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Outside » Natural World

Revisiting the Silent Spring: The need for clean waters

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Male Pacific Tree Frog singing his Song of Spring.The frogs we hear singing their hearts out every evening are our tiny Pacific Tree Frog, Pseudacris regilla, a common species throughout the Northwest. They range from Northern California, all through Oregon and Washington, British Columbia, and eastward to Idaho, Montana and Nevada. These little guys come in shades of greens or browns, and can be found from sea level up to over 11,000 feet, as well as our dry, cold High Desert.

Male tree frogs begin the mating business in early spring (and there are many of us who have heard them practicing in our basements on warm winter nights); they migrate to ponds, where they all start singing at once, and very loudly. The guy with the loudest voice gets to mate first with the females laying their eggs on and under vegetation and leaf litter in shallow, calm, clean water. And they are a hardy bunch; they have to be to survive "spring" in Central Oregon.

If the eggs are not eaten by salamanders or snakes, embryos will become tadpoles within one to three weeks. If the tadpoles are not eaten by salamanders, snakes and herons, the tadpoles will feed on periphyton, filamentous algae, diatoms and pollen in and on the surface of the water. If they are not eaten by bigger salamanders, snakes, fish, bullfrogs, kingfishers or herons, about two and a half months later, the tadpole's metamorphosis is complete and they leave the water as frogs and become terrestrial predators on arthropods.


Frogs, and so much more in nature, depend on our commitment to clean water, clean air and clean soil.

A recent PBS Frontline report entitled "Poisoned Waters" is a dramatic reminder of everyone's responsibility to ensure the safety of our water, and the irrefutable consequences if we fail. The program showed in excruciating detail what Rachel Carson warned us about almost 50 years ago in her book, Silent Spring.

Rachel Carson took on the chemical companies of the world with her scientific evidence that in their efforts to destroy insects, they were instead, slowly killing us. She was distressed that we humans were destroying Life for "profit," and the idea we could "control nature" with irresponsible use of lethal chemicals.

The chemical companies tried to destroy her reputation, but she not only survived the negative PR heaped on her head, she gained worldwide creditability for her work. DDT, the silent killer that destroyed life in the food chain was banned, and the idea for a Clean Water Act was born.

On April 3, 1963, the Columbia Broadcasting System's television series "C.B.S. Reports" presented the program, "The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson." In it, she said:

"It is the public that is being asked to assume the risks that the insect controllers calculate. The public must decide whether it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can do so only when in full possession of the facts.

"We still talk in terms of conquest. We still haven't become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. Man's attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature.

"But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. The rains have become an instrument to bring down from the atmosphere the deadly products of atomic explosions. Water, which is probably our most important natural resource, is now used and re-used with incredible recklessness.

"Now, I truly believe, that we in this generation, must come to terms with nature, and I think we're challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves."

That was true in 1963, and it is still true today, even more so. There are billions of more people using our Earth to grow food and make a living. The last administration paid no heed to the Clean Water Act. Nothing could have been more foolish. According to Frontline, Puget Sound is dying from the onslaught of PCB usage over the last 50 years and if it continues, killer whales and marine life of the sound are doomed. Chesapeake Bay is in worse shape, and we could be next.

Every 24 hours more and more of our Earth is "developed" to make room for food production. Every hour of each day, tons of chemicals are dumped into the soil that produces all that food, and those chemicals leach into our water. Hopefully, we will remember "Silent Spring," before it is too late.

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