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Erie Canal Opens (1825)

I’ve got an old mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
She’s a good old worker and a good old pal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
We’ve hauled some barges in our day
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay
And every inch of the way we know
From Albany to Buffalo

So go the lyrics to the folksong, “Low Bridge, Everybody Down,” written in 1905 by Thomas Allen.  From the time the Erie Canal was completed and opened, on October 26, 1825, to today, the Erie Canal represents the epitome of American vision, ingenuity and practical capability.

The Erie Canal was the brainchild of DeWitt Clinton, a lawyer and politician who served as a New York legislator, senator and governor.  Because of his dogged determination to build the canal, the project was called “Clinton’s Ditch” during his day.

The project was massive, the biggest public works initiative in the history of the new nation.  When completed, it ran 363 miles from the Hudson River at Albany to Lake Erie at Buffalo.  Along the way, 83 locks raised the waterway 571 feet from East to West, and 18 aquaducts carried the canal over rivers.  The original canal was 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep, accompanied by tow-paths on both shores that allowed teams of mules and horses to pull canal boats along their journeys.  Construction began on July 4, 1817 and ended eight years later, as Clinton poured a bucket of Lake Erie water into the ocean at New York.

When completed, it was often called the Eighth Wonder of the World.  The canal became a symbol of American can-do spirit.  The canal had immediate positive results for the nation, and former skeptics shrank into the background.  The trip by stagecoach from Albany to Buffalo had taken two weeks of back-breaking travel; by canal, it took five days in relative comfort. More importantly, it opened markets from the Midwest to the country’s eastern seaboard, assuring inexpensive and healthy food supplies and a stable economy for farmers.  As each section of the canal opened, expansion of commerce followed, mile after mile from Albany westward.

Within a few years, the canal reached capacity and needed to be expanded.  Between 1836 and 1862, the width was increased to 70 feet and the depth to 7 feet.  From 1903 to 1918, the canal was enlarged again and became known as the Erie Barge Canal.  The locks were reduced to 36, much deeper and wider than earlier, speeding travel.  The canal still operates today, but mostly for recreational boats.

What is the conservation message?  First, of course, the ability of humans and nature to work together to accomplish meaningful improvements in civilization is the essence of conservation.  Second, however and more specifically, the Erie Canal illustrates the importance of water-borne transportation.  Moving materials, especially heavy and bulky products like coal, oil, rock and concrete, by water remains the most efficient and safest form of transportation.  In terms of greenhouse gases produced per ton of cargo, barge transportation is a bargain compared to railroad and, especially, truck transportation.

The US Army Corps of Engineers maintains 12,000 miles of navigable waterways, mostly along the coasts and through the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys.  These waterways transport 60% of total grain exports, 22% of petroleum production and 20% of coal used for electricity production.

The Erie Canal and its various branches are now featured in a unique National Park Service unit called the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.  The corridor, created in 2000, encompasses the entire upstate New York region, specifically highlighting 524 miles of navigable waterways.

References:

Erie Canalway.  Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.  National Park Service.  Available at:  https://eriecanalway.org/.  Accessed October 25, 2017.

The Erie Canal.  “Clinton’s Big Ditch.”  Available at:  http://www.eriecanal.org/index.html.  Accessed October 25, 2017.

The Erie Canal.  DeWitt Clinton.  Available at:  http://www.eriecanal.org/UnionCollege/Clinton.html.  Accessed October 25, 2017.

U.S. Department of Transportation.  Waterways:  Working for America.  Maritime Administration, US DOT.  Available at:  https://www.marad.dot.gov/wp-content/uploads/pdf/water_works_REV.pdf.  Accessed October 25, 2017.

Secretary of the Interior Convicted in Teapot Dome Scandal (1929)

Albert B. Fall, Secretary of Interior under President Warren G. Harding, was convicted on October 25, 1929, of accepting bribes from oil executives to lease federal oil reserves to their companies.  Three properties were involved, but the resulting scandal—considered the worst in U.S. history until Watergate—carries the name of one of them, Teapot Dome.

Albert Fall (born in 1861) was a Kentuckian, but moved to the West as a young man to relieve an ongoing respiratory condition (his or his wife’s is not clear).  He worked in mining and studied law independently, entering the New Mexico Territory bar in 1889 and eventually practicing law in El Paso, Texas.

