Air Date: July 14, 2000
Illegal Logging in Indonesia
Illegal logging in Indonesia has destroyed forests and left endangered orangutans homeless. It has also led to violence against environmental activists. Faith Doherty of the Environmental Investigation Agency tells Living On Earth host Steve Curwood the story of what happened to her and her Indonesian colleague at the hands of timber company employees. (11:00)
Health Update/ Diane Toomey
Diane Toomey reports that medical researchers are making use of a natural poison to treat a number of diseases. (00:59)
Urban Green Space/ Beth Fertig
WNYC’s Beth Fertig reports on the growing tensions in balancing nature conservation and recreational use of green space in New York City. From the Central Park greens to a bird sanctuary in Jamaica Bay, residents, activists and officials hold a variety of views on how public space should be used. (06:30)
Park Fees/ Stephen Stuebner
Commentator Stephen Stuebner thinks people who oppose park recreation fees should stop complaining. He says the fee program provides necessary funds for our public lands. (02:20)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about parking meters. Sixty-five years ago the rising popularity of the automobile led to the installation of the first parking meters -- in Oklahoma City. (01:30)
Toilet to Tap/ Jon Beaupre
Jon Beaupre reports on a controversial plan in Los Angeles to put treated sewage water back into the drinking water system. (05:50)
Technology Update/ Cynthia Graber
Cynthia Graber reports on a new way of checking the stability of telephone poles. (00:59)
Canadian Geese Control/ Deidre Kennedy
Washington state officials have begun gassing Canadian Geese to reduce their numbers in the Puget Sound area. Two years ago, Living On Earth reported about efforts to control the goose population by oiling eggs to prevent them from hatching. But the birds continued to multiply. Deirdre Kennedy reports from Seattle. (05:35)
The Goshutes Propose Nuclear Waste Dump
A small, impoverished group of Native Americans has come up with a controversial way to bring money onto its reservation. The Goshutes of Utah want to build a high-level nuclear waste dump on their land. Not surprisingly, the proposal has its critics, both on and off the reservation. Living On Earth host Steve Curwood speaks with Kevin Fedarko, who reported on the plan for Outside Magazine. (11:00)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Beth Fertig, Jon Beaupre, Deirdre Kennedy
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber
GUESTS: Faith Doherty, Kevin Fedarko
COMMENTATOR: Steven Stuebner
FIRST HALF HOUR
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Tensions are high in Indonesia over an emerging scandal about illegal logging, with charges that at least one leading member of the Indonesian Parliament is a major trafficker. Private investigators who unearthed evidence of the allegations say they were kidnapped and beaten in their quest.
DOHERTY: It all sort of came to a head when Sugianto reached to the top of the television and pulled out a gun. And he pointed it at Ruey and he said, "I can kill you now, and I will only get seven years in jail. But you, you will be dead." And then I thought: Okay, this is it. I was absolutely terrified.
CURWOOD: Also, park advocates in New York City squabble over remaining open space. And one man says park fees are good for you. We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. A few years ago the Environmental Investigation Agency, or EIA, a private international group based in London, began receiving reports of the rapid loss of orangutan habitat in Indonesia. With fewer than 20,000 of these endangered primates left, their territory is protected by official reserves. But illegal logging was making a mockery of the protection plans. In fact, there's evidence that more illegal timber is sent out of Indonesia each year than comes through legal channels, hurting not just orangutans, but also whole ecosystems and Indonesia's public treasury. So the EIA paired up with Telepac, an Indonesian environmental group, to find out just who was cutting the trees. The probe exposed the illegal activities of a timber baron who's also a member of Indonesia's Upper House of Parliament. It also led to the investigators being taken hostage, beaten by timber company employees, and then detained by Indonesian police until the British government intervened. Faith Doherty is a senior investigator with the EIA. She says it was easy to see what was happening to the orangutans on the way in to Tangenpudin National Park.
DOHERTY: It just became very obvious, especially when you're traveling down rivers to get inside the park to visit the areas where the orangutans are. You would see hundreds and hundreds of log rafts coming down the river. And so, we decided that we needed to have a look and see whether or not there was any way to stop the illegal logging in order to, if you like, save the orangutan.
CURWOOD: So how were you able to uncover the illegal logging?
DOHERTY: A few of our staff went in undercover and posed as timber buyers. It took a few months to identify the largest timber baron in the region, and it was through a few meetings with his directors in the office near the park that we were able to find out a lot more information than if we had just stayed in the park and counted the log rafts going down the river.
CURWOOD: What kind of proof did you have? I mean, you saw something, but it's your word against theirs.
DOHERTY: The way that we conduct our investigations is that we have undercover filming facilities, we do audio, and we take pictures. We go into the field itself. We paint a picture, and we put that together with all the information that we get. We don't just go into a park, say, "Oh, there's somebody logging a tree, let's photograph it and ask him about it." It was six undercover investigations in order to get the actual evidence and proof that we needed.
