• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

December 15, 2000

Air Date: December 15, 2000

SEGMENTS

Houston Smog / Janet Heimlich

Houston is the nation’s smoggiest city. Texas’ environmental regulatory board has come up with a plan for Houston to reduce pollution so that it can meet EPA standards. But, as Janet Heimlich reports, some groups oppose the plan, calling it unfeasible. (06:20)

Persistant Organic Pollutants

Janet Raloff, Senior Editor of Science News, talks with host Steve Curwood about the historic new treaty that will eliminate some of the world’s most harmful synthetic chemicals. (05:10)

Animal Update / Maggie Villager

Living On Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on how holiday tastes for caviar are pushing sturgeon from the Caspian Sea towards extinction. (00:59)

California Deregulation

Host Steve Curwood talks with Living on Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard about the effect of deregulation on California’s current energy crisis. (03:40)

Mixing Zones / David Sommerstein

In a trial run for an expected nationwide ban, the EPA says no more “mixing zones” in the Great Lakes region for 22 highly toxic chemicals. Mixing zones are places in which it was thought water dilutes pollutants, but new research shows that’s not always the case. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s David Sommerstein reports. (05:05)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about surfing. The sport originated in Polynesia thousands of years ago, and still provides an adrenaline-powered way for participants to commune with the ocean. (01:30)

Delinquent Elephants

In the 1980’s, a group of orphaned elephants was relocated to a national park in South Africa with the hopes of repopulating the area. But park managers didn’t realize they were creating a juvenile delinquency problem. In the absence of older bulls, the young male elephants matured too soon and ended up killing endangered rhinos. Steve Curwood speaks with elephant researcher Rob Slotow on how the problem was solved. (05:40)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Living On Earth’s Diane Toomey reports that the green horseradish you get with sushi may be good for your teeth. (00:59)

North Woods / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

The North Woods of Maine are changing hands rapidly -- and people are trying to make sure they don’t change into condominiums. Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on one family’s attempt to sell development rights on three-quarters of a million acres of its property. (17:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Janet Heimlich, David Sommerstein, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum
UPDATES: Maggie Villiger, Diane Toomey
GUESTS: Janet Raloff, Mark Hertsgaard, Rob Slotow

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Houston, we have a problem: dirty air again. For the second time in as many years the EPA says Houston, Texas, has the most smog of any city in the nation. The state says it has a plan to clean it up, but critics say it's too little too late.

SMITH: All they have is a commitment that they'll do more later. It's a big plan, but it's just not a complete plan and it may not get us to clean air.

Houston Smog

CURWOOD: Also, the nations of the world agree to phase out a dozen highly-toxic chemicals. Among them: DDT and dioxin. And who turned out the lights in California?

HERTSGAARD: There have been suspicions that the power generating companies have been keeping that capacity offline in order to artificially increase prices by creating the appearance of a shortage.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this round-up of the news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Houston Smog

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In Houston, Texas, the air is filthy. Houston now has the nation's worst photo-smog. That is, low-level ozone that forms from chemical reactions between sunlight and the exhaust from engines. When it's high in the sky, ozone protects us from ultraviolet radiation. But near the ground, ozone is corrosive to lungs, and poses a special hazard to children and people with asthma. Ozone is one of three principal ingredients of air pollution, along with tiny particles and carbon monoxide. Texas has a plan to bring Houston's air into compliance with federal Clean Air standards. But as Janet Heimlich reports, the state plan is generating controversy.

HEIMLICH: Texas is faced with a huge challenge. It has to show the Environmental Protection Agency that Houston will come into compliance with the Clean Air Act by the year 2007. The problem is, ozone is created from emissions from just about every fuel-burning source you can think of, from large industrial plants to cars to lawn mowers.

SAITIAS: It has been a very, very challenging task.

HEIMLICH: Jeff Saitas is Executive Director of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, or TNRCC, the agency that must submit the plan.

SAITAS: If you were to stand in the city of Houston and look across the horizon and see everything that you see, and then ask yourself, "Have I identified every single place where a fossil fuel has burned?" And then further ask yourself, "Have I appropriately quantified not only how much that is emitted from that thing, but when?"

HEIMLICH: To find out those answers, the TNRCC began a $20 million study in August involving more than 100 scientists. The plan Texas will submit covers the Houston area and seven surrounding counties, and requires many people to make some big changes. Over the next seven years, highway speed limits will be reduced to 55 miles per hour. Industrial plants must reduce emissions by 90 percent. And the operation of commercial, diesel-run equipment will be severely cut back. Many say the plan is unfair.

(Lawn mowers, leaf blowers)

HEIMLICH: North of Houston, employees of Commercial Landscape Systems tidy up a church using lawn mowers and leaf blowers. In 2005, according to the state implementation plan, these workers won't be allowed to run this equipment before noon from April through October. Company owner Tom Vallecca.

VALLECCA: I think it would have a devastating effect on our business. I mean, you know, if we lose six hours a day, which is basically what that means, that could potentially be the loss of $2,000 to $3,000 a day, which over a year's time could add up to a million dollars.

