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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

June 1, 2001

Air Date: June 1, 2001

FULL SHOW

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Spotting Owls / Nathan Johnson

(stream / mp3)

Scientists have long assumed that the Northern spotted owl, the symbol of the northwest forest wars, could only survive in old growth forests. But, a population of spotted owls outside San Francisco may be proving that assumption wrong. Nathan Johnson has our story. (07:40)

Rockefeller Gift / Jackie Yamanaka

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The Rockefeller family has donated their 11-hundred acre Wyoming ranch to Grand Teton National Park. They also took the unusual step of providing an endowment to cover its future management costs. Jackie Yamanaka reports from Grand Teton National Park. (03:25)

Animal Note / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that loud noise can damage more than just children's hearing. (01:15)

The Living on Earth Almanac

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This week, facts about the United States' first vegetarian colony. One hundred forty-five years ago, veggie burgers weren't so easy to come by. (01:30)

Botany of Desire

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Host Steve Curwood talks with author Michael Pollan about his new book, “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.” (10:00)

Poison Ivy / Linda Tatelbaum

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Commentator Linda Tatelbaum says a close encounter with poison ivy taught her to have a new respect for nature. (02:45)

News Follow-Up

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New developments in stories we’ve been following recently. (03:00)

Health Note / Maggie Villiger

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Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on weeding techniques used by ants to keep their gardens invader-free. (01:30)

Letters

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This week, Living on Earth dips into our mailbag to hear what listeners have to say about our stories. (02:30)

Foot and Mouth / Jesse Wegman

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More than three million livestock animals have been slaughtered in Great Britain since the start of the foot and mouth outbreak. Jesse Wegman reports on how the pastoral English countryside may change with grazing animals and farmers no longer tending to the land. (12:45)

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Spotting Owls

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. A decade ago, the northern spotted owl sparked a heated debate over the scope of the Endangered Species Act. The furor polarized environmentalists and loggers. It began when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to list the owl as a threatened species. Even though habitat protections are now in place, the future of the spotted owl is uncertain. Recent studies show the owl is still on the decline throughout California, Oregon, and Washington State. But there is one population of spotted owls that's thriving in an unlikely place --just outside the city of San Francisco. Nathan Johnson has our story.

(Spotted owl calls)

JOHNSON: The territorial call of a spotted owl is unmistakable. It's four notes: one short hoot --

(Hoot)

JOHNSON: Followed by two evenly-spaced hoots --

(Hoot hoot)

JOHNSON: Then a final hoot trailing off.

(Hoooot)

JOHNSON: It's a sound biologist Katie Fehring and her two colleagues are hoping to hear as they canvass the coastal forest just north of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge.

FEHRING: The first time we came this year, we've located them right about here sitting right next to each other, about a foot apart on the same limb. We think they're hanging out right in this area. There's a lot of whitewash around, so we'll do a little half-hour search.

JOHNSON: Over the last four years, a team of ten owl trackers have turned up more than 60 owl sites, making this one of the densest populations on record.

FEHRING: Compared to owls in the Northwest, in Marin County they're extremely densely packed in. Some places you'll have a pair of owls in every drainage as you go down a ridge.

JOHNSON: Many of the scientists involved in the study were surprised, not just by how many owls were found, but by where they were found. Spotted owls traditionally were thought to nest almost exclusively in large old growth trees.

FEHRING: Over the past few years we've had a few nests in bay trees as small as eight inches around, very small trees. And that was unheard of. You know, you think of spotted owls, you think of a huge old growth tree, and these were tiny, little spindly bay trees. But, with enough cover over them and enough moisture in the area, it's nice and cool.

JOHNSON: The fact that owls are turning up in non-old growth habitat has not been lost on the timber industry, which never really accepted the argument that spotted owls were threatened with extinction. Ross Mickey is a spokesman for the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group based in Portland, Oregon.

MICKEY: Everything was based on anecdotal evidence of, basically, he spotted owl needs old growth, old growth is being cut, therefore .the spotted owl is threatened. That was the link.

JOHNSON: He estimates that timber harvests in national forests in the Pacific Northwest fell 75 percent once logging was restricted in owl habitat. And he says the spotted owl does not require old growth trees to survive.

MICKEY: Basically, it needs a place to live and it needs food. And it finds those in a variety of vegetation types. I could go over and over and give you example after example of areas where people wouldn't even, didn't even want to look for spotted owls in the initial days because it didn't fit the profile. You know, no, the spotted owl lives in a wide variety of vegetation types, much broader than what we thought when it was listed.

EVANS: The argument that we find spotted owls in habitat other than old growth forest and, therefore, they're a very resilient species is a convenient one for the industry to put forth.

JOHNSON: Jules Evans, a biologist who's researched spotted owls in Marin County, says the fact that owls are sometimes found in disturbed habitat doesn't mean they can reproduce and sustain a population.

EVANS: In the short term, sure. These birds are displaced. They can move into disturbed habitat. You might find them there. That's like finding refugees in (laughs) -- in some camp in Bangladesh or Chechnya or someplace and saying, "Oh, they're fine, they're leading productive lives."

