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THE LIFE-GIVING SPRAY
Virginia Kraft
November 18, 1963
Contrary to the dire prophecies of Rachel Carson's best-selling 'Silent Spring,' pesticides like those being dusted over the California farm below have helped produce the nation's healthiest wildlife crop in many decades
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November 18, 1963

The Life-giving Spray

Contrary to the dire prophecies of Rachel Carson's best-selling 'Silent Spring,' pesticides like those being dusted over the California farm below have helped produce the nation's healthiest wildlife crop in many decades

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HAPPY SOUND OF A RICH YEAR IN THE OUTDOORS

A year ago a gifted biologist named Rachel Carson published a literate—and modestly technical—book called Silent Spring. In it she painted a picture of disaster that made Nevil Shute's On the Beach seem almost euphoric by comparison. Through wanton use of pesticides, charged Miss Carson, man was poisoning the earth and its creatures. With a leer in his eye and a bug-bomb in his hand, he had lethally contaminated the food he ate, the water he drank, the fish and game he hunted. There was no escape from "this chemical death rain" that was "changing the very nature of the world."

Supporting her wide-screen preview of doom for both man and wildlife, Miss Carson vividly punctuated the pages of her book with dead men and dying animals—all victims of pesticides. "As matters stand now," Miss Carson warned the 131,000 readers of her bestseller, "we are in little better position than the guests of the Borgias."

In the year since, the Borgias' guests have reacted en masse, and in varying ways. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall announced that because of the ravages of pesticides, "thousands of acres of prime wildlife habitat may have to be closed to hunting." Udall further proclaimed, "A great woman has awakened the nation by her forceful account of the dangers around us."

CBS Reports whipped up two special TV shows on pesticides. Audubon spokesmen mourned this new acceleration in the "long term decline in the common bird." Senator Abraham Ribicoff began a series of pesticide hearings that somewhat resembled an old-fashioned McCarthy investigation. Fishermen in Maine rocked the legislature with a broadside of protest when salmon started dying off in famed Sebago Lake following an aerial spray of mosquitoes and black flies on the shore. A West Texas rancher put a fist-sized hole with a .38 pistol bullet through the wing of a crop-dusting plane that flew too close to his quarter horses, and a North Carolina grape farmer put his shot through the foot of a pilot dusting cotton in a nearby field. Dr. George Wallace of Michigan's Kellogg Foundation predicted that if projected pesticide programs continue, "we shall witness, in a single decade, an extermination of animal life unequaled in all history." And finally, President Kennedy appointed a scientific advisory board to look into the problem for him.

In recent weeks, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has conducted its own survey of the charges made in Silent Spring, and of the somber prophecies made by politicians and newspapermen since the book came out. A long, careful look at the pesticide-ridden outdoors has produced some startling counterrevelations:

?Wildlife populations all over the nation are bigger and healthier than ever, not in spite of pesticides, but in many cases because of them.

?A great many pesticide disasters and portents of disaster, reported in newspapers and elsewhere, turned out to be exaggerations, in one case amounting to two dead pheasants.

?Those wildlife poisonings that did occur were invariably the result of misuse or negligence, not the inevitable result of prescribed application.

?Pesticide usage is under tight control—growing tighter every day—not only by federal, state and municipal authorities but within the pesticide industry itself.

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