HEIMLICH: Some of the seven outlying counties say they shouldn't be included in the plan because they don't affect Houston's smog problem, a notion that TNRCC rejects. Kelly Frels is with the Business Coalition for Clean Air. Mr. Frels opposes the call for a 90 percent cut in industrial emissions by 2007. He says most businesses are willing to spend the six billion dollars he says is necessary to bring emissions down 75 percent, but further reductions would be impossible.

FRELS: The technology has not been developed at this point that makes it economically feasible for all the point sources across the entire area to be able to uniformly achieve that 90 percent. If we even had the technology available, the personnel who are capable of doing that aren't available.

HEIMLICH: Many environmentalists also say their plan is unrealistic. To comply with the Clean Air Act, the plan has to show that Houston emissions will be reduced by 70 percent by 2007. But the plan only accounts for a 64 percent reduction. TNRCC officials say they'll make up the difference when new technologies are available in a few years. But environmentalists say that's not good enough. George Smith is Chairman of the Air Quality Committee for the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club.

SMITH: All they have is a commitment that they'll do more later. It's a big plan, but it's just not a complete plan and it may not get us to clean air.

HEIMLICH: And some environmentalists criticize the TNRCC for not imposing tight restrictions sooner. They point out that California began implementing tough restrictions in the 1960s. Mr. Smith says TNRCC officials have been dragging their feet and should have submitted the plan in 1996, when it was originally due.

SMITH: They're four years late in bringing this plan to approval. The problem is that this makes it harder for businesses and citizens to comply.

HEIMLICH: Still, TNRCC head Jeff Saitas defends the plan. He says everyone in the Houston area has to make sacrifices to reduce ozone levels. In answer to business owners' claims that technology is not available to reduce emissions, Mr. Saitas says he believes there will soon be a market for new, cost-effective solutions.

SAITAS: That's just the nature of this country. Whatever goal we set, and once we focus resources on it, we inevitably find a much more, much convenient, lower cost way of getting those reductions.

HEIMLICH: And Mr. Saitas says one reason why the agency didn't come up with such a stringent plan sooner is because contrary to what environmentalists say, it was only a few years ago that science proved how to control ozone. Yet Mr. Saitas says he's prepared for a long and legally painful road ahead. Environmentalists may sue the TNRCC if they feel the plan won't meet the federal standards. Some counties may fight their inclusion in the plan, and businesses may lobby Congress to amend the Clean Air Act and extend the deadline beyond 2007. But for now, the EPA says it intends to consider the Texas plan, and will either approve it or come up with one of its own by October fifteenth of 2001. For Living on Earth, I'm Janet Heimlich in Houston.

Back to top

(Music up and under: "I've go a Houston solution in mind. I've got a Houston solution in mind. I've got a Houston solution.")

Persistant Organic Pollutants

CURWOOD: Not every pollutant stays put where it's emitted or created. Some travel around the world in the air and water and then accumulate up the food chain. They're called POPs, persistent organic pollutants. And now, the worst twelve of these chemicals are being phased out of use worldwide. The list in the draft treaty recently agreed upon by 122 countries in Johannesburg, South Africa, include such toxins as DDT, dioxins, PCBs, and aldrin. Janet Raloff, senior editor of Science News, joins us now to talk about the details of the agreement. Hi, Janet.

RALOFF: Hello, Steve.

CURWOOD: Janet, before we talk about the details, tell me, generally, what kind of precedents are being set here?

RALOFF: Well, up until now there's never been a global approach to trying to wipe out the most dangerous compounds affecting the environment. So that if we say, you know, that these things are dangerous, we knock them out of the United States, it's not sufficient if they're still using them in China or Africa or someplace else. Here it's going to be everybody moving toward the same goal. And that's the only way you can sort of prevent these things from moving around the world. So, this is new and it's making people ask: what chemicals can you really live without, especially among the nasty ones? And if you're going to have to do that, what does it take to find suitable alternatives? And who's going to pay for them? And all of those kinds of things are addressed in this, and it tries to make it equitable so that everyone can do it, not just the wealthy nations.

CURWOOD: Now, I understand that a lot of the tension around this agreement was exactly the question of who's going to pay for this, particularly the poor countries. The alternatives to some of these chemicals are much more expensive. How do they work that out?

RALOFF: Well, the poorer countries can't afford it. And it's in our vested interest to see that they do make the transition. So industrial nations have decided they will put together a huge fund to try and help these other countries make the transition, and the money will be dispersed through the United Nations Environment Program.

CURWOOD: I was fascinated to hear that the precautionary principle is a part of this. Can you explain that for us, and how it worked out in these negotiations? I would imagine this is something that the chemical companies in particular would be uncomfortable with.

RALOFF: Basically, this is a concept that helps you deal with uncertainties. If you don't know how dangerous something is, but the risk of you being wrong about how dangerous it is could be grave, then maybe you should take action. And that's what happened here. They decided that they didn't want to have the language such that you had to wait and count bodies before you could move on a toxic chemical. The European Union had been going into the negotiations suggesting that science could be a part of your evaluation of how toxic something was, but maybe you could move on a chemical despite the science. The United States had been saying no, science should be a real pivotal issue if it's there to support the toxicity. And in fact, the chemical industry was very happy with the final results, which say that basically, sort of, takes the U.S. position that science will not be disregarded in the evaluations of the toxicity.

