June 9, 2000
Air Date: June 9, 2000
Hungry Bears/ Jyl Hoyt
Climate change - in the form of warmer, wetter weather - is encouraging European blister rust to infect pine nut trees in Yellowstone. As Jyl Hoyt reports, this could be disastrous for grizzly bears, who rely on pine nuts for food. (06:10)
Compost from Shells/ Matthew Algeo
Jeff Holden, owner of Portland Shellfish, has found a creative way of getting rid of more than five tons of shells his company produces every day. Matthew Algeo of Maine Public Radio has the story. (05:55)
Diane Toomey reports on a study done in Africa where researchers have discovered why malaria is a significant threat to the health of newborns. (00:59)
Love and Death in the Seas of Sicily
Author Theresa Maggio talks with Steve Curwood about observing ancient rituals of fishing for tuna off the coast of Sicily. (08:30)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about, Jacques Cousteau, who would have been 90 this week, and how his undersea explorations are continuing. (02:10)
A proposal before the Boulder Colorado’s City Council calls for replacing all references to “pet owner” in the municipal code with “pet guardian.” Host Steve Curwood talks with Spence Havlick, a City Council member who plans to vote for the change. (05:15)
Technology Update/ Cynthia Graber
Cynthia Graber reports on how sound waves can keep our food cold. (00:59)
One listener writes in with a “modest” proposal for reducing flatulence -- and another calls with a brief history lesson in civic environmentalism. (02:00)
Clear-Cut Conundrum/ Mark Hertsgaard
Living On Earth’s Mark Hertsgaard (HURTS-guard) travels to the Sierra Nevada to explore the controversy over clear-cutting in California forests. Dozens of small clear cuts are planned near a famous stand of giant sequoia redwoods, and that’s prompted renewed scrutiny of California's practice of clear-cutting. (14:45)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jyl Hoyt, Matthew Algeo, Mark Hertsgaard
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber
GUESTS: Theresa Maggio, Spence Havlick
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Each year the giant bluefin tuna head into the Mediterranean to breed, and humans are waiting for them. Off the coast of Sicily, hundreds of these huge fish are trapped at one time in nets, and then slaughtered in the ancient ritual called Mattanza. Author Theresa Maggio has been there.
MAGGIO: The fish were as big as men. When their tails slapped the water it rose in columns above our heads. I remember the din, the thunder of falling water, and their frantic thrashing. They darted to the corners of the net, but there was no way out. The crowd went wild. The fish were churning the sea into a white froth, and the froth turned pink.
CURWOOD: Love and death in the sea of Sicily. Also, turning trash into cash and sweet-tasting vegetables, this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.
CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this summary of the news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In Bonn, Germany, this month, talks continued to revise and refine the Kyoto Protocol to combat climate change. Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount showing that life on Earth is being disrupted by global warming. For example, in Yellowstone National Park, rising temperatures are affecting white bark pine trees, part of the food chain for animals, including endangered grizzly bears. Grizzly bears, it seems, love pine nuts. From member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports.
(Soft voices, clanking)
HOYT: It's just after dawn in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley. There, biologist Lance Craighead adjusts his spotting scope, searching for another glimpse of the mother grizzly and three cubs who just ambled into the trees.
CRAIGHEAD: They were sort of frisky and they were jumping around and exploring, and poking around and looking at different things.
HOYT: Lance Craighead suspects the bears are heading for timber line, looking for food. Grizzlies often raid the white bark pine nuts that red squirrels collect and bury in the fall.
CRAIGHEAD: So way up in the higher areas, like up on that big ridge, there, above those cliffs, you can see some white bark pines. Some years they'll have really big crops of pine nuts, and the pine nuts are probably the most high-energy food available to grizzlies at any time of year. But it's especially important in the fall.
HOYT: Bears must eat enough each fall to get them through hibernation. And if females don't have enough fat, their fertility diminishes. White bark pine nuts can provide up to 40 percent of a bear's fat needs. But white bark pine trees are at risk because of global climate change. The trees need cool temperatures to grow, and warm weather forces them up mountainsides, limiting their range, says Chuck Schwartz, head of the Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Study Team. Higher elevations may be too cold for the white bark pine. And remember, he says, mountains are shaped like cones.
SCHWARTZ: The higher up the cone you get, the closer to the point you get, the smaller the zones will be. So there will be less available acreage for white bark pine.
HOYT: Government scientists like Chuck Schwartz are often at odds with independent biologists when it comes to protection of grizzly bears. But on this point they agree: The climate change can pose a risk to bears. He speculates that climate change may also be creating conditions in and around Yellowstone National Park that encourage the spread of European blister rust, a plant disease carried here inadvertently in 1906 that has already infected forests in the Pacific Northwest.
SCHWARTZ: It impacted the trees significantly, and there are areas now where nearly 98 percent of the white bark, the historic white bark, is gone.
