Our Planet Tis Of Thee -- On The 20Th Anniversary Of Earth Day, We See Our Future In The Hands Of New Generation






Fifth-grader Kimberly Trowbridge and her sidekick, Tricia Kane, excitable sprites with an eye for ecological detail, squat not far from the mouth of Pigeon Creek in Everett and scrutinize an iridescent sheen coating the surface of a small pool.

``Looks like oil,'' Kim says, jaw working.

Brandon King, one of the girls' teachers at Jackson Elementary School situated just over the ridge abutting the creek, kneels down for a closer look. ``It may just be leachings from a clay formation,'' he says.

``How about those suds?'' Tricia asks, pointing to domes of white bubbles scooting along the creek. ``From a car wash?''

King says they look more like the work of normal creek agitation as the water made its way down the ravine. ``On the other hand,'' he says, ``they could be soap suds, too. We've had trouble in the past.''

For Kim and Tricia, otherwise typical middle-class kids in an ordinary urban environment, the solicitous inspection of their favorite waterway is climaxing a fortnight of amazement. They have just returned from a mid-February week's stay in Japan, focal participants in an international stream-awareness festival with youngsters from the U.S.S.R., Austria, England and Canada.

Featured in newspapers, on TV and in public events, the Jackson School kids told of their ``Adopt-A-Stream'' program to

reclaim Pigeon Creek - a seven-year-long project that had drawn attention from national U.S. news media and served as a model for imitators throughout the country. Then the schoolkids had gathered with thousands of Japanese along the banks of the Tamagawa River in Tokyo to release chum fingerlings for Japan's ``Come Back Salmon'' project.

While in Japan, Kim celebrated her 11th birthday with scores of gifts showered on her during her stay. Crossing the international date line on the flight back, she got to celebrate her birthday all over again once she returned home. ``I wouldn't mind doing this every year,'' she'd said.

On this, the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, Kim and Tricia's exploits hold implications reaching far beyond Pigeon Creek. Twenty years ago, the first Earth Day was marked by parades, protest demonstrations, street theater and sloganeering, much of it campus-spawned. When you said ``tomorrow's youth'' back then, you meant people in their late teens and early 20s, not preadolescents. Saving the Earth was a task for the power structure to address at the regulatory level, not anything a bunch of schoolkids with a fondness for whales and migrating fish could handle.

But in the interceding two decades, the Earth Day generation has had its own ``younger generation,'' who are now filling the schools of America. For many of these younger participants, today symbolizes not just a shared belief with their parents, but a commitment to a better world. Far from being an isolated event in a multitude of worthy causes, Earth Day serves as a symbol of global peace, sharing and unification.

``Kids today don't separate the environment from other parts of their lives,'' says Mark Valentine, a coordinator in Earth Day's Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters who himself was just 8 years old in 1970. ``When their parents tell them they can't go out and play on a smoggy day in L.A., it doesn't take them too long to realize the connections between a healthy environment and a happy existence.''

Morley Horder, coordinator of the Sound Experience in Poulsbo, an effort modeled after Pete Seeger's Clearwater expedition on New York's Hudson River, two years ago began taking groups of schoolkids out in Puget Sound on a 101-foot gaff-rigged schooner called the Adventuress. His biggest pleasure is ``getting these kids to think about what they can do to help the environment,'' Horder says. ``They have a lot more awareness than what we saw even five years ago, but so many kids think there's nothing they can do to improve their lot.''

Aboard the vessel, students use an otter trawl, bottom dredge and plankton tow to gather samples of Puget Sound fish and bottom life. ``They get an understanding of how the food chain works, and what it's like to live in water rather than on land,'' Horder says. ``Then we talk about things

they can do to help, such as recycling, writing letters to Congress and the newspapers, planting salmon in streams, telling their parents not to pour antifreeze down the sewer.''