CURWOOD: Now, DDT has also figured large in these discussions. Nobody much likes DDT. It persists and it travels the globe. But people say that it is very useful in killing mosquitos in countries where malaria is rampant, and these tend to be poor countries that can't afford alternatives. How was this worked out?

RALOFF: Well, it doesn't work in every country with malaria, but it does help about 24 countries right now. And they would get an exemption indefinitely into the future to continue using small amounts of DDT, but just for this purpose. Moreover, they're going to have the United Nations looking over their shoulder as they do that. They've got to explain how much they're using, how they're using it to minimize how much gets into the atmosphere. And the efforts are making to still try and move toward alternatives.

CURWOOD: How likely is it that this is all going to go into effect, become international law?

RALOFF: The final document will be open for signing next May in Stockholm, and they expect probably 100 countries will sign it fairly soon. Then the harder task of ratifying it will take a little longer, but the expectation is that 50 countries will, in fact, ratify it, which is all it takes to make it binding, international law, some time within three to four years.

CURWOOD: And the U.S.?

RALOFF: The U.S. is likely going to sign the document. Whether the Senate ratifies it -- gee, I can't look into the heads of our Senate. But because the administration is likely to be behind it, we'll probably live by the letter of the law, whether or not we've actually signed onto it.

CURWOOD: Janet Raloff is Senior Editor of Science News. Janet, thanks for taking this time with us today.

RALOFF: Thank you, Steve.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Coming up: Power shortages in California are raising questions of illegal price fixing. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now, this animal update with Maggie Villiger.

(Music up and under)

Animal Update

VILLIGER: While you're stocking up your holiday larder, think twice before dining on caviar. Trade in this delicacy may be forcing some sturgeon closer to extinction. Female sturgeon are killed for their unfertilized eggs, which are salted and sold as caviar at prices up to thousands of dollars per pound. The majority of the world's caviar comes from the Caspian Sea, where sturgeon face poachers and polluted waters. Sturgeon are also losing habitat. Like salmon, they migrate upriver to spawn, but now face obstacles like dams or diverted streams. If you insist on caviar for the holidays, there are sound aquacultured sources. Some producers perform caesarians, extract the eggs, and send the sturgeon back to their pens. Or try a substitute. Word is, eggplant makes a workable alternative. That's this week's animal update. I'm Maggie Villiger.

Back to top

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

California Deregulation

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Californians may have gotten used to electricity shortages during the hot summer months. But now, in December, threats of blackouts are again common. To talk about the situation, I'm joined now by Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard. Hi there, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Hey, Steve.

CURWOOD: You know, Mark, we heard that the governor could barely turn on the lights on the state Christmas tree, huh?

HERTSGAARD: Yeah, he managed to turn them on for twenty-five minutes with a last-minute infusion of power from the grid, and then had to turn them right off because of the great shortages here. So, twenty-five minutes, and people are saying that that could be his political life expectancy if he doesn't get this problem straightened out pretty quickly.

CURWOOD: Well, what's the immediate reason for these power shortages in your home state?

HERTSGAARD: Some people are blaming the weather. It has been colder here, and especially up to the north of us it's been colder. And that has prevented the utilities in Washington and Oregon from sending down power that would normally come to California in a tense, tight market like this. But the real problem is that twenty-five percent of California's generating capacity is offline right now for maintenance. Now, a lot of people are asking, that seems like a very high number. Why is that the case? And there have been suspicions that the power-generating companies have been keeping that capacity offline in order to artificially increase prices by creating the appearance of a shortage.

CURWOOD: So there are concerns about price-fixing, about all this?

HERTSGAARD: Very much so. And in fact, there are now six separate investigations, Steve, by federal and state authorities, into the possibility of price gouging here in California.

CURWOOD: Wait a second, Mark. I thought back in 1996, when deregulation was signed into law in California, that the pitch was the other way. That this would be cheaper. What am I getting wrong here?

HERTSGAARD: Indeed, Steve, it was written into the actual legislation. Twenty percent reduction in prices, we were promised. And the key assumption there was that if California deregulated its market, that we would have so many suppliers that they would bring fair competition. That's not happened. Instead, our power generating facilities were bought up by a relatively small number of companies, and they've had sufficient market power, according to the federal government, that they have been in a position to allegedly restrict the amount of supply out there and to drive up the prices artificially. That's what the regulators are looking at now, and it's also why, in Sacramento, the state capital, you've got enormous pressure to re-regulate the electricity industry. You remember, under regulated markets your local utility built the power plants and sold you the power. They got paid a certain amount of profit over and above that, and it was all pretty straightforward.

CURWOOD: Mark, what's all this havoc in the electricity market in California going to do to the environment?

