Marine biologist, scientist, researcher, naturalist scholar and gifted writer…meet Rachel Carson.
Carson wrote about the oceans in a series of three books in the 1940s and 50s while working for the Fish and Wildlife Service: “The Sea Around Us,” “The Edge of the Sea,” and ”Under the Sea Wind.” This sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life from the shores to the depths of the sea floor.
In 1962, Carson turned to conservation and published her seminal work, “Silent Spring,” bringing the nation’s attention to the problems caused by synthetic pesticides, particularly the harm being done by the liberal use of a poisonous spray called DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane).
This was a wake-up call for people to become consciously aware of our impact on the natural world. Carson spent four years researching and gathering examples of environmental damage attributed to DDT. (The U.S. government eventually banned the substance in 1972.)
The Audubon Naturalist Society was also opposed to such spraying programs and hired Carson to help make public the spraying practices of the government and chemical companies. While doing this research, Carson decided to write her next book on pesticides and environmental poisons.
Many in the scientific community were documenting pesticides’ physiological and environmental effects and shared their research and evidence they had compiled with Carson. She found that these pesticides posed significant dangers to humans and wildlife.
In 1959, Carson wrote a letter to the Washington Post that attributed the decline in bird populations — “the silencing of birds” — to pesticide overuse. She devotes a chapter to what she found in the bird population — the eggshells of their hatchlings were too thin to support them, and baby birds were dying before they could hatch.
In “Silent Spring,” Carson carefully documents pesticide effects on the connected natural ecosystem, devoting four chapters to cases of human pesticide poisoning, cancer and other diseases. Carson founded the environmental movement with this publication, which spread across our nation and worldwide.
So with the legacy of knowledge Carson gave us, why are we still using poisons and lethal pesticides? Everyday wildlife and household pets are in danger of being poisoned when homeowners, businesses or exterminators use anticoagulant rodenticides (i.e., rat poisons) to control rodents.
Dozens of scientific studies have found rat poisons in a wide variety of wildlife, including foxes, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions and every species of hawk and owl.
It’s peculiar how the ecosystem works — rats, mice, and gophers play a critical role as food for predators and seed dispensers for trees and plants. So using poison has the long-term effect of increasing rodent populations since the poison kills off the rodents’ natural predators, allowing the rodents to breed unchecked.
Solutions and non-toxic pest control that work:
— Seal cracks and crevices leading into your home with 1/4-inch metal mesh to block entry points.
— Trim foliage and tree limbs at least 2 feet away from the sides and roof of the house.
— Use snap traps or electronic zappers to catch any rodents remaining indoors. Never use glue or sticky traps; they kill songbirds and other wildlife.
— Attract barn owls with a nest box. A single barn owl can catch 1,400+ rodents a year!
— If you need a professional, only hire exterminators trained in IPM (integrated pest management). IPM works to permanently exclude rats by rodent-proofing your home.
In our own small way, we can create a safer, healthier environment for ourselves, our children, and the ecosystem we are all a part of. For example, just stopping the use of rat poisons will save hundreds of lives. We may not be Rachel Carson, but we can learn from what she taught us!
“In nature, nothing exists alone.” — Rachel Carson, “Silent Spring.”
Sheila S. Cameron is a former mayor of Encinitas