At Jackson School, Tricia's and Kim's parents express admiration for their offspring's efforts but seem mystified about where they got their social conscience. ``She latches on to a cause and there's just no stopping her,'' says Tricia's mom, Linda Seanoa. ``She just cares about other people more than herself.''

Sidneye Trowbridge, Kim's mother and a biology teacher at Seattle University, credits Jackson School's faculty for giving Kimberly and other pupils ``a sense of purpose in the overall scheme of things. It's a tiny little school with a great big vision.'' Typical was Kim's reaction to Herschel the sea lion's misadventures: ``She came to me and said, `What right do we have to take him away? He was here before us.' ''

Whatever its origins, the campaign at Jackson has turned a pedestrian-looking hilltop brick school in southwest Everett into an environmental laboratory of learning akin to a grade-school Battelle or Woods Hole institute. Nearly every class, from art to geography to science, factors in some element of environmental education, whether it be Japanese paintings of fish, a study of the ecological attributes of the Brazilian rain forest or a first-hand look at salmon migration cycles in their own Pigeon Creek.

``The kids have a real good understanding that everything they do affects the environment,'' says King. ``And everything they're taught is linked somehow with the environment.''

Stepping into the school is like entering Eco Central for grade-schoolers: Taped on the hallway walls are crayon and poster-paint drawings of salmon, whales and aquatic life. Each of the 700 fish released in the creek annually is raised on the school's premises, in an aquarium purchased with a grant from the county's Adopt-A-Stream foundation.

But Jackson School's ecological consciousness-raising has not stopped just at the banks of Pigeon Creek. By design or not, its Adopt-A-Stream effort has become a leading example of the ``Think Globally, Act Locally'' ethic, of which one extension is called bioregionalism, expected to be the model for environmental reclamation during the 1990s.

Although not a new concept, bioregionalism is particularly appealing to an age focused on ``empowerment'' of the individual. Conceived as an answer to the lament, ``But what can one person do about the (fill-in-the-blank),'' bioregionalism is perhaps best expressed in the phrase, ``Don't foul your own nest.'' If enough nests remain clean, the planet will be preserved. It's the environmentally sensitive way of saying ``the buck stops here.''

For children, bioregionalism has a particular appeal. As Horder points out, it's a way of giving them hope, rather than handing them an unfixable world view.

If bioregionalism has a flaw, it is in its One True Way assumption. Skeptics, dubbing bioregionalism ``the Pogo fallacy'' after Walt Kelly's 1971 Earth Day cartoon that stated, ``We have met the enemy and he is us,'' point out pitfalls in assuming that the ``little guy'' can save the world. Barry Commoner, quoted in Stephanie Mills' new book, ``Whatever Happened to Ecology?'' says, ``There are certain actions which are beyond the competence of an individual or small group to do. It has to be done on a huge social level.'' There are also actions, such as requiring double bottoms on supertankers, deciding where to dispose of nuclear waste and regulating the handling of toxic materials, that only government can do, activists say.

``It's safer to blame ourselves than the enemy,'' says critic Tom Reveille in ``Is Pogo Public Enemy No. 1?'' Reveille argues that ``corporate imperialism'' - the profit motive that leads to ecological disasters such as Union Carbide's Bhopal and the Exxon Valdez oil spill - has much more impact on the fate of the Earth than

the innumerable powerless masses.

But bioregionalism has caught the imagination of an environmentally discouraged public searching for alternatives

to the failures of the '80s, where years of regulatory and legislative solutions were despoiled by the Reagan administration. Across the nation, scores of ``save the

stream'' programs, many of them directly inspired by the Jackson School effort, have been mounted under a variety of names: Project Mayfly, River Watch, Stream Savers, Water Watch.

In McDowell County, W. Va., a fourth-grader mobilized community concern over local streams with a speech on water conservation. Along the Rouge River in Michigan, students at 32 secondary schools exchanging data on computer networks pushed the state department of natural resources to reconstruct a watershed sewer system. In Petaluma, Calif., students at Cherry Valley Elementary School are planting native species and creating a nature trail, while Casa Grande High School kids use nets to clean up a long-neglected stream called Adobe Creek.

