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Earth Week in Santa Clarita

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: April 24, 2008 4:09 p.m.
Updated: June 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.
The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, was conceived by Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin as a means of
bringing attention to environmental issues troubling our nation. The 1970s were a time of renewed activism and belief in democracy. Students took to the streets in demonstrations aimed at changing the direction of the Vietnam War as well as to our wasteful and polluting use of America's bounty.

Thanks to the interest generated by these events, that decade also saw the passage of landmark environmental protection legislation, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The 1970s seemed to promise a blossoming of human awareness of the impact of technology and of our rapidly increasing population on the delicate dance of nature.

Earth Day is a time to celebrate the beauty of our natural environment and also a time to re-evaluate and examine our own actions. It has become so popular that in 2007 an estimated 1 billion people participated in Earth Day activities throughout the world.

Earth Day in Southern California really has become "Earth Week" with events too numerous to be held all on the same day. Starting with Santa Clarita's Arbor Day observance (a day that was originally dedicated in the 1800s to occur on the same date that we now celebrate Earth Day), to the closing of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and our own Earth Day Fair put on by College of the Canyons' Sustainable Development Committee, our communities offered a parade of educational events to raise awareness and to promote improvements.

Earth Day is celebrated in the spring, a perfect time to look around at the budding renewal of our natural treasures. We have so many in this valley. We are blessed with swallows that return every year from their amazing migration to Argentina, to nest in our community. Honored by the Franciscans at their mission in San Juan Capistrano, their return was greeted with a welcoming celebration.

The Brothers of St. Francis held all living creatures to be precious, and St. Francis is often pictured with birds and animals at his feet. But in Santa Clarita, a city named for St. Claire, one of his female
followers, we push down their nests with brooms and complain about how dirty they are. This is an issue we must address differently.

Spring is a time of nesting birds. Redtail hawks soar in protective circles above their young, hummingbirds make their tiny hanging nurseries and the trees are decorated with the songs and colors of migrating avian visitors. But too often residents and the city forget that the spring is a deadly time to trim trees. Joyous bird songs and lives of nesting young are cut short by the sound of chain saws. This is an area where greater community awareness is needed.

Our valley is blessed with magnificent oaks that are hundreds of years old, yet we routinely approve
development that turns them into firewood instead of requiring that they be incorporated into the design of the project. There is room for improvement here.

Agencies continue to allow our streams and tributaries to be encased in concrete. This is an archaic
destruction of nature not allowed in communities elsewhere. It is not only ugly but also a poor way to protect our water resources. We need to change this.

Our own Santa Clara River is a treasure trove of rare and endangered species. Have we exulted in this gift that nature has given our community? Do we proclaim their uniqueness and provide educational materials to raise community awareness? Illegal off-road vehicle use kills these species and destroys their sensitive habitats.

Santa Clarita's skies are often a gorgeous blue, hiding the insidious ozone level that can damage lungs and make breathing painful. Yet 50 percent of the cars sold in the Santa Clarita Valley are gas-guzzling SUVs. And no wonder, when the federal government allows tax deductions for their purchase. As world oil reserves diminish, air pollution continues to worsen, and climate change becomes a reality that everyone can recognize, we must move towards alternative, non-polluting fuels and increased fuel efficiency. As part of the solution, we must encourage alternative modes of transportation (walking and biking) and public transportation. Are we doing the best we can locally in these areas? Our city could encourage these changes locally by promoting them in our planning choices.

The old Earth Day admonition, "Think locally and act globally," is not a tired truism. It is rather a
mantra that we should be repeating every day with real actions. On this Earth Week, it is time to remember that each of our actions multiplied by the millions of our human number have a significant affect on our environment. Yes! Recycling does make a difference. If we recycle, we save those resources for use again and reduce the need for new landfills that destroy our canyons. Bringing your own cloth bag to the grocery store saves resources and reduces garbage.

Yes! Turning out that unneeded light or replacing regular bulbs with high-energy-efficient bulbs can
save salmon by reducing the need for dams on rivers. These are not just trivial deeds to make us feel better; they are small ways each of us can really help save the natural beauty of our world and of our own community by treading more softly.

And yes! The choices we make as we develop our community will have a huge impact on our own local environment and quality of life. It is important for residents to attend city and county planning hearings to speak up for protecting our local environment. It is a credit to the gentleman from Wisconsin that Earth Day celebrations continue today throughout our nation and the world. Celebrated both as an expression of the joy and beauty of wildness as well as a time to take a hard look at our own place and impact on the grand scheme of nature, it brings a renewed awareness of environmental successes and issues to be addressed.

I hope you were all able to visit an Earth Day event this week and that you will get involved in helping to make our local environment a healthier and more beautiful place to live.

Lynne Plambeck is president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE) and a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own view and not necessarily that of The Signal.


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