Endangered Species Legislation and the 100th Anniversary of the Death of Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon

Massachusetts Law Updates 2014-09-30

Giant flocks of passenger pigeons, sometimes exceeding three billion birds, once flew over our country. “On September 1, 1914, Martha, the last known Passenger Pigeon, died in the Cincinnati Zoo. Her body was frozen into a block of ice and sent to the Smithsonian Institution, where it was skinned, dissected, photographed and mounted.” *

Prior to Martha’s death, individual state legislatures tried to pass laws that might have protected the Passenger Pigeons, to no avail. Subsequent conservation actions and federal legislation have made a difference in saving species under threat of extinction.

 In “Saving our Birds”, a meditation on Martha’s death and the extinction of her kind in theNew York Times, John W. Fitzpatrick wrote

“The Endangered Species Act [of 1973] is by far the most powerful piece of environmental legislation ever passed. Today, the act continues to be a source of on-the-ground success — a steadfast reminder that timely conservation pays off . . . On this centenary of Martha’s death, it bears reflection that a strong federal Endangered Species Act would have saved the passenger pigeon a century and a half ago.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal partner responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act. Their website devoted to Endangered Species is a rich source of information for anyone interested in the conservation of species.
Massachusetts has its own Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA) in M.G.L. c. 131A, with implementing regulations at 321 CMR 10.00. The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP), part of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, is responsible for protecting endangered vertebrate and invertebrate animals and native plants and maintaining the official Massachusetts List of Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern Species.