He entered politics, serving first in the New Mexico Territorial House, then as a judge and finally as one of New Mexico’s first two U.S. Senators, elected in 1912.  He served in the senate until 1921, when President Harding appointed him Secretary of the Interior.  Many were skeptical of Fall’s appointment, knowing of his bias for commercial development of natural resources and his close friendship with oil executives.  Gifford Pinchot, who had founded the U.S. Forest Service, was particularly suspicious of Fall.  Fall proposed moving the Forest Service from Agriculture to Interior, a move that Pinchot fought aggressively—and which never occurred.

During the Taft administration, the government had created a series of naval oil reserves in western states, administered by the Secretary of the Navy.  The reserves were established as protection for the fuel needs of the Navy, but the administrative language gave great latitude to the Secretary for their operation.

Fall realized the great financial opportunity associated with the oil reserves.  While the public’s attention was focused on the question of the transfer of the Forest Service, Fall quietly convinced the Secretary of the Navy to transfer the management of the reserves to the Department of the Interior, citing his experience in the industry.  Together, they acquired President Harding’s approval, as he noted he had heard no public outcry about this, as he had for the Forest Service.

Two reserves were in California, and a third, the Teapot Dome, was in Wyoming.  Teapot Dome was named for a geological formation in the reserve.  Almost immediately, in early 1922, Fall made deals with two oil companies to lease them the oil reserves in exchange for bribes, gifts and loans (never intended to be repaid).  Fall received over $400,000 in illegal payments.  The oil companies got exclusive rights to the oil, which has been estimated as a $100 million windfall.  Estimates also show that the U.S. government could have received $10-50 million in additional revenue had the leases gone through a competitive bidding process.

Pinchot immediately began lobbying for an investigation.  Within a few months, the Congress appointed a special counsel to investigate the accusations of bribery and illegal leasing.  Fall resigned as Secretary of the Interior in early 1923, and he was indicted in 1924 along with several others.  The trials dragged on for years, but Fall was eventually convicted of bribery on October 25, 1929, and sentenced to one year in prison.  The reserves were returned to the Secretary of the Navy, and the leases were cancelled.

For the next fifty years, Teapot Dome was the epitome of federal mis-management of federal resources, both natural and fiscal.  At the time, one senator called the scandal “the slimiest of slimy trails beaten by privilege.” President Harding has gone down in history as a poor manager, allowing a cabinet of disreputable scoundrels to run the government.  The revelations associated with Teapot Dome and other scandals is considered a contributing factor to the unexpected death of President Harding in August, 1923.

References:

Bennett, Leslie E.  One Lesson From History:  Appointment of Special Counsel and the Investigation of the Teapot Dome Scandal.  Brookings Institution.  Available at:  http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/history/johnson/teapotdome.htm.  Accessed October 24, 2017.

Encyclopedia Britannica.  2017.  Teapot Dome Scandal.  Available at:  https://www.britannica.com/event/Teapot-Dome-Scandal.  Accessed October 24, 2017.

Ohio History Central.  Albert B. Fall.  Ohio History Connection.  Available at:  http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Albert_B._Fall.  Accessed October 24, 2017.

Oil Stories and Histories.  2005.  Scandal:  A Short History of the Teapot Dome Affair.  Available at:  http://oilstorieshistories.blogspot.com/2005/09/scandal-short-history-of-teapot-dome.html.  Accessed October 24, 2017.

Antoni von Leeuwenhoek born (1632)

Antoni von Leeuwenhoek, the Dutch scientist known as the “father of microbiology” was born on October 24, 1632.  Leeuwenhoek was the first person to identify the small “animalcules” that we now know as bacteria and other forms of microscopic life.

Leeuwenhoek was anything but a classical biologist.  Born in Delft, Holland, to working class parents, he had little formal education.  He became an apprentice to a fabric-maker in Amsterdam and returned later to Delft to take up the textile trade.  Textile makers and buyers often used magnifying glasses to inspect their wares, and Leeuwenhoek acquired his first lens in 1653.  Soon after, he began to grind his own lenses.