CURWOOD: What happened once you got this information?
DOHERTY: We checked and checked and checked the facts. And after a good year to a year and a half of investigations, we pulled it all together into a report, called "The Final Cut," and in August of last year we launched the campaign in Jakarta at a press conference.
CURWOOD: What happened, after this press conference, to you?
DOHERTY: And then in January, myself and my colleague, my Indonesian colleague, went back to the park. And we spent a few days traveling the river and going into the park, and checking with the vets and the rangers, as to what the situation was with the orangutans at that time. And it seemed pretty good. But they were saying that there was still logging occurring, but in other areas of the park. So we spent the next few days undercover, actually, in two other sections of the park, monitoring the logging. And there was, but, again, not to the extent that we had seen on previous visits. So we were feeling very optimistic that perhaps the campaign had had some kind of effect locally on the ground.
CURWOOD: Then what happened?
DOHERTY: Well, then we decided that we would go and check out the sawmills. And when we got to the sawmill that belonged to the timber baron, we actually asked whether it would be possible to talk to anyone from the company. Some guy came down from the office and explained to us that, in fact, Abdul Rasid, who is the director of this company, was in the nearest town to the park, and that the best thing to do would be to call him up there and go and see him. It wouldn't be a problem. So we said right, thanks very much. By the time we got back to the hotel, by the time I got into my room, the phone was ringing, and it was a receptionist saying that three gentlemen were waiting in the lobby to take myself and my colleague to meet with Mr. Abdul Rasid and would we like to go?
CURWOOD: What happened next?
DOHERTY: And we were driven to the office, which is in the center of town. We got out of the car, and we were taken in, and we walked up three flights of stairs, and were taken into quite a large office, in which three people were there. I said, "Where is Mr. Abdul Rasid? We've come here to see him." At which point, one of the -- I would now call them bodyguards was sitting there saying, "He's not here, he's in Singapore, and you're not leaving." And another few minutes of dialogue, very aggressive dialogue, was going on between my colleague and one of the directors, Sugianto, who happens to be the nephew of Abdul Rasid. And the next thing I know is, he leapt up off his chair and started beating Ruey, my colleague, very badly. I got up off the sofa and tried to intervene, and in the process got injured myself. And this guy was -- he was in a total rage. He just kept beating Ruey, screaming and shouting in Indonesian. And eventually pulled Ruey up off the floor and threw him onto the sofa. And again, I was asking somebody,"Would you please explain to me what's going on?" And one of the bodyguards spoke perfect English and started to translate for me, and he explained that it was because of Ruey and because of EIA that they had lost billions of dollars.
CURWOOD: How did you feel at this point?
DOHERTY: I was absolutely terrified. And it all sort of came to a head when Sugianto reached to the top of the television and pulled out a gun. And he pointed it at Ruey and he said, "I can kill you now, and I will only get seven years in jail. But you, you will be dead." And then I thought: Okay, this is it. And I was still desperately trying to think of a way to calm the situation down. There was just this whole part of me that really didn't think that they would go through with it, but one thing I did know for sure was that if they separated us, I'd never see Ruey again. I was absolutely convinced of that.
DOHERTY: A) He was Indonesian; they were Indonesian. It's their country. And the saddest part of all of this is that there are many environmentalists in Indonesia who disappear, or who are found dead. And with the turmoil and what is going on in Indonesia, it would have just been viewed as another person who had been killed.
CURWOOD: So there you are. You're thinking that if you get separated, your Indonesian companion is dead. What happens next?
DOHERTY: Then the next thing is, the gun was put away. And the police walked in. And then we were taken out of the room. And as we were leaving the room, I said to Ruey, "Is this good or bad?" And he said, "I have no idea, but I think it's about to get worse." So we left the room, we were taken downstairs, and outside was a police truck. And we were put into the truck and taken to the police station. And we were then taken across the road to the CID office where the homicide detectives and detectives are based.
CURWOOD: CID stands for?
DOHERTY: Central Investigation Departments. We spent the rest of the night in interrogation, and then it all came out that within the CID, there was a group, a very small group, I think about three of them out of the 25 detectives there, who had been looking at this company for many years and had been trying to, if you like, have them arrested for a lot of crimes, not just illegal logging.
CURWOOD: Well, people listening to us now would say these are a lot of very strong allegations.
DOHERTY: Mm hm.
CURWOOD: What kind of legal action have you taken against these people?
