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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

February 2, 2001

Air Date: February 2, 2001

FULL SHOW

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SEGMENTS

ANWR Drilling

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Rules & Regulations Primer

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Health Update

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Plant Rescue

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Bulk Food

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The Living on Earth Almanac

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El Salvador Earthquake

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Technology Update

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NYC Heron

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The Ban on Roads

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Interview with Michelle Brown, Commissioner of Alaska's Dept. of Environmental Conservation ** Web Only

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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

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ANWR Drilling

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Bush administration says America needs new domestic sources of energy. And it's time, the White House declares, to tap the oil reserves in Alaska buried beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, called ANWR. Proponents of drilling in ANWR say 95 percent of the region is already open for energy exploration, and technological advances in the drilling process now allow oil companies to limit their environmental footprint. Opponents say the ecosystem is too sensitive to handle more drilling, and any fuel found there would not reach markets for years. Joining me is Steve Taylor, who recently retired as Director of Environmental Policy for British Petroleum in Alaska. Mr. Taylor says while oil drilling is now much easier on the environment, it still comes at a cost to ecosystems.

TAYLOR: Probably the most dramatic change that has occurred has to do with the way they manage exploration and production drilling wastes. That, in combination with what's known as directional drilling, has led to approximately a 70 percent reduction in the amount of habitat that has to be covered up in doing development.

CURWOOD: Let's talk specifically about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Scientists say the coastal plain is the most biologically diverse area of this entire reserve. How possible is it to drill in this area in a way that will protect the ecological diversity of this area?

TAYLOR: Oh, it's very easy. The issue with respect to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is really an aesthetics and a wilderness issue. It's not necessarily an environmental issue. In other words, oil companies could go in, they could develop in that area, without having any significant adverse impact on the environment.

CURWOOD: If your perspective is true, why do you think there's so much of a hoo-hah, so much concern about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

TAYLOR: To me it's a benchmark. There's an overriding issue, and that overriding issue is what kind of energy policy does this country want, and what kind of policy do we want to maintain wilderness? You know, this is a decision that the people in this country, and those people who represent us, the decision they've got to make. To what extent do we set aside areas for wilderness value and don't develop, and at the same time what areas do we have open for development? And the matter of reality is, we can't have pristine wilderness and everlasting cheap energy.

CURWOOD: Tell me about the oil that would be found in ANWR. How much oil is estimated to be there?

TAYLOR: Oh, I won't try to quote the Department of Interior's estimates, because they've been revised a couple of times. But there is the potential for a significant find there.

CURWOOD: How long would it take to retrieve it if drilling were approved tomorrow? How long would we see this oil on the market?

TAYLOR: That's hard to say, because obviously there would be a lot of litigation over environmental impact statements, the results, stipulations, all of that kind of stuff. My guess is, if it was open tomorrow, you'd see oil come out in ten years.

CURWOOD: A decade.

TAYLOR: Mmm hm.

CURWOOD: Doesn't help us much.

TAYLOR: (Laughs) No, this is not going to help California at all right now. But here again, would California be in that position if we had a national energy policy?

CURWOOD: Yes, how is drilling in ANWR related to the current energy crisis, given that it would take a decade to get its oil to market?

TAYLOR: I think it becomes a part of an energy policy. In other words, an energy policy has not only got to look at what we have today, it's got to look at where we're going to be five years, ten years, fifteen years, twenty years down the road. You know, a lot of people would like to see a conversion out of hydrocarbons, but that, if it comes, is going to be way into the future. And I'm one who believes that we, yes we, need the oil from ANWR as part of our long-range strategy to provide satisfactory energy supplies to the country.

CURWOOD: How much do you think drilling in ANWR would help protect us in terms of price for oil? We've seen prices way down; it was down to eleven dollars a barrel when I was in Alaska a couple of years ago. Now it easily hits thirty, thirty-five bucks a barrel. Would drilling in ANWR help stabilize oil prices for American consumers?

TAYLOR: I would question whether it would. To me the oil price is pretty much driven by the world market for oil, not just this country. And, of course, you know, the Middle East can control that price by limiting their output. But here again, look at what oil has escalated over the last twenty years, and it's no more expensive now than it was twenty or thirty years ago. You know, to me, it's phenomenal when a gallon of gas is cheaper than a gallon of water out of the store.

CURWOOD: Mr. Taylor, how much of this is politics and symbols?

TAYLOR: As far as the effect of ANWR oil on prices, future energy dependence, what not, I think a lot of it's politics. With respect to being able to develop in ANWR without significant adverse effect, that's fact. We can demonstrate that.

CURWOOD: Okay. You've been in this business for a good while. You've seen the prospects for ANWR up, you've seen them go down. What's your read of what do you think will happen now in the weeks and months ahead?

