Celebrate Endangered Species Day

Endangered Species - Key deer

Endangered Species – Key deer

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Endangered Species Day is May 17. Forty years ago, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) became reality. Ever since, state and federal wildlife agencies have worked together to ensure no wildlife ever goes extinct. But there’s more to the ESA than most people know.

Those dedicated folks who tend to our endangered and threatened species also want to put themselves out of a job. As important as tending to those already in trouble is the effort to keep common species just that. Common species need to remain common.

wood stork

wood stork

I’m proud of the time I spent in the communications sector of Florida’s wildlife agency. I worked on projects involving endangered, threatened, and common species. I wrote news releases when Florida declared the bald eagle was no longer an endangered species. I helped develop public relations materials for the sea turtle, manatee, and panther. I walked around neighborhoods talking with residents on how to keep coyotes out of their yard. I did the fun stuff, but my colleagues – the biologists – did the heavy lifting.



One of my favorites was Elsa Haubold, Ph.D. She headed up the revision of Florida’s Endangered Species Plan. I had the pleasure of serving in her group as the communications person. Elsa and Nick Wiley, executive director of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, wrote an article for The Wildlife Professional in the Spring 2013 issue. The article “State Perspectives on the ESA – A Journey of Conflict and Cooperation” provides a framework for the challenges to make sure wildlife remains in the wild.

So happy Endangered Species Day. I’ll end today with a photo of one of my favorite wildlife species – the sea turtle. The hatchling below is a loggerhead, which is a threatened species. What’s your favorite wildlife?


Celebrate Rachel Carson and Earth Day 2012

Oregon Coast 2008

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

The Earth Day Network  credits the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring,  in 1962 as a “watershed moment for the modern environmental movement.”

In the emerging light on the pollution we were spraying into the air, Earth Day 1970 took a share of the spotlight.

That first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, came in part as a public response to the gargantuan oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969. Ironically on the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day in 2010, news of another oil spill began trickling into the media. But little attention was paid to an oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico because we were all patting ourselves on our eco-friendly backpacks for the strides made in past forty years.

When the green bio-degradable balloons burst several days later, our spirits fell as flat as those deflated balloons to learn of the massive amounts of oil spewing forth from the depths of the sea and with no possible solutions in sight to stem the flow after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded.

Ms. Carson’s book from fifty years ago brought change – that can’t be disputed. The Environmental Protection Agency and passage of legislation such as the Clean Air Act  and the Endangered Species Act  stand as testament to the revolution she brought to bear on industry in the United States. But it didn’t protect us completely from big corporations’ quest for profit over safety.

Her words still are relevant and pertinent today, and we must not forget them. We’ve come so far since she made the connections between what we do to the environment and the toll we pay for its destruction. We can’t let her down now as we prepare to celebrate another Earth Day.

The PBS documentary A Sense of Wonder uses Ms. Carson’s words in her final year to sum up her legacy.

“Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself in his cities of steel and concrete, away from the realities of earth, water, the growing seed. And intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into experiments toward the destruction of himself and his world. . .I do believe, that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and the realities of this universe about us, the less taste we shall have for its destruction.”

She also states, “There is no single remedy for this condition.” But as Earth Day 2012 is upon us, I wonder what we can do as individuals to keep her vision alive 50 years after the publication of Silent Spring.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you do or what do you believe we all should do to prevent mankind from destroying himself? Or do you believe we are headed on the right course already?

I can’t wait to hear what you think.

No Birds Sing – A Fable for All Time

The sedge has withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.

John Keats (La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1819)

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

Imagine a world where the birds no longer sing from the treetops; imagine a world where the trees no longer tower above our heads; imagine a world where life is death. That’s the world Rachel Carson imagined as she delved into the research for her revelatory book, Silent Spring.

In the first chapter “A Fable for Tomorrow,” Ms. Carson paints a bleak canvas for what happens in a town where the stillness in the air and sky and ground is caused by man’s attempt to unsuccessfully control nature.

“No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves,” she wrote.

Although the town’s silence was a fictional account imagined by Ms. Carson for what could happen in a future world where man continued the folly of attempting to get rid of nature’s unappealing and destructive side by destroying all things in nature, she was discovering that her vision was not far off the mark in certain parts of the country.

When a friend wrote her about the death of birds in her bird sanctuary in Massachusetts, Ms. Carson was in the process of beginning her fourth book about children and nature. The friend was certain that aerial spraying over the bird sanctuary to kill mosquitoes also destroyed her bird population. The friend never wanted her sanctuary sprayed in the first place. She wrote Ms. Carson, wondering how she could stop the next spraying planned by the state of Massachusetts. The question gave Ms. Carson pause as she wondered what kind of rights any of us to prevent the government from spraying poisons over us.

She began researching and discovered the public had no say over the decision. And even though mosquitoes were the target of the spraying in Massachusetts, grasshoppers and visiting bees were the victims. The mosquitoes survived while the birds and insects died.

At first, Ms. Carson thought it would be a good article, but when she approached the magazines, they didn’t want to touch it. Their biggest advertisers were the corporations benefitting the most from the sale of the pesticides.

