Scientists have run high-tech tests on harmful bacteria in local rivers and streams and found that many of the germs -- and in the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, a majority of them-- come from wildlife dung. The strange proposition that nature is apparently polluting itself has created a serious conundrum for government officials charged with cleaning up the rivers.
Part of the problem lies with the unnaturally high populations of deer, geese and raccoons living in modern suburbs and depositing their waste there. But officials say it would be nearly impossible, and wildly unpopular, to kill or relocate enough animals to make a dent in even that segment of the pollution.
That leaves scientists and environmentalists struggling with a more fundamental question: How clean should we expect nature to be? In certain cases, they say, the water standards themselves might be flawed, if they appear to forbid something as natural as wild animals leaving their dung in the woods.
"You need to go back and say, 'Maybe the standards aren't exactly right' if wildlife are causing the problem," said Thomas Henry, an Environmental Protection Agency official who works on water pollution in the mid-Atlantic.
. . . .
It could be the ultimate irony of people's impact on nature that the entire system has changed so radically that wild animals now degrade their own environment. More animals means more bacteria-laden waste. Some of that is swept by storm water into rivers and streams.
Some of the waste is deposited directly into the currents.
"They're pooping in the water," said Chuck Frederickson, an environmentalist who is keeper of the James River, gazing at geese slurping algae off river rocks one recent day. He said the goose population is an obstacle to improving the river: "Do we want less bacteria in the water, or do we want geese around?"
If you think that it's just the proverbial bear-in-the-woods and his live wildlife colleagues degrading Mother Earth, think again, Pollyanna. Stuffed bears can be an environmental catastrophe as well:
A teddy bear has been implicated in 2,500 deaths — trout deaths, that is.
State officials say a teddy bear that fell into a pool at a Fish and Game Department hatchery earlier this month clogged a drain. The clog blocked the flow of oxygen to the pool and suffocated the fish.
Hatcheries supervisor Robert Fawcett said the bear, dressed in yellow raincoat and hat, is believed to be the first stuffed toy to cause fatalities at the facility.
. . . .
The deaths prompted Fawcett to release a written warning: "RELEASE OF ANY TEDDY BEARS into the fish hatchery water IS NOT PERMITTED."
He said it's not known who dropped the bear, but urged anyone whose bear ends up in a hatchery pool to find a worker to remove it. "They might save your teddy bear, and keep it from becoming a killer," he said.
The bottom line is that, real or stuffed, animals are an environmental menace and, if we're serious about protecting our Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh and his friends must all die.
Although I drive a hybrid vehicle and am therefore qualified to make environmental decisions on everyone's behalf, I can accept that this probably isn't a decision I should make myself. The environmental movement is fond of quoting the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy that we must consider the impact present actions will have on the seventh generation to come. I'll take that to heart and discuss my thoughts with my daughter tonight after her bedtime story.