HERTSGAARD: In the short term, it's very damaging. They are bringing back online a number of power plants that had been closed because they were violating air pollution standards. It's also going to make it a lot harder to either close the dams up in the Sierra Nevada mountains or increase the water flow through those dams, because now everyone's main concern is just keeping the lights on. In the long run, it could encourage energy conservation, and indeed efficiency measures would be the quickest, cheapest, most reliable way to bring our supply and demand into equilibrium now. The problem is that under deregulation, the power companies have an incentive to sell more electricity. They get paid more the more electricity they sell. So, in order for us to really move in the direction of energy efficiency, there's going to have to be some re-regulation of the industry, and we'll see if that comes out of Sacramento. And what Governor Davis does.

CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. Thanks again, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

Back to top

 

Mixing Zones

CURWOOD: Envision the oil slick that trails an outboard motor. If you watch long enough, the oil seems to disappear into the surrounding water. What you're looking at is called a mixing zone. The Clean Water Act of the early 70s used mixing zones as a compromise between environmental and industrial concerns. The law allows factories to release some toxic chemicals directly into water at high concentrations. The idea was that the chemicals would be diluted in the mixing zone to lower levels downstream. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced a phase-out of mixing zones in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. The ban will serve as a test case for similar standards nationwide. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's David Sommerstein tells us why.

(Water slapping)

SOMMERSTEIN: On a blustery day along the St. Lawrence River in northern New York, Ken Jock stands on Racquet Point. It's Mohawk tribal land. Jock directs the environment division of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe. He points out an abandoned shack and dock. He says the area used to be a popular fishing camp.

JOCK: We used to be a fishing and hunting, trapping community that was the traditional way of providing for your family.

SOMMERSTEIN: The St. Lawrence and its tributaries are central to Mohawk culture, spirituality, and the tribe's economy. But when toxic fish advisories began popping up, it was no longer possible to make a living fishing, so the camps closed. Jock looks upriver to the factories on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. He blames the discharge pipes of these plants for disrupting his people's lifestyle.

JOCK: The solution to controlling that pollution is not to dilute it within a mixing zone. You have to cut it off right at the source.

SOMMERSTEIN: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees with Ken Jock. It recently announced a ban on mixing zones in the Great Lakes watershed for twenty-two toxic chemicals. They're called bioaccumulative chemicals of concern, or BCCs. They include PCBs, dioxin, and mercury. The EPA singled out these pollutants because they don't dilute and disappear as once thought. Instead, research now shows they build up in fish and aquatic plants over time. Charles Fox is the assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Water.

FOX: These are chemicals that might get into the Great Lakes through the air or through the water. They don't really flush out of the system, and they stay there and they can be accumulated into the food chain. So that ultimately, the fish that we eat on our kitchen table could be contaminated with toxic chemicals.

SOMMERSTEIN: The mixing zone ban has been in the works since 1995, when the bi-national Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement beefed up pollution guidelines in the region. Most Great Lakes states have already banned mixing zones for these chemicals in an effort to protect the cleaner upper lakes: Superior, Huron, and Michigan. Only New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania still need to put the new regulations in place. The EPA says the ruling will reduce these toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes by 700,000 pounds in the coming years. But industry groups say the ban will have little practical effect because most BCCs were banned years ago in all eight Great Lakes states. The ban on mercury, however, is where industry will feel the pinch. Mercury is a contaminant in the production process. It's not a raw material. The EPA predicts a ninety percent reduction in mercury discharges from the ban. Joe Mayhew, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers, agrees it's important to reduce mercury levels in the water. But, he says, the ban places an undue financial burden on industry.

MAYHEW: Mercury is just a trace contaminant in a lot of things. To comply with these rules, what you do is you treat your discharges down to essentially zero, and that is an extremely expensive proposition.

SOMMERSTEIN: The EPA estimates the ban will cost industry up to $35 million to implement. Mayhew puts that figure closer to a billion dollars. Mixing zones are still permitted in the U.S. and Canada for many other chemicals, and with tens of thousands of different chemicals being produced in both countries each year, it's tough to predict how much the ban of these twenty-two toxins will improve overall water quality in the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, the Great Lakes ban on mixing zones will serve as a test case for a national ban the EPA is expected to propose next year.

(Water splashing)

JOCK: It's just a beautiful area.

SOMMERSTEIN: Standing by the abandoned fishing camp on the St. Lawrence, Ken Jock says the St. Regis Mohawks see the river's health over a longer term than even the EPA's timeline.

JOCK: I think that the river can rebound. I think that it's all a matter of time; twenty-two chemicals right now is just a start.