He was quite talented at grinding lenses and polishing glass, and, accompanied by a naturally acute sense of vision, he began making his own versions of microscopes (he is sometimes credited with inventing the microscope, but that isn’t true).  Over his lifetime, he made more than 500 microscopes.  He made tiny pin-hole lenses, which he imbedded between sheets of copper.  Behind the lens, he fashioned a tiny pin that could hold specimens and a pair of screws that moved the specimen into focus.  While the early compound microscopes of the day could achieve only about 20-power magnification, Leeuwenhoek’s single-lens devices could produce 200-power magnification.  His skill at glass-making, lighting and delicate movements made him able to use the devices much more effectively than others.

Then the fun started! He began to examine unlikely bits of the biosphere—water drops from a lake, deposits scraped from between his teeth, blood.  Then he went on to virtually anything he could get behind a lens.  He found an abundance of simple living organisms and other biological structures, like blood cells and tiny hairs on microorganisms that we now call cilia.  He demonstrated how blood flows through blood vessels.  He was the first to describe bacteria, considered his most important accomplishment.  But he also discovered nematodes and rotifers, and described green algae Spirogyra and Vorticella.

From 1673 on, he wrote regular letters to the Royal Society of London.  Although he wrote in his native Dutch and had no academic credentials, the society translated his letters and published them.  Slowly he gained credibility as his discoveries were confirmed one after the other.  He was awarded membership in the Royal Society in 1680 and continued writing about his observations until the very end of his life in 1723.

Although naturalists tend to focus on big things—the so-called “charismatic megafauna”—we now know that the actions of microorganisms are essential to the ecological processes that support ecosystems and civilizations.  Water is cleaned, soil is created, materials 32are cycled, all as part of the life-cycles of microorganisms.  For that reason, Antoni von Leeuwenhoek, who first opened our eyes to the lives of tiny things, deserves a place in the annals of great conservationists!

References:

Coghlan, Andy.  2015.  Leeuwenhoek’s ‘animalcules’, just as he saw them 340 years ago.  New Scientist Daily News, 20 May 2015.  Available at:  https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27563-leeuwenhoeks-animalcules-just-as-he-saw-them-340-years-ago/.  Accessed October 24, 2017.

University of California Museum of Paleontology.  Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723).  Available at:  http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/leeuwenhoek.html.  Accessed October 24, 2017.

Cumberland Island National Seashore established (1972)

President Richard Nixon signed into law the creation of Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia, on October 23, 1972.  His action punctuated a 400-year-old journey of human and natural change that continues to this day.

Cumberland Island is the southernmost barrier island on Georgia’s Atlantic coast, between Jekyll Island on the north and Florida’s Amelia Island on the south.  The island is 17.5 miles long, and between 0.5-miles and 3.0-miles wide.  A large part of the National Seashore’s 36,415 acres are marshes and shallow-water flats.

The island has been inhabited and modified since pre-history.  First Native American Indians lived on the island, using fire to control their environment.  Then, in the 1560s, Spanish settlers came to the island, introducing horses, hogs and cattle and many European crops.  Feral hogs—unpopular and being controlled—and wild horses—wildly popular and virtually untouchable—remain on the island.  Later, plantations staffed by slaves grew cotton that became a famous product of the island.  In the 1900s, the island became popular as a recreational area for industrial barons, with the Carnegie family owning up to 90% of the island at one time.

But as the Carnegie family lost interest in the island, they offered the property to the National Park Service.  With the National Seashore proclaimed in 1972, the National Park Service began buying tracts from the Carnegies and others, creating the park.  Although most of the island lies within the park boundaries, a substantial portion of the lands are still owned by private individuals, some outright and others with a life-time rights of use.

Overall, the park is minimally developed for recreation.  Access is only by boat, and no facilities are provided.  Visitors are limited to 300 per day; annual visitation is less than 100,000.  A significant portion (about 9,000 acres) of the northern part of the island is now a federally designated wilderness area.

The park has three goals—recreation, historic preservation and nature protection.  As with many National Park Service properties, these goals can come into conflict.  That is particularly true for Cumberland Island, with its long history of human habitation and modification.  The biological resources are not unique, but nesting by loggerhead turtles and more than 300 bird species make it a particularly rich biodiversity site.  Hunting to control deer and feral hogs occurs through several specialized hunts (bow-and-arrow, primitive weapons, adult/child) annually.  A total of 87 historic structures remain on the island, but most are ruins.  Private development is proposed regularly for the private lands on the island and sometimes within the park, but little has been done in recent decades.  Hurricane Irma in August 2017 caused sufficient damage that the park was closed for several months.

