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Japan is in the spotlight, as countries wait to see whether or not it will ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Host Steve Curwood discusses Japan's pivotal role in the global warming treaty negotiations with Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Wildlife Fund. (05:50)
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A few enterprising farmers are turning to a form of renewable energy they can find in great abundance on their farms. Minnesota Public Radio’s Jeff Horwich reports they’re tapping into the power of bovine natural gas. (05:05)
Health Note/ Maggie Villiger
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Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports a study that suggests eating fish may help reduce the risk of depression. (01:15)
The Living on Earth Almanac
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This week, facts about the International Climbers’ Festival, where thousands gather to swap climbing tales at the foot of the Wind River Mountains, near Lander, Wyoming. (01:30)
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Rats and pigeons aren’t the only form of wildlife that uses New York City as their habitat. Diane Toomey talks with Anne Matthews, author of the book, Wild Nights: Nature Returns to the City. (09:40)
Dragonfly/ Sy Montgomery
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Commentator Sy Montgomery explains the facts of life… from a dragonfly’s point of view. (03:15)
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New developments in stories we’ve been following recently. (03:00)
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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on a U-V protection label that will soon appear on sun-protective clothing in Europe. (01:30)
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The solid crags and rock-faces of Maine’s islands belie their fragile ecosystems. And the public use of Maine’s islands threatens the very environment that draws people to visit them in the first place. But as Naomi Shalit reports, one organization is trying to soften the blow from public use. (07:55)
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Eagles in the Los Angeles area still have problems reproducing because of DDT pollution which weakens the shells of their eggs. Producer Ilsa Setziol follows a team of researchers as they snatch eggs, hatch them in captivity, then return babies back to the nest. (07:15)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Diplomats are preparing for this month's talks on the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty in Bonn, Germany. Whether the meeting results in an agreement that will put the treaty into force may very well depend on one nation--Japan. That's because countries representing at least 55% of development nations' greenhouse gas emissions have to sign on. Despite opposition from the United States, Europe and Russia have already agreed, and Japan could put the deal over the top. But, Junichuro Koizumi, the new prime minister of Japan, has sent conflicting signals. Jennifer Morgan follows these negotiations for the World Wildlife Fund. Hi, Jennifer.
CURWOOD: Now, fill us in here. Over the past couple of weeks, Japan's prime minister has called the Bush administration's position on the treaty deplorable. Then he said he's not disappointed with the Bush position. Then he told European leaders that he'd continue talks with the U.S. until the protocol becomes effective. What do we make of all this?
MORGAN: Well, I think Koizumi's uncertain and ambiguous statements demonstrate what a difficult decision this is for Japan and how much rides on their decision. They are the ones who can bring this protocol into force. Their name is on it, and he's under a lot of domestic pressure to move forward. But, internationally, his key allies are split, and I think that's posing quite the dilemma for the prime minister.
CURWOOD: Jennifer, help us with the cultural issues here. I find sometimes in dealing with people in Japan, that they're very, very polite and it's hard to get a clear yes or no, especially if it's something that I might not want to hear. How much do you think that factor is playing in these negotiations and these discussions?
MORGAN: I think it's playing quite a large role. The cultural situation comes in on two fronts. The first is that this is the Kyoto protocol, and, to my knowledge, it's the only international agreement with the name of a Japanese city on it. And that's something that the Japanese have pledged to fulfill. And their honor in pledging that I think plays a major role in them wanting to stick with it. But then you have a situation where making a decision to necessarily choose between to allies is very difficult to lose face with one or the other.
CURWOOD: Talk to us about the domestic situation about the Kyoto protocol. You have an office there, you've talked to people; what do people there say?
MORGAN: Well, domestically, it's quite interesting. I think there's more pressure now than ever for the government to decide to ratify the protocol without the U.S. This is an election issue. The opposition party is running television ads asking Japan to ratify without the U.S. Key figures in the current leadership party are also stating that they should move forward. And even the public, there's some preliminary polls where 60% to 70% of the public supports moving forward, independent of what the U.S. should do. So, contrary to kind of the indecision that Kuozumi is showing internationally, domestically--outside of heavy industry, I should say--there's a lot of movement to go forward.
