Florida's first bird warden, in the era of birds slaughtered for hats
August 6, 2019 8:44 AM   Subscribe

More than a century ago, the discovery of a hidden bird refuge in the Everglades led down a path of greed, vanity, and murder. And that’s just the beginning of the story. The Price of a Feather (National Parks Conservation Association, 2015) || In the late 19th century, there were no limits to how many birds a plume hunter could kill. In Cape Cod, 40,000 terns were killed for the hat industry in one summer. In Florida, the slaughter was often indiscriminate and senseless. One popular pastime among tourists visiting the Everglades was to shoot critters from the comfort of boats, plinking alligators and birds with no intention of ever picking up their carcasses. The Most Dangerous Job: The Murder of America's First Bird Warden (Mentalfloss, 2018)
posted by filthy light thief (2 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The articles do a good job covering an interesting mix of history, the potential strains between conservation or preservation and finding ways to make money in an impoverished region, and community policing. From the Mentalfloss article:
In southern Florida, bottomless plume hunting was a perfectly legal—and reasonable—way to make a living. Life in the swamps was difficult. The area had little arable land and no major industry. Residents made their money by fishing, fur trapping, harvesting sugarcane, or manufacturing charcoal. The demand for bird plumes offered a lucrative salary that no other job in the region could match. “Egret plumes are now worth double their weight in gold,” ornithologist Frank Chapman said in 1908. “There is no community sufficiently law-abiding to leave a bank vault unmolested if it were left unprotected. This is just the same.”
As Florida’s first bird warden, Bradley knew his job would become more dangerous as time wore on. At first, he’d be a one-man PR team: posting warning notices around the rookeries, distributing leaflets throughout villages, and meeting with Floridians to inform them of the law. Then eventually there’d come a time when everybody knew the law—and they’d either follow it or flout it.

Bradley was worried about how best to approach these lawbreakers, people who would definitely be armed and angry when confronted. For example: One of Bradley’s neighbors, Ed Watson, was a rumored plume hunter—and a rumored murderer who supposedly shot and killed 50 people. To preserve the law and his own life, Bradley knew he’d have to tread gingerly. “It would be necessary for a warden to hunt these people and hunt them carefully for he must see them first, for his own sake,” he wrote in a letter.
But the risk was worth it. Bradley was approached for the job in 1902, just as he was starting his life as a new family man. He had recently married a local woman, Fronie Vickers Kirvin, and the couple already had a baby, with a second on the way. The job not only promised Bradley and his family a steady income of $35 a month, it also offered him the dignity of becoming a law enforcement officer—a dream of his. (As a game warden, Bradley had to be sworn in by the Monroe County Justice of the Peace as a deputy sheriff.)
posted by filthy light thief at 12:29 PM on August 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

They also missed an easy layup: Game warden is the most dangerous law enforcement job in America. Poachers are deadly.
posted by klangklangston at 11:13 AM on August 7, 2019

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