Berry Tells Story of DDT Activists

–submitted by Valerie Johnson; photo by John Bonsett-Veal

Bill Berry

DDT saved lives during WWII, and still does today in some places, Rotarians heard at the July 16 meeting from Bill Berry.  Berry is the author of “Banning DDT: How Citizen Activists in Wisconsin Led the Way.”

Berry then went on to explain how too much DDT usage began to disrupt reproduction in several fish and bird species, and the industry’s lack of response “caught them with their pants down” by concerned citizens who then sued to get action and ban the pesticide.

Berry researched this case study of early environmental activism for six years.  He told of the hunters and fishers, bird-watchers, and garden-club ladies such as Lorrie Otto, who dropped off twenty-eight dead robins at the Bayside village offices. He described university professors and scientists such as Joseph Hickey, a professor and researcher in the Department of Wildlife Management at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who, years after the fact, wept about the suppression of some of his early DDT research.

Some of the lessons to be learned Berry shared with Madison Rotarians included:

  • Economic arguments are important and business should be involved in environmental debates
  • Scientists should engage in public debate
  • Media matters
  • Ecological catastrophes can be avoided
  • Humans are capable of making a global imprint
  • Private citizens can make a difference

Berry grew up in Green Bay and earned undergraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. After more than 20 years as a reporter, columnist and editor for several daily newspapers, he now focuses his work on communicating in the fields of conservation and agriculture. A columnist for The Capital Times newspaper in Madison, Berry lives in Stevens Point.


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