Speaking for the trees in 1967

A ban on DDT for Dutch elm disease
Speaking for the trees in 1967
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It was in 1963, the year after Rachel Carson exposed the environmental hazards of DDT in Silent Spring, that the city stopped using the insecticide to kill the beetle spreading Dutch elm disease. It was in 1967, the year the Environmental Defense Fund was formed with the goal of banning DDT, that the Parks Commission and Board of Estimates both voted to resume its use, recommending the city spend $8,400 to spray 10,000 of the 27,000 city-owned trees from helicopters.

About 55,000 of the city’s 130,000 shade trees were elm, about half of those on public property. By 1967, the city had lost about 3,000 trees since the fungus was found here in 1958, and the infestation was quickening; elm fatalities increased from 376 in 1965 to 766 in ’66 and over 1,000 in 1967.

The only way to save the trees, Parks Superintendent James Marshall said, was to switch from methoxychlor back to DDT. West side Ald. Robert “Toby” Reynolds said Marshall’s priorities were misplaced. The elms are nice, he said, “but I just don’t think it’s a good idea to go out and fill the air with poison” that will last forever. The first time the council considered the commission proposal in the committee of the whole, it deadlocked– 11 votes to approve the plan, one short of the number needed, but not enough votes to adopt an ordinance banning its use, either. But two nights later, on Oct. 26, environmentalists won a clear victory–a 14-8 vote to ban using DDT on trees.

But it could still be applied on shrubs.

Return to 15 web extras about the summer of 1967 here.