SOMMERSTEIN: Jock says despite the polluted water, his people still derive their spirituality from the river as they have for generations. And he expects those beliefs to outlast the legacy mixing zones leave behind. For Living on Earth, I'm David Sommerstein.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: a look at why teenage male elephants are prone to rampage if they don't have older bulls to boss them around. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

(Music up and under: Theme from Hawaii 5-0)

CURWOOD: If you get amped seeing serious bros carve out mondo waves atop boards of fiberglass and foam, head to Oahu, Hawaii, this month. That's where the surf's up for the triple crown of surfing competition. International surfing contests have been around since the early 50s, but the sport itself goes back thousands of years. Polynesians get the credit for being the first wave sliders. For fun they would ride the waves on long wooden planks. Petroglyphs found in Hawaii depict ancient surfers who rode boards as tall as three or four people and well over 100 pounds, but always buoyant. Now, surfers are getting stoked looking for a boost about anywhere in the world with suitable waves, from Ireland to Indonesia to Israel. Of late, the surfing community's become active in preserving the environment their sport relies on, concentrating on water quality and coastal development issues. They also worry that climate change will destroy the coral reefs and erode the beaches as sea levels rise, making the shore soup. And that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac, dude.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Delinquent Elephants

CURWOOD: Two decades ago, officials in South Africa's Kruger National Park decided they had too many elephants, and thinned the herd by killing adults. Some of the young elephants orphaned in this cull were sent to another national preserve called Pilansberg. But in the mid-90s, park rangers there realized an unintended and grizzly consequence of the relocation: elephants began killing rhinos. Researchers say the relocated male elephants, now teenagers, had entered into abnormally early, and abnormally long, periods of musth. That's a bull elephant state of heightened testosterone and aggression. Dr. Rob Slotow, a biologist with the University of Natal in Durban, was called in to help find a solution to the attacks. He says these elephants were exhibiting deviant behavior because their normal hormonal cycles were severely disrupted.

SLOTOW: In a normal society, a male elephant would gradually have extended periods of musth And during this process of gradually acquiring musth, they get experience at dealing with having elevated testosterone coursing through their blood, having these aggressive fits, if you like. And they learn to deal with de-escalation of conflicts when they can't win. So these bulls, the young bulls in Pilansberg, don't have this experience of de-escalating when in musth, because they've never encountered a bull that's actually dominant to them. There are no older bulls around that can beat them in a fight. And so they don't know how to de-escalate when they chase off to these rhinos.

CURWOOD: Can you tell us why you think the rhinos were singled out by bull elephants for aggression?

SLOTOW: Well, in natural populations, elephants and rhino typically interact with each other. And this also typically takes place around water holes. Animals typically will signal to each other intent to fight. There will be posturing or moves towards each other. And very rarely do physical interactions take place. And in most instances, one of the two, either the rhino or the elephant, would move away from the victor, who remains behind. What we believe happens in the instances where elephants are killing rhinos is that the rhinos are de-escalating. They're deciding they can't win this fight. They turn away and they move away. And what we believe is abnormal is that the elephants actually chase the rhinos down, chase them at the run, and will then attack them with their tusks.

CURWOOD: So then, someone had the idea, I gather, to bring in some older males to regulate the hormones of these young bucks. What happened when that was done?

SLOTOW: Well, the older bulls were brought in, in February 1998. And after about six months or so, the population settled down to, what we describe as, a normal population structure, in terms of the social behavior. And also after about eight months or so, the first of the Kruger bulls came into musth, and the young resident Pilansberg bulls started showing shorter and shorter musth periods.

CURWOOD: And what happened to the rhino killing?

SLOTOW: These mortalities had ceased completely since the introduction of these adult elephants.

CURWOOD: Now, some could say that this is a cautionary tale about the unintended consequences of human intervention in the highly complex animal society. What would you say?

SLOTOW: Well, I think that's exactly the point. When people try new ideas, there are consequences of them that we may not know about until a number of years have passed. And this is particularly so when you talk about long-lived species, such as elephants. What's happened here is we've learned a lot about elephant behavior, and we've also learned a lot about the procedures that should be followed when major undertakings, such as this, are taken. Not only should one consider what the elephants eat, is their food present, etc., but also, what the sociological consequences would be for animals such as elephants. Although, you know, some rhino were killed, this elephant population has established itself. It's a good population. The elephants were saved from culls in Kruger National Park, which is a nice thing, as well. And they are part of the ecosystem. So, the principle of translocating them wasn't a wrong principle, but what we've learned from this is that we need to translocate, essentially, miniature populations, which have the correct structure. And this is what is taking place now. So, the main source of elephants, Kruger National Park, have learned from this and they do translocate now complete female herds with adult females, and are also now sending older bulls with these populations.

CURWOOD: These elephants were orphaned by park rangers, the ones that we're talking about. But what happens when there's poaching in which, in fact, the biggest males with the biggest tusks are the targets?

SLOTOW: I think this is the next area where we're going to learn about problems of elephant society. In areas further north in Africa, in East Africa, where there were major poaching events and most of the older animals would have been wiped out, we now have young populations that don't have the guidance of these older animals. One such example might be young males come into musth earlier, but there may be other sociological problems that these populations are going to face. There may be problems with the females, etc. And we're only really going to learn about these problems through close study of these populations.

CURWOOD: Dr. Rob Slotow is a biologist at the University of Natal in Durban, South Africa. His paper on bull elephants appeared in a recent issue of Nature. Thank you, sir.

SLOTOW: Thank you.