HOYT: Warmer, moister air produces the fog banks that blister rust thrives in. The rust infects and girdles the tree, and it eventually dies. Foresters say blister rust is moving closer to Yellowstone. During the past five years, the number of infected trees has increased by 40 percent in the Gallatin National Forest, just south of the park where grizzlies often forage for food.
HOYT: White bark pine trees protect the bears in two ways. They provide grizzlies with food, plus their remote location shields the animals from humans. But white bark pines don't produce nut crops every year. During unproductive years, grizzlies often head to river bottoms searching for food, into areas where there are people. And that means trouble, says Louisa Wilcox, who heads the Sierra Club Grizzly Bear Ecosystem Project.
WILCOX: Grizzlies walk into these areas, perhaps not meaning to get into trouble, run into dog food on a porch, a bird feeder that's been left out, get a taste of something that's pretty tasty -- and because they have good memories, never forget it. And then within short order become a management problem, in which there is some need to dart and move the bear, or kill the bear altogether.
HOYT: Federal researchers say three times more grizzly bears die during years with no white bark pine nut crops than during years when the nuts are plentiful. With fewer than 400 grizzlies left in Yellowstone, according to several estimates, a modest increase in their deaths could have a serious impact on their population. In the meantime, foresters are developing a rust-resistant strain of the white bark pine. Government officials may plant these saplings if the disease continues its dramatic spread. But it takes 100 years for a tree to produce a usable crop of nuts.
PECK: Did somebody see another bear?
HOYT: Brian Peck of the Sierra Club Bear Project spies another bear through the spotting scope.
PECK: And this is a very dark, almost black grizzly bear. And he's just above the elk. Oh, right in the open now. Ho, ho, ho.
HOYT: People like Brian Peck, who thrill at the sight of grizzly bears and work to protect them, say the key to their preservation is understanding the connectedness of different species.
SCHWARTZ: Human influence can have profound effects on this particular species, and it's kind of an indicator species of the health of wild systems.
HOYT: Chuck Schwartz of the Inter-agency Grizzly Bear Study Team says blister rust is only the latest in a long series of human-caused threats that challenge the health of the wild Yellowstone ecosystem.
PECK: It's walking across, just out for his morning stroll.
HOYT: For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Yellowstone National Park.
PECK: Oh, he's doing a little digging. There we go. (Laughs)
(Ambient voices up and under)
CURWOOD: If one person's trash is another person's treasure, then Jeff Holden has struck gold. Or as he calls it, gardener's gold. For years, Jeff Holden has been processing shellfish in Portland, Maine. These days he's also making fancy-grade compost from some of the state's most common byproducts: seashells and sawdust. As Maine Public Radio's Matthew Algeo reports, this new business began as a surprise.
ALGEO: Jeff Holden owns Portland Shellfish, a company that processes more than ten tons of crab, lobster, and shrimp daily. That's a lot of shellfish and a lot of shells.
ALGEO: Holden says Portland Shellfish generates five tons of shells every day. The shells are ground up and stored in giant tubs outside the plant.
HOLDEN: Got some claw shell here, some ground claw shell. And then some ground body shell here. And then, in that big tub there, we have some...
ALGEO: Shellfish processors have long considered shells the bane of their business. Some sell them to pet food companies. Others simply dump them, lawfully, at sea. For years Holden gave his shells to a potato farmer, who spread them on his crops. But Maine's Department of Environmental Protection put a stop to that last year. It turned out the farmer was storing the shells improperly. Instead of keeping them on an impervious surface, like concrete or asphalt, he was simply piling them in a field. Environmental officials feared nitrates from the decomposing shells might contaminate groundwater. So Jeff Holden had to find a new way to get rid of his shells, which were quickly piling up outside his plant.
HOLDEN: They attract vectors, seagulls, flies. Plus they smell. So it's something you have to get rid of quickly every day.
ALGEO: Holden did a little research. He found out shells, especially crab shells, can be used as an ingredient in compost, which farmers and gardeners use as an organic fertilizer. Crab shells contain a carbohydrate called chitin, which is a natural bug repellent. Soon Holden began thinking of his shells as an opportunity, not a problem. He contacted the same environmental officials who'd made him stop sending his shells to the potato farm, and asked them to help him set up a composting business.
WRIGHT: Composting can be great. It takes, you know, a smelly waste product and turns it into a highly-valuable soil amendment.
ALGEO: David Wright is with the State Department of Environmental Protection's Residuals Utilization Unit, which oversees commercial composting operations in Maine. He says it takes more than shells to make a good compost.
WRIGHT: You're looking for high-nitrogen material like a fish waste, and a high-carbon material like a sawdust. And you blend those together in a recipe.
ALGEO: Jeff Holden had no problem finding sawdust for his compost recipe.
ALGEO: He called the Saunders Mill in Westbrook, Maine. The mill takes raw logs and turns them into dowels and other wood products. Plant manager Bob Gregoir says the company turns out about 50 tons of sawdust and wood shavings every day.