DOHERTY: The police have filed criminal charges against those that committed the kidnapping, hostage taking, and assault. What we have been doing since that time, is we've used this situation to keep fighting on the illegal logging issue. Now, what happened was, in the three days we were being held, our case was catapulted into the laps of some very, very powerful people, including the new president of Indonesia. And every day as the phone calls were being made to try and get us released, the phone calls came from people higher and higher and higher and higher up, to the point where my own government was involved. And in the process of this, of course, you know, someone's "What on earth were they doing there?" "Oh, they were there to look at illegal logging." Obviously, the first priority during that time was to get Ruey and I out of there. But once we had reached Jakarta, we had two days where we could prepare to make that presentation at the meeting where the Indonesian cabinet was, and the international donor community. And so, in a way, the whole thing backfired on them. Because without that incident happening, there would not have been the interest that there was once we got to Jakarta, on the issue of illegal logging in the park.
CURWOOD: I'm speaking to you here in the United States.
DOHERTY: Mm hm.
CURWOOD: And you have plans to go back to Indonesia. Why are you going back?
DOHERTY: Well, we're going back -- we need to win this campaign. This national park and the issues that I've described that are happening within it is a very, very small part of something that is much larger in Indonesia. And we feel that if the Indonesian government can deal with this, there is hope to deal with the rest of the protected areas in Indonesia. That's number one. Number two, our Indonesian colleagues in the Indonesian NGO that we work with, Telepac, the partnership that we have is such that when there's trouble, you don't run out on your friends. And you most certainly don't leave them sitting there in Indonesia to deal with the aftermath of something like that. Personally, for me as an activist, I could never walk away from something like that and leave my friends to sit there and take the consequences. And we have kept highlighting this situation. We haven't stopped. We're still going to continue. And in fact, when I go back this week, both EIA and Telepac will be filmed by CBS and NHK as part of the film they're making on illegal logging. We're very, very high-profile, and we're not going to sit down and say okay, we can't do this any more. I mean, Indonesia is in a mess, yes, but we've got to win this campaign. It's very, very important.
CURWOOD: Faith Doherty is a senior investigator with the Environmental Investigation Agency. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
DOHERTY: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
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CURWOOD: Just ahead: The competition for green space in the big city. People versus the critters. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
Now, this environmental health update from Diane Toomey.
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TOOMEY: Findings from two groups of researchers bring news that might take the sting out of some diseases. California researchers have found that a manmade chemical based on scorpion venom can suppress the activation of T-cells, those all-important workhorses in our immune system. Researchers hope to use the substance to develop new drugs to fight off organ transplant rejection, and to treat autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Meanwhile, in Mexico, scientists have found a compound in scorpion venom that can block the growth of malaria parasites. They say if they can genetically modify mosquitoes to produce this substance, something they've already done with fruit flies, they might be able to curb the spread of malaria at its source. And that's this week's environmental 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. As major cities become more crowded, the competition over the use of the limited supply of common open spaces is becoming acute. There is much need for places to relax and play. And there's much need for green shelters to balance the ecosystem and to preserve what little wildlife remains in cities. Not surprisingly then, among the open space advocates conflict can arise and New York City is a case in point. Beth Fertig of member station WNYC explains.
FERTIG: Jamaica Bay is home to New York City's only wildlife refuge, a national park where hundreds of species of migratory birds stop to feed every spring and fall. Visitors can see graceful marsh birds diving into the water, yellow warblers, and gray-colored catbirds that dart out of trees. In the lush summer foliage, other birds can only be heard, says Al Ott, who likes to walk along the dirt path and gaze with binoculars.
OTT: There are several birds singing. One of them is a white-eyed vireo. And they nest in the shrubs. They've got habitat all along where it's going to be destroyed by the construction of the bike path.
FERTIG: Ott is referring to plans for building a new bicycle path here in the brush. The asphalt path would be ten feet wide and one-and-a-half miles long, part of a bigger loop around Jamaica Bay. And it wouldn't go very deep, just nine feet from the park perimeter. But Ott, who organized a group called Save Our Sanctuary, says even that would destroy valuable nesting space, and also ruin a rare feeling of tranquility in a tiny sliver of land near Kennedy International Airport.
OTT: Wildlife refuge is for passive recreation. Walking, observing nature, photographing. You know, when we collected the 5,500 signatures from people that use the refuge, more than half of them were just people that are desperate for a quiet place to go for a walk.
FERTIG: Conservation groups, including the Audubon Society, agree the new path is a bad idea, but the issue has divided the community here in southeastern Queens. Neighbors who want the new path say their gorgeous refuge is inaccessible to bikers, baby carriages, and wheelchairs, because the only paved path is right outside the sanctuary along a busy road.
MUNDY: As you can see right now, I can't even bring my grandchildren up here with their bicycles or rollerblades. The sidewalk is just in terrible condition. It's broke, there's holes in it.
FERTIG: Dan Mundy is president of the Civic Association for Broad Channel, which is right by Jamaica Bay.
MUNDY: We try to provide a place where people can come, get away from the hardtop, get away from carbon monoxide, get away from noise of cars whizzing by and planes overhead, which we hear now.
FERTIG: Jamaica Bay's wildlife refuge is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, a gigantic park around New York Harbor. The 20-mile bike loop around Jamaica Bay would be funded partly by federal transportation dollars, which would also pay for a series of proposed greenway paths all over the city. David Lutz of the group Friends of Gateway says the current plan is a compromise.
