How The Eagles Happened to Return to the Great Lakes
January 21, 2011
I wanted to let people know, you can fight city hall and win. It takes time and patience, but sometimes the results are spectacular. Let me explain.
Years ago we lived across the street from the city park in Grand Haven, Michigan where the elm trees were sprayed with DDT to fight Dutch elm disease. Before the spraying started we were told we could move our car–the sticky spray clung to everything. We had two pre school children at this time and no mention was made of protecting them. When they went out to play, they were exposed to it for a long time after each spraying.
Long after the spraying we would see robins trembling in their death throes. DDT is a long lasting pesticide that magnifies through food chains and the robins fed upon earthworms and died before our eyes. The fish in nearby Lake Michigan were affected even more since food chains in water are long. DDT builds up in plankton, small fish and larger fish. The bald eagle that feeds upon fish is at the end of a long food chain. Subsequent to the spraying eagles began to disappear due to the effects of DDT. Their young did not hatch.
I was reading Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring at this time and I showed it to my husband. His reaction was visceral. He had to do something about it. He marched down to city hall and asked that the DDT program be stopped in our city park. When it was not stopped, he brought experts to explain. City hall countered by bringing agriculture department experts. This went on for three years before he convinced city hall to stop the DDT program. Then people from a neighboring city came and asked how he had managed to get DDT stopped. Together they formed the Michigan Pesticides Council. We met at M.S.U. with Dr. Ted Black, Dr. George Wallace, Dr. Howard Tanner, Joan Wolfe and others. We marshaled citizen support. Other groups joined in and by 1972, DDT was banned in Michigan.
It took many years for DDT to purge from Lake Michigan, but in recent years we have seen bald eagles along the beaches and the Grand River that flows through Grand Haven, Michigan. Even the peregrine falcons and ospreys that were also once decimated by DDT have returned.