GREGOIR: You know, we used to call our sawdust waste product and now we call it fuel. We call it a marketable shaving. It's got some use somewhere.
ALGEO: Gregoir says Saunders sells its sawdust to several companies besides Portland Shellfish. He says it's used as everything from animal bedding to an absorbent to clean up spills. Using some sawdust from the Saunders Mill, his own shells, and a pinch of leaves and grass clippings from nearby towns, Jeff Holden has created a compost that is, in his estimation anyway, the top of the line. He calls it Gardener's Gold, and he's so proud of it he keeps a pile of it under a giant tarp outside his office.
HOLDEN: So you can see little bits of crab in it. Little bits of shell.
ALGEO: Holden has just started selling the compost in local Maine stores. He's building a full-scale composting operation, and he hopes to distribute the product all along the East Coast. It's a business he never expected to get into.
HOLDEN: Initially, we got into it just for a way to get rid of our shells. And the more I learned about composting and the more I learned about the properties of the shells, then the rest of the business came along after that.
ALGEO: Given its abundance of sea shells and sawdust, Maine is poised to become the country's biggest compost-producing state. A company called Coast of Maine has been distributing a premium compost in New England for four years. Their recipe includes mussel shells and fermented salmon. Tom Esterbrook runs a nursery in Yarmouth, Maine. He says most of his customers prefer to use a home-grown compost.
ESTERBROOK: "Because it is made from a product that's here in Maine, that is basically a waste product of the fishing industry, which means a lot to us. If we have customers that are, you know, resistant to it, we say, well, try a bag with the plant. And when the plant does better then the others that they planted, you know, they come back and they buy more.
ALGEO: And environmental official David Wright says Maine's compost is already highly-regarded among farmers and gardeners outside the state as well.
WRIGHT: It's really become a product that people seek out. People like the fact that Maine has a clean environment, and that these materials are being recycled, and are anxious to buy compost products from the state of Maine.
ALGEO: Wright hopes Maine compost will soon be available from coast to coast. For Living on Earth, I'm Matthew Algeo in Portland, Maine.
CURWOOD: Coming up: love and death in the sea of Sicily. The bluefin tuna Mattanza is next right here on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.
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TOOMEY: In Africa, malaria remains a big cause of low birth weight and death for newborns. Now a small study may explain why. British scientists working in the West African nation of Gambia found that pregnant women attract twice as many malaria-carrying mosquitos as their non-pregnant counterparts. In the experiment, women slept alone under netting in identical huts. In the morning, researchers collected the mosquitos that had accumulated. In Africa there's one species of mosquito known to be the predominant carrier of malaria, and researchers found twice as many of this kind of mosquito in the huts of the pregnant women. The researchers also found that pregnant women give off about 20 percent more breath and have a higher body temperature, and they suspect mosquitos use those chemical signals to hone in on their targets. Now, scientists say they can continue to work on repellents that block those chemical cues. And that's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And with me now is Theresa Maggio, and her new book is called "Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily." And I want to play you something. Can you tell me what we're listening to?
(Splashing and screams)
MAGGIO: This is the Mattanza. It's the killing of the giant bluefin tuna, the central rite of a long fishing ritual.
CURWOOD: Where are we?
MAGGIO: About a mile and a half off the coast of Favignana, a small island off the northwest coast of Sicily.
CURWOOD: And -- I never heard about this before. How did you find out about this?
MAGGIO: Back in 1986, I lived with a Sicilian fisherman, near Palermo, named Piero. And he wanted me to see his heroes. And it was Piero who later that year in May took me to Favignana to see La Mattanza .
CURWOOD: What exactly happens at La Mattanza?
MAGGIO: La Mattanza, as I said, is the apex of a year of waiting for the giant bluefin tuna, who have entered this seven-roomed trap, an enormous trap.
CURWOOD: A trap. This is, like, put on the ocean floor.
MAGGIO: Yes. It's 300 yards long, three football fields long, and about 64 yards wide at its widest point. It's made with net walls and it's divided into seven rooms. It's also composed of two barrier nets that extend for several miles out into the Mediterranean Sea, into the migration path of bluefin tuna who have entered the Mediterranean to spawn. These barrier nets ambush the tuna and funnel them into the mouth of this trap. When the tuna are finally herded into the penultimate room, the rais, who is the chief fisherman, has a bell rung the evening before a Mattanza .
(A bell rings)
MAGGIO: The next day, shortly after dawn, he and his fishermen go out to this trap and form a square around the last room, the seventh room in this trap, which is called the Chamber of Death, and pull up a net floor while the men sing dirges.
The songs synchronize their actions. Forty men must pull up this net evenly, otherwise the fish could escape. As they pull up this net floor, hundreds of trapped tuna rise to the surface.
CURWOOD: Hundreds of trapped tuna. I mean, these are big animals.
MAGGIO: If they're lucky. Yeah.
CURWOOD: They can be what? Eight hundred pounds, 600?
