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Nature's Allies

Nature's Allies, February 2017
by Larry Nielsen

Island Press
272 pages
ISBN: 1610917952
EAN: 9781610917957
Kindle: B01N1ZMM6Q
Hardcover / e-Book
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"Whether saving duck wetlands or planting trees, these people are heroes"

Fresh Fiction Review

Nature's Allies
Larry Nielsen

Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted August 19, 2017

Non-Fiction Inspirational | Non-Fiction Political | Non-Fiction Biography

The story of inspired people who became Eight Conservationists Who Changed Our World, is the theme for this book by Larry Nielsen. The author was one of four presenters of a training course for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at its National Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia; the presenters went on to write a book on community ecosystem management. Thus Larry Nielsen is in a good position to write about NATURE'S ALLIES.

John Muir, born in Scotland in 1838, moved with his family to farm in Wisconsin. Like many Scots he was a natural inventor and he exhibited at the Wisconsin State Fair. After an accident in a sawmill blinded one eye, he decided that his days were not to be wasted indoors and took to striding around the great outdoors on long journeys, finally choosing Yosemite as his base. Getting to know previously unexplored areas, and setting up experiments, he formulated theories on glacier movement and wrote letters about them to the New York Daily Tribune when geologists disagreed. Later his field studies proved his theories, but as importantly, they showed him the value of conserving the forests and watershed of Yosemite which were in grave danger from rapacious sawmill owners and commercial exploitation. He worked with Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of the Century magazine, to get the park declared a National Park with federal protections. Teddy Roosevelt came on board, helping to win the battle.

Another interesting character was a cartoonist called Jay Norwood Darling, born in 1876, published under the name Ding. He had seen the Dustbowl caused by ploughing and overgrazing prairies and draining wetlands, lowering the water table and letting dried soil blow away. As an editorial cartoonist for newspapers when photography was new, he helped to describe issues for readers. He learned that waterfowl were in danger of becoming extinct, due to over-hunting and removal of wetland habitat. Running a campaign in the Des Moines Register and Leader, this twice- Pulitzer Prize winner, despite being a critic of Franklin Roosevelt, was appointed chief of the US Bureau of the Biological Survey. In this capacity Darling was able to buy strategic patches of wetlands to be managed for the nation; and the waterfowl hunter's licence he introduced still bears his cartoon of mallard ducks.

Aldo Leopold, originally a forestry manager, became the first wildlife professor in America when he was hired by the University of Wisconsin in 1933. Restoring a forested farm that had been exploited down to the bare soil, with his family, became the basis of 'A Sand County Almanac' and an example to many.

Rachel Carson, born in 1907 near Pittsburgh, would go on to write 'Silent Spring', a thoroughly researched account of how strong pesticides like DDT were not only killing insects but accumulating in the bodies of animals and birds which ate insects, poisoning them and making eggs sterile, and ultimately poisoning people. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University as a marine biologist and during the Depression, worked for the Bureau of Fisheries. Her books about the natural histories of wildlife refuges she visited were highly praised and sales of her factual book 'The Sea Around Us' made her independent. Called upon to 'do something' by Long Island landowners who wanted to halt pesticide spraying by air over their properties, which resulted in die-offs of birds, Rachel Carson conducted research through papers in many universities, laboratories and government offices, becoming more worried for human health the more she learned. Publication of 'Silent Spring' made the issue instantly notorious, so the chemical industry, which could not criticise her research, scorned the woman herself, but she conducted interviews and appeared before Senate hearings and the public were convinced.

Other characters described in this entertaining and enlightening book include Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber tapper called the Ghandi of the Amazon for his work with the local people being pushed out of their lands due to logging and burning. Cattle ranching earned little and failed after a few years as the poor soil became exhausted, but tapping trees for rubber and harvesting Brazil nuts could provide for families for generations, as well as preserving tracts of forest. This extractive reserve idea was finally adopted by the World Bank and the Brazilian government, but Mendes had made too many enemies and was murdered in 1988, like many other rural activists. Brazil's deforestation has slowed dramatically as the value to the whole world of the Amazon rainforest has been recognised.

We also learn about Billy Frank, Native and ex-Marine, who campaigned for Native fishermen, and sustainable salmon fisheries and timber harvesting in Washington State. Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for getting communities to plant trees in millions across her native Kenya and other African countries, after gaining a Masters degree in biology in the University of Pittsburgh thanks to the Kennedy Airlift programme. She saw that commercial plantation was causing environmental degradation, water loss and rural poverty. Restoring native trees such as fig, banana, mango, citrus, papaya, acacia and avocado seemed to be the obvious solution. Her slogan became 'You don't need a diploma to plant a tree.' Her Green Belt Movement not only educated people and provided jobs, it provided food and empowered local people, especially women. Gro Harlem Brundtland from Norway went on to be director-general of the World Health Organisation. All of these fascinating stories are provided in NATURE'S ALLIES, with photos, and will reward study by anyone interested in science, nature, groundswell movements, American history and journalism.

Learn more about Nature's Allies

SUMMARY

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of big environmental challenges—but we need inspiration more than ever. With political leaders who deny climate change, species that are fighting for their very survival, and the planet’s last places of wilderness growing smaller and smaller, what can a single person do? In Nature’s Allies, Larry Nielsen uses the stories of conservation pioneers to show that through passion and perseverance, we can each be a positive force for change.

In eight engaging and diverse biographies—John Muir, Ding Darling, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Chico Mendes, Billy Frank Jr., Wangari Maathai, and Gro Harlem Brundtland—we meet individuals who have little in common except that they all made a lasting mark on our world. Some famous and some little known to readers, they spoke out to protect wilderness, wildlife, fisheries, rainforests, and wetlands. They fought for social justice and exposed polluting practices. They marched, wrote books, testified before Congress, performed acts of civil disobedience, and, in one case, were martyred for their defense of nature. Nature’s Allies pays tribute to them all as it rallies a new generation of conservationists to follow in their footsteps.

These vivid biographies are essential reading for anyone who wants to fight for the environment against today’s political opposition. Nature’s Allies will inspire students, conservationists, and nature lovers to speak up for nature and show the power of one person to make a difference.


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