Back to top

(Music up and under: "The Elephant Walk")

CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write to 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Just ahead: The tale of a $31 million deal to help keep the North Woods of Maine free from condos and coffee shops. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

(Music up and under)

Health Update

TOOMEY: A little wasabi a day may keep the dentist away. Wasabi is that green horseradish served with sushi. And new research from Japan shows that compounds in the condiment inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause cavities, at least in a test tube. Researchers think wasabi interferes with the bacteria's ability to adhere to surfaces like teeth. Wasabi's bacteria-fighting ability may be the reason behind its traditional pairing with sushi, a food that often includes raw fish. The antimicrobial chemicals in wasabi are the same ones responsible for its pungent taste and odor. Other studies have shown that wasabi may also help prevent blood clots, and may have anti-asthma effects. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.

(Music up and under)

North Woods

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The North Woods of Maine are at a crossroads. This vast stretch of forest is changing hands at an increasingly rapid rate; and development, even in this remote corner of the world, is on the rise. People worried about the future of the woods are exploring ways of preserving its special character. One approach includes plans to prevent development on a million and a half acres. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum has our story on one family's decision to try to protect their land, along with their family fortune.

(Water runs)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It smells of baked potatoes at the Bradford Camps, a hunting lodge on a lake in northern Maine. It's just about dinnertime. Rick Young is waiting in a corner, telling me stories about these North Woods.

YOUNG: I've had, while I've been hunting, a chickadee land on my gun barrel and look at me. I mean, why did that happen?

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Rick grew up on the edge of this forest and knows its ways better than most. But still, sometimes, it overwhelms him.

YOUNG: I'm riding past Mt. Katahdin since September. The sun is setting. The colors are peak, right? And I look up towards Mt. Katahdin, and it's like something you just never could imagine. The sun just lit it like someone pulled a switch. And I'm wondering, you know, why am I seeing that, or why is that like that at this moment? And you know, I experience something. I've never seen it since. Just something that happened --foof -- and it was like Michelangelo couldn't have reproduced it. (Laughs)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Like his grandfather, Rick is a guide. He teaches people how to hunt, fish, and hike these woods. The forest didn't always reveal itself to him, not when he began.

YOUNG: I mean, when I first spent this time in the woods, I was just out there for the kill or for the hunt. Now I appreciate the nature and what comes with walking through the woods. It's spiritual to me, you know. I'd cry if it was ever changed.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: But change is coming. Everyone is talking about the future of these woods. They want to sell it, buy it, cut it. And they all say they want to protect it. They just don't agree how, or from what.

(Plane engine)

SCHLEY: Right now, we're probably sixty, seventy miles from the nearest public road to the east. And as you go to the west, there's nothing from here all the way to the Canadian border.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Steve Schley is giving me the high view of his family's land in northern Maine. He's a member of the Pingree family. The Pingrees own about a million acres of woods up here, about a tenth of the vast Forest stretched out below us. Only lakes and the pale dirt logging roads break the trees.

SCHLEY: If you look straight down, we're flying over a beautifully, partially-cut hardwood stand.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Steve's proud of the way his family's maintained a healthy working forest in the North Woods for 160 years. But, he says, that livelihood is under attack by people who want to put so many restrictions on what he can do with his land, they'd put him out of business.

SCHLEY: They hear the rhetoric about supposed over-cutting in the Maine forest. And I think that they question whether or not there are actually any trees left. They don't get up here to see it. I just don't think they understand or appreciate how you can harvest within a forest and still have lots of wood left.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Steve says the real threat to the woods is something more permanent to logging. He points to the horizon.

SCHLEY: There's a great big lake coming up to our left with beautiful hills surrounding it. There is incredible demand for second home development in areas like this. And even off of the lakes there, we've got lots of people who look for that beautiful hunting camp kind of a spot that's next to a stream, that can serve as their source of clean and fresh water.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: According to the state agency that issues building permits for this area, new homes are going up at a slow but steady pace, about 300 units per year. There are other numbers that get tossed around, too. Almost a quarter of the woods has changed hands in the last two years. Most of those acres are being kept in timber, but others have already been resold to developers. And landowners with forty acres or more don't need state permission to subdivide, which means more houses, more infrastructure. People talk of communities popping up in the middle of nowhere, practically overnight. Steve Schley says the waiting list for a piece of Pingree land has 200 names on it. Given the prices people are willing to pay and high estate taxes, he says the Pingrees are under pressure to sell.

SCHLEY: There has to be long-term recognition of the development value out here. And there's one of two ways to do it. You can either do it in an incredibly environmentally-sound way, or you can actually come out here and do the development. Long-term, one of the two has got to occur.

(Truck over dirt road)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: There is a deal brewing to keep Pingree land from turning into condos and coffee shops. As I continue my tour in a truck, bumping along dirt roads with no signs, Keith Ross explains the idea.

ROSS: When you own a piece of property, you have the right to do all kinds of things with that land. You can farm it. You can harvest timber on it. You can convert it into houses. Conservation easement is a separation of some of those rights to a qualified organization, such as the New England Forestry Foundation.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Ross is Vice President of the New England Forestry Foundation. He's trying to raise $31 million to pay the Pingrees for the development rights to their land. In return, the Pingrees can keep logging their forest, as long as they abide by certain restrictions.

