Today is April 22, which marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. “Before 1970, pollution was rampant. Air pollution was widespread, toxic fumes billowed from factories and automobiles, and enormous fish die-offs occurred in the Great Lakes.” (Nature Scoop) After returning from World War II, people began using more chemically produced pesticides and fertilizers. This came at a cost to the environment, and posed great danger to the health of both animals and humans. This is a story about conservationists – especially CNRA and Lorrie Otto.
1942: DDT First Used
DDT was introduced during WWII to protect our troops from the mosquito-borne disease malaria. It is still being used selectively in some tropical countries.
1950s: Citizen Activists Got Involved
Citizen activists started sending letters and confronting editors, WDNR, and local municipalities. These activists included not just conservationists, but also hunters, fishermen, professors, members of garden clubs and many others.
1951: Citizens Natural Resources Association of Wisconsin Formed
The new Wisconsin militant conservation organization called the Citizens Natural Resources Association of Wisconsin (CNRA) begins fighting for the preservation, management and restoration of Wisconsin’s natural resources. They follow the principles of Aldo Leopold and have remained committed conservationists to this day.
1957: Lorrie Otto Confronted Officials With Evidence
After Lorrie Otto, the High Priestess of the Natural Landscaping Movement, dropped off twenty-eight dead robins at their offices, Bayside, Wisconsin officials asked her, “What do you want, Mrs. Otto, birds or trees?” This wasn’t her first battle with Bayside officials.
1960s: Raising Awareness
CNRA focused on increasing awareness of misuse of chemicals. See the The First Decade.
1968: Plotting Further Victories Over DDT
Wisconsin and New York (EDF) strategists began to plot their battle against DDT based on studies that showed DDT was present in virtually every body of water in Wisconsin.
1968: Hearing to Determine DDT’s Status as a Pollutant
The Wisconsin Administrative hearing to determine if DDT was a pollutant began. Strategists had gotten the City of Milwaukee to stop spraying DDT, but they wanted to present scientific evidence against DDT, and get a judgment against its use. The hearing dragged on for nearly six months, with Lorrie Otto attending every session, reporting back to CNRA, and working with the strategists to develop new tactics.
1968: Wisconsin’s DDT Hearing in the Spotlight
The Capital Times started sending news on the Wisconsin DDT hearing nationwide. Every afternoon Whitney Gould would file a story, putting Wisconsin’s DDT Hearing into the national news.
1969: Michigan Bans DDT
A major victory as Michigan quietly banned DDT.
1969: The USDA Regulates the use of DDT
Because of the nationwide news coverage, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates the use of DDT nationwide.
1970: Wisconsin Bans DDT
The Pesticide Review Board was established to update pesticide-control measures for use in Wisconsin’s very strong agriculture industry, and on January 15, 1970, Governor Warren Knowles signed the law banning the use of DDT.
1970: The First Earth Day
With assistance from Lorrie and the CNRA members and others associated with the Wisconsin Administrative hearing, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson founded the first Earth Day on April 22. As governor, Nelson had established a strong conservation record, and later, in the U.S. Senate, lobbied for a safer environment – proposing a ban on DDT as early as 1965.
1970: DDT Ruled a Pollutant
Hearing Examiner Maurice Van Sustern ruled that, under the State’s water-quality standards, DDT was polluting Wisconsin waters.
1970: The United States Environmental Protection Agency Created
President Richard Nixon signed the Executive Order to create the EPA, which bought the responsibility for environmental health of the U.S. under one organization instead of several, each working for their own interests.
1970: The Clean Air Act
Growing public awareness and concern for controlling the Federal Water Pollution Control Act or the Clean Water Act led to sweeping amendments in 1972 by President Nixon and the Congress. As amended in 1972, the law became commonly known as the Clean Air Act.
1971: United Nations Celebrates Earth Day
U.N. Secretary-General U Thant signed a proclamation saying that the United Nations would celebrate Earth Day annually on the vernal equinox, thereby officially establishing the March date as the international Earth Day.
1972: USA Banned DDT
EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus announced the ban on “virtually all interstate sales and shipments of DDT.”
1972: The Clean Water Act
The Amended Act provides for pollution-control programs and sets water-quality standards in surface waters. This includes regulating construction of sewage-treatment plants and discharge of contaminants by the manufacturing and agriculture industries.
1973: The Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act, enacted with bi-partisan support, was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.” It was to protect both the species and “the ecosystems on which endangered species and threatened species depend.”
1977: Wild Ones Garden Club
Ever the conservationists, Lorrie Otto set about healing the Earth by presenting workshops throughout the USA on native plants and natural landscaping. After listening to Lorrie’s workshops held at the Schlitz Audubon Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a group of men and women continued to meet informally to discuss native plants, natural landscaping and biodiversity. They called themselves the Wild Ones. As knowledge of the group spread, others joined from not only the Milwaukee area, but throughout Wisconsin and adjoining states, leading to the eventual creation of the national environmental education and advocacy organization called Wild Ones Natural Landscapers Ltd in 1979.
1990: Earth Day goes Global
Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage and giving a huge boost for recycling efforts worldwide.
2007: Final Delisting Rule of Bald Eagle
After decades of conservation efforts, the Bald Eagle is nearly 10,000 nesting pairs today (low of 400 nesting pairs in 1963). The recovery and delisting of the nation’s symbol marks an overall achievement for the conservation movement.
2016: International Paris Climate Agreement
The Paris Climate Agreement aimed to the replace Kyoto Protocol, an earlier international treaty designed to curb the release of greenhouse gases. It entered into force on November 4, 2016, and has been signed by 197 countries and ratified by 187 as of November 2019.
2017: Rusty Patched Bumble Bee Listed as Endangered
The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (and six other bees) has declined by 87 percent. Disease, pesticides, effects of climate change, habitat loss and degradation and effects of small population dynamics have been to blame.
2020: Decision of List Monarch and Other Pollinators as Endangered will be determined in December
Today Is Where We Conservationists Must Continue Our Work
Today, much the rabble-rousing conservationist group CNRA has passed, and Lorrie Otto* has died, but the natural landscaping movement will live on. There are still those who deny the scientific basis for the banning of DDT and synthetic chemicals, considering the concerns and regulations politically motivated. It’s always about the personal responsibility we share. As environmental stewards of the Earth, this has never been more timely or important.
Use native plants. Include natural landscaping. Minimize pesticide and fertilizers.
*Lorrie Otto passed away May 29, 2010. Read about Lorrie’s considerable achievements through the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame’s environmental legacy.