50 years later, the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge still does its namesake proud
“The more I learned about the use of pesticides, the more appalled I became. I realized that here was the material for a book. What I discovered was that everything which meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened, and that nothing I could do would be more important.” -Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
This year, 2016, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, named for that champion of conservation, public outreach, and careful scientific reasoning strives to uphold the ideals Rachel put forth in her classic, Silent Spring as well as her many other publications.
In 1969, our refuge was dedicated posthumously to Rachel, a mere 5 years after her death from heart disease and breast cancer. Rachel may have never set foot on the land that bears her name, but her influence can be felt everywhere.
Since our inception, chemical pesticides have been extremely limited in our management repertoire. Our invasive species populations have instead been managed by labor-intensive, long-term projects that are beginning to yield victories over problem species. This year saw a significant reduction in our yellow-flag iris population, turning the fight against its spread into a hunt for its hiding places. After years of steady pulling, garlic mustard and glossy buckthorn populations were also in decline, making way for native milkweed and asters. Just as Rachel’s book, Silent Spring called not for a complete moratorium on pesticides but rather careful application and knowledge of their impacts, the Refuge strives to find the perfect balance between chemical and biological control.
“If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals — eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones — we had better know something about their nature and their power.” -Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
After 30 years of careful work to protect them, piping plovers continue to breed on refuge beaches and are showing signs of recovering from the wide-spread habitat destruction that threatened them in the 1970’s. Least terns are also faring well on the refuge, diving headfirst into tidal waters to snatch up sandlances and glass eels to feed to their young. Endangered roseate terns frequent refuge waters as well, banded birds being spotted by our biologists and reported to ornithologists tracking their populations. Birds of all shapes and sizes visit the refuge or call it home and continue the great migrations that were so fascinating to Rachel.
“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.” -Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea
On the dynamic shores of the refuge, change is constant, but one certainty remains — tidepools continue to pull people to the Refuge and the edge of the sea. The tiny and diverse creatures in these shoreline habitats capture the interest of visitors in the sea around us; just as they did to Rachel for most of her professional life.
Thanks for 50 great years as another piece of Rachel Carson’s great legacy!
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring