SciSun: Right Wings   Leave a comment

Richard M. Nixon, 36th President of the United States (1969 – 1974), was generally not a well-liked guy. In his more than 30 years as a politician, he spent much of that time collecting favors to be redeemed later; or gathering dubious information on people he considered his enemies, to be used against them sometime in the future.

Today it’s hard to believe Nixon, the President most associated with the Vietnam war; and riots in American cities; and the rise of counter-culture (Hippies, man!); and political corruption, is also the President responsible for signing the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act, laws that have led to the preservation and protection of rivers, lakes, and oceans; bird; mammal; reptile species and other wildlife; and the ecosystems that provide healthy environments for us all.

So it seems fitting, that for the first time in over 50 years, a pair of Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has recently been seen nesting on San Clemente Island, one of the Channel Islands off the southern California coast. What connects the return of the eagles with President Nixon isn’t just that the eagle is on the official seal of the United States (bald eagles, themselves, don’t have an official seal. They are usually happy to see most any seal, or any sea lion for that matter); what’s unusual is that the eagles’ return is directly linked to the 1972 ban of DDT; a pesticide that was widely used to control mosquitoes and flies and gnats and most any other insect people didn’t want – until it was discovered birds that were exposed to DDT couldn’t lay eggs that would hatch. And this ban was the result of greater environmental concern and actions taken by conservation groups, private citizens, and the government through the 1970’s and highlighted by the Endangered Species and Clean Air Acts of 1973. (Remember ‘Woodsy the Owl’, 1970’s spokes-owl for pollution control and environmental stewardship? Yeah, Woodsy has sort of retired).

And from 1969 through the late 1980’s, San Clemente was the home of Richard Nixon and his family. The estate, comprised of multiple buildings over many acres, was named ‘La Casa Pacifica’ – or, while he was president, the Western White House – and much of the island was off-limits to all but those with high-level clearance. Even after Nixon resigned from office the property surrounding his home was patrolled by Secret Service and security personnel until the former President moved to New York in the 1980’s. Yet, even though the land and wildlife were protected both by seclusion and government act, the Bald Eagle – along with other native species like the San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike (Lanius ludovicianus mearnsi) and San Clemente Night Lizard (Xantusia riversiana reticulata) that had called the island home for generations continued to decline and faced possible extinction.

Despite difficult, dangerous and often somber world events of the late 1960’s through the 1970’s, it was a time when many people began to become aware that everyone and everything has an impact on the environment and the future of life on our planet. While the 1980’s slowed the environmental movement while much of the country’s interest shifted toward investing more money to buy bigger houses to have enough space to hold all the stuff we picked up on easy credit so the economy would trickle-down (and we all know how that worked out), the foundation of concern, stewardship, and action to protect and preserve our environment had been set and many of the advances and success stories we have today (wolves, sea turtles, and many species of marine mammals could be extinct if not for protection), would not be true without the environmental actions and laws of the 1970’s.

Resolute the Eagle just happened to find this fish laying on the ground.  He is not a crook.

Resolute the Eagle just happened to find this fish laying on the ground. He is not a crook.

No one knows why the eagles are returning the the Channel Islands. Maybe there’s more food, or the climate has improved, or they finally received their security clearance (those background checks take time). Or now that the military is no longer using the islands for naval gun practice and are instead protecting native species, removing invasive plants and animals and taking better care of the land, maybe it’s just a nice place to live. Or just maybe, some of the actions by one of our most rejected Presidents is resulting in a more diverse, healthy environment and it’s time to put away the pain of four decades past and concentrate on a better future for all.


Michonne Says: There’s too much happening in this story for me to think about. Eagles are dangerous and the men say i-lands are ground that’s sitting in water (but I don’t see how that can happen) and I think some of this is made up. But if this Nixon man helped save animals and plants and make the forest and fields nicer then I like that. Maybe some of the other things the Nixon man did were mistakes and he was confused. Just by hearing this story I know I’m confused.

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