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Standing our ground, why Earth Day matters in the battle of a pandemic


Photo credit: Hannah Thompson

The wildlife roams and blooms more comfortably knowing San Marcos residents are nestled inside their homes, sending a reminder as to why it is important to celebrate the Earth even in a pandemic.
Inspired by the activists of the early 1960s, Earth Day was established to start the Green Movement after heavily populated states like New York and California became frustrated with the damage of wildlife and soil caused by chemical and oil spills.
Now, shelter-in-place orders have lessened human activity, allowing wildlife to roam safely and vegetation a chance to recover, reminding local environmental activists the importance of acknowledging the 50th anniversary of Earth Day which was observed Wednesday, April 22.
President of Texas State’s Environmental Conservation Organization Emma Parsley, environmental engineering technology senior, said it is important to recognize the growth nature has been able to achieve with the cutback of environmentally harmful activities such as driving and standing in the river, which can hinder the growth of endangered wild rice.
Parsley said once stay-at-home orders are lifted, San Marcos residents can be more aware of the environment’s wellbeing if they take the time now to notice the good that has been done with less human activity. She said most people often do not realize they are collectively a portion of the environment, frequently omitting organisms in their own local area.
“When people think of the environment they think of the Grand Canyon or the ocean, the environment is what you’re standing on right now,” Parsley said. “I think students should understand that the environment you call home is incredibly environmentally sensitive. You are standing in (the environment), you are living in it, you are breathing in it and in that you are not alone.”
Considering that only essential workers are allowed on the road, the absence of vehicles has created the reemergence of wildlife that would typically scatter in the forest or dart in front of moving vehicles.
Kimberley Meitzen, geography associate professor, said one of the most common but forgotten forms of pollution is noise pollution. She said this specific type of pollution leads to a higher wildlife fatality rate due to frightened animals darting into traffic.
She said because no one is allowed to gather in large crowds, the noise has faded away and more animals have been able to forage for food without deadly consequences.
“Central Texas, in particular, is a migratory fly path, we have a lot of resident birds that stay here year-round,” Meitzen said. “Many of them can be really sensitive to noise and people activity, so this reduction in that kind of hustle and bustle we have on the road has likely created a much better habitat and a much better environment for a lot of wildlife.”
With a forecast of clear skies and sunshine, Sewell Park would typically be flooded with college students shouting with excitement and making the most out of an ideal spring day.
Melani Howard, habitat conservation plan manager for the City of San Marcos, said prior to COVID-19, Sewell Park welcomed large numbers of people, sometimes causing a stand-still in the river which prevented vegetation growth. Howard said since the city cast the shelter-in-place order, there has been a surge in aquatic plant growth in the popular hangout spot.
“Pulling back our presence through driving (and) foot traffic and through all of those things has made a difference,” Howard said. “I think (Earth Day) matters even more now, we have the time to ponder it a little bit. Let’s take that time and let’s think about the issues that matter.”
The shelter-in-place order has given nature the opportunity to heal and grow without disruption just in time for the 50th celebration of Earth Day.

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