ROSS: It's basically no paving, no mining, no dumping, no building.

(Truck door shuts)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It's called a conservation easement.

ROSS: What we're trying to do with this easement is keep the forest the way it is. You know, keep it as a working forest in perpetuity. I know it's kind of a difficult concept for some people to grasp onto, because they would think there should be some dramatic change. But you know, in the life of a forest, the ability to get to 120-year-old trees is a dramatic change.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Keith Ross has been working in the land preservation movement for more than fifteen years. He says the Pingree easement is bringing landowners from across the country to his door, asking how they can work out similar transactions on their land. He calls the Pingree deal a model alliance with a family that has a history of good stewardship. And, he says, it's a lot cheaper than buying property outright.

ROSS: For a long time conservation groups, we band together and rush out to try to protect some piece of land that's threatened for development. You take that money and you give it to somebody and you protect that piece of land, they just take the money and go destroy another piece of land. So you're sort of following yourself around all the time.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: By selling their development rights, the Pingrees lower the value of their land, and in turn lower the family's taxes. But even with the perks, it took Steve a while to accept the idea of restricting his family's primary asset forever.

SCHLEY: Most easements that I've ever seen before have been highly-prescriptive, and didn't allow the flexibility that's necessary to conduct the management that is necessary on such highly-variable acreage.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Steve knows there are skeptics who say Pingrees have done little building on their land over the years, and they question whether this land really needs protection from development. But Steve says the future is uncertain.

SCHLEY: I'm beginning the education of our seventh generation of owners. And last summer, I started that with our five-to-twelve-year-olds, bringing them in the woods, trying to educate them in terms of what we're trying to accomplish. There's no guarantee that they're going to feel the same way in the future, that current generations feel today. So, I think that those who suggest nothing would ever change here are being awful short-sighted.

(Motors, whirring)

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: In Township 6, Range 15, there is an operation underway. John McNulty, a forester for the Pingrees timber company, explains the procedure.

McNULTY: To turn a thousand-pound disk of steel, it's like a giant skillsaw, to be able to sever a tree in less than a second is pretty impressive. And that same machine can cut four trees like that, one, two, three, four, accumulate them in a bunch, and lay them all down at once.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It sounds a little harsh, but John tells prospective donors to the Pingree easement that these giant machines can make logging easier on the forest than using tractors, or even horses. Fewer trails need to be cleared. There's less dragging on the ground and less damage to surrounding trees. John says this forest will grow forever if it's cut right. In the North Woods, he says, a spruce will grow in your pocket.

(Truck over dirt)

McNULTY: Now, I want you to pay attention here. These are very nice stands, all the way down through here.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: On the way to tour a stand of pines, I ask John what he thinks about this whole conservation easement idea. John says it's almost a guarantee that his livelihood and his way of life will continue. As long as developers are kept at a distance.

McNULTY: You take that threat away and the public, you know, it's like once this thing goes through, I wouldn't doubt you could hear a public sigh of relief. That, ah there, you know, there are 750,000 acres we don't have to worry about any more.

(A bird chirps)

ADAMS: I think in 100 years, there would be a lot of people wishing that they'd found some other way to preserve the land without the finality of fracturing the titles forever.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Her bird may sound cheerful, but Mary Adams isn't sighing or relieved. Logging rights here, development rights there, it's anathema to her life's mission. Mary champions property rights, and she says deals like the Pingrees take control of the land away from the people who own it. For future generations, Mary says this could mean disaster.

ADAMS: If they're restricted in such a way that they can't do what they need to do in order to hang onto it, to maintain it, then it can't be sold for what its potential would be. Because its potential is gone. And so, what you would have to do is either sell out to an environmental group or sell out to the government. In other words, sooner or later we're going to become peasants on the land.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Mary knows some houses are being built, but she says development pressure on most of the Pingree's land and most of the North Woods, for that matter, is about as happening an event as watching molasses roll down a hill. And the idea that environmentalists have talked out-of-staters into giving money to one of Maine's biggest landowners? Mary laughs.

ADAMS: I get kind of a kick out of watching this happen, if you want to know the truth.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Northern Mainers like Mary have designed a little campaign and poster of their own.

(Paper crinkles)

ADAMS: It says "Let's help Maine restore Boston to its original state," and it shows a wrecking ball taking down (laughs) -- taking down the John Hancock building and the other skyscrapers. It's just hilarious, to us anyway. I don't know if it would amuse anybody down in Boston. What do you think?

ST. PIERRE: I think more than anything, what people really want these days is wilderness.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Maine native Jym St. Pierre works for the conservation group Restore the North Woods. He believes the woods do need saving. But conservation easements, he says, aren't the answer. They may prevent development, but they don't stop what he says is the forest's biggest threat: logging.