References:

Cumberland Island Conservancy.  Cumberland Island.  Available at:   http://cumberlandisland.com/conservancy/our-mission/.  Accessed October 23, 2017.

Dilsaver, Lacy M.  2004.  Cumberland Island National Seashore, A History of Conservation Conflict.  University of Virginia Press.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/cuis/dilsaver/index.htm.  Accessed October 23, 2017.

Janiskee, Bob.  2010.  By the Numbers:  Cumberland Island National Seashore.  National Parks Traveler, November 5, 2010.  Available at:  https://www.nationalparkstraveler.org/2010/11/numbers-cumberland-island-national-seashore7180.  Accessed October 23, 2017.

Torres, Louis.  1977.  Historic Resource Study, Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia, and Historic Structure Report, Historical Data Section of the Dungeness Area.  National Park Service.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/cuis/hrs_hsr.pdf.  Accessed October 23, 2017.

“Ding” Darling born (1876)

Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling was born on October 21, 1876 (died 1962).  Darling became one of the nation’s foremost editorial cartoonists, but his real love was for conservation.  He became known as “the best friend a duck ever had.”

Darling was raised on the edge of the Iowa prairie frontier, learning to ride, shoot and love nature as a boy.  He witnessed first-hand, throughout his life, the changes that occurred as the growing U.S. population pushed West, often converting the naturally productive landscape into a wasteland.  Reversing that trend would be a life-long passion.

But Darling had another passion and talent—he could draw, with meaning and humor.  That talent often landed him in hot water—he was tossed from college for drawing unflattering pictures of the university’s president. But it also led to a career as an editorial cartoonist, working for most of a half-century for the Des Moines Register.  In those days, the editorial cartoons often appeared on the front page of the newspaper, making Darling’s contributions one of the first things readers saw when they picked up the paper.  His prominence grew steadily, with his cartoons eventually gracing more than 100 papers across the nation and earning two Pulitzer Prizes.

But he was also a conservationist, and he used his editorial privilege to bring that message to the front pages of the nation’s newspapers as well.  He was particularly concerned about soils, wetlands and the animals they produced—ducks.  Because of land clearing and draining for row crops, the wetlands where waterfowl reproduced were disappearing.  And because of excess hunting, ducks were in double jeopardy.

Always willing to “speak truth to power,” he made himself such a nuisance to President Franklin Roosevelt complaining about the woeful condition of wildlife that the president finally called him into Washington to run the U.S. Biological Survey (now the Fish and Wildlife Service).  Despite his dislike of Roosevelt and most of his policies, Darling accepted the position as his duty to conservation.  In a short 20 months, Darling brought new life and professionalism to the agency.  From a few ignored properties, he made the National Wildlife Refuge System into the powerful conservation tool it is today.

He is most famous for his development of the Duck Stamp program.  Passed just as Darling was coming to Washington, the Duck Stamp Act required that all hunters of migratory waterfowl purchase an annual “stamp.”  The first stamps, issued in 1935, cost one dollar; today the stamp costs $25.  Darling drew the picture of two mallard ducks landing in a marsh that appeared on the first stamp.  Today, an annual art contest decides the image to appear on the stamp.  The Duck Stamp program is one of the most successful conservation funding ideas in history.  It has generated nearly $1 billion for buying and improving wildlife refuges, using an amazing 96 cents of every dollar for direct conservation work.  The concept has been copied in many nations around the world, in all U.S. states and for various other forms of wildlife.

Darling went on to found the organization that has become the National Wildlife Federation.  He believed that education was the most important tool for conservation—so much so that he personally co-funded the first Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit at Iowa State University.  Today more than fifty similar units operate at universities across the United States.

References:

Nielsen, Larry A.  2017.  Nature’s Allies—Eight Conservationists Who Changed Our World.  Island Press, Washington, DC.  255 pages.

OPEC Oil Embargo (1973)

On October 20, 1973, Middle Eastern oil-producing countries all agreed to stop exporting petroleum products to the United States.  The embargo had severe repercussions for the American lifestyle and economy, but it also produced a long-term environmental win:  the beginning of conservation in our use of fossil fuels.