JOHNSON: In the Pacific Northwest, old growth forests still provide the most ideal habitat for the spotted owl, largely because that's where flying squirrels live, the owl's main food source in the region. But here in the extreme southern tip of the range, many of the conditions the owl relies on are satisfied in second-growth forests. The temperature is cool due to coastal fog. Food is plentiful because of a large population of wood rats. And there are many closed-canopy forests that make for good nest sites. But the wild card in terms of the owl's survival is that this habitat, unlike that in the Pacific Northwest, is flanked by densely-populated cities and suburbs.

(Engine, horn)

BUS DRIVER: The entrance gate is directly to the front of us. Stop at the entrance gate and turn in your green ticket.

JOHNSON: This tour bus, coming from downtown San Francisco, is carrying just a handful of the two million or so annual visitors to these forests.

BUS DRIVER: Just a little bit inside the forest up to the right side, you'll find the snack bar and gift shop.

JOHNSON: Muir Woods, a 500-acre national monument, retains the only ancient trees left in this watershed. Mia Monroe is the head ranger.

MONROE: Muir Woods is a very, very busy park. We are just 20 minutes from the Golden Gate Bridge, so people can come here after work or after school. So, on a day like today, which is the middle of the week, when mostly kids are in school, we're probably going to get 3,000 people here.

(Footfalls, followed by hooting spotted owl)

JOHNSON: Back on the other side of the mountain, Katie Fehring is at the top of a steep canyon looking for signs of the spotted owl around a nearby nest.

FEHRING: So, we just hiked up a pretty steep little stretch, a little ridgelet. We're up on probably an old logging road, I would guess. You can see the stumps from the redwood logging, and it is above a busy road. You'll probably hear the cars go by.

JOHNSON: Biologists here worry about the impact of things like new home construction and illegal mountain bike trails. But one of their biggest worries? Wildlife photographers.

FEHRING: We have had a problem in the past, and currently, of professional photographers coming out and calling birds and feeding them and trying to manipulate them closer and lower. It does change the owls' behavior. It keeps them awake. It makes them very accustomed to humans. It makes them approach humans. They'll fly in and look at my backpack to see if I have food in my backpack.

JOHNSON: Besides photographers, there are also aggressive bird watchers, sometimes known to unintentionally harass this threatened species in their zeal to get a rare glimpse of the owl.

FEHRING: They're well-meaning people, and I understand there is sort of an allure to the owl. But we like to try to leave them alone. You know, it wouldn't be a proud thing to be known as disturbing the wildlife that you care about.

(Owl hoots)

JOHNSON: Biologists think that over the next hundred years or so, as long as this land stays undeveloped, these owls will survive. Unfortunately, they're not as confident about the owls' survival in other locations. But here, this season's eggs are just starting to hatch. And if all goes well, there will be at least 20 to 30 new fledglings in the hills north of San Francisco this summer.

(Owl hoots)

JOHNSON: For Living on Earth, this is Nathan Johnson in Marin County.

(Owl hoots, fade to music up and under: Kevin Ayer, "The Owl" -- "Oh what a beautiful owl you are, the way you think it makes me think of things to say and things to do, but most of all of loving you...")

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Rockefeller Gift

CURWOOD: A little more than 50 years ago, John D. Rockefeller gave 33,000 acres of his own land in northwestern Wyoming to the federal government. That parcel later became the heart of what is now called Grand Teton National Park. Now, John's son Lawrance has turned over his 1,100-acre dude ranch, the J-Y, to the park. Vice President Dick Cheney and Interior Secretary Gail Norton accepted the gift on behalf of the Bush administration, and as Jackie Yamanaka of Yellowstone Public Radio reports, the gift comes with an unusual attachment.

YAMANAKA: Phelps Lake sparkles in the shadow of Mount Albright, just one peak in the Teton Range. For three quarters of a century, this view has been taken in only by the Rockefeller family and its guests. Soon it will be open to the public. Lawrance Rockefeller says the gift honors his father's vision that people can live in harmony with nature.

ROCKEFELLER: The plan developed for the future of the J-Y seeks to achieve delicate balance between conservation of nature and public access and use. In too many places in the national parks, overcrowding and overuse are progressively destroying the very values people seek in coming to our parks.

YAMANAKA: For years the national parks have had a shortage of cash to address its current responsibilities. It struggles with crumbling roads, run-down buildings, and leaking sewer systems. So to help the park, Rockefeller says the family will take the unusual step of providing several million dollars to transition the private ranch to public ownership, and to assist with its future maintenance and operation. Vice President Dick Cheney and Interior Secretary Gail Norton attended the event where the land gift was officially presented.

(Singing and guitar: "Mother Earth follow on you. Lay your body down...")

YAMANAKA: Before the announcement ceremony, nearly 80 protesters gathered at the park's headquarters in Moose. Mac Blewer of Lander praises the Rockefeller family for its environmental vision and its gift of land to Grand Teton National Park. But he's critical of the Bush administration's environmental record.

Mac Blewer: We are gravely concerned that the Bush administration is using today as a greenwashing photo opportunity to veil the administration's anti-environmental policies.

YAMANAKA: One area of concern is the President's recently announced energy plan, which calls for more oil and gas drilling on public lands. Interior Secretary Gail Norton doesn't rule out exploration outside of Grand Teton and neighboring Yellowstone National Parks.