CURWOOD: Let's talk internationally. The European Union is putting a great deal of pressure on Japan now to say that it will ratify the protocol. In fact, there have been some recent revisions to the document that are essentially geared exclusively for Japan. Tell us about that.
MORGAN: Well, the European Union has stated its clear intention to move forward and ratify, and actually got the agreement of President Bush that he wouldn't block them from doing that. They are visiting key countries like Japan and Australia right now. And then, separately, the Chairman of the negotiations, Chairman Pronk, has put out a new negotiating text, which will form the basis of the final rules for the Kyoto protocol. In that text there is specific reference to conditions that would give Japan what it has asked for on the question of sinks or sequestration, how much credit they can get from their forests. That's something that looks specifically like it's gone to Japan, recognizing that Japan is a key country for this protocol to move forward.
CURWOOD: Now there's been talk that Japan will try to negotiate yet further changes to the protocol, to try to get the U.S. back on board. Perhaps changing the base year for CO2 calculations, or lowering targets. How is that likely to play out with the Europeans?
MORGAN: I think it will be very difficult for the Europeans to accept something that has these fundamental changes in it. I think that it's also a bit naive of the Japanese government to think they can convince this Bush government to change its position.
CURWOOD: How much of a unique position is this for Japan? How often has it been the lynch pin in major international negotiations, and how do you think that might affect the outcome here?
MORGAN: Well, it's interesting. I had a meeting with the Environment Minister about two weeks ago, and we were saying that this might be the first time that everyone in the world is looking at Japan; that it is the lynch pin in these international negotiations. That's a new place for them. And I think that it's placing them under tremendous pressure, which is causing the slightly ambiguous, or very ambiguous, statements to come out. All eyes are on Japan and its decision, I think, could either save the protocol or put it in dire shape.
CURWOOD: Jennifer Morgan is the director of the World Wildlife Fund's climate change campaign. Thanks for speaking with us.
MORGAN: You're welcome.
[CUTAWAY 1 MUSIC: David Torn, "Passenger".]
CURWOOD: Let's face it, most people are squeamish when it comes to the question of manure, so it has long been overlooked as a source of energy. But these days, rising energy demand is giving prudery a run for its money, and a handful of farmers are already cashing in. Jeff Horwich of Minnesota Public Radio has this update, of the growing commerce and power made from animal waste, a different source of natural gas.
HORWICH: The main job of the 900 cows on the Haubenschild farm is producing milk, and they do it well, together giving 6,000 gallons a day. But anyone who's taken a deep breath of dairy farm air can tell that these cows are equally busy producing something else. Over the past 18 months, the Haubenschild's have found that the 22,000 gallons of something else these cows produce every day, can meet not only the formidable electricity and heating needs of their Princeton, Minnesota farm, but can power 78 households besides.
Tom Haubenschild, whose grandfather began the farm here in 1953, had just recently bought into the family business, in 1999, when the balloon-like lid first rose over the Haubenschild Digester.
HAUBENSCHILD: It's 30 feet wide, 14 feet deep, and 130 feet long, and holds about 400,000 gallons of manure. We maintain the temperature of that fluent at about 100 degrees, which is optimal level or temperature for the bacteria.
HORWICH: By putting a lid over the same bacteria that had naturally found a home in the farm's old manure lagoon, the Haubenschild's capture the methane produced by bacteriological digestion, and burn it for electricity. The technique has been around for decades and larger digesters have been adopted by some cities' sewage treatment facilities, but a recent wave of experiments is proving that the latest technology also makes digester power a realistic and sustainable option for farmers and animal feed lots.
The process starts in the barn, where the cows still do what cows do best- eat, sleep, and eat some more. The only change in the bovine routine is that, every few minutes, when they're not sleeping, the cows step over metal bars moving beneath their feet.
HAUBENSCHILD: These alley scrapers, 24 hours a day they're just slowly being scraped into the central pit right here.