The early 1970s were a tough time in the U.S.  The country was struggling with the Vietnam War, civil rights, equal rights for women and a host of other social issues.  A series of decisions by the Nixon administration, including removing the dollar from the gold standard, set the economy reeling.  Oil production in the massive Texas oil fields peaked in 1970, and oil imports soared, especially from Arab countries in the Middle East.

During the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt in the fall of 1973, Arab countries used their oil exports to put pressure on the U.S. to stop its support of Israel.  First they raised prices, then they cut production.  When President Nixon announced on October 19 that the U.S. would send more than $2 billion in aid to Israel, Arab nations responded in kind.  First on that day and finally on October 20, most Arab oil-producing countries announced a total end to exports to the United States.

Although the Yom Kippur War ended just a few weeks later, the oil embargo continued until March 18, 1974.  The impacts on American life were immediate and harsh.  I remember the price of gas at the Shell station across the street from my graduate student apartment at the University of Missouri being about 30 cents per gallon one evening.  The next day, the price was $1.30 per gallon.  Securing gas for one’s car became the highest day-to-day priority.  Gas stations often limited customers to ten gallons per day; people spent hours in line to wait for gas, often to find out that the station had run out.

Government responses were also immediate and harsh.  The speed limit on highways was reduced to 55 miles per hour to save fuel.  Cities set up rationing systems that allowed cars with even-numbered license plates to get gas on even dates, with odd-numbered license plates to get gas on odd dates.  Daylight-savings time became year-round, making students go off to school in the dark during the winter.  On November 7, 1973, President Nixon announced “Project Independence,” which promoted domestic production of fossil fuels.

At the suggestion of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, The International Energy Agency was created one year later.  The IEA was begun to be the locus for energy matters among the nations of the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, basically the 29 most developed countries of the world.

But, from an environmental standpoint, the oil embargo was a great impetus for energy conservation.  New president Jimmy Carter told the nation that the energy crisis was “a problem unprecedented in our history” and not one that would go away just because the embargo was over.  His administration instituted mandatory fuel economy standards that for the first time made auto makers pay attention to the size and efficiency of vehicles.  Federal research for alternative energy sources and energy conservation soared in the 1970s, increasing sevenfold over the decade.

References:

Department of State.  Oil Embargo, 1973-1974.  Office of the Historian, Department of State.  Available at:  https://history.state.gov/milestones/1969-1976/oil-embargo.  Accessed October 19, 2017.

International Energy Agency.  History.  Available at:  https://www.iea.org/about/history/.  Accessed October 19, 2017.

Myre, Greg.  2013.  The 1973 Arab Oil Embargo:  The Old Rules No Longer Apply.  National Public Radio, October 16, 2013.  Available at:  http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2013/10/15/234771573/the-1973-arab-oil-embargo-the-old-rules-no-longer-apply.  Accessed October 19, 2017.

Ross, Michael L.  2013.  How the 1973 Oil Embargo Saved the Planet.  Foreign Affairs, Otober 15, 2013.  Available at:  https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-america/2013-10-15/how-1973-oil-embargo-saved-planet.  Accessed October 19, 2017.

Research Vessel Albatross Launched (1882)

The first ship designed and built to perform deep-sea oceanic research was launched on October 19, 1882.  Albatross ranged the world’s oceans for the next 38 years, making it the first and most effective vessel “to undertake the exhaustive scientific exploration of the ocean.”

Albatross owes its existence to the realization in the mid-1800s that fisheries were being over-exploited in the virtual absence of detailed information about fish populations or the oceans in general.  The United States created the U.S. Fish Commission in 1871, headed by Spencer Fullerton Baird, who was also at the time leading the Smithsonian Institution.  Baird convinced Congress that the nation needed a state-of-the-art fisheries research vessel that could find new stocks of fish, especially in the deep waters off the northeastern Atlantic coast.

Scientific surveys had typically relied on old vessels re-purposed from their primary use as fishing boats or patrol ships to scientific research.  Baird imagined something different—a large ship, powerful enough to haul nets suspended thousands of feet below the surface, outfitted with laboratories and storage facilities for biological specimens and sporting the latest in technology (like electric lights).  Albatross was 234 feet long, carried a crew of 60 plus the scientific staff and could cover 3200 miles in a single voyage.  It carried two massive dredging engines capable of managing more than 24,000 feet of metal towing cable.