NORTON: Wherever that happens, it has to be in an area where you have a thorough planning process. And you very carefully determine those areas that are the least sensitive and yet still have a lot of energy resources.

YAMANAKA: For years there have been attempts to drill in national forest and other public lands near the parks. Conservationists say instead of talk about such development, the administration should take some real action to also protect the wild lands around the parks. For now, the only land ensured protection from oil and gas development is Grand Teton National Park and this new addition. For Living on Earth, I'm Jackie Yamanaka, Grand Teton National Park.

CURWOOD: Coming up: How plants psych out humans. First, this page from the animal notebook with Maggie Villiger.

(Music up and under: Allison Dean, "Technology Note Theme")

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Animal Note

VILLIGER: We're heading into summer, and for gardeners that means the long battle against weeds looms ahead. If you're the type who likes to lean back on his heels after a long weeding session and take solace in the idea that only a superior human being could tend a garden so well, think again. You have a serious rival in fungus-growing ants. Fungus may not be your crop of choice, but for these ants it's vital. They plant the fungus in their nests to digest leaves they harvest from outside. Then the ants feast on the fungus. The system works as long as weeds don't take over. And for the first time, scientists have closely examined the ants' behavioral weed-whacking techniques. They scrape their mouths over an area contaminated with foreign spores and collect them for disposal before systematically moving on to the next spot. If the weed fungus gains a stronger hold, an ant will grab a piece with his mouth and start rocking side to side to loosen its grip. Once the offending lump is dislodged, other ants quickly court it away to the dump. It looks like ants use a complementary blend of chemistry and elbow grease to keep weed invaders at bay. And really, it should come as no surprise that ants have some pretty sophisticated gardening techniques. They've been farming for about 50 million years. That's this week's animal note. I'm Maggie Villiger.

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

(Music up and under: Visions of Escaflowne, "Ask the Owl")

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The Living on Earth Almanac

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

(Music up and under: The Sticklers, "Vegetarian" -- "I don't eat chicken, I don't eat meat, and some people think that's really neat. I'm a vegetarian. I don't think uncool. I don't think uncool.")

CURWOOD: One hundred and forty five years ago, well before the genesis of punk rock, a group of idealistic Easterners created one of the first vegetarian communities in the United States. Members of the Vegetarian Settlement Company were convinced that the consumption of animal flesh led to the physical, moral, and intellectual injury of mankind. Not wanting to be tempted by the meat-heavy diets of their neighbors, the company's leaders decided to establish a colony as far removed from the rest of the carnivorous country as possible. So, nearly 100 vegetarians made their way west to Neosho, Kansas. They dubbed their settlement Octagon City because of the way in which they intended to divide the land. Villages of four square miles were to be partitioned into segments of eight surrounding a central octagon that would be the town center. Several such villages together would then form the city. The design would allow the community to grow without the usual isolation that accompanied frontier life. But while the group may not have been lonely, they were hungry. The company's promoters spent so much money trying to attract more people to the vegetarian lifestyle that they failed to build the mills or supply provisions. Even working from dawn to dusk, the settlers could barely maintain a diet of corn bread and stewed apples. There were nearly 100 vegetarian residents of Octagon City in the summer of 1856. By the following spring, barely any were left.

(Music up and under: The Sticklers, "Not vegetarian.")

CURWOOD: So, next time you hear someone complain about the price of a veggie burger, remind them that being a vegetarian used to be a whole lot harder to chew. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac."

(Music up and under: The Sticklers, "Vegetarian" -- "I don't eat chicken, I don't eat meat, and some people think that's really neat. I'm a vegetarian. I don't think uncool. I don't think uncool. I don't think uncool.")

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Botany of Desire

CURWOOD: If you're a sci-fi junkie, you've probably seen the movie "Day of the Triffids" in which giant flesh-eating plants take over the world by preying on unsuspecting humans. It's the stuff of pure fantasy. But then again, perhaps not too far off the mark. That is, if you're looking from a plant's perspective. According to author Michael Pollan, plants use us as much as we use them, and they possess much more power over us than we may realize. These reciprocal relationships are chronicled in Michael Pollan's new book, "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World" and he joins me now. Welcome, sir.

POLLAN: Thank you. Thank you, nice to be here.

CURWOOD: So, what exactly is a plant's-eye view of the world?

POLLAN: Well, we don't know for sure, do we? (Laughs) But I'm doing my best to sort of figure it out. This book was born of a little epiphany in my garden when I tried to answer a question for myself. And that was, what do we have in common with the bumblebees, if anything? To answer that question, you really have to think, or try to think, like a plant. As a plant sees it, a bumblebee is a kind of credulous or gullible insect that has been tricked into moving the plant's genes around. From the bee's point of view, the bee is getting the better of the deal because he's breaking into the plant and taking the nectar and running off with it. But, of course, he only thinks that. That's a failure of his imagination. Now, much the same goes for us. Plants have induced us to do a lot of work for them.

CURWOOD: How are these plants using us?

