Today, while we have an ongoing debate over environmental issues, it might be informative to look at a past environmental debate - and a past environmental hoax. Who orchestrated the hoax, and why? You decide.

In the late 1800s, sport hunting went into vogue in the United States. It was the pastime of the rich and the poor, the fashionable and the gauche. The main target of this hunting fad was birds. Anyone who had a gun pointed it at the sky and pulled the trigger. Bird populations plummeted.


Infamous among the victims of fashionable hunting was the passenger pigeon. At one time it congregated in flocks that darkened the sky. Hunting parties went out and shot thousands of the birds in a single day. By the time anyone thought to protect such a common bird, it was too late. The last confirmed wild bird was shot by a boy with a BB gun in 1900. When people realized how rare the bird had become, they gathered all existing specimens at a zoo, but they were past breeding age. The last passenger pigeon died in 1914. As the extent of the danger to birds became evident, preservation societies formed. They did some preservation work, but at the end of the day there were always two groups with opposing goals. One group wanted people to stop shooting birds. The other group wanted to continue shooting birds.

And then came the Great Duck Egg Scare. In 1895, rumors started swirling that duck nests were being raided. Companies needed the albumin in eggs for industrial applications, and were grabbing up eggs from nesting grounds. If things kept going, most species of ducks would soon be extinct! The rumors made it to Congress, and stirring speeches about shadowy corporate conspiracies were made. Fingers were pointed. Hunters were mobilized. Environmentalists were asked to speak up. How would this terrible practice be stopped?

The problem solved itself when Forest and Stream, a magazine, pointed out the fact that none of it was true. Companies that needed albumin were happy to get it from farmed sources - most of them foreign. No one was going around raiding wild nests for a few teaspoons of liquid. The question remained, who cooked up the hoax in the first place? Some said environmentalists wanted to capitalize on a fake crisis to get their message across. Others said hunters circulated the rumor as a scapegoat. Hunting wasn't doing any damage! It was evil corporations that were doing wrong. Who do you think perpetrated the scare?


And who else is craving an omelette?

[Via The Great Duck Egg Fake, "Martha" the last Passenger Pigeon.]


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