Environmental Activists

July 29, 2018

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Barbara Spring                           Norm Spring

Environmental Activists by Dave Dempsey


Barbara Spring is a living and thriving piece of Michigan’s environmental history. With her husband, Norm, she successfully worked for a state ban on the use of toxic DDT in the 1960s. In 1967, Michigan became the first state to cancel most uses of the pesticide. EPA didn’t get around to a national ban until 1972.
It could be argued that Norm, Barb and their allies did the most important work of the modern Michigan environmental movement. Other laws and reforms followed their triumph.
They weren’t the first or the last to fight DDT, but they were among the most persistent. Norm went to the Grand Haven City Council three years in a row asking the city to stop spraying the elm trees in the city park with DDT. Then along with Ann Van Lente .from Holland the Michigan Pesticides Council was formed and it met in East Lansing with Dr. George Wallace, Dr. Ted Black, both ornithologists who knew what was happening to the birds, other members were: Joan Wolfe, Dr. John Kitchel, H. Lewis Batts, Mrs. Ronald Marlatt, Charles Shick. Their success has contributed to a 90% reduction in DDT levels in Great Lakes fish, and the recovery of the bald eagle. Norm Spring was inducted into the Michigan Environmental Hall of Fame in 2014.
Barb has continued her activism and authored four books, including The Dynamic Great Lakes, a non-fiction book about changes in the Great Lakes system, both natural and by the hand of man. She also maintains three Great Lakes blogs. She was 80 when I sent her my questions.
Growing up in East Lansing, Barb said she knew little about the Great Lakes since her schools did not teach about them.  That changed the moment she saw Lake Superior as a 7-year-old on a road trip with her parents.
A resident of Grand Haven, Barb said she now sees Lake Michigan “every day since we live within view of it.  I used to bring my kids to the beach all the time and now I walk the beach and sometimes swim. Along with our two daughters I have also gone fishing with my husband to fish for steelhead and salmon.”
Close to home are her favorite places, wooded dunes at nearby parks on Lake Michigan’s shoreline.  She walks the woods to enjoy the change of seasons and spring wildflowers.
The Great Lakes, she said, does not figure much in the conversations with her friends. “I do hear people exclaim, ‘Wow’ as they get their first look at Lake Michigan as they go by my house.”
Barb has spent decades in the life of a committed environmental volunteer, including service as Water Resources Chair for the Michigan chapter of the League of Women Voters. In that role she reviewed all water legislation in the state legislature and advised the League on whether to take a position.
“I also made a proposal to the Grand Haven city council that the city upgrade the municipal wastewater plant that was only primary treatment at that time,” she wrote.  “I also proposed that the tannery send their wastes through it.  I informed the Council that they could get state, local and federal funds to make this happen.  It happened.”
The tannery’s interest in participating was promoted by a little production arranged by Barb and friends. “With friends we put on some theater presentations in our local League of Women Voters,” she said. “One friend came out dressed in a cow hide and spoke about the tannery wastes. Fishermen talked about the colors and stink of the Grand River due to dyes and toxic wastes.” The tannery subsequently paid to treat its discharge in the new wastewater plant for a few years before going out of business.
Barb was one of the few I interviewed who responded affirmatively to my question about arts and the Great Lakes. “I’ve read many books about the Great Lakes.  I have friends that are wonderful photographers and painters.  I’m a member of Lakeland Artists and I like to paint and photograph also.”
She said it was difficult to say whether the lakes are getting better or worse. But there was one certainty: plenty of threats. “The Lakes still get the fallout from many places through airstreams.  There are manufacturing chemicals that may have unknown effects on their ecology.  Tiny bits of plastic get into food chains.  Oil pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac threaten the lakes. Many aging nuclear power plants pose a very dangerous threat.”
What could concerned citizens do about all of this? Successful in her local government efforts, Barb recommended that would-be advocates go to their municipal government bodies when they see something that could be fixed.  “They can call and write to their state and federal government officials.” But, she added, “I don’t believe people think they can fight the political forces that are funded by big business.”
She said was surprised by a reader’s reaction to her book The Dynamic Great Lakes: “I have lived in Grand Haven all my life and I did not know these things.”
“I try to be hopeful and still try to do the right things even at my advanced age.  After all, I have children and future generations to consider.”
Not surprisingly, Barb retained her sense of wonder.  She shared it with Rachel Carson, author of A Sense of Wonder as well as Silent Spring, the book that launched the fight against DDT and other bioaccumulating pesticides.
“The Great Lakes are magnificent. Awesome.”



WASAGA BEACH — The piping plovers have returned to Wasaga Beach with a record of five nesting pairs.

“We’ve never had five nests at Beach Area One before. It’s usually two or three nests,” said Patricia Davidson, a biologist and piping plover co-ordinator for Wasaga Beach Provincial Park and Friends of Nancy Island.

Piping plovers were locally extinct (extirpated), so every egg laid is important.

“Prior to 2007 there hadn’t been a nest in Ontario in 70 years,” said Davidson.

The entire Great Lakes region only had 60 breeding pairs of birds in the 1980s. That number has improved to 75 breeding pairs, but the species is still endangered.

“There are more elephants in the wild than there are piping plovers,” she said.

Efforts to bring back the species started at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park in 2008 with a single pair.

Last year 13 chicks hatched and nine survived. Nine chicks also survived in 2014.

There are two primary protected nesting sites; Wasaga Beach and Sauble Beach.

And to the delight of Davidson, there is now a single pair nesting at Darlington Provincial Park with one of the adults coming from Wasaga Beach.

“I think it’s really neat that the chicks hatch, fledge and fly off and they are establishing new nest sites,” said Davidson, who is in her fifth year on the project.