Tom Murdoch, a Snohomish County planner who helped found the Adopt-A-Stream effort, says the foundation is working with 77 groups in the county, including 44 schools, to watchdog and preserve the county's 3,000 miles of streams, creeks and rivers. Last year alone, Adopt-A-Stream received more than 800 requests from throughout the U.S. for information. Today's plans included 350 Girl Scouts at Mill Creek handing out ``Stream Guidelines for Survival,'' a pamphlet put together with help from the state Department of Ecology.

These and thousands of other local-action projects are being tracked at Earth Day headquarters, housed in a downtown Palo Alto office building serving as a kind of Houston control for Spaceship Earth. Overshadowed by a huge wall map of the Earth evocative of the Pentagon's War Room, scores of volunteers work on telephones, organize boxes full of posters, fliers and mailers, and type at Macintosh computers containing mailing lists, event schedules, publicity documents and informational databases.

``There's a growing awareness that the ecological underpinnings of the planet are tied to community action at the local level,'' says coordinator Valentine. ``We don't have any doctrinaire bioregionalism in force out of this office, but there's definitely a sense that efforts are being keyed to regional issues.''

The wall map contains color-coded stickpins designating national, regional and local headquarters. More than 120 countries are involved in Earth Day 1990: tree and grass plantings and seminars against big-game poaching are planned in Kenya; planting 5 million trees annually in population-ravaged India; teach-ins and soil-reclamation projects in Nicaragua; river cleanup and tree plantings in deforested Brazil. There are even efforts to coordinate environmental-awareness events in recently liberated but ecologically bludgeoned Eastern European countries. And in the U.S., more than 400 events are on record in large cities.

As awesome as the effort is, Tricia Kane, whose Earth Day plans include a visit to Pigeon Creek, puts the event in perspective with an uncomplicated observation: ``It would be nice if everyone could save their own creek all over the world,'' she says.

For all its notoriety and success, however, the effort to save Pigeon Creek is increasingly at risk of failure. Last fall, for the first time in three years, no fish made it back to Pigeon Creek. For Jackson School, where entering first-graders raise and plant salmon each spring, then wait eagerly for their fishes' return in time for graduation four years later, the decimated run was a crushing blow.

Whether Kim's and Tricia's fish fell victim to an uphill car wash whose soapy runoff had drained into storm sewers, or to

a nearby commercial outlet whose floor-cleaning solution had made its way into

the creek, or to gill-clogging sediments from a housing development over the ridge, or to a deep-sea predator or fishing net or unknown chemical poisoning, the fact was that Pigeon Creek was losing ground.

All around Everett's Forest Park and the woodsy watershed nurturing Pigeon Creek, signs of development encroach. A church addition here, an apartment complex there, and pretty soon land-clearing operations have sent sand and silt drainage down the creek channel, filling in pebbled pools required for salmon fry to flourish, for feed insects to breed and for returning salmon to lay eggs. If a stream is an artery feeding the ocean and land, silt is its cholesterol, clogging passages, inhibiting respiration, impelling the body geologic to a certain heart attack.

It is a grim legacy for the fifth graders and their 450 schoolmates to face. They have spent much of their elementary-school lives cleaning, restoring, monitoring and administering TLC to Pigeon Creek. Early on, when Kim and Tricia were still in first-grade primers, the goals were more clear-cut, the benefits more immediate and palpable: It was a simple matter of removing bottles and cans, bedsprings, appliances, trash, yard clippings - even 600 old tires some midnight dumper tossed into the creek ravine. Then, posting ``No Dumping'' warning signs, installing an iron gate at the creek-road entrance, stenciling drawings of fish on posters and signs throughout the watershed.

Gradually, the community got the message: Elderly folks walking their dogs picked up litter, a pollution-alert hotline was set up, kids patrolled the ravine after school each day and got up work parties on weekends, even passers-by in cars kept an eye out for the little stream.