POLLAN: Well, they basically use us in order to do what they can't do. And that is to move around, to adapt to new regions. I mean, the apple is a great example. Here is a plant that comes from Kazakhstan, and it has been evolving to basically move across the planet. And the way it has done this is with our help. For instance, when the colonists came to America, they brought apple seeds with them and apple trees. The trees did really poorly when they planted them because the New England winters were too brutal. But the colonists had been eating apples on the way over, and they saved those seeds and planted those. And by planting all those different seeds, the apple conducted this vast evolutionary experiment of trial and error until it hit upon the combination of qualities that would let it thrive in the New World. But the interesting thing is that, like us, the apple had to change itself on its way to becoming American. And by now, it has changed so much and has done so much to adapt to this continent that to say it's an alien is, you know, it's like saying any of us are aliens, also. I mean, it is as American as -- well, you know the rest of the sentence. (Curwood laughs) It's made itself American, just the way we have.

CURWOOD: Okay, Michael Pollan. Who's in control, the plants or us people?

POLLAN: Well, I think about that a lot. And, you know, it takes two to domesticate. There have been plenty of plants and animals who have simply refused that dance. The oak tree, for example. People have been trying to domesticate oak trees for thousands of years because the acorn is an incredibly nutritious nut. For some reason ,the oak tree has not wanted to play. It has never put out a mutation of a sweet acorn. Acorns are incredibly bitter. The oak tree doesn't need us, probably because it has a really good thing going with the squirrel. The squirrel very obligingly moves the acorns around to other forests, buries them, and then promptly forgets where it put enough of them for the oak to reproduce. Other plants, though, saw the opportunity. Here was this big, smart, mobile mammal, and if we enter into this arrangement with him, this mammal will help us. Not only that, we will change this mammal's life. We'll get this mammal to settle down, build cities, become farmers, and, best of all, cut down all the trees. Because if you are a grass, say -- you know, I'm thinking of wheat and corn and some of the early domesticated species -- what you really need to thrive on this planet is get rid of the trees, cut down the shade. (Curwood laughs) So, the invention of agriculture, which we take an awful lot of credit for, could just as easily be seen as something that the grasses came up with as a way to conquer the trees.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) So, the wheat gets together and says wait a second, we feed these humans and they'll like the way that we taste so they'll keep cutting down trees and keep planting more wheat, we'll take over the planet or at least the plains.

POLLAN: Well, as you well know, evolution really doesn't require much consciousness or planning. And what looks like -- you know, we always use the word "strategy " to talk about how something behaves in nature. And strategy implies intention. And evolution doesn't work that way. It's strictly trial and error.

CURWOOD: So, we have the various botany of desire. I'm wondering who the main botanists are of desire.

POLLAN: Well, I think Johnny Appleseed is a really key figure. He really had a different kind of point of view. He wasn't as anthropomorphic as most of us are. He did see himself as a bumblebee. He was someone who saw creation as holy, and was not going to impose his will on it. And he saw himself as working for the plants. So I think he was a great botanist of desire. I think today you have some underground botanists of desire. I think that there is an underground army of people who are doing a lot of work on cannabis, and I did a lot of research to find these people and visit their gardens and, you know, some of the best botanists of my generation are, I'm sorry to say, criminals. And they are taking this plant and changing it dramatically. And the plant in its turn is producing enormous gains in potency. If you think about the marijuana plant, given how strong the taboo is, this plant has thrived on this taboo, kind of in the way, you know, a certain kind of conifer would thrive in an acid soil. It has increased its price and forced people to do a lot of work on it. And in turn, the plant has turned around and shown that it can absorb all this light and fertilizer and attention and produce vast amounts of marijuana every two months on a plant that's only 18 inches tall. There is a kind of dubious botany of desire, but it's one of the most interesting and intense relationships between plants and people going on right now.

CURWOOD: Michael Pollan, there's a point in your book where you write about the forces that play in your own garden. Could you read a little from this?

POLLAN: I'd be happy to. (Reads) I hadn't been in the garden for a couple of weeks, and, as always is the case by the end of the summer, the place was an anarchy of rampant growth and ripe fruit. The pole beans had climbed clear to the tops of the sunflowers, which stood draped in their bulging green and yellow pods. The pumpkins had trailed halfway across the now unmowable lawn, and the squash leaves, big as pizzas, threw dark pools of shade in which the lettuces looked extremely happy. As, unfortunately, did the slugs who were dining on my chard in the squashy shade. The garden had come to this, had reached this pitch of green uproar in the few short weeks since May, when I'd set out seedlings in a considered pattern that I no longer could discern. The neat, freshly-hoed rows had once implied that I was in charge here, gardener in chief, but clearly this was no longer the case. My order had been overturned as the plants went blithely about their plant destinies. This they were doing with the avidity of all annuals, reaching for the sun, seizing ground from neighbors, fending off or exploiting one another whenever the opportunity arose, ripening the seeds that would bear their genes into the future, and generally making the most of the dwindling days till frost. For a while, every season, I do try to keep the whole thing under some semblance of control, pulling the weeds, clipping back the squash so that the chard might breathe, untangling the bean vines before they choke their frailer neighbors. But by the end of August I usually give it up, let the garden go its own way while I simply try to keep up with the abundance of the late summer harvest. By this point, what's going on in the garden is no longer my doing, even if it was I who got the whole thing rolling back in May. As much as I love the firm grasp and cerebral order of spring, there is a ripe, almost sensual pleasure in its August abandonment, too.

