2005-05-13 / Columnists

Times Have Changed Since Original Earth Day Nature Notes By

Patricia Martin

It’s spring on Mackinac Island. The hawk migration is underway and many of our songbirds and waterfowl are returning to their summer home. The Hepatica (Liver-leaf) or, as it’s commonly referred to around here, Mayflower, are blooming, the Trillium are soon to break bud, and many of our spring garden flowers are alive with color. Old friends and visitors are returning to the Island and shops, restaurants, hotels, and carriage tours are open for business. It is indeed spring at Mackinac.

Spring also brings with it a special holiday. On April 22, 2005, the country celebrated the 35th anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day was the brainchild of John McConnell, who proposed a resolution to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors proclaiming March 21, 1970 as Earth Day. That day was chosen as it is the Vernal Equinox, the day when the night and day are of equal length. It later was changed to April 22, which was the date when the Environmental Teach-in held a nationwide Earth Day event in 1970. Every year various groups around the world use Earth Day to remind people of the importance of being good stewards of this earth, our Island home. The students at Mackinac Island Public School, on Earth Day, learned how used paper can be recycled into new paper. We, who are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, have a special responsibility to preserve and protect our environment, not only for ourselves but for the thousands of visitors who only get to share this special place for a brief time. And as it is true that no man is an island, it is equally true that no island is truly an island. What we do has an impact beyond our small community and, therefore, every day should be Earth Day.

While thinking about Earth Day, I realized how in some ways we as a nation have changed many of our environmental conditions since the original Earth Day. Air pollution from cars and industry has been reduced because of legislation. Water pollution has also been reduced. One of the major changes has been that most people are now at least aware of environmental issues, even if they don’t do anything about them.

There are many little, simple things people can do in their everyday life on Mackinac to help protect and preserve the environment. Most of us learned in school the mantra, “reduce, recycle, reuse.” That still holds true.

We can reduce the amount of natural resources that we use. Turn your heat down to a lower temperature in your house or at work. Tighten up your windows and increase your insulation in the attic of your home. It not only saves energy but also saves money. When replacing appliances and cars, we need to look for the most energy-efficient models that meet our needs. Turn off lights and other appliances when they’re not needed.

One thing I need to start doing is contacting catalogue companies that send multiple or unwanted catalogues and get them to stop mailing them (The post office would probably appreciate that). You can use less water by doing laundry only when you have full loads and the same with running the dishwasher. When brushing your teeth, don’t let the water just keep running, turn it off until you’re ready to rinse your teeth.

We can also try to reduce our use of chemicals that are harmful to the environment. On Mackinac we need to be especially careful of chemicals that we use in our yards. Everything that is put in or on our gardens will eventually wash into the lake as the rain and snow washes everything downhill. Pesticides containing poisons and toxins kill both “good” and “bad” insects indiscriminately. These chemicals can get into the food chain when other insects, birds, and mammals eat the insects and then get passed up the food chain. Those of us who grew up on the Island remember the results of the spraying of DDT to control the flies. DDT has a very long decomposition rate and easily gets into the food chain, weakens the egg shells of birds, and is a known carcinogen. On Mackinac, we experienced what Rachael Carson wrote about in “Silent Spring,” the springs when few birds were singing as only limited numbers had returned. Not only were insects and birds affected, many fruit trees died in this period. This was because with many of the insect-eating birds gone, other insects, particularly scab, who drill into fruit trees, were not picked off by the birds. The scab allows fungi, particularly rusts, to get into the tree. If not controlled by cutting and burning the infected branches, the trees may die.

Fortunately, the use of DDT was discontinued more than 30 years ago and was banned in the United States, though it’s still being used in many third world countries.

Pesticides also contain heavy metals that can result in groundwater contamination and can contaminate the lake, affecting water organisms. Herbicides, likewise, have detrimental effects on the plants, animals, and water systems.

There are a number of environmentally-friendly solutions for many of our gardening problems without resorting to harsh damaging herbicides and pesticides. The library and Internet can help you find alternative controls to these chemicals. One of my favorite books on the subject is in the library called “Bugs, Slugs, and Other Thugs.”

There are other chemicals that can accidentally contaminate our land and water. Oil-based paints, over time, can eat away at their containers and escape into groundwater, leaching heavy metals into water sources. Old oil-based paint cans need to be properly disposed of. Many types of antifreeze contain toxins which are harmful and even deadly to children, pets, and wildlife, if consumed. There are a number of more environmentally friendly ones now on the market. Antifreeze changes the pH level in water and should never be dumped into surface water or near groundwater sites.

Unwanted herbicides, antifreeze, pesticides, oil paint, and other hazardous materials may be safely disposed of during the second or third week of October, when the City sponsors its annual hazardous waste collection. The dates for the pickup will be posted when they’ve been set.

In my next column, I will continue the discussion of what residents and visitors to Mackinac can do to help protect our beautiful Island home. I’ll leave you this week with the words of John McConnell, the founder of Earth Day, in an invitation to people to become Earth Trustees:

“Our beautiful planet Earth, filled with pain and suffering, capable of life, beauty, and love, is being destroyed by ignorance, greed, and waste. The nurture and renewal of Earth is our most urgent task. To this end we, individually and with the help of others, seek in our jobs, buying habits, travel, land use, and other actions - at home, work, and play - to respect and protect Earth’s amazing web of life, its soil, water, air, plants, and living creatures, to act as trustees of our portion of our planet.”

I hope you will all become good trustees of Mackinac Island and of the whole world.

Trish Martin is a year-around resident of Mackinac Island, has earned a master’s degree in botany from Central Michigan University, and owns Bogan Lane Inn.

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