LUTZ: This is not an issue of wildlife. This is an issue of people. So you have the recreationists on one side, who are recreationists with binoculars, versus the recreationists on the other side, who are recreationists with bicycles. And the question is whether cyclists and families should be able to have an environmentally pleasant experience when they go through a national park, in an environmentally benign way.
McCANTS: Excuse me, ma'am? Can I talk to you for a moment?
FERTIG: But in another part of New York City, park officials say wildlife is the issue.
McCASS: How are you doing, ma'am? My name is Lieutenant Benny McCants from New York City Parks Department.
WOMAN: Hi, nice to meet you.
McCANTS: It's not a problem. I just want to inform you, you did have your dog off the leash...
FERTIG: In Central Park, enforcement officers remind people not to walk their dogs without a leash during the day. The city has beefed up enforcement over the years. Visitors also aren't allowed to play football or soccer, which can ruin the lawns. Visitors can get a ticket, but the officers usually give out warnings first. The Central Park Conservancy has raised nearly $270 million in private donations over the last 20 years to clean up the park, which in some places had come to resemble a dust bowl.
(A lawnmower revs up)
FERTIG: The Conservancy, which is under contract with the city, hired teams of horticulturalists and caretakers. They replanted the fields, pruned the trees, and wiped away all the graffiti. New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern acknowledges all this work may cause some inconveniences, but with 20 million visitors a year, he says, he has to balance the needs of the park and the people who love it.
STERN: You do it by following the rule of reason, and by letting people do what they can, as long as they don't injure anyone else or injure the park. You cannot have people playing soccer on a field, day after day, evening after evening, without the grass being destroyed. That's not my rule or Mayor Giuliani's rule. That is a law of nature.
FERTIG: Environmentalists say cities around the country are trying to strike a similar balance, protecting green space while also promoting it. After years of neglect, many parks are now green with cash thanks to the good economy. And the parks are responding, says Kathy Blaha, who directs the Green Cities Initiative at the Trust for Public Land in Washington, D.C.
BLAHA: There's oftentimes different people using those parks than used to use those parks. So you're seeing that where there might have been young people, there are now older people. Or where there might have been older people, there are now younger people. Where there might have once been people who liked to walk through the park, now there are people who like to play soccer in the park. So, local governments are not only facing the demands of trying to improve those places, simply making them look better and making them run better, but really to meet a whole new series of demands.
FERTIG: As supporters of the parks lobby for more funding, Blaha says tensions are sure to surface around the country. She suggests open communication between parks and the communities they serve could help ensure that recreation and conservation are not mutually exclusive. For Living on Earth, I'm Beth Fertig in New York.
CURWOOD: Some people don't like having to pay higher fees to use our national parks and forests. But, says commentator Steven Stuebner, it's worth it.
STUEBNER: One of my favorite T-shirts sports a plain white front with a red bar cutting across the black word "whining." Meaning, of course, no whining allowed. I'd like to give away "no whining" T-shirts to all the people who are complaining about paying recreation fees on public lands, because I'm not hearing any solutions, just whining. Right now, as record numbers of Americans flock to our national parks and forests, there is a dire need for better trail upkeep, new outhouses, litter patrol, and environmental education.
Congress has been unwilling to appropriate enough funds for proper care of our public lands. So, in 1996, it allowed certain agencies to charge fees to pick up the slack. I visited a number of these fee collection sites before and after charges were imposed, and I'm here to tell you that the fees have made a vast improvement.
In the mountain biking Mecca of Moab, Utah, for example, I noticed a huge difference. New outhouses sprang up. Trail signs were erected. And campsites were defined to protect the fragile desert environment. Hundreds of projects like this are improving the environment and the recreation experience across the nation.
Public opinion surveys show strong support for the pay-to-play concept. People buy tickets to attend a movie or a ball game. They buy lift tickets to go skiing. What concerns me, however, is that public acceptance of fees will decline if people get charged for everything they do, everywhere they go. The state of Oregon came up with a good answer: a coastal pass for all the nifty campgrounds on the Oregon coast. That's a good idea to accommodate outdoorsy hardcores.
Looking ahead, Congress needs to face facts. Recreation fees will never cover all costs. Congress needs to spend more money on recreation. That will keep fees from spiraling out of control. By then, hopefully, people will see their investment is making a difference. Then, maybe, just maybe, the whining will cease.
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CURWOOD: Commentator Steven Stuebner is a freelance writer in Boise, Idaho.
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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 in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment: www.wajones.org; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues.
CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we come back: recycling water in Los Angeles from toilet to tap. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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SECOND HALF HOUR
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Many cities are so crowded these days that when one does find a parking spot, a parking meter doesn't seem like much of an annoyance. But it wasn’t always that way. And you can thank Oklahoma City for putting in the first parking meters 65 years ago this week. Saying it would help alleviate parking congestion, Oklahoma City officials started charging a nickel an hour to park that Packard. People didn't like it. They didn't like giving up the nickel when parking used to be free, and they didn't trust the clocks on the meters. Well, it turns out that people were right to be suspicious of the timers. Just a few years ago, as part of a science project, a student took a stopwatch to the parking meters in Berkeley, California, and she found that motorists were getting shortchanged, or rather short-timed, all too often. Today's digital meters are supposed to be more accurate, and some even take swipe cards. Incidentally, the first parking ticket was issued on the very same day as the parking meter's debut, and the guilty party had a tale to tell. It seems Oklahoma City Reverend C.H. North had just stepped into a store for a moment nearby to get change to feed the meter, only to find a ticket on the windshield when he returned. Or so he said. Anyone who's ever had to pay a parking fine can certainly say "Amen" to that one. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
CURWOOD: With its water resources stretched to the limit, Los Angeles is looking at new ways to slake its thirst. City officials say they would like to try a controversial new method of recycling that will put treated sewage water back into the drinking water supply. But as Jon Beaupre reports, the proposal is getting a less than enthusiastic response at community hearings.
BEAUPRE: It starts here...
(A toilet flushes)
BEAUPRE: And here...
(Shower water runs)
BEAUPRE: And here.
(A garbage disposal runs)
BEAUPRE: The millions of toilets, showers, and garbage disposals in southern California produce a huge, continuous supply of wastewater. This water is normally treated in sewage plants and pumped out to the ocean. Currently, most of the area's water comes from hundreds of miles away, from either the Colorado River to the east or the Owens Valley to the north. But with the population exploding, the pressure is on Los Angeles to find new water sources closer to home. David Freeman is the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the DWP. He describes the proposed water treatment process.
FREEMAN: We are recycling water that has been cleaned up to drinking water standards. And then, mind you, and then put through hundreds of feet of sand filter, before it enters the aquifer along with other water that enters it. And then that water is five years later pumped out, and becomes part of the water supply. The one thing we know is that the water in this tap project will be super clean.
BEAUPRE: After five years that super clean water Mr. Freeman talks about would be pumped out of the ground. It would then rejoin the water supply coming from the Owens Valley or Colorado River, at plants like this one in Slymar north of Los Angeles.
BEAUPRE: It is here and at about a dozen other plants around the city that the water is filtered, purified, oxygenated, and sterilized for public use.
BEAUPRE: Currently only a tiny amount, under ten percent, of Los Angeles's water comes from the ground under the city. The new DWP plan would increase that percentage considerably. Two years ago the city of San Diego, only 120 miles to the south, embarked on a similar project. According to the deputy mayor of San Diego, Harry Mathis, the plan was defeated by political jockeying.
MATHIS: There were a number of references that this was just another case of the more affluent people in the northern part of the city, they're the ones creating the sewage at the north city plant. They're going to treat it and send it down to the folks living in their area, who were going to have to then drink it. It really got ugly.
BEAUPRE: To many, the defeat of the recycling project in San Diego was more than just a public relations failure. Some scientists felt the aesthetic questions of water flowing from toilet to tap were secondary to the safety of that retreated water. Dr. Daniel Okun is Keenan Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He says the planned Los Angeles system is fine for the removal of disease-causing organisms, but insufficient for removal of other chemicals in the water.
OKUN: It is not intended at all to remove the trace organic chemicals, which also are in wastewater. That treatment process, which involves just biological treatment followed by chlorine disinfection, is fine for microorganisms, but it doesn't do anything -- in fact, it adds to the number and concentration of synthetic organic chemicals.
BEAUPRE: Dr. Okun explains that the chemical byproducts of the purification process could find their way in increased concentrations back into the drinking water supply. He adds that other methods currently in use for the removal of small amounts of trace organic chemicals, such as membrane and granular-activated charcoal filtration, are currently too expensive to use in city water systems. Robert Hultquist is the Chief of Drinking Water Technical Operations for the State Department of Health Services. He acknowledges Professor Okun's concerns, but states that his agency is comfortable with the standards currently in place, at least for the first three years of this project.
HULTQUIST: I've contacted experts that I felt were skeptical of this activity and spent considerable time talking with them about their concerns, listening to their concerns.
BEAUPRE: Including Dan Okun.?
HULTQUIST: Yes, I have corresponded with Dan Okun. I mean I respect Dan Okun. He's a real expert in this field. And we feel that we've addressed the concerns he has.
BEAUPRE: Mr. Hultquist says he's pleased that the public has taken an interest in the project, even if not all the views are positive. The Los Angeles City Council will make final decisions on the $55 million plan this fall. Opinions are mixed among residents.
WOMAN: No way. No thank you. (Laughs) I'll drink Diet Coke the rest of my life.
