The recovery of the peregrine falcon is one of the most dramatic environmental success stories of our times. As Tom Bray describes in his cover story, “Soaring High,” peregrine falcons nearly vanished from our country. In 1970, in the lower 48 states, there were only 39 known breeding pairs.
But by 1998, the peregrine population in the lower 48 states had soared to over 1,000 nesting pairs. A year later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the peregrine from the list of “Endangered Species.”
This is an almost unheard-of accomplishment, and it stands in sharp contrast to the failure of efforts to protect the spotted owl and many other rare species. In the 30 years since the passage of the Endangered Species Act, according to the Reason Foundation, over 1,260 species have been listed as threatened or endangered. Only 10 North American species have been removed from the endangered list as the result of recovery.
The recovery of this falcon is the handiwork of a remarkable group of scientists at an Idaho-based nonprofit. Ornithologist Tom Cade started the Peregrine Fund while a professor of Cornell, then moved it to Boise. Through patient, trial and error experimentation, he and his colleagues devised procedures to breed peregrines in captivity and release them to the wild. Conventional scientific wisdom initially said this couldn’t be done. But the Peregrine Fund and similar groups have now released over 4,000 peregrine falcons into the wild in 28 states, with 80 percent of them surviving.
Government played a crucial role in this recovery. As Rachel Carson wrote so eloquently in her landmark book Silent Spring, widespread residues of the pesticide DDT in the food chain were thinning the eggs of peregrine falcons, bald eagles, and many other raptors, causing eggs to crack during incubation or to prevent them from hatching. The Peregrine Fund’s recovery strategy would not have been possible without the 1972 federal ban on most uses of DDT.
But ultimately, this was a private initiative, made possible by the entrepreneurial can-do spirit of a free society, where private citizens can do whatever it takes to solve a problem. Cade and his colleagues worked closely with both private land-owners and government, and released falcons on private as well as public lands. They worked with falconers, sportsmen who hunt wild quarry with trained birds of prey. And in contrast with many environmental groups that see human settlement as the enemy of nature, they imaginatively released hundreds of peregrine falcons on the ledges of downtown skyscrapers, bridges, and even power plant smokestacks. (One advantage of man-made habitat is that it protects young falcons from being eaten by owls.)
And private philanthropy was indispensable, as it is for almost every initiative that challenges conventional wisdom. The Peregrine Fund has received the overwhelming majority of its income from private donations.
At The Philanthropy Roundtable, we are convinced that donors can achieve many other breakthroughs in environmental improvement as dramatic as the return of the peregrine. We are therefore embarking on a major investment in environmental philanthropy. This year we will convene meetings on the subject in San Francisco on February 23, and Jackson Hole on July 8-9, as well as a pre-conference program at our Palm Beach annual meeting on November 11. We will be publishing a larger monograph on environmental philanthropy by Tom Bray, based on his cover story in this issue. And in our publications and meetings in this field, we will be guided by the following principles:
· We are committed to stewardship. We believe that man has a responsibility to take loving care of the earth and its creatures.
· We are committed to finding solutions to environmental problems, and to working with anyone in government or the private sector who wants to help.
· We are committed to environmental solutions based on advances in scientific knowledge.
· We are committed to robust debate about the political economy of environmental quality. We believe that markets, private property, and government all have crucial roles in environmental stewardship, and we are committed to vigorous discussion of the relative merits of each institution.
· We are committed to a free society, where individuals and local communities have the opportunity and the incentive to take initiatives to protect nature, recognizing that different people will express their love of nature in different ways.
We hope philanthropists will join us in this venture, and we look forward to serving you.
Adam Meyerson is president of The Philanthropy Roundtable.