CURWOOD: Great. Thank you. You titled part of your book A" Plant's-Eye View of the World." But, Michael Pollan, what's your own view of the world and of your garden after writing this book?

POLLAN: Well, you know, since I've worked on this book and had that epiphany about me and the bumblebee, I look at the garden as a much more interesting place. I think that the garden is actually a very important place to look at our relationship with nature. You know, Americans have tended to go to the wilderness to really understand our relationship with nature. We have this whole tradition of Thoreau and John Muir and all the great nature writers. And they sit in the woods or on the mountains and they contemplate their place in the universe. And it's kind of a very passive and very religious experience, very transcendental. In the garden something else is going on. We are really engaged. We are really mixing it up with these other species. They are changing us; we're changing them, there is a lot of power going on. Evolution is still going on. And I think that, you know, at a time especially when we really despair of our place in nature, I think the garden proposes a very different kind of model.

CURWOOD: Michael Pollan is author of the book "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World." Mr. Pollan, thanks for being with us.

POLLAN: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

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Poison Ivy

CURWOOD: Not all our relationships with plants reap rewards. And as we get ready to welcome another summer, commentator Linda Tatelbaum remembers her last encounter with a botanical menace.

TATELBAUM: It was the last hot summer night. We'd just finished the blueberry pie when John said, "Hey, let's go watch for shooting stars at the coast." He knew a perfect little beach. We waded through a shoulder-high field in the dusk and scrambled down some rocks to the water's edge. Water's edge. That phrase will never again have the same alluring ring.

As I jumped down onto the beach something brushed my left earlobe. Don't ask me how I knew, but I knew it was poison ivy. I'll never watch shooting stars from a beach again. I'll never walk through tall grass again. I'll never walk through any grass in the dark. I came home with hands and neck ablaze. That night ended my easygoing love affair with nature.

Speaking of love affairs, the next day we flew to New Jersey for my nephew's fancy wedding. I'm the crazy aunt from Maine, the one who got away, but I have my pride. I dressed in style for the black tie affair. I learned something about style. Poison ivy doesn't go with a white satin dress. Poison ivy on the neck doesn't go with pearls. Pearls don't ooze. Poison ivy on the hands doesn't go with long white gloves, which become soaked from weeping blisters while holding a glass of champagne.

When I got back home to Maine I slathered on the Calamine till I looked like a pink ghost. The poison spread into my system. Patches of blisters broke out all over my body. If I was out of place in a hotel ballroom, now even my beloved woods became foreign territory. Every green thing was a threat.

My rash has healed now. I've calmed down a bit. I've realized it's not nature's fault, it's my skin that betrayed me. And betrayal can be a good teacher. I've learned to watch where I'm going. My eyes do their quick botanical scan before my feet proceed. Wintergreen, gold thread, and moss give me the go-ahead. And if the ferns get too thick, I know I'm approaching the water's edge where poison ivy thrives. I stop dead in my tracks. It was easier not to pay attention. I can on longer stride through the woods oblivious to the plants I'm trampling, absolutely lost in my thoughts. We each have a life to protect. As in any good relationship, I step lightly, cautiously, and with respect.

(Music up and under: Kraftwerk, "Sci Fi Memento")

CURWOOD: Linda Tatelbaum lives in Appleton, Maine. Her latest book is called "Writer On the Rocks: Moving the Impossible." You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: Allison Dean, "Update Theme and Stings")

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News Follow-Up

CURWOOD: Time now to follow up on some of the news stories we've been tracking lately.

(Music up and under: Allison Dean, "Update Theme and Stings")

CURWOOD: On the biotech front, officials at the highest levels of sports competition are concerned that athletes of the future may be genetically engineered. Research on animals already shows that performance-enhancing genes can be injected and made to work. Dr. Theodore Friedman will be a part of an upcoming meeting of the International Olympic Committee on this topic. He says mainstream scientists distinguish between using genetic techniques to correct a medical problem and using them to heighten athletic performance.

FRIEDMAN: Well, gene therapy is very promising. It's in its very earliest stages, and I think the extension to athletics is not ready, technically or societally.

CURWOOD: Participants at the meeting will discuss benefits and risks of genetic engineering in athletics, along with the enforcement and ethical questions raised by the techniques.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: In the latest hybrid vehicle news, Daimler Chrysler and the U.S. Army have teamed up to create a battle-ready hybrid electric truck. Based on a Dodge Ram, the hybrid pickup will help the Army save gas. Eric Emerton of the Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command points out that the Army needs to haul a lot of fuel to power its fleet.

EMERTON: If we can improve fuel economy and enhance performance, we can reduce the fuel tonnage that we bring to the battlefield. And this would be a real leap in lowering the Army's logistics burden.

CURWOOD: The truck will also be used as an electrical generator in the field.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: The gas additive MTBE makes gasoline burn cleaner, but renders drinking water unusable when it leaks from storage tanks or spills. Republican Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire has introduced a bill which would allow governors to waive the oxygenated gas requirement in their states. Marty Hall is the communications director for the Environment and Public Works Committee. He says the bill would help states make a transition to other clean, safe fuels.