HORWICH: The scrapers pick up everything in their path, and, with 20 gallons of waste per cow, per day, a stinking, roiling, growing pile of muck constantly slides toward the center of the barn. As the scrapers pass over a slot in the floor, the load drops over the edge and down into a quarter million gallon pit.
[sound of slopping]
HORWICH: The manure slurry flows to the mixing chamber, where it's stirred up before moving into the digester, where the bacteria go to work producing gas. Pipes take the methane to a deafening 125 kilowatt engine that burns it for electricity.
HAUBENSCHILD: Another by-product of this methane is the heat produced off the motor. We're capturing heat and we use it to heat our floors in the winter. We cut back substantially on our propane bills.
HORWICH: Burning methane generates water and small amounts of carbon and sulfur dioxide. The process certainly smells but digesters help to control over. All in all, it's much cleaner than the 50 tons of coal it would take to generate the same electricity each month. As an added bonus, the manure coming out of the digester is more effective as a fertilizer, when spread on the Haubenschild's cornfields. The bacteria leaves the nitrogen in the manure behind, in a mineralized form that is easier for plants to absorb.
The Haubenschild farm is one of about 30 such large farm digester projects in the country about equally split between hog and dairy operations. Kurt Roos manages a program for the Environmental Protection Agency that encourages new farm digesters. He says the technology has moved well beyond the novelty stage, and government investment, including support in the Bush energy plan, will help farmers face the biggest barrier.
ROOS: One of the things that's keeping it from expanding is just access to capital. Farms have a hard time borrowing money. And these things have a cost associated with them. But when you start to look at the environmental performance, understanding that a farm needs a waste management system, these types of systems make a fair amount of sense.
HORWICH: The Haubenschild's plan to break even on their $355,000 digester in just five years. The electricity they now generate themselves covers what would be a $2000 monthly power bill for the farm, and they make another $4000 a month selling extra electricity to their local power company. Kurt Roos says about 20 U.S. farms have projects in the works, and guesses there may be 2 to 3,000 more that would be good candidates for digester electricity. Even more power might come from smaller farms that pool their manure and process it at a shared digester.
With just a few such experiments nationwide, not even the technology's biggest boosters claim the U.S. is on the verge of a bright new future, built on the biological bounty of pigs and cows. But those already sold on digester power believe it may be one part of the diverse power supply of the future, sitting right under our noses, on America's farms.
For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Horwich, in Isanti County, Minnesota.
CURWOOD: Coming up, lions and tigers and bears, oh my, on the loose in New York City! Well, maybe not lions and tigers, but there are bears in the 'burbs, at least. First this health note from Maggie Villiger.
VILLIGER: Numerous studies over the past decade have shown that eating fish can reduce the risk of heart disease. One such study, done several years ago, reported a significant correlation between fish consumption and decreased risk of heart disease in a group of more than 3,000 people in Finland. American and Finnish researchers recently decided to take a second look at this data. They found evidence that this same fish diet may also reduce the risk of depression. Scientists found that those who ate fish at least twice a week were 37% less likely to suffer from depression than those who didn't. Researchers caution these findings only suggest a correlation between more fish and less depression. More studies, they say, need to be done to determine whether eating fish has a direct effect on the condition. They also don't know how fish consumption might do this, but suspect it may involve Omega-3 fatty acids that are found in high concentrations in fish. That's because animal studies have found that altering the levels of these fish oils in the diet also alters the concentrations of certain neuro transmitters in the brain. So these same scientists plan to study the effect of increasing Omega-3 levels in patients with depression, including women with post-partum depression. That's this week's health note. I'm Maggie Villiger.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
CURWOOD: This month, hundreds of rock climbers will descend on, and then maybe ascend, the Wind River Mountains, near Lander, Wyoming. They're congregating for the Eighth Annual International Climbers Festival. The area first started attracting world-class climbers 11 years ago, when a goal prospector discovered a set of climbworthy limestone cliffs. Participants range in age from 1 to 71 and hail from throughout the U.S. and countries including Mexico, Germany, South Africa, and South Korea. They gather, not to compete, but to celebrate their up and coming sport.