One day a city park ranger got a frantic call from City Hall. Mayor Bill Moore had been looking out his window from across the bay through a pair of binoculars, and had spotted someone dumping yard waste near the mouth of the creek.

``There's a ton of community pride over Pigeon Creek,'' says King, a low-key but gently forceful teacher described by his admirers as the ``godfather of stream-keeping.''

For a time it appeared the community would triumph. In the fall of 1987, the first

Earth Day

Jackson School salmon, raised in classroom aquariums and released four years previously, miraculously made their way back into their native run. For the first time in 25 years, salmon had returned to Pigeon Creek.

``It was a real red-letter day around here,'' King recalls. Kim and Tricia can point out the exact spot where the first salmon was discovered. The following year more salmon returned to the creek, and it looked as though some major biological corner had been turned. Then came last year's disappointment.

``Each time a project goes in, the developer promises that measures will be taken to preserve the integrity of the creek,'' King notes. ``Each time, we get the silt and runoff and further degradation. It doesn't take too much to realize that the cumulative effect is destroying the stream.''

Pointing out that a neighboring tributary, Pigeon Creek 2, has been ``essentially destroyed'' (although reclamation efforts are being attempted), King feels Pigeon Creek 1 represents ``our last best hope to make a point about stream preservation in an urban environment. The best way to tell if water is pure is to release fish into it. We've reached the point at Pigeon Creek 1 where further impacts may be irreversible. Our only recourse is to get public officials to enforce the environmental protections in place.''

King recoils at the notion of exposing youngsters to the ``complex legal arena'' where most environmental disputes work themselves out. But the kids themselves have no qualms: A stubborn testimonial by schoolchildren led the Snohomish County Council to approve environmental-enforcement funding it had initially passed over. Every time there is a hearing or meeting involving Pigeon Creek, Jackson School students are there.

Right now the focus is on Dally Homes, a 42-acre project bordered by the city's Forest Park on the south and west, and by city reservoir property on the north. Significantly in this day of universal eco-awareness, neither King nor any of the other opponents to the project portray its developer, Don Dally of Seattle, as a black hat. ``He's been real good about accommodating our concerns,'' says Ned Johnston, an attorney active with Streamkeepers, a group of stream activists in Snohomish County. But they remain intransigent in their opposition.

Dally, past president of Seattle Master Builders who describes himself as a medium-size developer, jokes somewhat grimly about the ``close and long-term

relationship'' he's developed with the community. For the past year and a half, he has made appeasement gestures including road revisions, storm-water adjustments, easement grants, sidewalks, intersection improvements. The number of lots has been scaled back from 82 to 65, grading has been reduced from 50,000 to 15,000 yards, and Dally has even agreed to turn over 30 acres (up from the initial 26) to the city for inclusion in the park.

Dally offered to put up seed money for a foundation to undertake a $2 million effort to protect and preserve Pigeon Creek in tangent with Adopt-A-Stream's efforts. The community demurred, however, and he says, ``That showed to me they aren't really interested in saving the creek. They have ulterior motives.

``I've spent more than $300,000 on this project at this point,'' says Dally, adding that eight of his currently planned 12 projects in the Puget Sound region are ``in some sort of regulatory holding pattern. It's going to make the cost of housing criminal in this area.''

More projects are planned for sensitive areas hosting the creek's watershed: a 113-home subdivision, a commercial development, a Boeing Co. recreational facility. In each case assurances are made to preserve the integrity of the creek but, as King puts it, follow-through is often a different story. The result is a perpetual volley between developers, planners and citizens at community meetings, zoning hearings and City Council sessions.

``It's like Iwo Jima up there,'' says Johnston. The only solution for Pigeon Creek, he and others feel, is for the city to purchase the Dally property for inclusion into Forest Park. Dally feels the Adopt-A-Stream community is using delay tactics to give the city time to act on purchasing the property.