The ship was used first in the north Atlantic, where it conducted repeated hydrologic and biological surveys at thousands of established stations in both shallow and deep water.  It was later deployed into the Gulf of Mexico and then the Pacific, conducting cruises from Alaska to the Galapagos to Cape Horn.  Twice—during the Spanish-American War and World War 1—the ship was diverted to wartime uses.  From 1907-1910, Albatross conducted an extended survey of the waters of the Philippines, recently acquired from the Spanish.  That expedition became the second most extensive in the nation’s history, for area covered and time spent.  As many as 100,000 fish specimens were collected.  Scientific study of the collections continues to this day.

Albatross served until being decommissioned in 1921, having sailed for a decade longer than its intended life.  Fisheries scientist Charles Townsend remembered the ship in comments during 1934:

“Her career as a deep-sea exploring ship has been a notable one…[that] extended from the shallow waters of the coast to almost the greatest known depths of the sea…. If ever the American people received the fullest possible value from a government ship, they received it from this one.”

References:

Allard, Dean C.  1999.  The Origins and Early History of the Steamer Albatross, 1880-1887.  Marine Fisheries Review 6(4):1-21.

Anonymous.  1999.  The U.S. Fish Commission Steamer Albatross:  A History.  Marine Fisheries Review 6(4):i-vii.

Smith, David G. and Jeffrey T. Williams.  1999.  The Great Albatross Philippine Expedition and Its Fishes.  Marine Fisheries Review 6(4):31-41.

 

Smithsonian Institution.  Spencer Baird and Ichthyology at the Smithsonian. Available at:  http://vertebrates.si.edu/fishes/ichthyology_history/fish_commission.html.  Accessed October 19, 2017.

Clean Water Act established (1972)

The Clean Water Act became law on October 18, 1972, establishing for the first time an aggressive, comprehensive approach to federal water pollution control.  Amended several times since then, the Clean Water Act (CWA) remains one of the most important environmental laws in the United States.

Water pollution, like other environmental insults, had become an increasingly vexing problem in the post-WW2 era.  Traditionally, discharging wastes into streams, lakes and rivers was considered a common right, as long as the discharge did not harm others downstream or farther along the shore.  With more people dumping more pollution—domestic sewage and industrial wastes—however, a different strategy was required.  The first federal law to control water pollution was passed in 1948, but its aims were low and narrow.  By the early 1970s, however, as former EPA Director Carol Browner said, “…the American people said ‘enough.’”  Events like the burning of Ohio’s Cuyahoga River in 1969 had convinced the country that something more needed to be done.

The Clean Water Act of 1972, therefore, was different.  The fundamental goal of the law was to make all “navigable waterways safe for fishing, swimming and supplying drinking water by 1983.” The law basically removed the right to pollute, replacing it with a set of standards that relied on scientific and technical standards.  The act made it against the law to discharge any pollutants into navigable waters without a permit issued by the federal government.  Those permits set maximum pollutant concentrations for waste treatment plants and for all other types of discharges into surface waters.

The act was passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House of Representatives and Senate, but President Nixon did not like it.  Along with regulating water pollution, the act also appropriated billions of dollars to help local municipalities build water treatment plants.  Nixon thought this was a budget-breaker, and he vetoed the bill.  Both houses of Congress overrode his veto, however, and the bill became law.

The Clean Water Act is perhaps the most successful environmental law of all time.  The proportion of our waters—lakes, streams and rivers, and estuaries—that support their officially designated highest use continues to grow.  Rivers that once ran through cities supporting no aquatic life and oozing with organic and inorganic waste are now the centerpieces of revived downtown neighborhoods.  Estuaries that lacked any oxygen are once again productive nurseries for fish and shellfish.

Control of water pollution, however, is not without debate and conflict.  Issues relating to the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act impact how much of the nation’s waters are protected.  And comprehensive data about the state of our water resources is hard to find.  Data on this topic appear to have been removed from the EPA website; the latest data summaries are for 2004.

References:

Browner, Carol M.  1997.  25th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 17, 1997.  USEPA.  Available at:  https://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/a162fa4bfc0fd2ef8525701a004f20d7/872d86a1679743df8525701a0052e3a5!OpenDocument&Highlight=0.  Accessed October 17, 2017.