MAGGIO: They can get up to 1,400 pounds. They are the second largest bony fish in the ocean after the black marlin.
CURWOOD: And they get hundreds of these at one time in this Mattanza?
MAGGIO: If they wait long enough, they get hundreds. These days they'll do a Mattanza with 50 fish, so that tourists, or people who come from far away, can be sure to see one on a weekend.
CURWOOD: So they pull the net up, and then what happens?
MAGGIO: They pull this net floor up, and you see hundreds of huge black shapes rising to the surface. And these are the giant bluefin tuna.
CURWOOD: There is a passage in your book about this. Could you read that for me, please?
MAGGIO: I would love to. (Reading) After a while, huge black shapes rose up into the backlit square. Their slow rising was mystical, like a birth. They rose higher. Dorsal fins swirled: wild animals drawn up from the silent abyss. They were giants, eight feet long, some bigger, and there were hundreds of them. The net was drawn taut, and they skittered in front of us half out of the water. I looked into their glassy black eyes.
(Sounds of a crowd, talking, screaming)
MAGGIO: The fish were as big as men, some bigger than four men. When their tails slapped the water it rose in columns above our heads. I remember the din, the thunder of falling water, and their frantic thrashing. They darted to the corners of the net, but there was no way out. The crowd went wild. People were soaked, screaming, and cheering. Piero was delirious with joy. These fishermen were his heroes. Their net was full of fighting giant bluefins. It was a scene he saw in his dreams, but he was awake and this was real. Piero tried to pull me back from the edge, but I was riveted. The fish were churning the sea into a white froth, and the froth turned pink. When the thrashing calmed, they were battered, bleeding, and floating on their sides. But they were still alive. When the dying tuna quivered, it shook the eight men who held it. Its form was a perfect giant pointed egg. Its skin was polished marble, blue as the Earth from space. It changed colors as it died. Shimmering veils of opalescent pink and green washed over it. Red blood streamed from a gash in its flank. The men got ready to lift. They counted to two and heaved the fish to the gunwale, balanced it there on the fulcrum, and rested. The fish thumped out its life like thunder.
CURWOOD: What's it like to be with not just one giant fish like this dying, but hundreds of these fish giving up their lives?
MAGGIO: (Sighs) It's something that you really can't describe. It's hard to take in. It's like a cataclysm. I imagine it's like watching an above-ground nuclear test. You can't come up with the words for it. And even the atomic bomb, though terrible, was beautiful.
CURWOOD: And this is beautiful.
MAGGIO: The fish are beautiful. The scene is beautiful. It's a little like watching a Greek tragedy, which I have seen in Italian in Sicily and Syracuse. It evokes a strange mix of emotions in you. You feel for the fish. You know the men are doing this to live.
CURWOOD: You've been yourself time after time, though. Right?
MAGGIO: Yes. I believe I've seen 15 Mattanzas now, over a decade.
CURWOOD: And do you think you've seen your last? Or are you eager to go see them again?
MAGGIO: I'll probably see another Mattanza if there is another one. They are having Mattanzas this year. As a matter of fact, last Saturday was the first Mattanza of this year and of this millennium. I can't believe that they've actually lasted into the third millennium.
CURWOOD: Spiritually, tell me. Tell me about the Mattanza. What does it mean to you, and what does it mean to the people of Favignana?
MAGGIO: The tonnara of Favignana -- a tonnara is a tuna trap, it's the ensemble of the men who work at the equipment, the boats, the net house, and the tradition -- the tonnara of Favignana is one of only two Sicilian tonnaras left, in the place where only 50 years ago there were 50 tonnaras all around the coast of Sicily. The giant bluefin tuna was a yearly miracle, and now Favignana's is the last one left where they still recite the prayers, chant the rituals, bless the boats. It's a blood sacrifice.
MAGGIO: Just to live. They do it to live.
CURWOOD: Theresa Maggio's new book is called "Mattanza: Love and Death in the Sea of Sicily." Thank you so much for coming by, Theresa.
MAGGIO: Thank you for having me, Steve.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; and the Ford Foundation, striving to preserve our ecological values.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: See Spot. See Spot run. See Spot run to court with his lawyer. Boulder, Colorado, takes on the language of animal rights. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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SECOND HALF HOUR
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
(Music up and under: "He's my favorite frogman, you all know. With his black wetsuit he's ready to go. He's got a minisub and he don't care if he don't ever come up for air. 'Cause he's Jacques Cousteau. Well hello. Can you go?...")
