More than a half-century ago, Rachel Carson published her famous book, “Silent Spring,” which opened the eyes of a generation to the threat posed to birds and other creatures by the indiscriminate use of pesticides.
Many don't realize that she did much of her research in the District, in Glover-Archbold Park, to be precise. This is why Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced a bill in Congress last year to create the Rachel Carson Nature Trail from Canal Road to Van Ness Street. Much was achieved because of Carson’s diligence and furious defiance of the supposed scientific truth of her day.
Today, however, the District has a new problem that, over time, could impose its own “silent spring.” It is the destruction of much of the city’s canopy by the spread of invasive species and, hence, the slow erosion of the habitat of the fauna that Carson worked to protect.
Winter is a good time to see the damage. Almost everywhere you look, scraggly blankets of invasive ivy crawl up trees, slowly strangling them; lower down, tangled heaps of non-native weeds envelop and overwhelm less-resilient vegetation.
Do you doubt it? Drive, cycle or jog along the C&O Canal or Canal Road and see for yourself. Mile after mile of landscape is blotted out by piles of scrub that have disfigured much of the parkland. By Georgetown University, a hillside has been despoiled. Along MacArthur Boulevard and in adjacent neighborhoods, stately old trees are being smothered. Too many of us who live here remain indifferent to what is happening.
Groups of volunteers, from time to time, hack away at the intruders, but they fight a largely losing battle. Their efforts are not enough, and the National Park Service, which has authority over much of Washington’s parkland, is too strapped for cash to mount the kind of large, sustained effort that would be necessary to turn the tide.
We must do more — while there is still time. Cutting back and ripping out vines, and bagging and disposing of them, are not rocket science. These tasks could provide meaningful employment for young Washingtonians, especially if packaged with the kind of environmental education that Carson championed. Businesses and civic organizations have taken responsibility for cleaning up litter along stretches of many highways in our country; something like that can be done in the District to save our tree cover. Clearly, it will take many hands contributing to efforts such as these to restore our threatened spaces to the promise of a vibrant spring, summer and fall.
I am sure that, if she were still with us, Rachel Carson would be out there on the weekends leading the way. Can we follow her example in her absence — and honor her memory?