Early modern climbers drove wooden pegs into natural crevices. Nowadays, climbers encountering an impossibly smooth rock face may drill a bolt right into the cliff, to get a leg, or a hand, up. The practice has raised controversy about possible environmental damage. Changing technology has also accelerated the speed of the sport. Back in 1958, one climb, in Yosemite National Park, took 40 days. Now, an expert can summit it about four and a half hours. But, back at the festival in Wyoming no one's racing to the top. Participants swap stories, build trails, and team up for a Jell-o tug-of-war. The climbers who yank the most adversaries into a pit of Jell-o win appropriate prizes: ropes, to use on future climbs. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
CURWOOD: Tales of alligators roaming the sewers of New York City may well be the stuff of urban legend. But last month, New Yorkers were treated to the story of the Central Park alligator. The reptile was spotted in a pond in the park, where it kept a low profile, until an alligator wrestler from Florida wrangled the creature. Turns out, this was no gator but a mere two foot long caiman, a non-aggressive member of the crocodile family- that may have been someone's pet.
But it's not just runaway reptiles that are bringing the wild into New York. Living on Earth's Diane Toomey recently spoke with Anne Matthews, author of the book Wild Nights: Nature Returns to the City.
TOOMEY: Well, we all know about rats and pigeons in New York, but you write about animals that some of us might be quite surprised to find out actually live in the city. Tell me about some of them.
MATTHEWS: Well, in New York--you know, it's funny. Freud claimed that the mark of a successful civilization is the control of nature, and, if he were right, New York should be the tamest spot in North America. But suddenly, it's not. The city is wilder today than in 1900, or in 1950, or even in 1980. There's porpoises, playing again in the Hudson, and the blue crab and the fiddler crab populations are way up. All kinds of harbor herons, egrets and bittern and yellow crown night heron, are resettling in New York's harbor islands. The Bronx has got a very healthy coyote population. They're all urban pioneers, coming down from Westchester. Wild turkeys are starting to colonize Central Park. Apparently, the fly down Broadway, late at night, and then take a left at Lincoln Center. And deer have come back to upper Manhattan. They make late night dashes across the Amtrak trestle. And Black Bear have been exploring the Palisades Parkway, and the dumpster behind the White Plains' Bloomingdales.
TOOMEY: Well, what's going on here? Are we invading their territory? Have we cleaned up our own? What's the story?
MATTHEWS: Basically, a generation of air and water clean-up and wildlife restoration programs and hunting bans have helped U.S. animal populations soar across the country. But the problem is that there's been a matching development boom which is forcing, say, Colorado condos into elk country, or planting Los Angeles malls deep in mountain lion terrain, and dropping New Jersey suburbs into deer land, and shoving Florida golf courses into alligator habitat.
So we have two population explosions, and one finite and super-stressed terrain.
TOOMEY: In New York City, what are some of the special adaptations that some of these animals have managed to come up with?
MATTHEWS: Our species is so self-involved that quieter urban immigrations are easy to overlook or deny. Until the day you look up in Riverside Park, for instance, and see a wild turkey roosting in a tree, or maybe you spot a mother raccoon on a Park Slope curb, teaching her kitts how to look both ways before crossing the street. Or you're on a train from Brooklyn to Manhattan and you see a rat jump onto the train, wait quietly under the seat, and get off at the next stop. There was a New York Times reporter who told me that. She was absolutely freaked.
TOOMEY: These animals use what's available to them.
MATTHEWS: The peregrine falcons of New York are an excellent example because in open country, would normally drive straight down to capture a pigeon or a rabbit, falling through space at over 200 miles an hour. In New York, because of the tall buildings, they've adapted, and they've developed a video game style of hunting. They weave in and out between the skyscrapers at top speed. But it's a genuine adaptation, and a fascinating one.
TOOMEY: Well, life isn't all easy for these creatures in New York City. At one point in your book you follow an amateur birder/bird rescuer around downtown Manhattan for a day. Tell me about Rebecca Kreskof.
