Joe’s Journal

She got it right

Posted:  Wednesday, April 19, 2017 - 9:15am

Are the ospreys back yet?

You know them, the graceful fish hawk that soars over our docks and woods looking for lunch or dinner. We love to watch them glide above the trees and waters.

With their sharp eyes, the osprey can spot an unsuspecting fish lollygagging just under the surface enjoying the waters warmed by the sun.

In what seems to be a second or less, the finny creature’s world changes as the osprey swoops down, thrusts out his deadly claws and snatches the fish.

On those occasions when we must leave the peninsula, we always try to see if anyone is home in the ragged nests stuck on top of utility poles, or channel markers. One of my favorite osprey nests is located on the top steel girders of the Southport bridge, which, I suppose, gives the young osprey chicks a special thrill when their nest, cobbled together with sticks, goes for a ride every so often.

The next time you see an osprey soar or watch a chick peek out of the nest, say a quiet thank you to the woman who once summered in a cabin on the edge of the Sheepscot River on Southport Island. Her name was Rachel Carson and she changed the world.

She was a pioneer, the first of her gender to be hired as a wildlife biologist at the agency now known as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As she studied the fish and other animals, she noticed some species were disappearing and wondered if the widespread post-World War II practices of using chemicals to control pests affected wildlife.

As a scientist, she observed and studied and recorded her findings, compared them to the studies of others and carefully drew conclusions.

In 1962, she was thrust into the nation’s conscience when The New Yorker magazine published three articles that were excerpted from her forthcoming book “Silent Spring.”

She outlined, in chilling chapter and verse, the effects of how the use of chemicals to control insects and other pesky bugs affected the wildlife — and us.

Carson’s book pulled together the research from the scientific community showing how pesticides used to kill forest insects and farm pests spilled over into streams and killed trout, salmon, and bass. The ospreys, eagles and other predators ate the fish and died. Farm workers who handled the leaves that had been sprayed went into shock and nearly died. Nursing mothers affected by chemicals passed the poison to their infants with terrible results.

Her chapter on chemicals and cancer still sends chills down my spine.

Carson called the use of the chemicals “chains of poisonings, an ever-widening wave of death that spreads out, like ripples when a pebble is dropped into a still pond.”

As you can imagine, Carson’s “Silent Spring” came under immediate attack.

In a retrospective article for a publication of the Yale School of Forestry, Frank Graham outlined some of the attacks.

For instance, Graham quotes the head of the New Jersey Agriculture Department who slammed her as one of a “vociferous, misinformed group of nature-balancing, organic gardening, bird-loving, unreasonable citizenry.”

Other literature accused Carson variously of being “a priestess of nature,” “a bird-lover,” and a member of some mystical cult.

An official with the Federal Pest Control Review Board drew laughter from his audience when he remarked, “I thought she was a spinster. What’s she so worried about genetics for?”

A tour of Google sites did not link Carson’s work at “fake news,” but I suppose it might fit that category as today; critics of the environmental protection movement point to Carson’s work as a collection of lies.

In a recent political campaign, the winning candidate pooh-poohed laws protecting the environment and announced he will try to erase some of these laws from the books as being too restrictive on industry.

I am sure they are, although it seems our industrial sectors are moving away from the more toxic products and practices.

Some coal-fired power plants are being replaced by those using natural gas. Solar and wind power have become more than just a dream and the electric car company Tesla is now valued on a par with General Motors and Ford.

In 1965, friends like the late doctors Carl Griffin and John Andrews would tell me how they missed the eagles and ospreys that were once all over the place. They mentioned Rachel Carson’s work.

As we once again celebrate Earth Day on Saturday, April 22, you may be able to catch a glimpse of a huge raptor soaring over the celebration at the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library.

And whenever the eagles and ospreys soar over our community, you might want to look up and say Thanks, Miss Carson, looks like you were right.