Sunday, April 14, 2013

11 Ways the WPA Helped Protect Our Wildlife

(WPA Poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

"The necessity of preserving our wildlife has been difficult for Americans to understand...Before the transcontinental railroad was built, sixty million buffalo roamed the plains of the United States; now barely five thousand survive, and only in protected areas." 

     "The slaughter of the buffalo is rivaled only by the amazingly complete extermination of the passenger pigeon, flights of which at one time 'darkened the sun for hours on end.' The Carolina paroquet, the heath hen, the Pallas cormorant, and the giant mink are among the once numerous vanished species. The grizzly bear, the California condor, and the sea otter have become rare. Many other species are fast approaching extinction."

--WPA writers, in "American Wildlife, Illustrated," New York: J.J. Little and Ives, Co., 1940.

11 Ways the WPA Helped Protect Our Wildlife:

1. Promotional Posters

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

2. Built, Improved, & Promoted Zoos and Aquariums

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Not everyone would agree that zoos and aquariums are good for wildlife, but zoos and aquariums do more than simply display animals--they also engage in research, endangered species propagation, and animal rescue efforts. Also, a trend over the last few decades is to enlarge animal enclosures and make them more natural in appearance. And, for many people, their first live view of many animals species comes at a zoo or aquarium. This contact can make people realize the importance of our planet's biodiversity. 

3. Created, Improved, and Promoted Parks

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

(Sign at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern shore of Maryland, referring to the Delmarva Fox Squirrel. The WPA was heavily involved in the development of this huge natural treasure. Photo by Brent McKee.) 

The WPA created or improved 8,000 parks across America. These natural areas provide refuge for many animals.

4. Facilitated Wildlife Research

(Photo courtesy of Yathin S. Krishnappa, and used under Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.)

By creating protected natural areas, and scientific buildings, the WPA created venues for scientists to perform valuable research. For example, the WPA was instrumental in creating Patuxent Research Refuge (Maryland). During the 1960s and 70s, scientists working at Patuxent found that the pesticide DDT thinned the egg shells of birds, including the Bald Eagle. This research finding, and subsequent restrictions on DDT, helped prevent the possible extinction of our national symbol. 

5. Replenished Aquatic Stocks

 (WPA workers constructing a fish hatchery in Frederick County, Maryland. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

(WPA workers loading oyster shells onto a boat in Crisfield, Maryland, for planting in the Chesapeake Bay. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)  

A legitimate argument can be made--in certain situations--that restocking wildlife excuses, or encourages, over-fishing and over-hunting. But such philosophical or policy discussions were beyond the purview of the WPA; their task was to bring certain species to higher levels. And they did. For example, WPA workers built or improved 455 fish hatcheries and planted over 8 million bushels of oysters. 

6. Increased and Promoted Outdoor Opportunities

 (WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The WPA created thousands of recreational opportunities for Americans. For example, WPA workers built 65 new ski jumps and created 310 miles of new ski trails. People who enjoy outdoor activities appreciate the need for natural areas--natural areas that just happen to be home to various wildlife.

7. Planted and Protected Trees

 (Image is in the public domain, courtesy of http://karenswhimsy.com/.)

WPA laborers planted 176 million trees, and they engaged in projects to protect trees against insects and diseases. Trees are, of course, vital to the planet's wildlife.

8. Provided Food & Shelter

  (Image is in the public domain, courtesy of Ken Thomas and Wikipedia.)

"The protection of birds and other wildlife was furthered by the construction and placement of shelter houses, feeding stations, and sanctuaries." (From the "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43," by the Federal Works Agency, 1946)   

9. Controlled Pollution and Promoted A Clean Environment

(A WPA-built sewage disposal plant in Thurmont, Maryland. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The WPA built sewage treatment plants, installed thousands of miles of sewer lines, and constructed 2.3 million sanitary privies (outhouses) all across the nation. Not the most glamorous work, but essential to the health of our environment and wildlife. 

10. Fought Wildfires

(Public domain image, courtesy of http://www.wpclipart.com/.)

The WPA constructed over 6,000 miles of firebreaks, fought fires directly, and built fire lookout towers.

11. Educated the Public

 (Front cover of the WPA book "American Wildlife, Illustrated," 1940. Photo by Brent McKee.)

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

The WPA focused heavily on teaching art to children. On one WPA project, children learned how to sketch animals at the Baltimore Zoo ("Children Sketch Animals in WPA Art Class," Baltimore Sun, August 21, 1938). Such instruction undoubtedly instilled in children an appreciation for art and wildlife.

Too bad our wildlife, and our children, don't have a WPA today.

2 comments:

  1. Creating jobs for unemployed people, making the nation a better place for humans and animals, creating a safe and healthy environment. If that's what good government is all about, give me more of it! So where are our elected representatives today? And how come the Right Wing Republicans seem to be winning the ideological argument that the best government is a small government or no government at all?
    Saul

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    1. Good question. Look at the recent gun control bill that was defeated in the Senate, despite the support of 90% of the public. Corporate money trumped the will of the people. I suspect the same is true with unemployment. It benefits large corporations to have a steady supply of unemployed and desperate workers. --Brent

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