Quote of the moment: Ted Williams (the conservationist)


It’s a long passage, but worth the read. Go to the Audubon site for the full essay; it’s longer, and worth more. (Photo: Bald eagle, from the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Bald Eagle, USFWS photo

This is from an essay the great conservation curmudgeon Ted Williams published in Audubon in December 2004.

I envy young environmentalists of the 21st century, but I feel bad for them, too. They don’t know what it feels like to win big against seemingly impossible odds. When I started out, America and the world were environmentally lawless. There was no Endangered Species Act, no Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, no Clean Water Act, no Clean Air Act, no National Environmental Policy Act, no National Forest Management Act. In 1970 I remember standing on the steps of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife field headquarters and arguing with a colleague, Joe, about the banning of DDT. “It will never happen,” he told me. When DDT was banned two years later, he said, “It won’t make any difference.”

For a while it didn’t. The March 1976 Audubon reported “considerable gloomy speculation” about the plight of endangered bald eagles in the Lower 48—more birds dying than hatching, fewer than a thousand nesting pairs. Today there are an estimated 7,000 nesting pairs. The September 1975 Audubon reported that 300 brown pelicans transplanted from Florida to Louisiana—”the Pelican State”—had died from lethal doses of DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons. Today Louisiana has more than 13,000 nesting pairs. In 1972 I was assigned by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife to write an article on the peregrine falcon in the East—a history piece, because the species had been extirpated from the region. By 1999 peregrines had fully recovered, and they were removed from the Endangered Species List.

The hopelessness I felt about DDT in 1970 was nothing compared with what Rachel Carson felt when she started her campaign against this World War II hero. Writing a book about DDT seemed impossible; she was a nature writer, not an investigative reporter. Barely had she taken pen to paper when she was assailed by arthritis, flu, intestinal virus, sinus infections, staph infections, ulcers, phlebitis, and breast cancer. She didn’t get discouraged; she got mad. Her ulcers, she told her editor, “might have waited till the book was done.” Radiation treatments were “a serious diversion of time.” She found the phlebitis that prevented her from walking “quite trying””not for herself but for “poor Roger,” her adopted son.

When Silent Spring appeared in 1962, Chemical World News condemned it as “science fiction.” Time magazine dismissed it as an “emotional and inaccurate outburst.” Reader’s Digest canceled a contract for a 20,000-word condensation and ran the Time piece instead. But only seven years later Time used a photo of Carson to illustrate its new Environment section. Silent Spring was not a prediction, as anti-environmentalists profess; it was a warning, full of hope. “No,” Carson wrote her friend Lois Crisler, “I myself never thought the ugly facts would dominate. . . . The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has always been uppermost in my mind.” If Rachel Carson could find hope in the face of what and who were closing in on her, no environmentalist has the right to feel discouraged in 2004.

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