TAYLOR: (Laughs) I think it goes right back to the politics. If there's sufficient energy shortage, whether the two are connected together or not, like you pointed out earlier, you know, California's shortage of natural gas right now is not connected to oil in ANWR, obviously it's not. But when people have to start to pay more for energy, they complain, and they complain to their congressman. And if those situations continue -- in other words, if there is an air throughout the country that we're running out of energy, we've got a shortage -- Congress will probably open up the coastal plain of ANWR. If that doesn't continue, then they won't.

CURWOOD: And what do you think should be the right answer here? What should Congress do?

TAYLOR: What Congress should do is put together a well-defined energy policy and get buy-in from the people of this country, so that everybody knows what the situation is. Everybody knows what we're going to give up in order to have energy. Because we are going to give up wilderness for energy, if we produce the energy ourselves. And so you know, these are questions I think Congress has been negligent on, and I think they need to be tackled.

CURWOOD: And if you were in charge, you'd say we need to give up some wilderness in ANWR and drill there.

TAYLOR: Well, not only do I think we're going to have to give up some wilderness and drill, there's the other side of the equation. And I think that side of it is that the oil companies have to accept that in the minds of the American people some areas are too valuable as wilderness to allow exploration and development.

CURWOOD: What is that balance? Is ANWR one of those too-precious places for you?

TAYLOR: It could be. It could be.

CURWOOD: Steve Taylor, recently retired from his position as BP's director of environmental policy in Alaska. Thank you for taking this time with us today.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

(Music up and under: XTC, "Train Running Low on Soul Coal")

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Rules & Regulations Primer

CURWOOD: The final months of President Clinton's administration saw many environmental initiatives. They include requirements for cleaner diesel engines, a federal standard for organic foods, and the creation of new national monuments. But on his first day as President, George W. Bush ordered federal agencies to put those new measures on hold, pending review. Republicans say they may challenge and try to reverse some of Mr. Clinton's environmental actions. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon-Greenbaum explains how the unraveling process might work.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: There are three basic categories most controversial initiatives fall into. Regulations, policies, and executive procedures to set aside public land. Regulations are the most difficult to create and to reverse. One recent Clinton regulation that sparked opposition and lawsuits from industry groups is the Roadless Area Initiative, which makes almost a third of national forest land off-limits to roadbuilding, logging, and mining. Pat Parenteau is a professor at the Vermont Law School. He says there are three ways the Bush Administration could challenge Clinton regulations. One, the 1996 Congressional Review Act, gives Congress a lot of latitude.

PARENTEAU: It's never been used or tested so far, but it's a statute that allows Congress to repeal rules that have been adopted by the Executive branch, by introducing resolutions in both houses of Congress. And if they pass by a simple majority in both houses and that resolution is then presented to the President, and if he signs it, it becomes law, and that would repeal any rule that it covered.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: A second strategy is more cumbersome. It's called the Administrative Procedure Act, and it would require the Bush administration to go back through the rulemaking process and reopen the rule for public comment. The last way to block a Clinton regulation would require cooperation from the Justice Department.

PARENTEAU: In the fact of lawsuits that have filed against many of these Clinton rules, including the roadless rule, the Justice Department could simply go into court and confess judgment. That is to say, we agree with the people challenging this rule that it was not adopted in a proper fashion, and we intend to go back over it and change it or get rid of it altogether.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Policies are very different from regulations. They can be changed overnight, without any formal process. Examples of recent policies include a ban on most logging of old growth timber on public lands, and a revised interpretation of the 1872 Mining Act that's tougher on industry. Then there is Clinton's horde of national monument designations being contested now by some Republican senators. National monuments are created through the Antiquities Act, which lets the President set aside public land with historic or scientific significance. Though the act grants the power to create monuments, it's silent on the question of abolishing them. Some public land scholars argue this makes the President powerless to reverse a monument designation. But Pat Parenteau says it hasn't been tested, and that Bush would probably have the legal authority to do as he sees fit.

PARENTEAU: One of the major designations that Clinton made in southern Utah is called the Escalante National Monuments, about 1.9 million acres. Reportedly, it contains a lot of oil and gas and coal resources, and we know what President Bush has said about his views on energy. He thinks we ought to be exploiting energy resources on the public lands much more so than we have been doing. So it's possible that he would make exceptions under the Antiquities Act for allowing mineral development in some of these monuments, or it's possible that Congress would step in and do so, and President Bush would go along with it.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Regulations, policies, and national monuments aside, Parenteau says the most common tactics during presidential transitions don't lead to documents you'd find in the Federal Register.

PARENTEAU: The easiest way to accomplish some of the goals of rolling back some of these Clinton initiatives would be what you might call the passive-aggressive approach. Which is: We won't directly challenge any of these rules, but we'll just simply not implement them.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Changes in agency staff and advisory boards, along with budget and priority decisions, can all affect whether a ruling is implemented and how well it's enforced. These are quieter strategies the public is less likely to hear about. For Living on Earth, I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.

