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.”

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PrintRead more about nuclear power plants on the Great Lakes in my critically acclaimed book The Dynamic Great Lakes.  This book is available at the Bookman in Grand Haven, MI as well as bn.com and Amazon.com.  $9.99.  A critically acclaimed non-fiction book


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Living Waters

The north woods ring—the waters gather dripping from the tops of pines, running, running, running over ancient rocks.  The veerys trill up and down the scales, the warblers chime their notes through still bare twigs and the water runs, it runs down to Lake Superior swirling downstream, plunging over waterfalls just freed from ice curtains.  Curious deer come to drink from the pool below lifting their heads, standing motionless to sense the air.  Is it bear?  Wolf? Lynx?

Sun dapples down through bare forest trees—sun streams, the ground steams, wet leaves tilt insisting on light, thrust new spikes.  Water flows through mobile root hairs, roots, stems, vaporizes into air.

Wild geese weave the wind, skid along black marsh water among tangles of cat tail.  Further downstream waves curl onto a rock shore polishing stones to oval and the small stones roll chinking and chunking.  They assume their flat round shapes over years of grinding, finding their ease in the wave rhythms, rolling rolling, rolling.  White caps bubble foam and the jade water is a dancing goddess in the middle distance between shore and horizon.

Children arrive to pick up fossils of ancient coral and to find stones to skip on a quiet day.  They chase sea gulls and try to become airborne by leaping and spreading their arms.  Cormorants and sooty terns rise and cleave the air.  The red cheeked kids leap in the early spring breezes, their knuckles chapped.  What do they care?

The bones of whales and sailors roll in the currents—some finding their way out to sea, some becoming, becoming, becoming a diatom’s shining, becoming the bones of an emerald shiner, becoming limestone shale in the loving exchange between the living and the living.  The islands of Lake Superior bear greenstones and jewel like snakes.  Sturgeon and trout spawn leaving pearls and coral in the crevices of rocks.  A moose stands chin deep in and island lake.  The islands of Lake Superior are quiet, remote and cold,  littered with bones.

Curled underground, water drawn up through squeaky pumps splashes into enamel buckets—water clear and cold and tasting of iron.  The iron flows through the veins of the moose and in the red cheeked children.

Loons quiver their greetings and as twilight falls, bullfrogs groan their love songs—they bellow all night long.  I lay awake listening to the water lapping the night and its creatures.

 

–Barbara Spring


 

Lisa:Who were your mentors?

Barbara: My first mentor was my father, E. P. Reineke, a research scientist at M.S.U. in the physiology dept. He did some important original research there. I learned to love and appreciate nature from him. My husband, Norm Spring has been a long time outdoorsman and conservationist. I have learned a great deal about nature and the democratic process from him.

Lisa:What are some books that have changed your life?

Barbara:Silent Spring by Rachel Carson opened my eyes to what we are doing to the environment. After reading the book and recommending it to my husband, we both became activists on behalf of the environment before the first Earth Day in 1970. I also loved A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. I required my students to read it when I taught writing classes at Grand Valley State University.

Lisa:Who do you think would enjoy reading this book?

Barbara:I wrote The Dynamic Great Lakes for a general audience.

I spoke to school children this week. I opened my talk with a space photo of Planet Earth and explained that the water they saw was 98% salt water-only about 2% is freshwater. “Dang!” said a kid in surprise.

The audience for my book is really adults, but school age kids will find it interesting, too. It is an up to date reference to the five Great Lakes and their connecting waters: their fishes, dunes, wetlands, seasonal changes and changes caused by people. The Dynamic Great Lakes will be an eye-opener for anyone.

Lisa:Why is the Dynamic Great Lakes an important book?

Barbara:The Great Lakes are important but often misunderstood. They are about 20% of all the fresh surface water on this planet. People need to understand their dynamics in order to make sound decisions about them. Recently a grassroots movement in Michigan blocked oil companies from further oil exploration under Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The risk of polluting the lakes with oil and noxious gases was intolerable. There will be more schemes that threaten the health of the Great Lakes. Armed with knowledge, people will demand the right thing of their government. They will also be careful of what they do in their personal decisions. The lakes’ water is low this year, but it will rise again. People who know this is a natural cycle will not build too close to the water.

Lisa:Why is this book a good choice for Earth Day?

Barbara:The book encourages people to think globally and act locally. Everything is connected to everything else. This means that what we burn, what we release in the water and land and what we eat are all connected. We often forget that we are part of the whole and flowing web of life. Our actions will affect us now and in the future.

Lisa:How is your book different from other books about the Great Lakes?

Barbara:I limited my topic to changes in the Great Lakes, both through natural forces and through changes caused by people. There have been a great many changes and I believe people will be interested in learning about the Pacific salmon planted in the lakes to feed on the pesky alewives that invaded them through the canals around Niagara Falls. They will be interested in other exotic species such as the zebra mussels and how they got into all five Great Lakes

Lisa: How did you research the book? Barbara:I began with observations. We live within view of Lake Michigan. I can observe the change of seasons and what kinds of fish are being caught. I have also observed all the other lakes and their connecting waters. I then set out to find out authoritative information about the lakes by interviewing experts. The book is interdisciplinary. I interviewed a geologist, fish biologists, and naturalists. I asked them for good sources in print. I went out on Grand Valley State University’s research vessel, Angus to see what research was being done. I enjoyed working on the Dynamic Great Lakes because there was always something new.

Lisa:What else have you written? Barbara:As a journalist, I have written articles for the Grand Rapids Press, a major newspaper in West Michigan. These articles were about travels, profiles of interesting people, and outdoor subjects. I also have had articles published in Michigan Out of Doors magazine, Michigan Natural Resources magazine, Muskegon Magazine, Field & Stream and many other publications.


Palisades Nuclear Power PlantPalisades nuclear power plant on Lake Michigan

There are 37 nuclear power plants in the Great Lakes watershed.  Pictured is Palisades Nuclear Power plant in Covert Michigan.  This plant should have been shut down years ago.  Its radioactive wastes are stored near the plant.  Its high level wastes are buried on site.  These wastes are so toxic and so long lasting that they threaten all life in and around the Great Lakes if released.  This is a threat to our greatest freshwater system on Planet Earth and future generations.

Salmon Time in Lake Michigan

September 8, 2016


Brooks' big catch

Brooks’ big catch

Read about Great Lakes fishing in The Dynamic Great Lakes by Barbara Spring available on Amazon.com, bn.com and many other bookstores.dynamicgreatlakes-independent_fullcover-copy

The Five Great Lakes

August 20, 2016


The Great Lakes are the greatest freshwater system on this planet.  They are interconnected and have their outlet through the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean.

 

map of Great Lakes

Freshwater seas.


Pacific Salmon in Great Lakes  Here is an interesting link about changes in the Great Lakes fishes.

For more information, The Dynamic Great Lakes shows how many changes happen and continue to happen in the Great Lakes.  Available at Amazon.com, bn.com and many fine bookstores.

blueglDynamicGreatLakes-Independent_FullCover copy


The Dynamic Great Lakes   Click the link

 

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Here is a clipping from 1985, the year some summer cottages fell into Lake Michigan.  Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are high again this year.  It is normal for the Great Lakes’ water levels to rise and fall.  Don’t buy real estate too close to the water.  It is powerful.scan0003

a critically accalimed non-fiction bookRead more about the Great Lakes in my book, The Dynamic Great Lakes.  This

non-fiction book is available at bn.com, Amazon.com, the Bookman in Grand Haven and many other fine bookstores.