The environmental movement: a celebration

<p>Elaine Murdy</p>

Only in Cannon Beach will we celebrate not one, but 12 days of Earth Day.

As a young student, I vividly recall studying the sea once a year during a special school field trip. We would travel to the tide pools, peer through binoculars at circling birds and eat sack lunches by the shore.

I was amazed to learn about how many thousands of organisms lived in a single drop of ocean water or how many hundreds of feet a seal could dive in a matter of seconds.

This yearly event has stayed with me over the years, and I can't help but feel that it has played a small part in fostering my love of our beaches. So you'll understand why it makes me as happy as a clam to hear that Cannon Beach Elementary School is participating in the Twelve Days of Earth Day event.

Today, a few Cannon Beach Elementary classes will welcome the return of the puffins to Haystack Rock with banners and fanfare. To some, this might seem a small gesture, but I would argue that such observances help establish one's relationship with the environment and, perhaps, engender a passion for it.

America’s love and wonderment of the environment began in the late 1800s. Just as people were flocking to the beautiful shores of Cannon Beach, preservation-minded groups, like the Audubon Society, were finding a foothold in the hearts of Americans. By 1876, the first special agent of the Department of Agriculture was appointed; this organization later became known as the U.S. Forest Service.

It was around this time that John Muir founded the Sierra Club. Muir was an instrumental figure in the environmental movement. It was his activism that helped save the Yosemite Valley and the Sequoia National Park.

Another inspirational naturalist was Gifford Pinchot, who coined the term, "conservation ethic." Pinchot served as the head of the U.S. Forest Service during the early 1900s and was a passionate conservationist who spent much of his career overhauling the management of the forests throughout the United States.

Pinchot’s name was often heard alongside Theodore Roosevelt, as the two men worked closely together in implementing policies and programs for the National Forest Service. Without the hard work of such staunch conservationists many of our national parks would not be here today.

In the 1960s, Rachel Carson stoked the flame of American environmentalism yet again. Carson is arguably one of the most influential modern environmentalists and is considered the founder of the contemporary environmental movement.

As an activist, she wrote many books throughout her career with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, but it was a book that she published in 1964 that had an overwhelming effect on Americans. The text, entitled "Silent Spring," was a culmination of observations and research conducted throughout her career on the negative impact of synthetic pesticides, specifically the pesticide DDT.

This book reflected a growing concern among Americans about the state of our agriculture and environment. For her works, Carson received a best-selling authors award, was the recipient of the Burroughs Medal and the National Book Award for Non-Fiction. But the true success of her energies resided in her ability to motivate others to action.

Carson’s staunch pursuit of the ethical treatment of our natural world inspired senators like Gaylord Nelson to institute policies and laws to protect the environment. Senator Nelson, D-Wis., became the founder of the Earth Day celebration and was a vital proponent of many parks programs and environmental protection acts. Nelson fought to protect the environment through the varied Wilderness Act, Clean Air and Water Acts. He felt that the protection and preservation of our environment should be bedrock policies.

The concerns of Nelson and Carson were manifested when they watched images of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. This spill created unprecedented damage and became one of the largest of the time -- in 2010 it was still considered the third largest oil spill in the world.

Spanning a 10-day period, over 100,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the Santa Barbara Channel and washed up along the shoreline. The American public was outraged by the images of seals and other marine mammals floundering in a dark sludge.

Due to this event, Nelson sponsored the National Environmental Policy Act and subsequently founded Earth Day -- a day he hoped to dedicate to raising environmental awareness throughout the nation.

The importance of this momentous and perspective-shifting event is not lost on our small town. That is why we commemorate it with 12 days of celebration!


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