CURWOOD: Coming up: Rescuing plants and saving biodiversity in sprawling Florida. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

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Health Update

TOOMEY: A U.S. maker of herbal allergy relief medicine is voluntarily recalling the product because it contains trace amounts of a substance known to cause kidney damage. The product, marketed under the brand name Neo Concept Aller Relief, is made from an Asian herb that naturally contains aristolochic acid, a known carcinogen and kidney toxin. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration began to test Chinese herbal products for aristolochic acid, following reports from Europe that linked more than 100 cases of kidney disease to ingestion of herbal formulas. The FDA also issued a warning to health care professionals, alerting them about other botanical products that might contain the toxin. The company that makes Aller Relief says it's reformulating its product with an herb that does not contain aristolochic acid. And that's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

Music up and under: Marvin Pontiac, "In A Big Car")

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

(Music up and under: Dido, "Worthless")

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Plant Rescue

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Since the 1950s the development of new homes and businesses in Florida has threatened to fragment the state's natural habitats. So, some volunteers are gathering samples of rare and endangered native plants to preserve Florida's botanical treasures before the bulldozers arrive. From Tampa, Geoff Brady reports.

(Footfalls)

BRADY: It's a cloudless sunny afternoon. Steve Dickman, wearing a leather hat to keep out the sun, leads me through acres of a West Central Florida nature preserve. We hop over several gates and find ourselves at the edge of untouched Florida wilderness that will soon fall to development.

DICKMAN: Okay, this is it. This is the boundary.

BRADY: Dickman points out clumps of hearty native plants through a rusted barbed wire fence.

DICKMAN: Looking around us here, I see other things that are potential candidates for plant rescue.

BRADY: Steve Dickman calls himself a plant rescue expert. He volunteers for the Florida Native Plant Society, a conservation group that preserves and restores plants through education. Dickman says his fascination with Florida's variety of plant life has inspired him to go on these rescue missions. We carefully slip through the barbed wire and trespass onto the property.

(Clanking wire; footfalls)

DICKMAN: Clumps of wire grass over here. These little rosettes, rolls of leaves, this is a type of cartheferus. It's in the aster family, vanilla tongue or deer tongue are a couple of common names that are used to describe them.

BRADY: This parcel of land will soon be the site for new homes, a shopping complex, and a school. We move through a dry undergrowth of woody sage plants that have overtaken a pond. Suddenly Dickman recognizes a group of plants ahead of us.

DICKMAN: This is a hypericum, that's St. John's Wort. This would be a good candidate to try and collect as many possible. You can see they're actually suffering from heat stress right now.

BRADY: Although native to Florida, St. John's Wort is increasingly hard to find in the state. Here, Dickman has found a colony. But before he can dig up and save these plants, he needs first to get permission from the developer. Most developers have no problem with the rescuers taking a few plants from their property. If we stumble upon certain types of endangered species, Dickman will need permission from the state.

(Wind, soft buzzing)

BRADY: All of the plants Steve Dickman rescues end up at a nature reserve or a public garden. Brad Carter, curator of the University of South Florida Botanical Garden, tends to a small bog made up of transplanted carnivorous plants that were rescued from a development at a beachfront property.

CARTER: We dedicated this bog planting just to plants from that site. We thought that it would be sort of a genetic repository of plants from that area that is soon to become a hotel or a shopping center or whatever. It's going, going, gone.

BRADY: Carter says without natural barriers, such as mountains, to control Florida's sprawl, more of the state's rare plants are ending up in the path of developers. And large tracts of land are being destroyed. Even with the efforts of the plant rescuers, only individual plants are saved. Allen Spencer, who works at the USF Botanical Garden, says the individual rescues are vain attempts to salvage the habitats. He says larger habitats are needed to support the plant and animal interaction.

SPENCER: I do believe in restoration, since there's so much destruction. If we don't try to restore, you know, it's not going to be perfect. But I think you can take them and restore the habitat. If you don't establish habitats, you're out of context, and it's really sort of a waste of time.

MACKIE: No, I don't think it's a wasted effort.

BRADY: Andrew Mackie is the assistant director of the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in south Florida. He says the rescue efforts afford a chance for more people to learn about native plants.

MACKIE: There are many species of native plants that are declining, that are rare, and that would be useful saved instead of being bulldozed and destroyed. And being replanted, they provide important wildlife benefits and important educational values. Probably the greatest effort there would be to educate the public about these native species and what they can provide for us.

BRADY: Mackie and Spencer agree that residents can create natural habitats by planting native species in their backyards. But so far, few people are signing up to help.

(Footfalls through tall grasses)

BRADY: That means that plant rescuers like Steve Dickman will be busy trying to preserve what remains of Florida's natural heritage, before it falls to today's fast pace of development. For Living on Earth, this is Geoff Brady in Tampa, Florida.

