When the sounds disappear

My childhood house was located right by the forest. We used to call it the park, but only because there was a trail from one village to the next, parallel to a tiny stream. 

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I would spend countless hours walking that trail. Regardless of the time, my ears would fill in with songs of birds, buzzing of insects, and loud frog calls. The forest was full of life. I did not realize then that those sounds were not present in every forest. 

Hiking in many places of the Eastern United States often can seem eerie. There are places where you would not hear a bird chirp for hours. All you can hear are occasional mosquitos, or see ticks crawling on your skin. If you are a late afternoon hiker like me, you may spot some deer and chipmunks. 

The silence of the forests is very concerning. This question was deeply explored in the 1960s by Rachel Carson in the Silent Spring, where she writes “What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America?”

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Rachel emphasized the consequences of abusing pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides such as DDT, parathionchlordanetoxophenealdrin, and many others on the environment. Her thoroughness was very impactful, as she gave examples of how improper management of such chemicals polluted water, air, and soil, killing countless birds, insects, fish, and humans. Her descriptions of the animal suffering and the destruction of plant and animal habitats became a major force in the environmental movements. Her writing helped to implement many environmental policies that followed, as it was approachable to the general public and many scientists. 

Yet, 60 years since the publication of the Silent Spring, I feel that the societies around the world have not learned the lessons. For example, DDT is still used to fight malaria in Africa, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Aldrin, one of the most potent chlorinated hydrocarbons, was not banned in the United Stated until 1987, but used for much longer around the world. We still manufacture countless toxic chemicals which end up in the environment. 

Current world continues to be sprayed with insecticides, herbicides, and other pesticides. Many insects such as cockroaches are already resistant to various insecticides. In a place like New York, cockroaches likely exceed the human population several to hundreds of times. 

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What made the Silent Spring so special to me is that Rachel recognized the interconnectedness of the plant and animal worlds. Every species had a place in the food web. Every missing animal destroys this balance. For example, many people would be happy to never see a mosquito in their life, but mosquitos are essential to the survival of birds, bats, fish, dragonflies, spiders to name a few. However, some species of mosquitoes carry deadly diseases including the Zika Virus, which lead to brain birth defects in human babies, malaria, which kills countless lives on the African continent, or the Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus, which can lead to encephalitis and death. It has always been a two-sided battle. 

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The fragile relationships between various animal and plant species require our full attention. I am not a big supporter of introducing foreign species to new habitats. In many instances such relationships can work, but the primary goal should be preserving natural biodiversity and preventing the spread. This is extremely difficult when invasive species populate environments where they have no natural predators. One example of that are Asian Longhorned Beetles (ALB) destroying many of the American forests, specifically targeting hardwood trees such as the elm and ash trees. Hiking in ALB infested forests is like walking through a forest graveyard, the destruction is immense. Once infested, safe and reliable solutions are hard to find. 

As Enigma sings, “Silence must be heard, noise should be observed.” We as a society have a responsibility to make sure a forest your children walk into is full of diverse animal sounds to inspire them to continue the legacy. Rachel’s legacy must continue with us. 

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