HALL: One of the things that we assure in this bill is that, regardless of the changes we make in the gas supply, there is no backsliding on the benefits to the air. So, we're not going to get the air dirty simply to clean up contamination. We don't want to trade one problem for another.

CURWOOD: The bill would also authorize $400 million for MBTE cleanup and storage inspections, as well as ban the chemical outright four years after enactment.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And we've told you about various attempts to promote renewable energy sources, but this summer green power gains a whole new meaning in California. Every time Los Angeles Dodger Shawn Green hits a home run at Dodger Stadium, fans in the crowd will receive a prize pack that promotes energy generated from sun, wind, or water. They also get a free Dodger's cap in the most fashionable color: green, of course.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And that's this week's follow-up on the news from Living on Earth. Just ahead: A word from you, our listeners. First, this environmental health note from Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under: Allison Dean, "Health Note Theme")

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Health Note

GRABER: Studies have shown that discrete loud noises can damage children's hearing. Now there's evidence that continual ambient noise may also harm a child's general emotional and physical health. In the first study looking at non-hearing effects of noise, scientists examined the health of a 115 fourth-graders in Austria. About half of them lived in relatively quiet neighborhoods, but the other half lived places where the ambient noise level was above 60 decibels. That's about the equivalent of having to constantly listen to a dishwasher or raised voices. Scientists found that even low levels of noise triggered symptoms of nervousness and decreased motivation. They also found that the children in the noisier neighborhoods had slightly higher blood pressure and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Higher blood pressure and increased stress hormones are linked to a variety of adult illnesses, including high cholesterol, a weaker immune system, and heart disease. The researchers conclude that the stressful sound of continual loud noise may lead to serious learning, health, and motivation problems. They plan to continue to monitor the Austrian children to see if there is any long-term health effect from the constant outdoor buzz. That's this week's health note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under)

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

(Music up and under: Mojave 3, "Where Has The Love Gone?")

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And coming up: Fear and frustration in the pastures of England. But first --

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Letters

CURWOOD: Time for comments from our listeners.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Reaction to our story about the biodiversity of Tongass National Forest and potential road building and logging there covered the spectrum. Judith Frederick is a KUOW listener in Seattle, who lived in Ketchikan, Alaska, for 25 years. "I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed listening to your program," she writes. "Most people in the lower 48 don't even know about the Tongass. I now live in Tacoma, Washington, and I haven't met a person yet who knows just how large and amazing the Tongass is."

Others were not so pleased. Patrick Tierney heard our show on the Internet. "As a professional forester and certified silviculturalist, I strongly object to the idea that the Forest Service has caused stunning environmental damage," he writes. "This is not to say that there have not been mistakes made in the past, but permanent environmental damage is rare. I personally invite you to visit and let me enlighten you on the state of the art in ecosystem management"

Curtis Rendon hears us on KUT in Austin, Texas. He got a good laugh out of our hybrid car skit, especially since he's a hybrid car owner himself. "For the record," he writes, "I am a six-foot-tall, 250-pound male. And I get into it easily, and it is one of the most comfortable cars I have ever ridden in. As for performance," Mr. Rendon continues, "any tank of gas that I fail to average 50 miles per gallon on means I've been hot-rodding a bit much, and it hot-rods very nicely."

But truth be told, our mailbox was stuffed with letters from penguin-loving knitters ready to whip up sweaters for tiny oil spill victims. Ruth Goldschlager of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, hears us on WHYY. She's visited the fairy penguins in Australia and wrote, "I would do anything to make these wonderful creatures feel as good as they made me feel when I saw them."

We welcome your comments and criticisms. 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.

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Foot and Mouth

CURWOOD: Britain is on the alert again. Less than two weeks after the government came close to signaling the end of the foot in mouth crisis, there are new outbreaks of the disease. Prime Minister Tony Blair is asking the country not to drop its guard. Mr. Blair faces re-election, and the Tory Party has accused him of covering up the scale of the epidemic. Angry farmers and tourist operators are clamoring for financial compensation. And in the long run, the loss of so many farm animals in so short a time may end up changing the very nature of the British landscape. Jesse Wegman has our story.

(Footfalls, a latch)

WEGMAN: Alan Lawson heard the news on a cold February night: 27 pigs at a slaughterhouse in Essex diagnosed with foot and mouth disease. Lawson had 700 sheep and a pedigree herd of cattle, but he wasn't worried.

LAWSON: When it first was diagnosed and that slaughter was in Essex, you thought oh, well, they'll contain it, it's a one-off thing. It'll be over within a few days.

WEGMAN: Lawson had reason to be calm. After all, his farm in the northern England town of Hallington is almost 300 miles from the Essex slaughterhouse. But then agriculture officials discovered the diseased pigs had been trucked to Essex from a farm just 12 miles from Alan Lawson's spread.

LAWSON: Me heart just dropped. I felt sick, just -- it was an unbelievable feeling of sheer terror.

WEGMAN: Foot and mouth is one of the most contagious livestock diseases known. It's carried by almost anything, including the wind. A pig can exhale enough virus particles in one day to infect thousands of animals. Five weeks after the outbreak was identified, animals on Lawson's neighbor's farm became infected. The virus quickly spread to Lawson's sheep, which had just begun to lamb. A day later, the government came to slaughter his entire stock, nearly 800 animals in all.