(Music up and under: Nightmares on Wax, "Fire In the Middle")

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Bulk Food

CURWOOD: Since the birth of her daughter Nina ten months ago, commentator Bonnie Auslander has been spending a lot of her time doing household food shopping. The making of lists, the checking of shelves, and the buying of products has her remembering the foods of her childhood, and what they came in.

AUSLANDER: In the pantry of my kitchen memories stands a girl with yellow shoes and purple umbrella. Nearby is her California cousin, the Sun Maid raisin maiden. And on the shelf above, a Quaker with rosy cheeks and a bold bicep and mallet. These containers of my childhood were familiar and comforting. I didn't worry if I saw the Morton Salt Girl in the garbage; she'd be back. Because whenever packages were empty, you threw them away and got new ones.

Thirty years later, I met the environmentalist who became my husband. No packaging in his kitchen. No pretty boxes. The salt was in a plastic yogurt container, reused so many times the colors had faded. The flower and sugar and granola were piled on the shelf in plastic bags, like sleeping puppies. Empty egg cartons were stacked high, waiting to be filled again. This man lived to buy in bulk. Not shopper's club kind of bulk, but the bulk of a food co-op, with its musty bins and dubious oils oozing onto the floor. With its spaced-out cashier who know the value of everything but the price of nothing.

At first, I was intrigued. There was something charming about this world without names, where the thing itself takes center stage, not the container it's in. It was only when I tried to bake some cookies in this kitchen that it got frustrating. "What kind of flour is this?" I asked. He opened the dusty bag and rubbed a pinch between his fingers. "It's whole wheat," he said, "but I'm not sure if it's bread flour or pastry flour." "You don't know?"

Then it hit me. It didn't matter, since the semi-sweet chips, too, had been bought in bulk. And that meant I didn't have the trusty back-of-the-package cookie recipe to follow. After we moved in together, I adjusted to co-op shopping. It helps if I think of it as a scientific expedition. Before you leave, gather your supplies. The maple syrup jar and olive oil cruet, the cloth sacks that moot the famous question, "Paper or plastic?" At the store, write down the product number and cost of every item, and don't forget to record the weight of those empty jars and bottles before they're filled.

In theory, I agree with bulk shopping's underlying premise of reduce, reuse, recycle. But inside, I mourn for the packaging of my youth. I didn't know how attached I was to containers, how much labels comfort me, until I tried living without them. To my chagrin, I find I've bought the Madison Avenue pitch: Brand is more important than product, and good things come in packages.

Given the state of the planet, I know my nostalgia for my childhood kitchen needs to become a thing of the past. My daughter won't have this problem. She won't pine for unnecessary packaging or be loyal to brands based on cute labels. I look around our kitchen to see what she'll remember. Grains in bags, flour in canisters. But what's that on the corner, behind the jar of lentils? Ah -- it's a little girl in yellow shoes holding a purple umbrella.

CURWOOD: Commentator Bonnie Auslander lives with her husband John and daughter Nina in Ithaca, New York.

(Music up and under: Arvo Part, "Spiegel Im Spiegel")

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: Arvo Part, "Spiegel Im Spiegel")

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: How environmental degradation puts people at greater risk when the Earth quakes. The El Salvador story is ahead. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: Idaho, "In The Desert")

SECOND HALF HOUR

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

(Beeps)

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: It's February eighth, 1956, and this just in. Soviet intelligence is reporting the sighting of several spacecraft over the USSR. The Soviet news agency TASS says the unmanned craft look like large teardrop-shaped objects. Cameras and radio equipment have been found on board, along with measuring devices and controls. Soviet officials claim the vehicles are U.S. spy satellites. But a spokesman at the U.S. State Department termed the whole affair a, quote, "mystery wrapped in an enigma."

Well, as it turns out, all the fuss was about a bunch of weather balloons.

(Music up and under: The Fifth Dimension: "Come Fly Away In My Beautiful Balloon")

CURWOOD: The project, affectionately called "Moby Dick," was meant to record climate changes around the world. But forty-five years ago, the Russians wouldn't buy it. And to avoid a confrontation, the U.S. eventually banned launches of the balloons over Soviet territory. Now that the Cold War has thawed, weather balloons are launched twice a day from more than a thousand sites around the world, including the former Soviet Union. The helium-filled balloons can cover 250 miles and reach heights of 90,000 feet before they burst and send recording devices parachuting to the ground. Russians, by the way, aren't the only ones to mistake weather balloons for suspicious spacecraft. Each year, hundreds of U.S. citizens report seeing UFOs that turn out to be weather balloons.