CURWOOD: Jacques Cousteau, perhaps the most famous undersea explorer of our times, would have been 90 this week. Cousteau helped invent the aqualung, a self-contained underwater breathing apparatus which we now call by its acronym SCUBA. He also documented ocean life for film and television, and won a 1957 Academy Award for his film The Silent World. Jacques Cousteau served as the eyes for the a public who had never before witnessed ocean life so intimately. And now marine biologists are asking the animals themselves to work as documentarians of the watery world. Sea turtles, sperm whales, and even the great white shark are just some of the recruits who, like Cousteau, now serve as eyes under the sea. Here's how it works. Cameras are sealed in water-tight vessels and strapped carefully to the back of, say, a shark. The shark-turned-motion picture maker then swims away, the critter cam recording its every movement. The images recovered from these underwater shoots show dizzying nosedives, high-speed chases, and frenzied feasts, all straight from the shark's fin. With this technique, researchers can reveal a world otherwise hidden from human view, and, in the words of Jacques Cousteau, "to look through nature's keyhole." And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
(Music up and under: "Jacques Cousteau. Well, hello. Can you go from sea to shining sea? He checks 'em out for you and me. From sea to shining sea. He checks 'em out for you and me. He sings scuba-dooba, scuba-doowah. Scuba-dooba-dooba-dooba-doowah...")
CURWOOD: Never again will Rover or Fluffy feel like just another piece of property. That's if a proposal before Boulder, Colorado, City Council passes. As part of a larger animal control ordinance, the Humane Society of Boulder Valley is lobbying to purge the municipal code of all references to pet owners. The new term will be "pet guardians," and the new designation looks like it will get through the city council. Long-time council member Spence Havlick says he'll vote for the proposal, despite its surface silliness.
HAVLICK: Perhaps it grows out of many years of human rights issues, and once those laws have been in place, even though their enforcement is difficult, many people probably said it's now time to begin protecting pets, instead of treating them as property. But giving them some parity with their human caretakers. Perhaps it's more a sense of trying to reach out and extend a hand of friendship instead of a leash of ownership.
CURWOOD: Of course, a lot of people would say that their cats and dogs and parakeets and macaws and snakes and such are all a part of the family. Do you think that this language change will automatically affect people's attitudes in the way that you're talking about making them feel somehow more responsible?
HAVLICK: When I first read the proposed ordinance, I did chuckle a little bit. Then I thought about it. I thought to myself, hmm. There was actually an attitude change on my part when I began to think of our cat Samantha no longer as a property that I had to feed but a friend of the family that I needed to take extra good care for. So it did change my own perspective, and I'm not suggesting that it's going to change everybody's view of their pet immediately. But I think it may offer an opportunity for those who embrace this idea to look upon their creatures as they might look upon themselves.
CURWOOD: Okay. Your cat's name is Samantha, you said. Right?
HAVLICK: It is indeed.
CURWOOD: So, I want to know the logistics of this guardianship. Now, supposing Samantha decides that she wants to petition for a change of guardianship, saying that, hey, you know, this canned stuff that's getting served at the Havlick house doesn't really cut it. She'd like to move to someplace where there's, you know, fresh fish and that kind of thing.
HAVLICK: Steve, I asked that very question last night at the Boulder City Council hearing, the first hearing on this ordinance. And the city attorney advised me that if she's not able to convey that message, than it would require a third party, such as a neighbor, who might observe that I was not providing the appropriate healthy diet. So, except for a parrot, who is trained to speak with some candor, saying, "Steve or Spence, I don't want you as my guardian any more, because you're really a rather abusive guardian," the enforcement of the ordinance would undoubtedly depend on a third party's intervention.
CURWOOD: I'm also just wondering what would happen with other animals we keep, in terms of livestock. Let's say some cattle that are out there in a feedlot on their way to slaughter. Maybe someone might want to file a petition on their behalf to say that these animals probably would rather live than be killed to become, you know, hamburgers and hotdogs.
HAVLICK: I wouldn't be surprised if a decade from now, that might be a very logical extension of this. To take better care of cattle and sheep and goats and pigs that are being raised for commercial purposes.
CURWOOD: Even to the point of not killing them?
HAVLICK: I suppose the first step would be to send them to their maker in the most humane way possible. I'm not an expert in how animals are slaughtered, but I suppose there are some techniques that are less painful than others. If that's the case, I suppose in due time there will be efforts at bringing them to their demise with as little pain as possible.
CURWOOD: Hmm. You know, I think some people are probably looking at this as being pretty flaky. They're saying, "Oh, there you go, Boulder, Colorado." And now they're doing something that's really, well, sort of out there. In fact, one of the other places in the country that's known for its openness at times is dear San Francisco, which recently defeated a similar proposal like this.
CURWOOD: It was too much for them.
HAVLICK: A little too heavy for them.
HAVLICK: But there are other communities around the country that tend to be progressive, like Cambridge or Berkeley or -- you know, we could go down the list, Eugene. And a lot of times it takes one sort of guinea pig town like Boulder to test the waters.
HAVLICK: Excuse me, is a guinea pig a pet?
HAVLICK: You're very good. See how quickly this spreads? It actually goes beyond our sub-consciousness.
HAVLICK: So Boulder is obviously doing one of two things. We're creating another target for those who love to poke fun at us. Or we are offering a new idea that may have rather profound consequences.