ST. PIERRE: What we're doing with a lot of the easement deals that are happening in Maine today is locking in working forests and locking out wilderness.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: St. Pierre says people should think twice about investing in easements. Sure, the Pingree deal covers a huge amount of land, but, he says, it doesn't guarantee sustainable forestry, and it doesn't guarantee public access. Those concerns are shared by other conservationists who worry that the broad and unrestrictive Pingree deal may set a bad precedent. Others are taking another tack. They buy land outright, put restrictions on it first, then sell it as a sustainable working forest to keep the local economy alive. Jym St. Pierre wants to go one step further and create a Maine Woods National Park. The park would be free from logging and the public would be welcome forever.

ST. PIERRE: People don't even, literally, don't even know who the landowners are, in some cases now, of hundreds of thousands of acres. They don't have control over their own future. And the lands that historically they've had a chance to go hunting on, canoeing and camping and hiking. And if one of the big landowners tomorrow decides to shut off public access, you know, we could lose traditional access to hundreds of thousands or even millions of acres at the stroke of a pen.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: So, the promise to continue public access Pingree land requires a bit of good faith. And if the family sells, the public must trust the new owner to respect the tradition. Everyone talks about the public. Jym St. Pierre says the public wants wilderness. Mary Adams says it wants to be left alone. The Pingrees say their woods provide the public with recreational opportunities. Their mills provide jobs. Everyone says it's the people, ultimately, they're trying to protect or please or pacify. People like the Corrigans.

CORRIGAN: Vanishing for days, my father would return unshaven, the odor of evergreens and wood smoke on his clothes. His eyes...

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Poet Paul Corrigan grew up in, Maine. The town of Millinocket grew up around Great Northern, the paper company whose mill created this town at the turn of the century. Paul paid for college working summers at the mill. His family spent those summers living at this camp near town, on land leased from the company, using company wood for fuel, hunting on company property.

CORRIGAN: And though we pictured him crouched beside his fire on the shore of some lake or pond with a name as long as your arm, we couldn't imagine the man who, days later, would stroll into the yard, freshened and whole again, bringing us fish and kisses.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Like a lot of folks up here, Paul doesn't understand all the details about conservation easements. But he thinks they sound like a good idea.

CORRIGAN: Because it's going to enable this country to remain pretty much the way it has been, in terms of open spaces without development, and also the access issue.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: That's how it works up here, a kind of symbiosis between private owners and the public. Timber companies build roads for their trucks, which hunters and hikers use to get to the woods. Snowmobilers follow the old logging trails, and skiers follow the snowmobilers' path. Everybody gets something. But things are changing. Many of the new landowners in the woods are not the old Yankee families, but companies with no background in forestry, looking for the best return on their investment.

(A chair scrapes)

CORRIGAN, SR.: I don't know, don't know how things should go.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Paul's father, Paul Corrigan, Sr., throws a log on the fire and tells me about a time when he could go anywhere and do anything in the North Woods. Build a fire, shoot a gun, walk straight to the Canadian border. Lately, he's seen landowners put up gates and charge money to use their land. He's seen people grow angry. Conservation easements might keep development out, but Paul Sr. says the future of this place will depend on subtler agreements, more personal and less predictable.

CORRIGAN, SR.: There's an old saying that those who have the most, more is expected. And that doesn't mean making more money. That means be considerate of other people. And I think if they could go that way, that would be fine. But I don't know. It's pretty hard for me to believe that that would ever happen. Nevertheless, that's the way I might think about it. Those that have the most, more is expected.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Mr. Corrigan is talking about the old landowners, the Pingrees, the Hubers, the Dunns. And the new investors, too. What are their plans for their property? Altogether, almost one-and-a-half million acres will be development-free if current easements go through. But only on some of that land will access be guaranteed.

CORRIGAN: (Reading Thoreau) The next house was Fisk's, ten miles from the point at the mouth of the east branch, opposite to the island Nicatow , or the Forks, the last of the Indian islands...

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Henry David Thoreau first visited the Maine woods in the 1840s. Back then, you had to travel for days, even weeks, by river, to reach the inner forest. The few settlers opened their log huts to those who came through. Thoreau made sure to record their names.

CORRIGAN: (Reading Thoreau) Such information is of no little consequence who may have occasion to travel this way.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: It was in those same years in the same forest Thoreau called "stern and savage" that David Pingree began buying his land. Maybe it hasn't changed that much since then. The fate of the North Woods, despite new rules and regulations, might still depend on good stewardship and faith between neighbors. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: winter tales. It's the Living on Earth holiday storytelling special.

RITCHIE: The trows belonged to the underworld, to the kingdom of night. If the children were not protected, it was easy for the trows to steal them.

BASS: He kicked once at the sheet of ice, the vast plate of it with his heel, then disappeared below the ice.

THOMASON: She pressed her flesh to the warm Earth. The mother herself will protect me, she thought.

CURWOOD: Join Fiona Ritchie, Rick Bass, and Dovie Thomason for stories, music, and merriment, 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, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, and Milisa Muniz. We had help this week from Stephen Belter. Alison Dean composed our themes. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. And Diane Toomey is our science 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.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.