(Music up and under: Mark Snow, "The X-Files Theme")

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

(Music up and under: Mark Snow, "The X-Files Theme")

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El Salvador Earthquake

CURWOOD: India and El Salvador have both suffered devastating earthquakes in the past few weeks. And while India is getting much press attention, little note is being paid to the January thirteenth quake that left more than a million Salvadorans homeless and several hundred dead. In India, construction practices have come under scrutiny, and in El Salvador, relief workers cite deforestation and overdevelopment as causes of the extent of the damage. Michael Delaney, Director of Humanitarian Response and Special Projects for Oxfam, has just returned from El Salvador. He tells me that despite the TV images showing widespread destruction near the capital, San Salvador, rural areas were hardest hit.

DELANEY: Basically, the earthquake spread along socioeconomic lines. Many of the rural areas of El Salvador don't have the means to develop safe housing. Most of the housing is adobe, or what they call bahareci, which is basically a bamboo and mud hut. And these structures, put together with all of the assets that people have, just don't withstand the shock like this. And in fact, now we see that one in six Salvadorans are actually affected by this earthquake.

CURWOOD: After witnessing the ruins of this particular earthquake, is there a particular scene that sticks with you most?

DELANEY: On one day, we were traveling to regions of the country where Oxfam traditionally had not worked. On the last visit of the day, we actually entered a town in which every house in that town had been destroyed, completely destroyed. So not one person in that village and outskirts of the town had a house. It was quite shocking to see.

CURWOOD: I understand that there is a link between deforestation and some of the devastation in the earthquake. Were you able to observe any of that?

DELANEY: Yes, certainly. Deforestation has a long history in El Salvador. In fact, most of the natural forest growth had been destroyed in the earlier part of this century. There's only about two percent of the actual land mass that is covered by trees. This has to do a lot with the socioeconomic crisis in the country. Many people are poor, they need wood to cook their meals with. They have to live off the land, and put into that scenario, looking at the opportunity for cutting down branches off a tree and having a hot meal, or respecting the environment, a poor person really doesn't have much of an option.

CURWOOD: Tell me, what observations do you have about the role of development in the effects of natural disasters like earthquakes?

DELANEY: I think that we need to begin to apply some of the same standards and practices and education about housing that we do in developed countries, to areas in developing countries. People don't have the options. People don't have land. There's been many attempts at land reform in El Salvador. None of them have been carried forward fully. Many times just finding a space, whether it is on the side of a ravine or the side of a mountain, is enough for people to begin. So the issues of safety and zoning never come into play. Governments have not put forward any zoning rules, and the people are just looking for an opportunity to call home.

CURWOOD: Where are people going to rebuild? On these same mountainsides that are so dangerous?

DELANEY: Well, that's the question. What we noticed immediately after the earthquake was that, even in places where people's homes have been reduced to rubble, they wanted to stay there. You'll see plastic sheeting and bedspreads, sheets, covering small areas of what were their homes. People trying to stay where they were. Some areas were overrun by landslides. Those people don't have any place to go. They're probably going to end up in another precarious area.

CURWOOD: How will developers think differently in the future, do you think, about building in El Salvador in these areas?

DELANEY: Well, I think there's a lot of concerns that we're finally seeing come to light. I think that the earthquake really serves as an X-ray on some of the social, economic, environmental ills that have been existing. What we need to do is not just rebuild. But we have to reconstruct in a way that's going to take into account these environmental issues and put forward legislation that's going to help people build sustainable lives.

CURWOOD: What do you think it would take to establish environmental regulations?

DELANEY: Well, certainly, since the end of the civil war that the people faced throughout the eighties, there's been growing efforts to look at the environment as an issue and bring it forward. During the war, the issue of the environment was seen as an elite subject. However, now there is a growing movement in El Salvador for groups that have traditionally worked with community development, economic development, to take on the environment as the rallying cause. And I think that now more than ever there is an opportunity for environmental groups to get their message across and get it on the forefront.

CURWOOD: Michael Delaney is Director of Humanitarian Response and Special Projects for Oxfam in Boston. Thanks for joining us.

DELANEY: Thank you, Steve. It was a pleasure being here.

(Music up and under: David Darling and Ketil Bjornstad, "Wakenings")

CURWOOD: Just ahead: A trip to the backwoods of Idaho for a close-up look at the logging roads controversy. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

Now, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

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Technology Update

GRABER: Fuel cells are being touted as a cleaner way to power your car, and some day your home. Now they may be part of a cleaner way to clean that home. A company in Texas is currently developing the first fuel cell-powered vacuum cleaner. Its energy will come from a canister of hydrogen and will emit only water vapor as a result of the energy used. In addition, the vacuum will be fully portable, and if you reverse the air flow, could double as a leaf-blower. The company says the same technology could also be used in lawnmowers. And the hum of a fuel cell-powered motor is significantly quieter than a typical vacuum cleaner or power mower. So someday, you may be able to use renewable energy to clean your rugs, mow the lawn, and get rid of the leaves, without disturbing a soul. That's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under)

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

CURWOOD: 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 us your comments, to 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: His Name Is Alive, "Across Every Fjord")

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NYC Heron

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. To the surprise and delight of New York City bird-watchers a few years ago, a pair of red-tailed hawks took up residence on the ledge of an apartment building overlooking Central Park. Now the park has another unexpected feathered guest: a great blue heron is making his winter home there. Joining me to talk about this bird is Henry Stern, New York City's Parks Commissioner. Hello, sir.