LAWSON: I came away from the cattle because I just -- you know, the cattle, we knew all of them by names because of the pedigrees of them and all that, and it was just too -- just distressing to stay and watch them slaughtered. I just came back in the house and everything was gone, and it was just distressing.

WEGMAN: Alan Lawson stands outside his stone farmhouse on a chilly spring evening with his hands buried deep in his pockets. I notice a strange sound in the air, and a minute passes before I realize what it is. There is no sound. Lawson nods toward the surrounding hills.

LAWSON: From my neighbor's farm there, the farm on the other side of him, he was all slaughtered because they were contiguous to his farm. There are three of my neighbors here, all slaughtered. I suppose you could nearly travel for about five full miles and you'll not find an animal on farms. You know, everything is just gone. It's all gone.

WEGMAN: Lawson considers himself lucky under the circumstances. At least the government took his animals away for disposal. His neighbors' were heaped into a pile and set on fire. Lawson points to an orange glow on the dark horizon, about a kilometer away.

LAWSON: It's been burning eight days now. Eight days.

(Driving, birds in the distance)

WEGMAN: Lawson has it about right. I have to drive three miles before I find live animals. They're on Tom Milburn's farm in the town of Barrasford.

MILBURN: We're just walking on a knife edge. We don't know. Tomorrow we might have it, today we haven't.

WEGMAN: Milburn is 58 this year. His family has kept the farm, as well as an inn and a pub, for three generations. So far, none of his 140 sheep has shown signs of foot and mouth, but he isn't taking chances. When I ask if I can follow him on his morning feed, he lets me, but not before I take the necessary precautions.

MILBURN: Just cuff your leg up and put it under there.

WEGMAN: Milburn mixes up a batch of disinfectant in a green watering can and pours it over my shoes.

(Pouring)

MILBURN: We're doing the best we can. Got to keep the job right.

WEGMAN: A bit of luck and decent weather have given Milburn an unusually good lambing season. As he pours feed from the bag, the flock jockeys for position.

(Baaing)

MILBURN: They run with a big couple of lambs; it's probably one of the best crops I've ever had. They're nearly all twins in here. I think this -- well, there are 48 ewes and I think there's only five singles among them. I've never had anything that good happen to me before.

(Baaing)

WEGMAN: But Tom Milburn has no illusions about what would happen if any of his sheep came down with foot and mouth. Stamping out is the term the government uses. It's an aggressive policy that calls for the immediate slaughter not just of all animals on an infected farm, but of all animals on all farms that border the infected farm. The reason for the policy is mainly economic. Although foot and mouth is rarely fatal in grown animals, it lowers milk and meat production. The government rejected vaccination for the same reason. Since current tests can't distinguish vaccinated animals from infected ones, a country that uses vaccination is not considered disease-free and loses valuable export dollars. Tom Milburn knows all this and supports the slaughter. Still, he admits, the scale of it is breathtaking.

(Baaing)

MILBURN: Nobody realizes how many sheep have been taken out of the farm, spreading disease. It's totally bloody amazing.

(Baaing)

WEGMAN: To date, more than three million animals have been destroyed, even though only 1,600 have been diagnosed with the disease. Some estimates predict the final slaughter number will reach six million, or ten percent of all British farm animals. But how did foot and mouth spread so quickly? One explanation lies in the way Europe subsidized its farmers to boost food production after World War II. Farmers get paid based on how many animals they can raise, and that's encouraged them to overstock and ship their animals around frequently. The result, Tom Milburn says, was easy to predict.

MILBURN: There's too much stock in the country. Everybody knew that. And perhaps, you know, this is where they're going to get shut of a lot of the stuck. Because there are a lot of farmers who definitely won't go back into stock farming.

WEGMAN: Even with subsidies, most farmers make under $15,000 a year. And a third of all family farms in Britain have shut down in the past decade. While foot and mouth may just be the latest in a series of setbacks for British farmers, it's a big one.

(Baaing, fade to laughter and voices)

WEGMAN: That evening, a group of local farmers congregates in Tom Milburn's pub, the Barrasford Arms. Milburn knows it's risky to expose himself like this, but he needs the money. As a precaution, he's soaked old rugs in disinfectant and laid them at the front door of the pub. After they wipe their feet, the farmers sit around a gas fire and nurse pints of beer. It's clear that the outbreak has changed lives here forever, and not just for those on infected farms. John Henderson usually calls out the bids at the Hexham Auction Mart. But since the crisis began it's his task to place a value on animals marked for slaughter.

HENDERSON: Terrible. It's a hell of a job. Sick of it. You know what the end is going to be. And there will be friends of yours -- most of my lifetime I don't mean to -- you know, and I'm sort of dealing with their livelihood, real even, just going down the drain on them. But what's there to do, you've got to do it, you know?

WEGMAN: In farm country there is still plenty of anger and confusion about the disease itself.

MILBURN: How the hell can I come in for meat if it's supposed to be dead and after thirty minutes after you've shot it?

WEGMAN: As Tom Milburn pours drinks behind the bar, he scoffs at the government's insistence that the countryside is open for business as usual.

