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Tenacity is your weapon in a turnaround

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in Leaders & Managers

Low-key leaders often possess a distinctive trait: tenacity.

This seems particularly true of leaders trying to save endangered species of wildlife. From the humble American burying beetle to the magnificent gray wolf, each species has needed human champions willing to labor on in obscurity and often ridicule.

Take Tom Cade, who led American efforts to restore the peregrine falcon.

The effort began in England, ancient home of falconry, when a few ornithologists began to suspect after World War II that the birds were dying from eating seeds in fields laced with strong pesticides. By 1960, falcons’ numbers had plummeted.

A link was soon made with highly toxic organochlorine pesticides in use since the war, and scientists, public officials, and agricultural and pharmaceutical representatives had joined falconers at a conference in Wisconsin in 1965. There they heard that falcons had vanished from their nests in the Eastern United States.

“Almost immediately after the conference, people started looking at eggs and also tissues of peregrines that had died—and they found both DDT and the residual product DDE,” Cade wrote. “From that point on, it was pretty clear that DDT was the main problem.”

Despite mounting scientific evidence, the Johnson administration’s science advisors stated that, “restrictions on the use of DDT will never happen.”

“That statement,” Cade said, “served as a challenge for many of us.”

Himself a falconer and founder of the Peregrine Fund, Cade relied on the skills of scientists and others in the fight, including writer Rachel Carson. Finally, the new Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972 and the Supreme Court upheld that decision.

In 1999, the peregrine falcon came off the endangered species list. Cade addressed more than a thousand guests at a celebration, saying he thought the bird’s recovery would be recorded as a major act of conservation in the 20th century.

But, ever tenacious, he also exhorted the revelers to press on.

— Adapted from Hope for Animals and Their World, Jane Goodall with Thane Maynard and Gail Hudson, Grand Central Publishing.

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