STERN: Hi. We're very flattered that this bird has chosen to spend the winter with us rather than continuing south, as most blue herons do at the fall migration time.

CURWOOD: Now, have you actually seen this bird yourself?

STERN: No, I haven't, but I've heard tell of him. And, well, our rangers have seen him and he's been photographed. So we know he's there.

CURWOOD: And it's a guy, you think.

STERN: We think so.

CURWOOD: Why do you suppose that this bird decided to winter in The Big Apple?

STERN: Well, they only go as far as they have to, so it's possible that he found it warm enough or comfortable to survive. It's possible he had an illness or an affliction which prevented him from traveling south with the flock. It might be that he just lost his bearings.

CURWOOD: Mmm hm. Do you think that aside from temperature or the prospect of illness, that habitat in New York City has improved for these birds?

STERN: Oh, it has. Central Park is 843 acres, and this is a nice woodland and forest and full of plains and lakes. And there are fish in those lakes, which blue herons like to eat. So, there's no question that he could survive here. The only risk is that it would become very cold. But it seems to be a relatively normal to mild winter, and we're already going into February.

CURWOOD: Now, I'm wondering what kind of attention this bird is drawing there, and how that might affect attendance down at Central Park.

STERN: Well, it's getting some heron watchers, and word spreads. We don't want to make too much of it, because we don't want anyone coming there to bother the heron. So far, no one has. And people respect the bird. We trust that will continue, because New Yorkers are basically decent.

CURWOOD: One last thing before we go.

STERN: Sure.

CURWOOD: Does this bird have a name?

STERN: No. The bird does not have a name, and I'll tell you why. The tradition is that birds in captivity or other animals in zoos are given names. But birds or animals that are in the wild are not supposed to be named. And this bird is in the wild, not in captivity.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Henry Stern is New York City's Parks Commissioner.

STERN: Thank you.

(Music up and under: Delirium, "Daylight")

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The Ban on Roads

CURWOOD: As his term ended last month, President Clinton declared one third of all national forests off limits to further road building. The move drew praise from recreation enthusiasts and wilderness protectors. But Alaska Republican Senator Frank Murkowski warned the ban would cause great environmental and economic damage. The day he took office, George W. Bush started a review of the roadless ban, and some predict it may be eventually repealed. Producer Guy Hand recently went back to his home state of Idaho. There he found that logging roads both connect and divide our public lands and the people who live and work around them.

SHIRLEY: When we finally got the car back on the road, it got dried out enough and cooled off enough that it would start up again. But we took one wild ride down that mountainside.

(An appliance starts up)

HAND: Every now and then you have to go home to remember who you are, and how you got that way. For me, my Aunt Shirley's kitchen is a good place to start.

SHIRLEY: Oh, slow it down.

HAND: She's making breakfast, and her pancakes are a lot like my dad's were. A little lumpy, but hard to resist. And just like dad's and my granddad's before him, her love of dirt roads seems to be a family inheritance.

SHIRLEY: Anywhere there was a dirt road to take, we took it.

HAND: We all grew up in Idaho, where parts of the backcountry are as riven with roads as a T-bone steak is marbled with fat. And as a kid, I thought that was a good thing. Those roads were our dust-covered Internet, our connection to other communities, our path into Idaho's vast, beautiful, and mostly unpeopled public lands. But, even more than that, dirt roads were a symbol of freedom.

SHIRLEY: 'Cause these are all our lands. And if we are supposed to have freedom in this country, we should be able to go where we want to go.

HAND: But going where we want to go may not be as easy as it once was.

(News music and voice-over: "The outgoing president puts more forests off-limits. The incoming president is not pleased...")

HAND: Collectively, these never to be routed lands comprise a chunk of America bigger than the national park system. Any currently unrouted national forest land would stay that way, effectively banning logging and motorized recreation as well. And because Idaho contains more roadless land than any state but Alaska, over nine million acres, no state in the lower forty-eight will be impacted more by Clinton's initiative.

BERNARD: You know, how would the people back in Pennsylvania and Kentucky feel if we wanted to go back there and promote roadless area, which I think it would be a great deal for me to take my grandkids back East and see it as Daniel Boone saw it.

HAND: That's Tim Bernard, lifetime member of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a trail-riding advocacy group and one of several organizations that have gone to court to stop the roadless initiative. Like many in Idaho, he doesn't think people living east of the Mississippi have a clue about the West.

