Jun 9, 2007

Silent Spring

This year the spring peepers were silent. Last spring these tiny frogs set up such a din at night and into the early morning, that I had to shut my windows. I heard nothing this year. Except for the call of the hoot owl, the night is eerily silent, and I can keep my windows open while I sleep. This is what peepers sound like if you need a prompt.

As I walk my pooch to the river, I’ve noticed something else. No bees. I walk Cody twice a day through wooded land and to the meadows along the river, and all I’ve seen during my perambulations is one lazy bumble bee and one dead, squashed frog on the road. Normally, the bees hum with activity among the apple blossoms and the early spring flowers. But not this spring.

What’s going on? What’s happening out there? If you’ve been listening closely, the news is alarming. Other than global warming, which has been getting massive play, this news seems hushed. The truths is: The honey bees have been dying off. Entire colonies of hives are disappearing across North America. In some instances bee keepers say that 50% of their hives have been lost in a matter of weeks. Some scientists say that we must find the solution soon, or risk losing the majority of our bees before a cure can be found for whatever ails them.

A massive extinction of amphibians is occurring at the same time. A fungus is killing off frogs, newts, and lizards, and a host of other amphibians. The conservative estimate is that of 6,000 species of amphibians living today, fully 2,000 are threatened. A die off at this scale is known as a mass extinction. Scientists suspect that more causes than just this fungus are stripping entire ponds and wetlands of amphibians. One described the effect as a "death from a thousand cuts," with pressures coming from a number of sources. This die-off is just a harbinger of things to come. You can listen to an NPR news story and learn more.

How will these enormous numbers of deaths in the animal kingdom affect humans? Amphibians are both predators and prey. Birds feed off them, as do foxes and other big mammals. In turn, frogs and lizards feed off insects, keeping those populations under control. Fewer insects mean fewer insect born diseases, and less need to spray with deadly insecticides. Thus amphibians play an important role in our well-being.

Bees pollinate fruits and vegetables. Here’s a frightening fact: The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that about one-third of the human diet is derived from insect-pollinated plants and that the honey bee is responsible for 80 percent of this pollination. So what happens to our agriculture if there are no bees left?

Over forty years ago a woman named Rachel Carson wrote a book called Silent Spring. In it she described the horrific effect of pesticides, specifically DDT, on eagles, hawks, and wild flowers. Just the other day I saw a bald eagle swoop over the river, an amazing sight. Thanks to the efforts of Lady Bird Johnson, wildflowers have made a resurgence along highways and in meadows. But what good is this effort if these eagles have no frogs to feed on, and if these wild flowers have no bees to pollinate them?
Not only is my spring silent, but the pundits are silent as well. Where is their alarm? Why are we so gung ho about Paris and Lindsay and their ilk, but we don’t seem to give a damn about the fate of the honey bee and the lowly frog? What is wrong with our priorities?


Marius said...

Great post! I remember reading an article about a fungus that's killing thousands of amphibians all over the world. And the sad part is that we're responsible for most of the bad things that are happening to the environment. I couldn't agree with you more. What is wrong with us? What is wrong with our priorities?

jinxy said...

The bee problem is actually getting pretty good coverage down my way. I had not heard about the dying off of amphibians, but I have actually sat down and really watched the news and read the paper so rarely in the last month or two that it doesn't surprise me.

Bart said...

I also have been worried about the crash in bee population. There have been crashes before, so this could just be one of those.

I worry about pesticides as well as possibly some sort of genetically modified pollen getting out into the wild and killing off the bees.

Luckily, I have noticed that there are still bees in my yard visiting the flowers.