50 years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring
In honor of today’s 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, we’re highlighting some of the discussion about the anniversary and the book’s connection to modern issues.
Who among us will make the next Rachel Carson possible? David Klinger, writer in the Service’s Endangered Species Bulletin, poses this question with a “critical reexamination of both the woman and her groundbreaking bestseller, written by Carson amid the supercharged Cold War atmosphere of John Kennedy’s ‘New Frontier'”:
To some, she was a saint. The “fountainhead” of the modern environmental movement, deified almost a half-century after her death. To her memory are dedicated wildlife refuges and elementary schools, bridges in Pittsburgh and office edifices in Harrisburg … and a training center dormitory in the Federal agency she had to quit in order to write what she truly wanted to write. Read the rest of Klinger’s story.
In addition, check out the essay series by our neighbor, the Service’s Midwest Region, articles about more recent problems and projects and how those relate back to Carson’s work and her findings:
Snapshots from 50 Years After Silent Spring:
Cleaning Up Ohio’s Ashtabula River: But even decades after Silent Spring, we continue to encounter contaminants in the environment, some new, some from our past. Northwest Ohio’s Ashtabula River is an example. For more than 30 years, beginning in the 1940s, industries in Ashtabula improperly disposed of wastes in the river, contaminating the lower 2 miles of the Ashtabula River with over 30 hazardous substances including polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chlorinated solvents and low-level radioactive materials.
Lessons Learned at Indiana’s Cane Ridge: Carson’s warning of the potential for a silent spring has been widely heeded, but awareness of the problem is not always enough. For example, wet-management of fly-ash from coal-fired power plants can cause high concentrations of selenium in nearby aquatic systems, harming fish and wildlife. Although the problem was first recognized and addressed at Belews Lake North Carolina in the 1980s, wildlife managers found themselves faced with a similar, significant selenium problem in Indiana in 2008, one that threatened Indiana’s nesting population of endangered least terns.
Investigating the use of Herbicides in an Endangered Species’ Habitat: Rachel Carson’s research in the 1950s on the effects of pesticides to the American robin sparked awareness of and a concern for the risks of chemicals to human and wildlife health….Although regulated, chemicals are widely used in the environment and there is evidence that some chemicals used today can cause a health risk to wildlife, something Carson warned us about decades ago. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service maintains Carson’s legacy of due diligence and continues investigations on the effects of chemicals on wildlife today.
Last, but of course not least, did you know that the Service has a Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, Maine?
The refuge consists of 11 divisions between Kittery and Cape Elizabeth and will cover more than 9,000 acres when complete. Since its establishment in 1966, it’s helped preserve 10 important estuaries that are key points along migration routes of waterfowl and other migratory birds.
During harsh winters, the refuge’s marshes provide vital food and cover for waterfowl and other migrating birds at a time when inland waters are frozen. The refuge also supports piping plover, least terns, peregrine falcons, bald eagles and other state and federally protected species. Nesting success of plover and terns has benefited through the increased habitat protection. In addition to sea-run fish, many important commercial and recreational fin and shellfish rely on these coastal wetlands as critical nursery areas.