MATTHEWS: Rebecca Kreskov has got graduate training in conservation biology from Columbia, but her day job is working in the financial district, as a communications officer. But she's also a devoted bird rescuer. Every morning, she gets up at 5:45 and she bikes eight miles downtown to check in with the night watchmen of Wall Street, and they tell her what they've seen in the night: dazed birds, dead birds, trapped birds. Migrating song birds are very vulnerable to city lights. They steer by the stars, but the brilliance of the New York skyline confuses them and often they fly off-course and are trapped among the tall buildings or smash into them. And Kreskov and other volunteers have made it their special mission to rescue the living and count the dead.
TOOMEY: And talk of dimming the city lights for those birds?
MATTHEWS: They do it in Toronto, very conscientiously. Chicago's got a smaller scale program as well. In New York, as Kreskov says, if you go to a building owner and say, "Yo, dim your lights to save the song birds," you look like a maniac. But she's had a little bit of success with the management of the Empire State Building, who will very courteously dim their lights in migration season, which is an enormous help.
TOOMEY: Well, I'm an ex-New Yorker myself and so I can say, for sure, that New Yorkers love their pets, but do New Yorkers love their wildlife?
MATTHEWS: New York hostility to wildlife is probably the hallmark of New York society and has been for 100 years. The idea has been to beat back nature on every front, because the land itself is so tremendously valuable that it can't really be spared for trout streams or for meadows, or even for back yards. Manhattan is a marvelous habitat now for very tall buildings. What this does to New Yorkers is make them turn almost obsessively to pets--cats and dogs are an enormous presence in Manhattan. But the New York hostility towards the wild is usually described in that famous phrase, "the big green blur between the lobby and the cab." It's a city of money and art and culture, and anxiety about nature is by far more pronounced among the New York city population than any other urban population in the country. For one thing, because the population density is just so heavy in New York. But the hostility toward the three wild edges of New York--forest, marsh and sea--is 200 years old and unabated.
TOOMEY: Is there anything about New York that makes it easier for some creatures to make a living there? Tell me about the good life in New York for some creatures.
MATTHEWS: Animals that scavenge, animals that are originals that are intensely observant, that are not very fussy about their diet, do beautifully in New York. The falcons, again, have become sharper, more adaptive, more successful in the city, sometimes, than they are in the wild. They are cliff dwelling birds and they found the ultimate cliff-city, and they adore it. So much so that falcons now come to New York from as far away as Maine and Virginia, for big city hunting and big city excitement.
TOOMEY: Oh my.
MATTHEWS: If you glance out a plane window at J.F.K. for instance, you might see a snowy owl gliding along the runway hunting jack rabbits. Whole clans of snowy owls now come down from the Arctic every year to winter in Queens, of all places, because the level landscape of the Kennedy Airport reminds them of home apparently, and the jack rabbit hunting is marvelous, just like the pigeon hunting is marvelous of the peregrine falcons--great take-out in New York.
TOOMEY: At one point in your book you observe two horseshoe crabs that seem to persevere despite urban encroachment. Could you read from that section, Anne?
MATTHEWS: O.K. "I come upon an ardent pair moving through the shallows, the male pushing the female along like a tug guiding a liner. Slowly he charts and evades the flotsam of the rap tide, the floating Snapple bottle, the bent malt liquor can, the water logged copy of ESPN sports, the tattered barbecue chicken bag. The Snapple bottle, as smooth and empty as a shell, interests him briefly. Build thee more stately mansions, oh my soul. But, intent on prehistoric duty, he swims on. I watch until three stars rise from the runways across the water, and then three more, while the ebb tide carries them both into Sheepshead Bay, toward the unresting sea."
TOOMEY: After writing your book, Anne, what goes through your mind now when you walk through the streets of New York City?
