By R.L. Nave
By now, the stories of Mississippi's three record-breaking alligators have traveled around the world. Lesser known or discussed, however, is how federal and state conservation programs rescued alligators from near-extinction in Mississippi and the southeast and made the historic catches possible.
Charles Knight, the director of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson, explained that the American alligator (scientific name: alligator mississippiensis) was hunted to near extinction until 1969, when the federal government banned hunting the animal.
In the early 1970s, with passage of the U.S. Endangered Species Act and state laws in Mississippi, the alligator had even stronger protections. The program was so successful that in 1987, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces the Endangered Species Act, reclassified the alligator from threatened to "threatened due to a similarity of appearance" with the American crocodile.
"Now they're common," Knight said of alligators.
Conservationists count the alligator as one of the great species comeback stories of the 20th century, even though the whole story is not without controversy. When Congress first passed it, the Endangered Species Act met bitter opposition from hunters and commercial trappers who sold the valuable hides for shoes, handbags and wristwatch bands to tanneries around the world. Gator prohibition enticed hunters to engage in widespread poaching at times.
In the early 1990s, one of the most famous wildlife vs. human controversies pitted protectors of the Northern spotted owl against the Pacific Northwest timber industry and the thousands of logging jobs it supported.
"It is time we worried not only about endangered species, but about endangered jobs," then-President George H.W. Bush told The Oregonian newspaper at the time.
Despite cries that listing the spotted owl as endangered would wreak havoc on the economies of Northern California, Oregon and Washington state, the logging industry did not collapse. More....