CURWOOD: Spence Havlick is a Boulder City Council member and a professor at the University of Colorado. Thanks for speaking with me today, Mr. Havlick.
HAVLICK: It's a joy.
CURWOOD: Coming up, we'll hear from you, our listeners, including a special plea from a woman who needs a bit of help with her husband. It's Living on Earth. First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.
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GRABER: Refrigeration has changed the way we eat. We can store food for long periods of time and ship it around the world. But it's come with a price. The chemicals used in refrigeration, chlorofluorocarbons, deplete the protective ozone layer. CFCs are being phased out, but the chemicals that are replacing them contribute to global warming. So scientists are looking at ways to refrigerate without chemicals. One option gathering increasing attention is sound. When sound waves are pushed through gases, the gases heat up as they compress, and when the gases expand they cool down. In a refrigerating system, a tube with thin plates of plastic can transfer the heating and cooling effects produced by sound waves. One end of the tube gets hot, the other end gets cool. Cool enough to keep food from spoiling. Scientists are now trying to make these sound fridges as energy-efficient as their chemical counterparts, and protect the atmosphere, too. And that's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The rise of clear-cutting in California sparks controversy and possible legislation. That story is just ahead right here on the program, but first, time to hear what you, our listeners, have to say.
Dan Lefevre caught last week's story about shareholder activists trying to change corporate behavior. He called from Philadelphia, where he hears us on WHYY. Mr. Lefevre says our reporter understated the successes of these activist shareholders.
LEFEVRE: She said that changes at DuPont not to mine titanium and Home Depot's sustainable timber harvest and other examples were incremental changes. And I consider the fact that for large corporate institutions as they are, these are massive policy changes, and a major shift toward an environmental sustainability.
CURWOOD: From Marquette, Michigan, came another call, from Suzan Travis- Robyns, who hears us on WNMU. She said she enjoyed our interview with author Shutkin on his new book about civic environmentalism, but she reminded us that...
ROBBINS: This is not a new environmental strategy. First Lady Ladybird Johnson pioneered civic environmentalism with her beautification program. It was her contribution to her husband's War on Poverty, and it reflected her total approach to social problems.
CURWOOD: And finally, this comment from Nan Brown, who hears us on KNWY out of Yakima, Washington. She heard our update on the new high-tech feed designed by researchers in Scotland to reduce livestock flatulence and the resulting methane. "Bravo to the Scottish scientists," writes Ms. Brown. "My only question: When will it be available for humans, and where can I get some for my husband?" We'll be sure to let you know, Ms. Brown.
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CURWOOD: Drive three hours east of San Francisco and you'll find some of the biggest trees on Earth. The giant sequoia redwoods made news last month when President Clinton designated part of Sequoia National Forest a national monument and protected it from logging. Now the ecosystem of another famous stand of giant sequoias is being altered by clear-cutting. Living on Earth's Mark Hertsgaard used to live in the area near Big Tree State Park, and he returned there recently to investigate. He discovered that clear-cutting is becoming more prevalent in California. This has provoked a legislative showdown this week that may force California Governor Grey Davis to choose between the environmentalists who endorsed them and the timber industry that helps to fund his campaign.
ARMSTRONG: This is a 20-acre clear-cut right here, and some of this timber is over four foot in diameter, and it's grown that big in less than 100 years.
HERTSGAARD: Jim Armstrong is a logger for Sierra Pacific Industries. This sunny morning he's the crew boss at a clear-cut just outside Big Tree State Park. In the maw of his bulldozer is a massive sugar pine whose sap is still fresh. (To Armstrong) It's a wonderful smell, isn't it?
ARMSTRONG: Makes wonderful high-quality lumber here. This is window frames, door frames, sash work, molding-grade material right there. And it's a continuously-growing demand worldwide.
HERTSGAARD: Sierra Pacific Industries is California's biggest timber company by far, and the nation's second largest private landowner. The company's reliance on clear-cutting has skyrocketed in the 1990s. Its land holdings roughly doubled, but its clear-cutting increased 24 times, to nearly 24,000 acres a year. The company plans 49 clear-cuts like this one near the giant sequoias of Big Tree State Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I used to live in these woods, so when I heard about the plans, I went back to see for myself.
HERTSGAARD: I think this is my favorite part of the trail, is we're now going downhill into the grove. These wonderful dogwoods, these white blossoms now are just beginning to fade at the spring. Sugar pines with their long pine cones. That pine cone there is what, about maybe a foot long?
ARMSTRONG: And there's our first great magnificent specimen of a giant sequoia. Now, one of the things I love about giant sequoias, listen to this.