BERNARD: People that live in New York City don't even own cars. They don't have any idea of what Yellowstone National Park is. They don't have any idea that it takes pretty near a week to drive around the Frank Church Wilderness. And they want more areas.

HAND: Tim's is an argument familiar to me. Growing up in a lightly-populated state, with little representation in Washington, many of us Idahoans are all but genetically coded with a deep mistrust of the East. But Blue Ribbon Coalition member Steve Gunderson believes a ban on roads is only one part of a broader Eastern environmental agenda.

GUNDERSON: There are people out there that don't want anything going on in the forest except what they want. It's a means to an end and they don't care. You've heard issues of wilderness, hunting restrictions, endangered species, wild and scenic river, reintroduction of the wolf, the grizzly bear, and it goes on and on.

SKINNER: For somebody to come in and say that this is a bunch of easterners trying to protect a piece of landscape, I would assume that they don't know that all sorts of different folks are using it, and we've really changed the way that we view our landscape.

HAND: Dan Skinner is a fourth-generation Idahoan and Conservation Organizer for Idaho Rivers United.

SKINNER: And what the reality of the situation is, is that in some polls that we ran in Idaho earlier this year, better than 60 percent of Idahoans support protecting wilderness areas.

HAND: He and I are standing among old growth Ponderosa pines in the deadwood roadless area north of Boise.

SKINNER: Yeah, can you hand me that, please? (Unrolls a map)

HAND: Dan unrolls a map to show me Idaho's public lands road system. Virtually all of the roads we see are cut not for recreation or public transportation but for the timber industry.

SKINNER: That shows you what the roads on a typical timber sale are going to do. They don't punch one road in and bring all the timber to that road. What they do is build a series of roads on the contours every few hundred yards, so that they never have to drag a log more than about 200 yards. So what these other maps are, is just...

HAND: According to Dan, Idaho has ten times more logging roads than paved highways. In places on his map, the dirt roads are so dense it's hard to imagine room for trees or rivers at all.

SKINNER: This is not an urban area, right? This is forest land. And when you get back into these areas, you can see that the road densities are just phenomenal.

(Footfalls)

HAND: I follow Dan up a pine-covered hill to get a better view of the damage roads can do.

SKINNER: Well, we're looking down at the Deadwood River, and there's this road, one that's been here for quite some time, actually, that goes up about six, seven miles.

HAND: For a dirt road, this one doesn't look bad. It has concrete culverts, it's wide, it's smooth. Frankly, it's in better shape than the road in front of my house in California. So I ask Dan, what's the problem?

SKINNER: That road completely blew out about three years ago. About half of it basically washed away into the river. Tons of sediment, buried a bunch of bull trout habitat. And that's a relatively good road. The number one problem with pollution in Idaho rivers and creeks is sedimentation. Is dirt from logging roads. And that is how we ruin our wildlife habitat. That's how we kill our fish.

HAND: As 1995 gave way to 1996, a massive New Year's storm slammed into northern Idaho. The deluge that followed blew out hundreds of dirt roads in the Clearwater National Forest, silting up rivers, killing fish, and, some say, galvanizing opposition to logging and logging roads like nothing else before.

(Helicopter rotors. Man: "This helicopter view of a forest in northern Idaho shows an area that's been clear cut...")

HAND: I remember seeing the news footage on national TV. Horizontal roadcuts plunging into wide, vertical slashes of earth and debris.

(Man: "That's not all the damage. Here's a logging road washout. You can see a broken drainage culvert sticking out where the road washed out...")

HAND: Those TV images didn't jive with my notion of Idaho as a rugged, eternal place. I'd never driven a dirt road that wasn't in some way scarred by potholes, slumps, and slides. But like most westerners at the time, I grew up proud in the belief that this was a land big enough to handle it. But once you admit that frailty, as many of us now do, what's next?

(An engine starts up)

HAND: Bill Mulligan's answer is, build better roads. As President of Three Rivers Timber Company in Kamia, Idaho, he puts his faith in improved road building technology. As logs are loaded onto trucks behind us, he explains.

MULLIGAN: And there's no doubt about it. Roads are the number one issue. People say that the roads create sediment. Well, today we can build roads with backhoes on very stable landscapes, and we can put them in where we just don't produce sediment or muck sediment off of them any more. And so, there's a lot we can do to not only put in less roads, but those roads that we do put in have far less impact on the landscape than they ever did before.

HAND: Bill shakes his head in frustration at the thought of a ban on roadbuilding.

MULLIGAN: Here you have these magnificent tools and opportunities in front of you, and we're in the worst gridlock to be able to apply them to the landscape that we've ever seen.