MILBURN: It's not the bloody same. It's not even exactly the same. It's bloody miles away from going to see them. If this keeps going for another twelve months and put me out of business.

(Voices up and under)

WEGMAN: But beyond the immediate effects of foot and mouth, the potential for an even bigger change looms. A change in the look of the countryside.

MILBURN: I can see that happening now. If they take the sheep off these hills they'll never get back to normal.

WEGMAN: By normal, Tom Milburn means the pastoral landscape that Britain has cultivated for centuries. Rolling green hills and hedgerows. A land created in large part by grazing sheep. You can see it here on Milburn's farm, perfect grass fields stretching into the distance, separated by low, ancient stone walls. It's a world the writer John Ruskin once called almost too beautiful to live in. But Milburn says if you consider how many farmers have already given up, the loss of so many sheep to foot and mouth could change the look of the countryside forever.

MILBURN: Country farming people are custodians of the countryside and it's them that keep it in reasonable order. I mean, can you imagine on those fells in Cumberland, grass fells, where there's no sheep to graze them? They become scrub and the whole look of the Lake District will change, and I don't think it will be for the better.

WEGMAN: Milburn has a lot of company on that count. Tourism in Britain generates $140 billion a year, five times as much as farming. So there's tremendous pressure to maintain the countryside as it is. Still, not everyone is horrified by the prospect of an altered landscape.

EVANS: Scrub is almost a derogatory term. You almost spit the word scrub. You know, it's a kind of a moral dereliction to have all this scrub around.

WEGMAN: Paul Evans writes widely about agriculture and conservation issues in Britain. Scrub, he says, is really just infant forest, and its banishment from the English countryside is based on the assumption that people don't visit Britain for its wilderness.

EVANS: When you promote that idea, you market that idea to the rest of the world. I think the problem is that a lot of people have actually begun to believe it, that this is a rural idyll that needs to be protected and preserved in a particular sort of way.

WEGMAN: But Evans says that if fewer sheep were let out to graze, woodland could regenerate in places that have long symbolized Britain's heritage. Places like the Lake District, where the poet William Wordsworth wrote of pastoral farms, green to the very door.

EVANS: And it's not just the Lake District. It's the mountains of Wales and the west of England and the southwest and lots of other places where at least the potential is there for a kind of a natural renaissance of species and habitats. Which may not have been possible if it were not for an agricultural crisis.

WEGMAN: It's an idea that hasn't caught on yet. But in the wake of another agricultural crisis, Britain may have little choice but to rethink its idea of countryside.

(Church bells)

WEGMAN: A few fields over from Tom Milburn's farm, the Church of St. Giles, Chollerton, is ringing its bells for Sunday services. But rather than risk exposure, Milburn stays home and spends the morning feeding his flock.

(Baaing)

WEGMAN: His lambs are healthy and active. And when the crisis is over, Milburn hopes to get good money for them. After all, thousands of British farmers will need new animals. But first Milburn will have to stay clear of foot and mouth himself. And that means checking his animals daily. He keeps 48 ewes in this field. Today's head count comes up short.

MILBURN: I've got two missing. I'm just going to have a look for them, be back in a minute.

WEGMAN: Milburn doesn't say it, but he knows sheep often go missing when they're sick, an unremarkable event in normal times. But these are not normal times. He jogs off over the hill.

MILBURN: Hup! Hup! Hup!

WEGMAN: A few minutes later he reappears with the two sheep trailing close behind. It's a false alarm. The stragglers had wandered to the far end of the field and didn't hear the call to eat. Still, this is what every day is like now for Tom Milburn. He's fighting a disease and trying to hold onto a way of life that he can't control.

(Baaing)

MILBURN: Well you see, there's a bloody cat up there. Do you see that cat? Now how the hell can we stop a cat from going from one farm to another? You cannot, can you? I mean, anything can spread this disease. I mean how the hell do you tell a pheasant he doesn't have the right -- There's the bloody cat, you see? He's going from my house now to my neighbor's. (Baaing)

MILBURN: I don't keep a cat myself. I hate the bloody things.

WEGMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Jesse Wegman in Barrisford, North Umberland, England.

(Baaing)

MILBURN: I've never liked cats.

(Baaing, fade to music up and under: Puck, "The Faerie Folk"

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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: Tobacco is today's pariah crop. Price supports for growers are way down and legal battles mean uncertainty down on the farm. Some farmers are moving to diversify, but for others it's been a struggle.

MAN: I basically know, short of a natural disaster, what I will make on an acre of tobacco in a year. What I'll make on an acre of tomatoes I never have any idea, and we've grown them for a total of over 20 years.

CURWOOD: Breaking the big tobacco farming habit next time on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under, fade to whistle)

CURWOOD: Before we leave you, we'd like to blow our own whistle a bit by playing for you some of the music that boat captains and train engineers make when they blow their whistles and toot their horns. The selection comes from the 1972 Vancouver Soundscape Project.

("The Music of Horns and Whistles," Vancouver Soundscape Project)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Milisa Muniz, and Bunnie Lester. We had help this week from Stephen Belter and Gernot Wagner. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of Earth Ear. 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.

(Whistles and horns up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; The Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues; The Turner Foundation, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting coverage of western issues.

(Music up and under)

 

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