ARMSTRONG: That's me banging on the outer bark of this tree. The bark of the giant sequoias can be as much as two feet thick, and that's part of what gives them their incredible girth. It takes 20 people with arms outstretched to encircle a giant sequoia, and they can live for 2,000 years or more. The largest tree in this grove was called the Discovery Tree. Up ahead, you see what's left of it: a gigantic stump and fallen trunk. It would probably be the biggest living thing on Earth today had gold rush miners not cut it down in 1853 to create a tourist attraction. Sitting here on the stump you can see the part of the tree that they cut off and how they did it. They didn't use a saw, because there was no saw in the world big enough for this job. So they literally drilled the tree down with metal augers about the size of a man's fist. And you can also see what they did afterwards. This was a dance floor. They made that part of it into a double-lane bowling alley.
HERTSGAARD:Sierra Pacific's clear-cutting does not directly endanger the remaining giant sequoias in this part of the Sierra. They're permanently protected inside the state park. But the trees are part of a forest ecosystem being fragmented by the cuts. A five-minute walk from the Discovery stump is Sierra Pacific's Clear-Cut Unit 13, just across the border of the park. I hiked over there with Warren Alford, a local landowner and Sierra Club activist.
ALFORD: Now this is bad. This is -- what we have right in front of us on the very edge of the park is a large, old cedar that has been freshly cut. I was down here two days ago and that was standing.
HERTSGAARD: Warren Alfred says large trees like that cedar provide crucial habitat for spotted owls and other wildlife needed for a healthy forest.
ALFORD: The owl is one of those indicator species. It's the canary in a coal mine. It's the whole web of life and the owl is at the top that lets you know how that web is holding together.
HERTSGAARD: Mr. Alfred says the clear-cuts here are weakening that web, and there is concern that they may also increase soil erosion, which can carry harmful sediments into creeks and downstream rivers. The Sierra Club wants to end clear-cutting in the area, and to re-open public comment on the project. But Sierra Pacific Industries calls concerns about erosion a hot-button emotional issue. They say there's no documentation for claims that clear-cutting harms water quality in California. And SPI forester Tim Feller says that when it comes to maintaining habitat, the small 20-acre clear-cuts planned for these woods actually have environmental advantages.
FELLER: If we were doing selection logging like it has been logged in the past, we would probably cover all 10,000 acres in the next ten years.
HERTSGAARD: Instead, Mr. Feller says, Sierra Pacific's 884 acres of scattered clear-cuts will leave 90 percent of the company's land in the area untouched.
FELLER: So it's a lighter hand on the watershed, and sets us up for developing kind of a mosaic of wildlife habitat. The clear-cutting issue is a sensitive one because it's emotional and, you know, we're looking at it from a science viewpoint.
HERTSGAARD: Clear-cuts are legal in California, but the logging rules which allow them have drawn widespread criticism. The National Marine Fisheries Service, for instance, has repeatedly complained that California's forestry rules don't do enough to protect valuable fish species from the effects of erosion. Four years ago the federal agency listed the cohoe salmon as a threatened species. Recently it added steelhead trout to the list, provoking an outcry from commercial and recreational fishermen. A scientific panel appointed jointly by the state and federal government has called for stricter logging rules, sparking fierce political battles in the state capital.
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HERTSGAARD: Democrat Fred Keeley is the second ranking member of the California Assembly. He sponsored a bill to reform the state's logging practices.
KEELEY: If this was a situation where someone timber-harvested on their private land and there was no effect beyond the boundaries of their private property, maybe you could make some argument that the state shouldn't have significant oversight. But the fact is that timber harvesting is an activity which directly affects public trust resources. The streams and creeks and rivers are not private property.
HERTSGAARD: Mr. Keely's bill would require that citizens be fully notified of proposed timber harvest plans, including clear-cuts, and that the plans be reviewed by independent scientists.
KEELEY: I believe that we have an obligation, one generation to the next, to be good stewards of our land and our natural resources. And that we ought not to be involved in a species-by-species serial killing.
HERTSGAARD: Mr. Keeley's bill wouldn't ban clear-cutting. But it would expose clear-cutting to greater scrutiny, and would likely mean it would happen less often. Industry opposes the bill and it passed the Assembly by just three votes. Now, logging reform is bound up in the end game of the state budget, which must be passed by June fifteenth. The administration of Governor Grey Davis has proposed its own reform plan, but with less strict review and notification provisions than Keely's. Environmentalists say it amounts to letting industry regulate itself. They draw a connection between the plan and Governor Davis receiving $129,000 from a timber industry fundraiser that Sierra Pacific hosted last July. Five months later Governor Davis named a Sierra Pacific executive to the State Forestry Board. Sierra Pacific's Tim Feller says those two events are unrelated.
FELLER: We are interested in having good regulation, and it happens to be coincidental with the fundraiser. But we are involved in politics. Most everybody is.
HERTSGAARD: Governor Davis's office declined repeated requests for an on-tape interview, but I did get to ask his press office one question. This was it: How can Californians be confident the Governor will fairly balance environmental and timber industry arguments when the industry has showered him with campaign contributions? Spokesman Byron Tucker checked with his superiors and had this reply. Quote, "Your question didn't go over very well here." Mr. Tucker continued, "You're making a connection between campaign contributions a year ago and a decision being made now? Clear-cutting is legal in California, so what's the beef?" End quote.