The fencing off of the east section of Beach Area One makes all the difference to the survival of the birds because the habitat they require is a long beach (between the water line and dunes) which happens to be Beach Area One.

Additionally, they lay their eggs out in the open.

“Their nests are smack dab where you would lay your beach towel. With a busy beach like Wasaga where they lay their eggs would be stepped on by everybody, which is why we have to close off the section.

“If we didn’t have the program and the volunteer coverage and help from staff, piping plovers would not be able to nest at this beach through the sheer numbers of people at Wasaga Beach.”

“It’s our duty to step in and share the beach with them,” said Davidson.

Human encroachment extends beyond pedestrian traffic to the raking of the beach and destruction of dunes. Beyond that eggs and chicks are food for predators including weasels, foxes and gulls and they are vulnerable to storms and high water washing away the nests.

Fencing was erected May 10 and will remain up until the end of August. Birds have paired up and are now laying clutches of eggs, typically four. Hatching takes place in mid June and birds fledge and leave the area in August.

About 40 people are volunteering to watch the bird’s behaviour and educate the public, but more volunteers are welcome.

Anyone interested including high school students needing volunteer hours, should contact Davidson through email wasagaplover@gmail.com or at 705-429-2516.


Read more about piping plovers in The Dynamic Great Lakes



The Dynamic Great Lakes on Kindle    

click the link above

This critically acclaimed book is also available in paperback from many bookstores and online at Amazon.com, bn.com and many other places.


DynamicGreatLakes-Independent_FullCover copy

Click the link to view Revolution http://ykr.be/hn62dkp6v

Film Review of Revolution
By Barbara Spring author of The Dynamic Great Lakes

As a young man who loves the oceans, and Earth’s living things, Rob Stewart has produced an award winning documentary film to show us what is being destroyed by the hand of man. The film is personal and heartfelt. It is eye opening and needs to be seen.

The photography is beautiful and shows coral reefs, tropical rain forests (the lemurs in Madagascar are especially enchanting) and just when I was entranced by all the beauty, the film shows the devastation of coral reefs caused by global warming and the effects of too much CO2 in the air; how the rain forests in Madagascar are being cleared due to human population growth and the need for more housing so the rare animals are losing their habitats.

Shocking film of the tar sands operations in Canada show how the forests are being burned and toxic wastes released into the air, earth and water. As a Canadian Stewart takes this personally

He shows some very basic ideas: how phytoplankton in the oceans produce the oxygen we all need and the loss of phytoplankton through the acidification of the oceans.

The documentary makes the point that corporations which profit immensely from polluting the Earth and governments that should be regulating these operations cannot be counted on to change: it is up to us. It is up to us as citizens to educate our communities.

Youth has the most at stake. A sixth grade teacher in the Orient taught her students about finning sharks, the practice of removing shark fins for soup.They worked to get this practice changed. (I know grass root changes such as this can work since I have worked on the ban of DDT where I live. Eventually DDT was banned in the U.S. and Canada.)

Stewart encourages us to work together to get corporations and government bodies to make changes. The problems are world wide and we are all in this together. He admits that in making the film he flew to many areas burning CO2 as flew in jets.

The film’s sound could have been better—I missed a few spoken words here and there—but it is a powerful film. I hope Stewart will continue in this important work.

Oil Spill Threatens Great Lakes  Click on the link for information about an aging oil pipline that is a threat to the freshwater Great Lakes.



Announcing the Asian Carp Doomsday Clock — a new way to convey the risk of these invaders storming the Great Lakes

Jeff Alexander has reported on Great Lakes matters for quite a few years.  He is an excellent journalist.

Map of Great Lakes

July 25, 2011

The Depths of the Great Lakes
This NOAA map shows the depths of all five Great Lakes. Lake Superior some believe is shaped like a wolf’s head with Isle Royale the eye. It is the largest and deepest. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are the same sea level. Lake Erie waters take a tumble over Niagara Falls and the water arrives in Lake Ontario and then down the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean. Read more about these fresh water seas in my book, The Dynamic Great Lakes available from many online bookstores as well as the publisher http://www.publishamerica.net/product23502.html Only $9.95 + shipping for the new updated edition.

I wrote my book, The Dynamic Great Lakes to show that these interconnected lakes are a freshwater system with unique species. They are dynamic systems that change season to season, day by day and from day to night. I enjoyed working on this book. I interviewed many experts: geologists, fish biologists, naturalists and people who are concerned about the future of the world’s greatest freshwater system.

I wrote the book as a primer to the Great Lakes and it is light enough to throw in your duffel bag if you are traveling. It is suitable for adults and young readers.

Great Lakes Marshes

April 18, 2011

Wetlands and marshes are vital to the health of rivers and lakes. They nurture small fish, birds and dragonflies. Dragonflies feed upon mosquitoes. Redwing blackbirds balance on cattails and call chirringly. Eagles and hawks survey from trees and the sky. Sand hill cranes do their dances then hatch young. The great blue heron calls from a tree where he has landed. Geese, swans and ducks play in the marsh. Turtles, snakes, frogs and toads may live partly on land and partly in water. We hardly know they are there until evening when the toads sing their whirligig songs.
Marshes and wetlands help prevent floods since they act as a sponge. These places are nurseries for birds and young fish.

The Dynamic Great Lakes

March 3, 2011

The Dynamic Great Lakes is a book about our five freshwater seas.

Pictured is the North Shore of Lake Superior, some of the oldest rocks in the world. Also picured is the critically acclaimed book, The Dynamic Great Lakes.. For those who like to travel and fish, this is a handy book to throw in your duffel bag.