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On Earth Day... Reflecting on key environmentalists from here and beyond 

In celebrating Earth Day on April 22, I would like to suggest we take Old Dame Nature by the hand and get to know her, up close and personal.

click to enlarge naturalworld_hummingbird.jpg

In celebrating Earth Day on April 22, I would like to suggest we take Old Dame Nature by the hand and get to know her, up close and personal. That's what it usually takes to understand why it is so vital that we do all we can to keep everything going as smoothly as possible.

Unfortunately, we've been bending the rules of nature pretty badly over the years, the evidence is in the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil in which we grow our food. There are a lot of us homo sapiens running around on this old Earth these days - 6,839,106,876 and still counting - and there's going to be lot more of us in the near future.

In that light, I am reminded of three unequivocal laws of nature that state: 1. Spoil the water and you will die; 2. Spoil the air and you will die; 3. Spoil the soil and you will die.

In the final analysis it's that simple...

Since the time we stood upright, our great thinkers understood and respected those three principles. The father of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, in company with one of our greatest presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, chose to take on the timber barons who were plundering the nation's hardwood forests. The results of that battle gave us "forest reserves," and forest management practices, that if followed wisely, will guarantee "trees forever."

On the other hand, the ancient mining laws that are supposed to govern how we take things like coal, copper and gold from the Earth are geared to only one concept: "Make as much money as you can and to hell with tomorrow." The shame of that way of doing business is that people needlessly die - along with huge pieces of the Earth's ecosystem.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with a balanced free enterprise system until greed rears its ugly head; that's when "irresponsible free enterprise" takes over, and then more than the Earth suffers.

Let me introduce you to some people who looked at the Earth up close and saw the grandeur - saw the limits of how we can use our natural resources without overusing them - starting with Herman T. Bohlman and William L. Finley, Oregon's first true conservationists.

According to the Oregon State University archives, Herman Theodore Bohlman was born on April 15, 1872 in Portland, Oregon, and was a lifelong friend of William L. Finley, renowned ornithologist, naturalist and conservationist. The two started photographing birds in the late 1890s. Between 1899 and 1908 they made trips to the Columbia River, Three Arch Rocks on the Oregon coast, California, Klamath and Tule Lakes, Malheur and Harney Lakes, and other places to study and photograph birds. In 1938, I discovered their work in Birds of America, published in 1917, and was hooked.

Around the turn of the century, Finley helped persuade President Roosevelt to pass a law prohibiting the use of wild bird feathers in women's hats. Plume hunters were an unsavory group of entrepreneurs intent on making as much money as possible from the magnificent feathers displayed on egrets, herons and other water birds in breeding time. They slaughtered them almost to the point of extinction because the feathers sold for twice that of gold.

After the law was passed prohibiting feathers in women's hats, Finley became a zealot, and as a result highly unpopular - he patrolled the streets of Portland, Salem and Eugene, arresting women who displayed migratory bird feathers in their hats.

Then there's Aldo Leopold, one of our nation's most respected and knowledgeable ecologists. He was born January 11, 1887, and lived until April 21, 1948. Between birth and death he was an ardent ecologist, forester, environmentalist, author and the scientific voice.

Early on in his career Leopold was assigned to hunt and kill bears, wolves and mountain lions in New Mexico. He came to respect the animals, however, rethinking the importance of predators in the balance of nature, a concept that resulted in the return of bears and mountain lions to New Mexico wilderness areas.

By the 1930s, Leopold was the nation's foremost expert on wildlife management. He advocated for the scientific management of wildlife habitats by both public and private landholders rather than a reliance on "game refuges," hunting laws and other methods intended to protect specific species of desired "game."

Locally, both Bill Marlett and Dr. Stu Garrett of Bend understand that statement. Bill is another graduate of the University of Wisconsin who moved to Bend in 1984, having been hired by the county to stop a spate of hydroelectric projects proposed on the Deschutes River, which successfully culminated with a state scenic waterway designation. In 1987, he initiated and led a statewide ballot measure protecting an additional dozen rivers under the Oregon scenic waterway program. In 1989, he subsequently founded and directed the Central Oregon Environmental Center, and has been with the Oregon Natural Desert Association since its inception that same year.

Stu Garrett is a general practitioner at the Bend Memorial Clinic. He was president of the Native Plant Society for years, and the spark plug that got us Newberry Volcanic National Monument. "We had a vision early on of what this could be and should be. Through a remarkable series of events we've held that vision together and we've made it come true," he said when the bill was passed.

We all know others who are movers and shakers of the conservation ethic and we're grateful for them - people like Craig and Marilyn Miller, Tom Crabtree, Don McCartney and a host of others.

Miriam Lipitz of Tumalo is another of those hard workers who sees Mother Nature close up when she takes on a project. It's never drudgery to Miriam to count baby bluebirds with her partner, Rachel Cornforth. She is always looking for ways to further enjoy her "work."

Miriam sent me an epistle a while back about the wonderful times she had with jays, grey squirrels and hummingbirds, the latter as follows:

"...What I did the rest of this day was park my chair under the two hummingbird feeders and read. I knew that there is one male rufous hummer that has been guarding the two feeders as his territory all summer, but I had never watched him closely like I did this day. Literally, ALL DAY LONG, this little bird chased the other hummingbirds away. First there was one hummer he chased away,and then a total of three birds kept him busy. The thing was, by the end of the day, I was exhausted just watching him. As the day progressed, the birds got more and more aggressive with each other. Their voices changed as they interacted with each other, and the little male who was doing the chasing, began bumping into the other birds. I could hear thesmackof the impact of their bodies against each other. I finally left the area totally stressed out- - I was wiped out. What normal person ever knows about the amazing drama that happens daily in our backyards?

Not only does Mother Nature feed our bellies, clothe our bodies, and keep us warm, but she also fills our soul.

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