Conservation Department has received several hundred calls from people who want
to move suffocating fish. "Millions offish are lost," says regional
fisheries administrator Peter Paladino, who monitors the area near my home. He
reads down the list: "Pekin Lake—evaporation...La Salle [nuclear power
plant] Cooling Lake—temperatures of 95° to 108°...South Spring Lake—low
Other major fish
kills have occurred when farmers hired airplanes to spray organophosphate
pesticides on spider-mite-ridden soybeans. "We had 10 kill reports in three
counties alone," says Paladino's colleague, Wayne Herndon. "The label
[on the pesticide] says it's toxic to fish and wildlife. The fish were
concentrated in low water anyway, and when the pesticide hit them, well, it
paralyzed their involuntary muscles. They couldn't breathe, and their hearts
just stopped beating."
Back on the farm,
my sister reports that a mother raccoon brought four young to the water pan by
the barn on a daring midday raid. One neighbor said all the baby purple martins
on his pole house "cooked to death." Or starved to death because the
flying insects did not hatch in the low water.
Over in Ohio, a
bluebird fancier said that in some cases hatchlings died when their parents
couldn't find spiders to feed them. The spiders were dormant in back crevices,
waiting for rain. And a wildlife biologist told me he had rehydrated 100 baby
rabbits dying from thirst. Their mothers had no milk because their vegetation
had no water.
suffering will not end with fall. At the Sinnissippi Forest, a private tree
farm in north central Illinois, forester Dave Stenger sifts a pile of aborted
acorns the size of pencil erasers through his fingers. "This was supposed
to be a big year for acorn mast," he says of the black oaks' two-year
cycle. "They were all set, but the trees just couldn't spare the strength.
Now I think about the deer, the turkeys, the squirrels—they all count on the
acorns. I don't really know what anything is going to eat this winter. Usually
we'd have the field corn as a backup. This year we don't."
coupled with farmers' desperate efforts to bale or make silage out of every
available blade of vegetation, has taken not only the food but also much of the
creature cover from the land. Grouse, pheasant—all the upland birds—will have
scarce fall habitat, no forage.
I remember my
trip to North Dakota and watching men baling the edges of Interstate 94, and
Goos sweeping his hand toward the bald prairie and asking, "If you were a
pheasant, where would you live this winter?"
I'd like to think
the drought will end, like a yearlong nightmare, but few people who study
climates say it's likely. Some feel this drought is part of a cycle. Some think
it is the result of the greenhouse effect's taking hold. Some believe it's
caused by atypical sunspots—flaring now from the sun's southern rather than
northern hemisphere. It could be none of these or all of them. No matter what
made everything click from green to brown, when the dust in the air makes my
eyes blink at the grit, I wonder if it will ever click green again.
In late August I
was heartened to read editorials by duck hunters calling for their colleagues
to leave their guns quiet this season. In late July the Fish and Wildlife
Service held hearings about the plight of our waterfowl. Hunting will be
restricted this year and laws enforced as never before. Suddenly on Capitol
Hill, congressmen began talking about the drought, our ecosystem, our
Back in Illinois,
Francis Hardy, a state conservation worker, walked along the Sangamon River,
picking up stranded mussels from the drying bank and tossing them into deeper
water. He looks after less-often-thought-of species—the turtles, the shellfish,
the frogs. He is afraid of what the drying rivers are doing to the food chain.
Earlier in the year he had watched his frogs lay eggs that dried before they
could hatch. I asked him if he thought anyone appreciated the frogs'