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The Heath Hen
Could Come Back

Join us for this panel presentation with six experts in conservation, de-extinction and island ecology. Followed by Q&A and a panel discussion.

Thursday, July 24, 2014
6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

The Agricultural Hall
West Tisbury
35 Panhandle Rd
Vineyard Haven, MA 02568

Speakers include:
Stewart Brand – Founder/editor of The Whole Earth Catalog, Cofounder of Revive & Restore
Ryan Phelan – Entrepreneur and Cofounder of Revive & Restore
Josh Donlan – Ecologist and specialist in island conservation
Tom Chase – Ecologist and conservation strategist
Tom Dunlop – Journalist and author
Matt Pelikan – Naturalist and writer

See speakers’ bios on the Speakers & Exhibitors page.

BOG Logo bw


Bunch of Grapes Bookstore will be selling signed copies of Stewart Brand’s book, Whole EarthDiscipline, at the event.


Heath Hen Events in July

For detailed information, see below.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014 – Chilmark Library Lecture
Thursday, July 24, 2014, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm – Heath Hen Exhibit 
Thursday, July 24, 2014, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm – Panel Presentation & Community Conversation


Heath Hen Exhibit

Thursday, July 24, 2014
5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

The Agricultural Hall
West Tisbury
35 Panhandle Rd, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum and the Vineyard Gazette have joined forces for this event to create a special exhibit on the history of the heath hen and the extraordinary effort the Islanders’ made trying to save the species. Arranged in a linear timeline, the exhibit begins in 1876 when the last flocks died on the mainland (leaving the Vineyard as the sole host of the near-extinct species) and ends in 1932 with the death of the last heath hen, “Booming Ben”, on Martha’s Vineyard.

Learn about the heath hen’s history and the formation of a dedicated preserve (now the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest) where the flock initially thrived, and even recovered from a devastating fire in the spring of 1916 that burnt much of the island during nesting season. Beautifully chronicled by Henry Beetle Hough and captured in the audio recordings of those who remember, this interactive exhibit tells not only the story of the heath hen’s extinction but the story of extinction itself. It’s also a story about the Vineyard community— their history, their vision and their leadership in the world of Island Conservation.

Chilmark Public Library
2014 Summer Lecture Series

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
5:00 pm

Chilmark Free Public Library
522 South Road, Martha’s Vineyard, MA

Co-founders of Revive & Restore, Stewart Brand (founder/editor of the Whole Earth Catalog) and Ryan Phelan, will talk about the science of de-extinction, reviving the Woolly Mammoth, and how genomic technology could bring the Heath Hen back to Martha’s Vineyard.

One of the first species conservation projects pioneered in the world was conducted by Martha’s Vineyard in the 19th century to protect the last remnant population of a bird that once dominated the eastern seaboard—the heath hen.

The last of the heath hens died in 1932, but their DNA is fully recoverable. Martha’s Vineyard could be the first to bring a beloved extinct animal back to life.



What Would Henry Do?

Heath Hen Debate Contains Vineyard DNA
Heath Hen Debate Contains Vineyard DNA”

Vineyard Gazette

JULY 31, 2014

In the depths of the Great Depression, the Gazette’s legendary editor Henry Beetle Hough wrote a stirring obituary observing the passage of the last heath hen.

“We are looking upon the uttermost finality which can be written, glimpsing the darkness which will not know another ray of light,” he wrote in a 1933 editorial entitled, “A Bird that Man Could Kill,” taking the opportunity, as he often did, to scold humanity for failing to aggressively protect natural resources.

In some circles, at least, Martha’s Vineyard was not on the map until Mr. Hough made the imminent demise of the lowly heath hen a cause celebre.

What would the Vineyard’s most celebrated conservationist say about a provocative proposal before Islanders today to bring the curious booming bird back from extinction? Surely he would have seen bigger environmental challenges than reviving a modest bird that may have been in decline as early as the 18th century.

Yet Mr. Hough was eminently practical, a man who believed in the value of science and the power of symbols even as he engaged in a ground war to preserve the Vineyard. Why, he once wondered, weren’t western prairie chickens imported to crossbreed with the heath hen, a concept that may have seemed as radical at the time as genetic engineering is today.

We can’t know what Mr. Hough might think about the proposed de-extinction project, but we would do well to be reminded of his leadership and willingness to think outside the box in defense of the natural world.

Read the full article and view the video here.

“Inspirational Project

Vineyard Gazette

By Stephen Kellert
JULY 31, 2014

Commenting on the extinction of the Great Auk, the recently deceased Peter Matthiessen wrote: “It was a living creature who died needlessly . . . extinct by the hand of man . . . . The finality of extinction is awesome, and not unrelated to the finality of eternity.” Extinction is indeed the death of birth, the impossibility that a unique niche on the ladder of life can ever reproduce itself.

I was privileged last night, along with many others, to listen to the remarkably intelligent, informative and persuasive remarks of six panelists speaking about the possible “rebirth” of an extinct subspecies, the heath hen, a bird once so abundant colonial indentured servants refused to work if fed the birds too often. By the early 1930s, the heath hen had, in fact, become extinct, the last one disappearing here on Martha’s Vineyard, despite a heath hen reservation — now the state forest — established for their protection.

Read the full editorial.


Heath Hen Events Location Map

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