MAN: See, I just went to my doctor. He told me that I have bacteria that came from the water that causes ulcers.
BEAUPRE: You wouldn't be very encouraged by that plan?
MAN: I'm not encouraged at all by that.
WOMAN 2: I don't want to drink water from the toilet. Just thinking about it is disgusting.
MAN 2: I mean if it's approved, I don't mind it. I think that's great. I like recycling
MAN 3: I think it's good that we can do whatever we can to make the sewage problem that we have better.
BEAUPRE: If the new sewage water treatment plan is approved, it will join an number of others in the country. Three here in southern California and one in Fairfax County, Virginia. Pumping over 11 million gallons a year back into the ground under Los Angeles, enough to supply about 70,000 families, would certainly help relieve the region's water shortage. Politicians just need to convince scientists and citizens that the drinking water will be safe.
BEAUPRE: For Living on Earth, I'm Jon Beaupre in Los Angeles.
CURWOOD: Coming up: A death sentence for Seattle's Canada geese. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
Now, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.
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GRABER: Most folks call them telephone poles, but the nearly 20 million wooden pilings that dot the nation's roads bring more than Ma Bell into your home. They also carry cable TV, high-speed Internet access, and electric power. It can be a pretty heavy load, and making sure the poles aren't rotting takes a lot of time and money. So researchers in Georgia have combined two technologies and came up with a new testing method. First, they hover over a pole in a helicopter and point a laser at the pole. Light measures how much the pole is vibrating in response to sound waves coming from the helicopter's engine. Then they plug the data into a computer, which compares the vibration pattern to that of a healthy pole. Poles that register unhealthy can be visually checked for rotting and replaced or supported if they're about to fall down. 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. Fifty years ago it was rare to see a Canada goose in the Puget Sound area. Today there are so many of them that some consider them to be a major annoyance to people in metropolitan Seattle. Two years ago we told you about efforts to reduce the region's Canada goose population by coating the eggs with oil to prevent them from hatching. Now authorities have decided to resort to lethal solutions to alleviate their goose problem. From Seattle, Deirdre Kennedy reports.
KENNEDY: It's a beautiful hot summer evening at Seattle's Green Lake Park, where two dozen Canada geese and their young are scrambling for bread that park visitors have tossed in the water.
KENNEDY: It may be one of the last meals for these birds. They're among several thousand Canada geese slated to be killed this summer. Wildlife officials have been herding the geese onto trucks, taking them to a holding station, and then gassing them with carbon dioxide. The goose problem began in the 1980’s, a few decades after the birds were brought here. Since then, the lush metropolis of Seattle and its environs, with its lakes, manicured lawns, and parks, has become a year-round habitat for the formerly migrating geese. There are now estimated to be more than 20,000 in the Puget Sound area. And, pretty as they are, each bird can deposit up to three pounds of feces a day, creating an ugly situation for park visitors and boating enthusiasts.
WOMAN: If you don't sweep the dock, you're covered in goose poop. You just get goose poop all over your hands, and it's really gross. It's disgusting.
MAN: They just ruin the parks. I mean, people used to like to put a blanket down, but now you have to try to find a spot that's not contaminated. And so, it's just a big nuisance.
KENNEDY: Last year the high fecal content in public swimming areas prompted health officials to temporarily close several Seattle-area beaches and lakes. Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Donald Harris says the problem has since spread.
HARRIS: More recently, and I think somewhat graphically, we're starting to get parents calling us to say that their kids are playing in what they described as a fecal soup. Basically, geese hanging out on ball fields, it rains, it turns muddy. It's a mixture of dirt and geese feces.
KENNEDY: The birds are also blamed for nearly five million dollars in property damage, at least nine goose-related air crashes, and numerous road accidents. All of which have raised public demands that officials deal with the goose problem.
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KENNEDY: Over the past ten years, solutions have included chasing the birds away, spraying their eggs with nontoxic mineral oil to stop them from hatching -- a process known as egg addling -- and spreading grape oil repellent on lawns and playing fields. But Don Harris of the King County Parks Department says none of those methods has sufficiently reduced the goose population. Killing, he says, is the only option left.
HARRIS: We've tried translocation, egg addling, encouraging the public not to feed them. Some have suggested a greater use of dogs. All dogs do is move them from one place to another. Basically, we believe we have tried every viable solution short of this.
KENNEDY: Canada geese are protected under federal law. They can only be killed if they pose a significant threat to agriculture or human health. Geese can transmit giardia and salmonella and other gastrointestinal diseases, though so far there have been no reported cases of such illnesses linked to the birds. But last March, the federal government issued a permit allowing wildlife services to round up and gas as many as 3,500 Canada geese from throughout the Puget Sound area. Animal rights groups, including the Humane Society, sued, but failed to win an injunction stopping the kill. Northwest Animal Rights Network spokesman Wayne Johnson.