Louis Blumberg of the Department of Forestry did agree to speak for the administration, and he says the state is already getting tougher on the timber industry.
BLUMBERG: The administration recognized from the moment it took office that the forest practice rules that were in place at that time were not adequate. The administration has adopted a comprehensive, multi-faceted strategy to deal with this problem. In last year's budget Governor Davis provided funding for 70 new field staff to oversee and monitor timber harvest plans.
HERTSGAARD: But the new scrutiny hasn't led to more timber harvest plans being turned down. Last year, the Forestry Department approved 564 plans and rejected none. Still, Louis Bloomberg denies the department rubber-stamps the plans.
BLUMBERG: We don't approve or disapprove plans because we like or dislike them. Our legal mandate is to work with the landowners to ensure that their plans meet environmental laws.
HERTSGAARD: But there are questions about whether the law was met in the case of the clear-cuts near Big Trees. Representatives from both the state park and the local water company say they didn't receive formal notification of the timber plan, though Sierra Pacific's plan cites the men by name as having been consulted. Simon Granville is general director of the Calaveras County Water District.
GRANVILLE: This clear-cutting operation was one that hit us by surprise. They just post their notices over at the county offices, which are about a mile away from us. If you happen to go by where they post these notices, then you're notified. Otherwise, we wouldn't have heard about it.
HERTSGAARD: Not so, says Sierra Pacific's Tim Feller.
FELLER: They were notified. In fact, they were notified twice. We called them. We finally went down and made a personal visit to them and asked them if they had any concerns, and they said no. So I don't know who's telling the truth here or not, but I know as a registered professional forester there are rules and regulations which govern the type of notification that we have to do. And we follow those to a tee; we have too much to risk if we don't.
(Loud plane engine)
HERTSGAARD: A clear-cut can't be fully understood from ground level. You need an aerial view.
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HERTSGAARD: I took a ride over the clear-cut near Big Tree State Park with Warren Alford of the Sierra Club. (To Alford) Okay, now aren't those sequoias we're seeing down there below us?
ALFORD: Yeah, actually those are. And you can see by the big red trunk and just the great big branches that stick up into the air, that's definitely a sequoia.
HERTSGAARD: So that's the Big Tree State Park. And how close is that to the clear-cuts that are planned?
ALFORD: You're talking about 50 feet. I could hit it easily with a rock and I don't have a very good arm. All along this canyon wall, on each of these little tributaries, are going to be these 23-acre clear-cuts. Again, that's going to be two or three football fields in size, and just pockmarked through this area.
HERTSGAARD: I had walked the forest below me hundreds of times, but that plane ride showed me a whole new side of them. The contrast between the rich green of the trees and the bare red clay of past clear-cuts reminded me of a golf course fairway that had been overrun by too many sand traps. Sierra Pacific says the view from above doesn't tell the whole story. The company says clear-cuts, when done properly, can actually keep forests healthier than selective logging. And even some people entrusted with protecting the giant sequoias agree that responsible clear-cuts can work. Wayne Harrison is a resource ecologist at Big Tree State Park.
HARRISON: We've preferred them to broad-scale selective cutting, because it typically, we felt, resulted in the long run in a more diverse forest age structure. And that in turn created the diversity of forest habitat types.
HERTSGAARD: But the local board of supervisors has asked Governor Davis to re-examine logging practices in the area around the park. And most Californians I spoke to while reporting this story were surprised to learn that clear-cutting is still legal in the state. Ultimately, it's up to them to decide whether it should stay that way. Forest Department spokesman Louis Bloomberg.
BLUMBERG: We have not been served with a request to ban clear-cutting. If banning clear-cutting is important to the people of California, they have a remedy through the legislative process to seek redress.
HERTSGAARD: John Muir, the mountaineer and father of American environmentalism, is best known for establishing nearby Yosemite National Park. But Muir also fought on behalf of the giant sequoias at Big Trees with his pamphlet "And the Vandals Danced Upon the Stump." Now, modern loggers are poised to clear-cut 884 acres on the border of the park where the vandals once danced. Muir credited God with saving the giant sequoias through all the eventful centuries since Christ's time. But he warned, "God cannot save these trees from saw mills and fools. This is left to the American people."
HERTSGAARD: For Living on Earth, I'm Mark Hertsgaard.
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CURWOOD: Our report on California's clear-cutting controversy was produced by Nathan Johnson.
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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: For decades the bugaboo of jobs versus environment kept many union members and environmental activists at arm's length. But today the two constituencies are finding common ground in common enemies and common issues. And they're forming alliances that could change the nation's political landscape.
WOMAN: It feels like it's on the cutting edge, and the potential is tremendous.
CURWOOD: Bridging the gap between the blues and the greens next week on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, and Maggie Villiger, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Christina Russo and Jennifer Chew. Alison Dean composed the theme. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is science editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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