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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Greening the Boy Scout Handbook

Air Date: Week of

For the ecology-minded there are some handy tips on pesticide use and forestry practices in the revised Boy Scout Handbook. But, commentator Andy Wasowski (wah-SOW-skee) says there’s also a lot missing.


CURWOOD: Think Boy Scouts and you think camping, hiking in the great outdoors. Think environmental education, and again you might think Scouting, but commentator Andy Wasowski says think once more.

WASOWSKI: The Boy Scouts of America has recently added a new merit badge to its roster of awards: Environmental Science. And it's a good program. But from an environmentalist’s point of view, some of their other merit badge manuals are a little questionable, not only for what they say, but often for what they don't say.

Take the manual for the Forestry merit badge. Now, I was surprised to read in there that clear-cutting, a practice virtually all environmentalists decry, is treated in a very, shall we say, tolerant manner. In fact, according to the BSA, clear-cutting can be beneficial. In the manual, it says, "Clear-cutting actually creates habitat for many wildlife species that get part or all of their food, water, and shelter from low vegetation."

Well, yeah, but the manual does not say what happened to the displaced wildlife that was there in the first place. Nor does it mention that clear-cutting's impact extends well beyond the area affected: polluting streams, destroying valuable fisheries, robbing the soil of nutrients, creating erosion problems, lowering groundwater tables, and worsening global warming by decreasing the green biomass on the planet. This manual also fails to mention that clear-cutting is just plain ugly. Not unlike what strip mining does to the landscape.

In another manual, the one for the Gardening merit badge, the scout is warned that pesticides can be quite harmful to people and animals, and he's given a list of precautions. That's good. But he is not told a few facts that might dissuade him from resorting to chemical warfare in the first place. For instance, the scout is not told of the many scientific studies that link pesticides to a variety of maladies, from skin rash to birth defects to cancer. The scout isn't told that on average, a mere one percent of the insects in a typical garden are classified as pests. The rest are benign or even beneficial. Or that pesticides kill off a vital protein source for nesting songbirds. What the scout is told is that to combat plant mildew, he should use fungicides such as Benomyl, which the EPA classifies as a possible human carcinogen, and Actidione, which the EPA puts in its highest acute toxicity category.

Look, I'm not anti-Boy Scouts. I was a scout myself 100 years ago. My dad was an Eagle Scout, and my father-in-law was a scoutmaster. But I would suggest that the Boy Scouts of America revise these manuals so that they don't sound like they've been written by the public relations people for the logging and chemical industries.

CURWOOD: Commentator Andy Wasowski lives in northern New Mexico, and is author of “Native Gardens for Dry Climates.”



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