Wisconsin’s Green Fire Members Reflect on Earth Day 2023
WI Green Fire, April 20, 2023
In celebration of Earth Day 2023, we asked some of our members their favorite memories of Earth Day, and what Earth Day means to them as conservation professionals. Below is a collection of photos, memories, stories, and inspirational words from our members – ranging from stories about the first Earth Day in 1970, to photos of landscapes, flowers, and the wildlife that also call this planet home. We hope this collection not only inspires action to protect the Earth, but evokes feelings of peace, joy, and healing.
Reflecting on the First Earth Day
A Career of Protecting Wisconsin’s Natural Resources: Michael Cain
I was an undergraduate student at UW-Stevens Point during the first Earth Day in 1970. We saw rivers so heavily polluted that eating fish from them was unthinkable. We mobilized, with thousands of others across the country, to fight to restore and protect these resources led by Wisconsin Senator, Gaylord Nelson. This motivated me to attend the University of Wisconsin Law School with a goal of working for the Wisconsin DNR to develop and enforce water laws (which I had the good fortune to do for over 30 years). As I look back to those days in 1970, it was a worthy cause and we, collectively, had some great successes. It is, however, sobering to see that with climate change, PFAS, continued non-point source pollution and burgeoning development on many of our shorelines, we still have much work to do. It is encouraging to see the continued commitment and energy to protect and conserve our planet for future generations!
Earth Day continues to provide an opportunity to shine a spotlight on these critically important issues. Every time I enjoy a sunset on Lake Mendota in Madison, where local visionaries have preserved many miles of shoreline for public use, I know that there is hope, with continued vigilance, to protect these resources in Wisconsin and globally.
Taking Action to Protect the Earth: “If You Come, They Will Build It”: Paul LaLiberte
During my 30+ year career with the Wisconsin DNR, I dealt with wastewater permits and hydropower licenses. In the earlier years, I worked with consultants hired by regulated parties to find solutions to compliance problems. In later years, when the problems became more subtle (think pollutant tainted fish rather than dead fish), I was dealing with attorneys hired by regulated parties whose job was obviously to delay solutions as long as possible. I see the opposite occurring now with climate change. When the effects on society were theoretical and subtle, much effort was put into denying impacts and delaying action. Now that effects are becoming obvious, people expect more serious efforts toward solutions. Earth Day is an annual opportunity for people to step up and demand solutions to environmental problems. To reverse a phrase from the movie Field of Dreams – “If you come, society will build it.”
Waste Reduction in Northern Wisconsin: Tom Jerow
Early during my career at WDNR I was part of a team that helped northern Wisconsin transition from open burning dumps to a modern solid waste management system, including a waste reduction and recycling strategy. It was largely accomplished but there’s always more to do!
Individual Action, Global Change
Earth Day is Every Day: Robin Schmidt
Earth day is a cumulation of all of our efforts, 365 days of the year, big and small, far and wide, to respect the planet. We all do different things, from lifestyle choices (recycling, solar, alternative fuels, conservation, etc.), to volunteering, voting, and the smallest of eco-friendly choices, to make the planet better for the future. This button is at least 30 years old but I still keep it to remind me!
The Power of the Next Generation
Passing on a Love for Natural Resources: Paul Heinen
Of all the things my natural resources career has allowed me to do, going fishing and teaching my daughter Priya how to fish is easily my favorite. I never thought growing up in Milwaukee, and never owning a fishing rod till I was 30, that I would have the opportunity to fish the Mississippi River, Lake Superior and Michigan, the Wisconsin River, and Madison’s Lake Monona, Mendota, and Waubesa with her. We both have our own rods and reels and thankfully she ties lures on much better than I do. Oh, she also is a master at un-tangling her dad’s fishing line. I bet she will pass her talents along to her kids someday!
Handing the Torch to the Next Generation: Bob Martini
For decades after the first Earth Day the mantra was “Think globally and act locally.” Now we must ACT globally, locally, and personally if we are to salvage a healthy planet in the age of climate change. I have faith in young people as an action force because they…are well educated, have better tools (computers, better science, etc.), and there is a much better understanding of the mechanisms of worldwide interconnectedness than previous generations. The old guard is stepping down, and it is time for the next generation to step up!
Connecting with the Natural World
Learning to Connect with Nature: Jim Perry
As a youth, the terms “ecosystem thinking” would have been foreign to my family, but they did instill in me a deep, but sometimes misdirected connection to the natural world (or “the woods,” in their language). As first a UW-Marathon County undergrad and later a UW-Madison student at Gaylord Nelson’s first Earth Day, and as a developing disciple of Aldo Leopold, my evolution to a systems thinker was accelerated. They are still “the woods” to me, but the spiritual depth has become magnified more than I could ever have imagined in 1972. Now what some might consider an old man, I realize I was standing on shoulders of giants.