin and extrapolated it to the rest of the basin above the dam. Our best conservative guess is that there are on the order of 11 million fewer eels in the Susquehanna basin today than in the 1920s.

“Because adult eels migrate to the Sargasso Sea to spawn and die-transporting their accumulated biomass and nutrient load out of Chesapeake Bay-the loss of eels has increased nutrient loads in the basin and reduced them in the open ocean where they are more appreciated.”

* Edward Howe Forebush wrote in the early 1900s in A History of the Game Birds, Wild-Fowl and Shore Birds of Massachusetts and Adjacent States, “No adequate attempt to protect them [the passenger pigeon] was made until they practically had disappeared. Whenever a law looking toward the conservation of these birds was proposed in any State, its opponents argued before the legislative committees that the Pigeons ‘needed no protection;’ that their numbers were so vast, and that they ranged over such a great extent of country, that they were simply able to take care of themselves. This argument defeated all measures that might have given adequate protection to this species. That is why extinction finally came quickly. We did our best to exterminate both old and young, and we succeeded.”

* The law firm’s pro bono work for the Watts brothers was eventually paid for by the U.S. government when it was determined that USFWS was in default of its legal responsibility.