Hines, N. William.  2013.  History of the 1972 Clean Water Act:  The Story Behind How the 1972 Act Became the Capstone on a Decade of Extraordinary Environmental Reform.  Journal of Energy & Environmental Law, Summer 2013:80-106.  Available at:  https://gwujeel.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/4-2-hines.pdf.  Accessed October 17, 2017.

USEPA.  Summary of the Clean Water Act.  Available at:  https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act.  Accessed October 17, 2017.

Oliver Rackham born (1939)

Oliver Rackham, the world’s foremost expert on the ancient woodlands of England, was born on October 17, 1939 (died 2015).  He spent his career and life investigating the history of landscapes, especially the wooded ecosystems of England and Crete.

Oliver Rackham was born in Suffolk, on the southeastern coast of England.  He was an excellent student who intended to become a physicist.  But when his advisor at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, suggested that he take an additional course in biology, he found his true love—botany.  He remained at Cambridge throughout his life, rising through the ranks to become a Fellow and, for a year, Master of the college.  As he aged, he became an eccentric figure around campus, sporting long white hair and beard and wearing orange socks and sandals to formal dinners.

He learned to read the landscape as others might read a book, finding clues to the past in such overlooked items as tree stumps and the undulations of the forest floor. He studied ancient documents and drawings, along with ancient trees, to construct his assessment of the processes that drove forest formation and evolution.   His work led to a complete re-understanding of the history and nature of rural landscapes in England.  Rather than the countryside being largely wooded in ancient times, Rackham showed that it had been the same mixture of field and forest that exists today, and that the actions of humans interacting with the forest had produced the variety, beauty and utility of forestlands.

He presented his findings to both scientists and the general public in a series of books.  He described pollarding, the practice of cutting trees and allowing multiple stems to grow back; explained the origin of ancient place names related to tree species and wood-use terms; showed how trees and shrubs of different sizes, shapes and species supplied small-scale forest industries; and explored how the shapes of tree trunks guided the characteristic shapes of early wooden homes.  His greatest academic achievement was publication of “The History of the Countryside” in 1986.  Later, with co-author Jennifer Moody, he used the same skills of observation and historical research to describe “The Making of the Cretan Landscape” in 1996.

Rackham’s understanding of woodland ecology drove major changes in British forest management.  He argued for natural regeneration of trees, rather than tree-planting campaigns that often used exotic species or single-species stands.  His popular book, “Ancient Woodland:  Its History, Vegetation and Use in England,” first published in 1980, brought the subject to the attention of the public.  Consequently, preservation of woodlands became a major initiative of environmental groups, leading to a vast expansion of protected forests in the U.K.  Never shy about his opinions for proper management of forests, his response to overpopulation of deer was simple and direct:  “Eat Bambi.”

He was appointed to the Order of the British Empire in 1998 for his service to natural conservation and became an honorary professor of Historical Ecology at Cambridge in 2006.  He died after a short illness in 2015.

References:

Grubb, Peter.  2015.  Oliver Rackham obituary.  The Guardian, 20 February 2015.  Available at:  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/20/oliver-rackham.  Accessed October 16, 2017.

The Economist.  Into the woods (Obituary:  Oliver Rackham).  The Economist, March 12, 2015.  Available at:  https://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21646173-oliver-rackham-plant-pathologist-and-woodland-archaeologist-died-february-12th-aged.  Accessed October 16, 2017.

The Telegraph.  2015.  Professor Oliver Rackham, historical ecologist – obituary.  The Telegraph, 19 February 2015.  Available at:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/11417959/Professor-Oliver-Rackham-historical-ecologist-obituary.html.  Accessed October 16, 2017.

World Food Day

October 16 is celebrated annually as World Food Day, a day to focus on the nutritional needs of people around the world.  This date was selected to commemorate the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which occurred on October 16, 1945.

As World War II was coming to an end, the world’s leaders began planning for post-war recovery and organization.  U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt called for a conference on food and nutrition, recognizing that a safe and peaceful world depended on people having enough to eat.  The conference was held in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with 44 countries in attendance.  They called for a permanent group to address food security.  A subsequent meeting in Quebec City ratified the constitution for the new organization.  From its original 34 members, FAO now includes 194 countries.  Headquarters for FAO is in Rome, Italy, but the real work of the organization occurs throughout the developing world, with programs operating in more than 130 developing countries.  Programs have three major goals:  eradication of hunger; economic and social progress for all; and sustainable management and use of natural resources.  FAO leads the world’s efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2:  “Zero Hunger by 2030.”