MATTHEWS: I look up much more. I look up in August to see if I can spot Monarch butterflies commuting back to Mexico by way of 5th Avenue or 6th Avenue. I look up to see if I can see Peregrine Falcons circling Park Avenue, looking for pigeons or sometimes they've been known to swoop down and take a pastrami sandwich or two from office workers picnicking on a sunny day. When it's June and a full moon, now I realize that the horseshoe crabs will be coming back to lay their eggs on shores of Brooklyn. And when twilight starts to fall in the city, as my commuter train heads towards New Jersey, I know that coyotes are watching the bridges and waiting for dark, about to be pioneers in New York in a very unusual way.
CURWOOD: Anne Matthews is author of Wild Nights: Nature Returns to the City. She spoke with Living on Earth's Diane Toomey.
From wild nights to wild days. At this time of year, dragonflies get into their own special version of gymnastics. Sy Montgomery comments on love, dragonfly style.
MONTGOMERY: If you spend any time near a pond this summer, you're bound to witness a sex act so strange that you'll forget to blush. Dragonfly love takes a chapter from the insect Kama Sutra. It's an act so athletic that few people realize what they're witnessing. When dragonflies are mating they form a heart shape with their two bodies, like a flying valentine. They've come up with an admirable solution to an anatomical quandary. A male dragonfly has clasping organs at his tail end, and these fit into grooves in back of the female's head. When he finds a female he flies above and slightly behind her. If she's receptive she allows him to fasten his claspers while the two fly united.
All this is great except for one problem. Now his tail end, where his sex organs are, is inconveniently occupied with her forward parts. Happily, the male dragonfly planned for this. Before their first date, he has swung his sex organs up toward a special pouch in his abdomen, right in back of his legs, and loaded it with sperm. So, while the male's tail is stuck in her neck, the female can, if she so chooses, loop her own abdomen up, touch her tail end to her mate's pouch, and fertilize her own eggs.
Much of the dragonfly action you'll see this summer is related to sex. Male dragonflies stake out territories to which they hope to attract mates. So if you go to the same place you'll likely meet the same individuals day after day. Watch for their spiraling combat: rival males chase one another in circles, all the while, losing altitude. They spiral downward till the intruder leaves or they fight. And the fight much like they hunt. They grab their rivals with hairy legs and then, in mid-air, bite with formidable jaws. But male dragonflies save fighting as a last resort. They prefer to dangle, flutter and flash their colorful spots and iridescent patches at one another in ritualized displays. And that's a wise strategy: few victims of a dragonfly's attack survive, and they seldom miss their mark. After all, their eyes are huge, occupying three-quarters of the dragonfly's face. Up to 28,000 individual lenses occupy each eye.
In prehistoric times dragonflies flew on wings as large as those of seagulls. Good thing for us they're smaller now. But their grace, speed and ferocity remind us that size is no measure of complexity, and that life, as well as love, can take on forms more strange and more wonderful than anything we humans could imagine.
[CUT AWAY MUSIC]
CURWOOD: Sy Montgomery is the author of The Curious Naturalist: Nature's Everyday Mysteries.
CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living On Earth.
CURWOOD: Time now to follow up on some of the news stories we've been tracking lately. Last winter, we reported on a court case involving Rhode Island property owner Chris Palazollo. He argues he's entitled to compensation from the government because he's restricted from developing his environmentally sensitive wetlands. The state of Rhode Island says no, noting that the restrictions were in place before he bought the land. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue, ruling that property owners do have the right to challenge pre-existing development restrictions. Harvard urban planning professor Gerald Kayden says the court didn't address the merits of Mr. Palazollo's complains.
KAYDEN: All that the United States Supreme Court did was to state, unambiguously, that property owners are not barred, in every single case, from making that claim. They can make the claim in every single case, but I believe that they will lose, in the great majority of cases.
CURWOOD: Mr. Palazollo's case now goes back to the Rhode Island State Supreme Court for further consideration.
A few weeks ago, we reported on the discovery of the first condor eggs laid in the wild since the mid-1980s. That's when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service started to round up the remaining endangered birds and place them in a captive breeding and reintroduction program. But biologists in California's Los Padras National Forest concluded the egg found there was being neglected. So, they replaced it with a fake one. A couple of weeks later, that egg produced the first wild-bred condor chick born in at last 14 years.