HAND: Yet the Forest Service says the problem isn't a lack of new technology. The problem is money. Nationally, the service struggles to maintain 386,000 miles of public land roads, far more roads than the Interstate highway system. And with a half billion dollar repair backlog, many of those roads simply sink into disrepair. Roadless advocates say building more roads is irresponsible. They're also quick to point out that all the money spent building and maintaining national forest logging roads isn't paid for by the timber industry. It's paid for by U.S. taxpayers, whether they live in Idaho or New York City. Stephanie Bales works for the Intermountain Forest Association, a group that represents land and mill owners. She says money or not, we've got to build more roads.

BALES: Forest Service tells us there are twenty-two million acres of roadless land at high risk to catastrophic wildfire. And about eight million of the twenty-two are in Idaho and Montana.

HAND: Stephanie's father and grandfather worked for the Forest Service, so it's no surprise that she's steeped in the ethos of forest management.

BALES: In order to practice forestry, you have to have access to the places where forests need to be managed.

HAND: Stephanie says it's essential that timber experts get into the backcountry so they can thin the dense stands of fire-prone trees. Roadless advocates counter that it's just another threadbare excuse to cut more trees down. That idea really riles Stephanie.

BALES: You know, how much time and energy are we going to spend blaming each other? The science is in on this topic. The credible scientists in this country that look at forest ecology and fire ecology have spoken on the condition of western forests.

PINKHAM: Educated as a scientist, I've learned the fact that science is not always failsafe.

HAND: As a former forester and member of the Nez Perce tribe, Jamie Pinkham has spent time on both sides of the roadless divide.

PINKHAM: If you look at management activities of the past, they've had the opposite effect, damaging the resources to a point where we're struggling today to find new science, new technology, to reverse the errors that we've made in the past. So I would have to disagree that science is what's going to save the natural world. I think who's most capable of saving the natural world is nature itself.

(Climbing)

HAND: Environmental activist Chuck Pezeshki and I climb hundreds of steps to a Forest Service lookout to see what he says is at stake if the roadless initiative is overturned by the Bush administration. In the lookout, we find Ranger Jack Crawford.

(Crawford speaks to someone on radio)

CRAWFORD: Checking in, Guy, and I have not seen any smoke on 62 ridge fire since about 1200 today.

(A voice on radio replies)

HAND: He's spent twenty-seven summers scanning the horizon for fires while living in this single, 14 by 14 glass-walled room.

(Wind)

HAND: Wind moans through the windowpanes.

CRAWFORD: And I have proved this is all you need, this is all the space you need. You've got your bedroom, you've got your den, you've got your kitchen...

HAND: But what is most impressive is the view outside.

PEZESHKI: Those are the crags, aren't they?

CRAWFORD: That's the Selway Bitterroot ...

PEZESHKI: Is that the crest?

HAND: In every direction we see forest, mountain, and nothing more. Chuck Pezeshki.

PEZESHKI: What's so amazing about this country right here is that it has what ecologists call interior habitat, which is we have deep forest that's far away from any road at all. So there's very little of this left in the entire United States. And who does that matter to? Well, it really matters to species like wolverine and lynx, that cannot take human disturbance. A wolverine sees a person, it runs away.

CRAWFORD: Yeah.

PEZESHKI: But you need this kind of big, wild country, otherwise they don't make it.

HAND: Chuck is hopeful that President Bush won't overturn the roadless initiative.

PEZESHKI: A million people commented on this proposal. If you're a politician, how can you ignore the wishes of a million of your citizenry? The notion that George Bush and his cronies are going to be able to unravel this whole thing is just ludicrous.

(Wind)

HAND: The three of us stare into a sea of trees and I realize that once again roads have led me into the Idaho backcountry. Home. Yet this time, they've also led me somewhere else. Into the age-old question of dominion. Everyone who's talked to me about the roadless initiative, whether using the language of philosophy, ecology, technology, or just plain anger, is really talking about dominion. About how deep into what's left of the natural world humanity should plunge. For Living on Earth, I'm Guy Hand.

(Music up and under: Idaho, "Scrawny")

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Interview with Michelle Brown, Commissioner of Alaska's Dept. of Environmental Conservation ** Web Only

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Four years ago, the Disney Company broke ground on its version of small-town America. Next week, we pay a visit to the planned community called Celebration, to see how this best-laid plan of mouse and man is turning out.

WOMAN: Celebration's divided into several groups. There's the Rah-rahs, which are Disney all the way, don't question it. And another group, which we haven't named yet, possibly the Rebels. And then, there's another group, a third group, the Escapees. So there are factions. It's become a factionalized community.

CURWOOD: A celebration to remember, 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 Mylisa Muniz. We had help this week from Steven Belter. Our interns are Merav Bushlin and Dawn Robinson. Alison Dean composed our themes. Our Technical Director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our Western Editor. 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 and under: Idaho, "Scrawny")

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)

 

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