``They're not playing with a clean potato,'' he said. ``They're manipulating the system for their own benefit.''

King, who has seen too many promises turn to mud and silt, is equally folksy in response: ``Fool me once, shame on you,'' he says. ``Fool me twice, shame on me.''

A t Pigeon Creek, Kimberly Trowbridge and Tricia Kane believe they have found the answer: Keep your back yard clean, fight through political and local channels for pro gress, and do what you can to persuade your neighbors, both close and far, to do the same. They've picked the trash from Pigeon Creek, they've met with the City Council, the Planning Commission, with members of Congress, and with the International Save Our Salmon Conference in Tokyo, Japan. They've thought and acted locally, thought and acted globally.

It was only fitting that, when 39 Sapporo schoolmates visited Jackson School four weeks ago, Kim and Tricia led a delegation joined by Marysville's Sunnyside School, which also had sent a student to Japan, down to Pigeon Creek. Swarming along the creek bank, their red Everett parks volunteer caps bobbing in the sun-gilded underbrush, the clutch of youngsters brought to mind red-tinged spawning salmon at a creek where, it was once said, fish were so thick the creek ran red with them.

It was a modest little international tableau but, as eloquently as anything that will happen on Earth Day 1990, it demonstrated the hope for environmental progress in a coming decade of decision.

``For these kids to see at their early age the issues and conflicts over the environment is the best lesson anything in life could teach them,'' says Sidneye Trowbridge. ``Kim's gotten the message from the start that it's really her generation which is going to save the Earth - if it's going to be saved.''

``Adopting a stream is like adopting a child,'' says Tom Murdoch, who expects to spread the movement to a statewide level. ``It's a long process requiring a huge personal commitment. But my theory is, if we get every student in the state ingrained with the environmental ethic, in five to 10 years we'll have a much better informed electorate and get some real changes in how we do things.''

Kim and Tricia will be there. Already they're actively promoting an up-creek capture basin to reduce silt flow, and a plan is before the city to install a fish ladder enabling salmon to pass under heavily traveled Mukilteo Way. There will be more hearings, more meetings, more letters to write and speeches to give. But they have the energy, the time, and most of all the commitment. As Kim puts it:

``If you have a dream, and don't let anybody take your dream away from you, you can make a difference.'' Not a bad slogan for the 20th celebration of the Earth's very own day.


Test your eco-awareness

Bioregionalism, the notion that ecology begins at home for a healthy Earth, is best understood through the following quiz, compiled by environmentalists Leonard Charles, Jim Dodge, Lynn Milliman and Victoria Stockley. First published in the now-defunct CoEvolution Quarterly, the quiz is reprinted in Stephanie Mills' new book, ``Whatever Happened to Ecology?'' (Sierra Club Books, $18.95).

Scoring, according to the quiz-makers: 8 to 12 indicates ``a fairly firm grasp of the obvious,'' 13 to 16 that ``you're paying attention,'' 17 to 19 that ``you know where you're at'' and a perfect 20 that you not only know where you're at, ``you know where it's at.''

1. Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.

2. How many days till the moon is full? (Slack of two days allowed.)

3. What soil series are you standing on?

4. What was the total rainfall in your area last year (July-June)? (Slack: 1 inch for every 20 inches.)

5. When was the last time a fire burned your area?

6. What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture that lived in your area before you?

7. Name five native edible plants in your region and their season(s) of availability.

8. From what direction do the winter storms generally come in your region?

9. Where does your garbage go?

10. How long is the growing season where you live?

11. On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?

12. When do the deer rut in your region, and when are the young born?

13. Name five grasses in your area. Are any of them native?

14. Name five resident and five migratory birds in your area.

15. What is the land-use history of where you live?

16. What primary geological event/process influenced the land form where you live? (Bonus special: What's the evidence?)

17. What species have become extinct in your area?

18. What are the major plant associations in your region?

19. From where you're reading this, point north.

20. What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?