“Shall we see our children stripped of everything provided by a wise Providence for the sustenance of untold generations? The earth does not belong entirely to the present. Posterity has its claims.”
— Frank Lamb, Grays Harbor forester, 1909
Hardly a day goes by anymore without the release of a disturbing new article or study exposing the terribly destructive impact toxic herbicides are wreaking on our world. Just in the last few months, popular articles have linked common herbicides to autism, anencephaly birth defects, and an exceptionally deadly outbreak of kidney disease in Central America. In that same time, a study published in the journal Biomedical Research International revealed that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide is 125 times more toxic than regulators say; a feature in The New Yorker described how large chemical manufacturers like Syngenta systematically harass scientists for producing research that threatens their profits; and the Seattle Times ran an editorial entitled “The Failure of the EPA to protect the public from pollution” which documents the chemical industry’s cozy ties to government regulators.
In this context, the battle to defend our wildlife populations in the Pacific Northwest from the known dangers of forest chemicals is but one front in a global war on this most pervasive and insidious toxicity. Our elk herds, suffering as they are from multiple maladies including an epidemic of hoof disease, are simply the largest and most obvious victims of a prolonged siege that is being waged on industrial timber lands throughout the states of Washington and Oregon. Thankfully, just as Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officials began informing the public of their intention to euthanize crippled elk before actually understanding the cause of their disease, the collective rallying cry to save these animals, or at least properly study them, has become very loud indeed.
Accord Concentrate/ Rodeo • Accord XRT II • Arsenal AC • Atrazine 4L Drexel • Atrazine 4L Sipcam • Atrazine 4L Mana •Compadre • Forestry Garlon XRT • Garlon 4 Ultra • Grounded • In-Place • Metcel VMF • Polaris AC • Polaris AC Complete • Polaris SP • Point Blank • Riverdale 2,4-D L V-6 Ester • Sulfomet • Sulfomet XP • Sulfomet Extra • Sylgard 309 • Syltac • Transline • Velpar DF • Velpar L
This past April marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson. And while I certainly bemoan her absence and miss her Silent Spring voice, I mourn more for the fact that her life’s work and sacrifice on our behalf has apparently taught many of us little or nothing. Exhibit “A” in this thesis is the list of herbicides contained in a 2012 private forestry spraying application for a 3,416 acre unit near the Willapa Headwaters in southwestern Washington (thank you, Jon Gosch).
Rachel’s story is a powerful one and too often repeated. Here’s how it goes: A systems thinker (in her case a marine biologist) noticing trends and problems in the natural world compiles evidence that establishes correlative links between a chemical or chemicals and a natural or human health issue and then brings it to the public’s attention. These are not “proofs” in the traditional scientific sense but rather concrete rationales for further investigation—in short these are the building blocks of testable hypotheses.
But once these building blocks form and become known, a storm of industry-led criticism always follows. We know the pattern: Credentials and motivations are questioned; industry scientists rush in to defend the safety of products; new brochures addressing criticisms are prepared; and those offering the hypotheses are quickly and roughly kicked to curb for being un-American, job-killers, communists or worse. In all of this we have to really wonder where the sin lies in raising legitimate and justifiable concerns. And when exactly did poisoning our wildlife and future generations become an American value?