"The passenger pigeon needs no protection." The Select Committee report read. "Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced."
Ten years later, the state of New York suddenly panicked and passed a law protecting the passenger pigeon within its borders. Until very recently, the region had regularly been visited by those mega-flocks, now they had become quite rare.
It was way too late for that piece of legislation. That entered the statute books in 1867, but by 1868, no wild passenger pigeons were to be found anywhere in the state.
By the latter part of the 19th century, it wasn't just entrepreneurs seeking to shoot these increasingly endangered birds. Hunting for sport had never really factored until now, but it emerged as the favorite pursuit of a growing 3% of the country.
These were people rich enough never to have had to hunt for food in their lives, and who could also afford musket shot and bullets to waste. The name of the game was to kill as many creatures as possible, then to either prepare the remains for display or leave them to rot.
They were also rich enough to lobby politicians, whenever laws were proposed to interfere with their sport. When Massachusetts rushed to pass legislation, in 1870, to stop the killing of passenger pigeons, lobbyists for the sportsman hunters forced a concession. There would be an 'open season' each year, when the birds were fair game.
The lobbyists were even more successful in Pennsylvania in 1878. There only the nesting sites were protected by law.
What nobody yet realized was that it was already too late. The passenger pigeon population had now dwindled beyond the point of no return. The birds wouldn't breed unless they were in colonies numbering in the thousands, and the mega-flocks were no more.