JOHNSON: From a moral point of view, it is not right to go and kill simply because an animal is a nuisance. These geese are not threatening us in any serious way. They are simply a nuisance and we have made pooping into a capital crime.
KENNEDY: Wildlife services have been rounding up the birds since June and have reportedly killed at least 2,000 of the geese already. Officials have tried to quell public opposition by offering goose meat to food banks.
KENNEDY: The USDA's Roger Woodruff says even if this year's program is successful, it won't eliminate the goose problem completely.
WOODRUFF: I don't think that it'll ever get to the point where there's not any geese in any park. Other geese will filter in over time, and that's why it's important to incorporate these other aspects of goose management, the non-lethal methods that would try to keep them away in the first place.
KENNEDY: Roger Woodruff says his department will likely have to use lethal methods again next year as part of its long-term plan. For now, officials say they're working as quickly as they can to remove the geese while they're still molting their feathers and can't fly away.
KENNEDY: In Seattle, I'm Deirdre Kennedy for Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's safe to say that most people would not jump at the chance to have a nuclear waste dump in their neighborhood. But one small group of Native Americans says it wants nuclear waste on its land. The Goshute Nation of Utah has signed a contract with a group of nuclear power plants. Spent uranium fuel rods would be kept in stainless steel casks on tribal lands, about 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, until a permanent site is made available by the government. Most Goshute see this deal as a way to climb out of poverty, but some members of the tribe and many Utah officials oppose the plan. Kevin Fedarko is a senior editor with Outside Magazine who has followed the story for years. He says if the nuclear waste dump is approved by the federal government, it would take up residence in an area called Skull Valley, a place already chock full of toxic and military sites.
FEDARKO: The valley is about 50 miles long running from north to south. And up at the northern end there is a plant called Magcor, which is responsible for producing magnesium, which they extract from the Great Salt Lake. And Magcor has the distinction of having one of the worst records of toxic emissions of any plant in the country. It's been rated number one by the EPA for the past several years.
CURWOOD: Now there's some other stuff there, right, that's pretty toxic.
FEDARKO: There's a very large bombing range operated by the U.S. Air Force, the Windover bombing range, where all sorts of military exercises take place. And they actually bomb the desert during the course of these operations. To the south of the valley is the Dougway proving ground. It's an area about the size of the state of Rhode Island. It's where the U.S. Army and the U.S. military since World War II have developed and done extensive research into biological and chemical weapons warfare. Directly to the east of the valley is an incinerator where approximately 43 percent of America's chemical weapons, nerve agents, Sarin, mustard gas, that sort of thing, 43 percent of those weapons are being incinerated in a 24-hour, 365-day a year operation. That pretty much completes the tour.
CURWOOD: There's a passage in your article that kind of illustrates the dual nature of Skull Valley. You write about camping out there one evening. I'm wondering if you could read that section.
FEDARKO: Sure. (Reads) What I realized as dusk faded to dark was that Skull is a place of austere beauty, so remote that its wild birds behave in a manner that seems almost tame. A place full of such profound silence that sometimes the only sound you seem to hear is the throb of your own blood pulsing through the arteries in your neck. I leaned back, stared up at a great bowl of stars, and listened to the droning of the crickets and the barking of a distant pack of coyotes. I started to forget about the dangers that surround the valley and got lost in the towering stillness. And then the explosions started.
CURWOOD: What you heard were B1 bombers dropping ordnance, huh?
FEDARKO: You don't hear them so much as register them in your gut. I've never experienced anything quite like it. When the first one went off I was actually making dinner, and I dropped the pot and spoon I was holding, and stood up and stared with an open mouth and didn't know what to think.
CURWOOD: Well, that seems like a rather unfriendly place to living things. The part of the Goshute tribe that would like to put a nuclear waste dump there argue, I imagine, that I don't think they're going to put up condos or get anybody to buy the organically-grown produce in a spot like this.
FEDARKO: No, indeed not. And this is an argument the Goshute tribal leadership make, which is rather compelling. I mean, there is some logic to it. The tribe has undertaken, over the past couple of decades, to involve themselves in a number of economic development plans, all of which have kind of, you know, foundered on the waste that surrounds them. I think Pepsi-Co, at one point, approached the tribe with the idea of putting in a bottling plant in Skull Valley, and that proposal was pretty much killed when they heard about the Dougway proving ground. There was also a local water bottling company which was interested in tapping the springs underneath the valley. Again, that whole venture collapsed very quickly when the people involved realized what was surrounding the valley.
CURWOOD: Now, in your article about the Goshute, you write that these people asking for the nuclear waste facility are the most ravaged group of Indians, and if you think about the history of Native Americans here, that's quite a statement.
