Tuesday, February 19, 2008


(Photo © Paula Raissner 2008)
The lovely gate that leads to the San Gabriel River path...

(Photo © Paula Raissner 2008)
...and the view that awaits within...

(Photo © Paula Raissner 2008)
...a view bespoiled! A habit fouled. A SHAME!!!!

I have a backlog of trip blogs to do, but I wanted to start with this one since there is an aspect to this particular trip that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later (which I’ll get to in a moment).

Whittier Narrows is a large recreation area located in El Monte. A portion of it has a small nature center and a wonderful area of trails that goes through some scrub and oak habitat and another that skirts the San Gabriel River. It is listed on the Audubon website as a ‘hot spot’ for birding, so Paula and I decided to check it out this past Sunday.

As soon as I got out of the car I noticed an abundance of birdsong emanating from the trees and bushes--this was encouraging! The Yellow-rumped Warblers, that seem to be everywhere this winter, were here as well—and plenty of them. But the Song Sparrows were particularly lovely. I watched several of them through the binoculars, their little chests heaving up and down, singing like little Pavarottis.

While looking at the sparrows, I kept hearing a most unusual bird sound and finally spotted the source: a Great-tailed Grackle. I noticed about five of them eventually.
When we reached the entrance that led into the river area, there was a beautiful wrought-iron gate. Unfortunately this man-made beauty was followed by the sight of some man-made ugliness: hundreds of plastic bags hung up in the willows in the river bed. Not a pretty sight. I often wonder how people would like it if every time it rained, their houses would fill up with this white scourge. Perhaps if it did, they would think twice before tossing them to the ground rather than recycling them responsibly. But we’ll come back to this shortly…

Here’s the other birds we saw on this trip:

Great Blue Herons (6)
Black-crowned Night Herons (both mature & immature) (1 of each)
Snowy Egrets (4)
Kingfishers (2)
Pied Grebes (2)
American Coots (lots)
Common Moorhen (1)
Mallards (lots)
Western Kingbird (1)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (1)
Killdeer (1)
Red-tailed Hawks (a pair, doing aerial acrobatics)

Now—back to the trash bags. The photos above don’t really do the scene justice. When you have the entire panorama in front of you however, it’s another thing entirely. It hits you between the eyes, stops you in your tracks. This is not what I (or anyone else in their right mind) wants to see when they are out for a nature walk: a fairly pretty riparian environment fouled by white plastic trash.

And it made me want to do about doing something about it. So while doing a bit of research online the next day, I ran across an announcement on Heal the Bay’s website that there was going to be a public meeting with the Santa Monica City Council to propose a ban on plastic grocery bags in Santa Monica. It also asked people to submit letters to the council in advance of the meeting in support of it. I thought, “Hooray! Something I can do!” But as I read further, I realized that even what they were proposing wasn’t enough—they merely wanted to insist that shoppers purchase the bags, in a misguided attempt to make people less likely to throw them away.

So why not a complete ban? Simply charging a fee for their use is not enough. People already pay a ‘recycling fee’ on plastic bottles, cans, and glass alcohol containers, yet these items continue to litter the environment. There are many safer and environmentally friendly options, including reusable bags that consumers can purchase for themselves. If they must pay for a bag, it should be a reusable one, not just another piece of potential trash!

We consumers need to take responsibility for our actions and habits. It is better to make small sacrifices now by having to buy our own reusable bags than have to make bigger ones in the future when the mountain of waste will be impossible to manage and species of wildlife go extinct from ingesting our trash.

I do not need to cite the litany of other evidence surrounding the huge amounts of plastic waste jettisoned onto our lands and oceans, as I am sure you are already aware of it. But make no mistake: unless plastic bags are completely banned, our landfills, waterways and wildlife will continue to be fouled by this white menace.

Now is the time to make bold, precedent-setting changes that are positive for all living things. The public and businesses need to take responsibility for their actions as consumers and sellers. We need to act now and not delude ourselves like the City of Santa Monica is, that merely ‘buying a bag’ will solve this problem.

I feel very strongly that we have an opportunity to make a real difference in the direction we are headed environmentally. Every city is growing by leaps and bounds, but our trash should not continue to grow beyond our ability to control it.

Please take some time this week to write your city council, your state representatives, your governor, and by God, yes—even our President, George W. Dipshit—and demand that plastic bags be forever banned! Once you see the ease of the reusable shopping bag, you will hug yourself with joy. And not only will it help clean up the environment, but Mr. Heron and Mrs. Duck’s living room won’t be fouled with plastic bags anymore!

BTW--You can buy your resuable bags at:




[This rant was fueled (incongruously) by the calm music of Green Isac]

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