Deformed Bird Beaks and Rebounded Toads

Small town keeps government out by reviving threatened toad population

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What the heck are we doing to our animals? I read a startling piece on birds afflicted with “long-billed syndrome” – abnormally long beaks which inhibits preening and eating in some dire cases. Many of these birds end up starving and infested with feather lice. These incidents are appearing in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The cause: undetermined. But I can’t help but suspect there’s a chemical, human-induced reason behind all of this.

It saddens me that these birds are growing abnormally long beaks, that the cute, furry American pika is slowly heating to death, that marbled murrelets have lost their habitats and their lives because of logging, that sea turtles are being caught and killed in nets, and that countless other animals are being decimated – all due to man’s continual and perpetual mishaps.

But here’s a story to bring some cheer: after the Amargosa toad of Beatty, Nev. was close to extinction years ago, locals banded together to revive the toad’s numbers, NPR reports.  

Conservationists were joined by ranchers, miners and local businesses in tagging and tracking toads, and nurturing their habitat.

Ironically, much of the effort was to keep big government out. The story mentions David Spicer, a rancher, who took it upon himself to preserve the toads, after fears that adding the toad to the endangered species list would lead to government meddling.

“We want to keep it in our hands, where it’s at a local level, where we can do things and be nimble," NPR quotes Spicer saying. "You get restricted by bureaucracy, the monstrous, litigious things that go on in the Endangered Species Act, and we’re definitely not going to have any fun on our own ranches anymore."

Whatever the reason, here’s what matters: more than a decade ago there were merely a few dozen of these toads left; now they number in the thousands.

Raviya was a press secretary at Earthjustice in the Washington, D.C. office from 2008 to 2014, working on issues including federal rulemakings, energy efficiency laws and coal ash pollution.