FAO’s logo features a stalk of wheat and the words “Fiat Panis,” or “let there be bread.”

World Food Day began in 1981, “to heighten public awareness of the nature and dimensions of the long-term world food problem, and to develop further the sense of national and international solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty.”  With celebrations occurring in more than 150 countries around the world, World Food Day is one of the most publicized events conducted by the United Nations.  Each year carries a new theme.  The 2017 theme is “Change the future of migration; Invest in food security and rural development.”  The theme recognizes that people move away from their homes when threatened by famine and malnutrition.

The work of FAO recognizes the fundamental need for food security in order to promote a safe, peaceful and harmonious human existence.  The incredible development of agricultural production over the past 75 years reflects the success of FAO’s programs and the world’s overall attention to eradicating hunger.  But much still remains to be done.  Consider these facts provided by FAO:

  1. The world produces enough food to feed everyone, yet, about800 million people suffer from hunger. That is one in nine people. 60% of them are women.
  2. About 80%of the world’s extreme poor live in rural areas. Most of them depend on agriculture.
  3. Hunger kills more people every yearthan malaria, tuberculosis and aids combined.
  4. Around 45%of infant deaths are related to malnutrition.
  5. The cost of malnutrition to the global economy is the equivalent of USD 3.5 trilliona year.
  6. 9 billion people– more than a quarter of the world’s population – are overweight.
  7. One third of the food produced worldwide is lost or wasted.
  8. The world will need to produce 60 percentmore food by 2050 to feed a growing population

References:

FAO.  About FAO.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Available at:  http://www.fao.org/about/en/.  Accessed October 16, 2017.

FAO.  World Food Day, 16 October 2017.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Available at:  http://www.fao.org/world-food-day/2017/about/en/.  Accessed October 16, 2017.

Phillips, Ralph W.  1981.  FAO:  its origins, formation and evolution 1945-1981.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  Available at:  http://www.fao.org/3/a-p4228e.pdf.  Accessed October 16, 2017.

 

This Month in Conservation

July 1
Duck Stamp Born (1934)
July 2
Morrill Act Created Land-Grant Universities (1862)
July 3
Great Auk Went Extinct (1844)
July 4
Stephen Mather, Founding Director of the National Park Service, Born (1867)
July 5
Yoshimaro Yamashina and Ernst Mayr, Ornithologists, Born (1900, 1904)
July 6
Maria Martin, Naturalist and Artist, Born (1796)
July 7
Alaska Admitted as a State (1958)
July 8
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July 9
Starbucks Abandoned Plastic Straws (2018)
July 10
Rainbow Warrior Bombed and sunk (1985)
July 11
World Population Day
July 12
Herbert Zim, Creator of “Golden Guides,” Born (1909)
July 13
Source of the Mississippi River Discovered (1832)
July 14
George Washington Carver National Monument Established (1943)
July 15
Emmeline Pankhurst, British Suffragette Leader, Born (1858)
July 16
UNESCO Added Giant Panda and Shark Sanctuaries to World Heritage List (2006)
July 17
Handel’s “Water Music” Premiered (1717)
July 18
Gilbert White, the “First Ecologist,” Born (1720)
July 19
Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal, Created (1976)
July 20
Gregor Mendel, Pioneering Geneticist, Born (1822)
July 21
Aswan High Dam Opened (1970)
July 22
Ratcatcher’s Day
July 23
Commercial Whaling Banned (1982)
July 24
Machu Picchu Discovered (1911)
July 25
Jim Corbett, Tiger Conservationist, Born (1875)
July 26
James Lovelock, Originator of the Gaia Theory, Born (1919)
July 27
Przewalski’s horse gave birth by artificial insemination (2013)
July 28
Beatrix Potter, Author and Conservationist, Born (1866)
July 29
International Tiger Day
July 30
Golden Spike National Historical Park Created (1965)
July 31
Curt Gowdy, Sportscaster and Conservationist, Born (1919)
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