She then decided it should be a book, but she didn’t want to write it. She wanted to write about life, not poisons and death. None of her respected writer friends, including E.B. White, wanted to broach the topic. But the more she learned, the more she knew the topic must be put out for the public to understand about the nonselective poisons that had previously only been used during wartime and never tested. Within 12 years of World War II ending, the use of these poisons to control agricultural and domestic pests became common place.

One overriding question guided her writing and research: “Is it possible to lay down a barrage of poisons on earth without threatening all life?”

The answer still echoes today with a resounding “No.”

The documentary on Ms. Carson’s final interviews, A Sense of Wonder, shows the shock waves she felt when her research went beyond Massachusetts to Michigan to Florida to California to Wisconsin and beyond.

In Florida, efforts to control the sandfly resulted in the death of millions of fish and crabs. In Michigan, the fight to eradicate Dutch elm disease resulted in the death of robins through a chain reaction. Earthworms ate the residue of poisons left on the leaves of the diseased trees and within the year the robins that ate the earthworms were dead or infertile. She discovered the destruction of watersheds, the contamination of milk supplies, and evidence of children falling sick and some dying after playing with empty bags that once contained these poisons we were pouring over our land.

The book had to be written despite the backlash that might be heaped on the author. Fortunately, the Kennedy administration decided to come public with a report that criticized the industry and government several months after the publication of Silent Spring. That report silenced the critics and vindicated Ms. Carson. Eventually Congressional hearings began which concluded with the decision to create a federal policy to safeguard the environment.

Ms. Carson knew of this decision before her death, but she never saw what reverberating actions came in its wake. Silent Spring remains as a warning, but not yet a manifestation.

Who is Rachel Carson?

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

(Note: This is the first of several blogs devoted to Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring, which was published 50 years ago.)

“All mankind is in her debt,” said Sen. Abraham Rubicoff  in 1964 after receiving the news of Rachel Carson’s  death.

Yesterday, when I said I was researching the life of Rachel Carson, I was asked “Who is Rachel Carson?”  It’s time to remember this woman and her courage, tenacity, vision, intelligence and creativity.

Rachel Carson wrote the book Silent Spring,  published in 1962, which set in  motion a string of actions that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency  and passage of legislation such as the Clean Air Act  and the Endangered Species Act.  All of these exploded into fruition within a decade of her death. She exposed our country’s practice of wholesale spraying of lethal toxic substances on all things to kill one pest. The book took four years to write because as she researched one case it led to discovering many more cases where poisons were killing everything they touched.

While the book became a bestseller almost immediately, it created a firestorm of vicious attacks on Ms. Carson by the pesticide industry and the media. She remarked that her critics represented a small, yet very rich, segment of the population.

An editorial in Newsweek soon after its publication, compared Ms. Carson to Sen. Joseph McCarthy because the book stirred up the “demons of paranoia.”

I have to admit my knowledge of Ms. Carson was limited until one day in the spring of 2010 after I’d moved to the Pittsburgh area. I knew enough about her to go to a screening of a new documentary from PBS about her life. A Sense of Wonder  chronicles the last two interviews Ms. Carson ever granted. She conducted them from her cottage in Maine and her home in Baltimore during her final year on this earth. Actress Kaiulani Lee  stars in this documentary using Ms. Carson’s own words from the interviews.

The film – only 55 minutes in length – moved me to tears several times. Ms. Carson was a writer – a poetess of prose – from an early age. But in college at Pittsburgh Women’s College (now Chatham University) the study of biology beckoned. She went on to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where her talents as a writer emerged in the writing of boring fact sheets about species.

Born in 1907, she grew up on the banks of the Allegheny River in the community of Springdale, just upriver from the city that was coughing its way to becoming the Steel Capital of the World during the years of her childhood. Ms. Carson played in the hills surrounding the river as it wound its way to meet the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers. When she found a fossil on the banks of the Allegheny, she became obsessed with the sea and the history of nature.

Spingdale, PA, homestead of Rachel Carson

It wasn’t until her later college years that she finally made it to the ocean for the first time, and she never left the east after her memorable experiences in worshipful study of the sea. Her first three books explored all aspects of the ocean and gave her enough financial success to quit her job with the Service.

“Finally, I was the writer I’d always dreamed of becoming. I thought I had abandoned my writing for science,” her character states in A Sense of Wonder. “But it was the study of science that was making my literary career possible.”

She didn’t want to write Silent Spring, but as her character points out in the documentary, “the subject chooses the writer, not the other way around.”

I agree. Rachel Carson’s spirit swooped down upon me here in western Pennsylvania an hour from where she was born and raised. I’m compelled to write about her and to use her as my muse in my daily writing life. The subject has chosen me, and this is only the first of several blogs about Ms. Carson and her impact upon the world. Now 50 years after its publication, we need to remember what she gave us more than ever.

I’ll leave you today with a quote from her regarding her philosophy.

“For there is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, in the ebb and flow of tides, in the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature. The assurance that day comes after night and spring after winter.”

The refrains of nature