FEDARKO: It's a pretty strong claim. But there are a number of things that happened to the Goshutes that are pretty horrific. There are accounts written in the 1850s and the 1860s of the tribe being pushed so close to the edge of starvation that there are reports of entire families cropping grass like cattle. There are a couple of things which were actually not included in the story because we felt that it was a bit too much for the reader to absorb. One of the more horrific involved an argument that sprang up among a group of white settlers in the early 1860s, and there was an argument over whether Goshutes were base enough to feed on carrion. And the argument eventually was settled when a dead oxen was laced with strychnine and placed in the desert. Several days later an entire family of Goshutes was discovered dead around the oxen.
CURWOOD: So they have a pretty rough history. Now, there aren't that many people that live at the reservation now. I'm wondering, what are the conditions that they're living in right now?
FEDARKO: The conditions are bad. There are about 25 people living in a small cluster of homes just off of one highway which runs through the valley. Although it's worth pointing out, there are kind of two classes of homes on the reservation. There are a number of homes which have fresh coats of paint and a new car or two parked in the driveway. And then there are other homes which are, the windows have cardboard in them. And if you go in and talk to those people, you may discover that they don't have indoor plumbing.
CURWOOD: And the differences between these two Goshutes is because?
FEDARKO: Well, the difference is explained by allegations made by a number, a minority of tribal members who opposed the plan to store nuclear waste on the reservation. A group of these people charge that, as a result of their opposition to this potentially very lucrative nuclear dump site, they have been deprived of any sort of funds which are normally dispersed to members of the community.
CURWOOD: That's a pretty serious charge. What does the leadership of the tribe say to that?
FEDARKO: Well, it's interesting because the leadership of the tribe doesn't really deny it outright. Leon Bear is the chairman of the tribe. I confronted Bear with these accusations at one point during the course of reporting the story, and he actually kind of acknowledged that this was indeed the case. He explained to me that the way the tribe is set up, he is able legally to divert any money which is coming onto the reservation into the tribe as a result of this nuclear waste project to members who support his resolutions pushing the nuclear waste dump forward. Bear actually kind of likened this to buying stock in a corporation.
CURWOOD: How large is the opposition to this plan?
FEDARKO: It's hard to tell, really. The opposition initially was led by Margene Bull Creek, and Margene started an organization about three years ago. She claimed at the time to have had as many as one third of the tribal members behind her. But if she ever had that many, those numbers have been whittled down considerably in the past several years.
CURWOOD: So how much do the Goshutes stand to gain if this project goes forward?
FEDARKO: You know, that's unclear. The contract does stipulate the amount of money which would be paid by this consortium, but that passage has been blacked out.
CURWOOD: The state of Utah doesn't much like this. Certainly the governor there, Mike Levitt, has been outspoken about it. But do they have any say? I'm wondering, is this truly sovereign territory, the Indian Nation of Goshute?
FEDARKO: The state of Utah has very little ,if anything at all, to say about what goes on, on the reservation itself. But it has a lot to say about what can happen around the reservation, and on the roads leading into the reservation, and on the rail lines that go by the reservation. And yes, Mike Levitt is adamantly opposed to the idea of bringing this material into Utah and into Skull Valley and storing it there. He actually used the phrase "over my dead body" when we spoke about the proposal.
CURWOOD: You've made a number of trips, now, to Skull Valley. What do you see in terms of shades of gray in this story?
FEDARKO: That's a good question. I think the complexity of it has only grown the longer I've spent with it, so that I guess I've emerged with less of an understanding than ever as to what's right and what's wrong about this issue and this question. And maybe that is the kind of core element of truth that resides at the center of all of this. You know, nuclear waste is something that our society has generated, and now we don't know what to do with it. And the answer and the solution that we appear to have developed is that, well, we've decided that we're going to put it in places where both the land and the people who live upon it are deemed to have no value whatsoever. And I guess, for me, the story that is continuing to unfold in Skull Valley represents the inadequacy of that answer.
CURWOOD: Kevin, thanks for speaking with us today.
FEDARKO: Thank you very much.
CURWOOD: Kevin Fedarko is a Senior Editor with Outside Magazine. You can read the full text of Kevin's story on the Goshute nuclear waste dump proposal by going to our Web site at www.loe.org, and clicking on the Outside Magazine icon.
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, for years those cute little sea otters were the poster kids of the endangered species. Thanks to protections their numbers are rebounding off the coast of southern California. Now there are thousands of them, eating everything in sight. And local fisher folks say otters are costing them money.
WOMAN: How can you say with a straight face that otters increase biodiversity and the balance of the ecosystem? They blast it all to hell, totally and completely. And they destroy the fishing fleet, and they violate a public law.
CURWOOD: That's next week on Living on Earth. 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, and Bree Horwitz. We had help this week from Jennifer Chu, Jenna Perry, Nicole Kalb, and James Curwood. Alison Dean composed the theme. Our Technical Director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our Western Editor. Diane Toomey is the Science Editor and Peter Thomson is Special Projects Editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our Senior Editor. And Chris Ballman is Senior Producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, Executive Producer. Thanks for listening.
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