Biologists then pulled another switcheroo, replacing the fake egg with a captive bred one just days away from hatching. The condor mother accepted the egg and helped a healthy baby condor hatch. Unfortunately, when the first time mom finally left to forage for food, another female who shared the nest killed the chick, apparently mistaking it for an intruder. Tom Brooks, of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, says the good news is, at least one female is a competent mother.
BROOKS: So that bird now has learned those skills and will be a lot further ahead next year, in the next breeding season when she breeds again. This won't be foreign or strange to her.
CURWOOD: Mr. Brooks says two females sharing a nest is not usually seen in nature. One explanation may be that, as these condors spent their youth living together in captivity, the birds decided to do the same once they were out in the wild.
And an update now on the field guide to monsters we told you about last summer. Now, an Italian scientist says sightings of the Loch Ness monster can be explained by tectonic activity beneath the lake. Waves, groans and blasts can be tied to earthquakes underwater, he says, but some British geologists don't buy the idea. They say the fault near Loch Ness is inactive. And that's this week's follow-up on the news from Living on Earth.
Just ahead: Maine's lovely off-shore islands in danger of being loved to death. First this consumer note from Jennifer Chu.
CHU: Until recently, a bronzed body was heralded as the mark of health and beauty, but today we see the cost- over 1 million Americans develop skin cancer every year. So for those shoppers worried about sun exposure this summer, there's help for deflecting those rays. The British government, in collaboration with industry, recently launched a new sun-safe logo to mark European clothing that protects against harmful ultraviolet rays. The sun logo will alert consumers to products that offer protection of at least UPF 30, a measure similar to the SPF in our sunscreen. Different fabrics offer different levels of protection against UV radiation. The tighter the weave and the thicker the fabric, the more protection.
For instance, polyester fabric has been shown to provide two to three times more protection than most other fabrics. And black clothing has been found to provide more than five times the amount of protection than white. Displaying the logo is voluntary, but manufacturers say they've already noted a strong consumer demand for the label in Europe. Sun protective fabrics in the U.S. are most commonly found in outdoor products like tents, climbing harnesses, and personal flotation devices, but in those cases the UV protection is designed to prevent damage to a product, and not a person.
That's this week's consumer note. I'm Jennifer Chu.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. The coast of Maine is famous for its rocky shorelines, thundering waves, and spruce-covered hillsides. But that rugged appearance can be misleading. Maine's islands are actually fragile ecosystems with shallow soils and easily erodible shorelines. Many of these islands, with names like Sheep, Hog, Hen, and Hell's Half Acre, are now threatened by their increasing popularity. Some who have encouraged their use are now working to lighten the public's impact. Naomi Schalit of Maine Public Radio reports.
[sound of rivulets]
SCHALIT: Tom Berg and his wife June have run Maine Island Kayak, based on Peak's Island, near Portland, since 1986. During that time, Maine's coast and islands have seen an explosion in recreational use. Berg was the only staffer when Maine Island Kayak started. Now, the company's got 15 on the water guides.
BERG: From mid-tide up, that's a nice sandy beach. Mid-tide down, it's a lousy place to go. Plus, it stinks, that mucky stuff stinks.
SCHALIT: Similar lectures are given at dozens of kayaking centers all along the coast of Maine. Expensive pleasure boats also crowd island anchorages. And Tom Berg says not all of those boaters know how to treat the islands.
BERG: There's a bird nesting island close-by, and one day, several years ago, I saw a man with his 40 foot lobster boat that had a bunch of boy scouts type people, and the wind was blowing some 20-plus and they were making, gathering six foot long logs to make a bonfire. So I paddled in with my group--
SCHALIT: Aside from the fire danger Berg wanted to alert the group's leader that this particular island was off-limits to people.
BERG: And he was walking around up on the island, I paddled in and I said, "Excuse me, I just want you to know this is a bird nesting island." And he said, "Oh, they don't bother us."
SCHALIT: On other islands increased use has caused a range of problems.
NIXON: Some of the islands are demonstrating being loved to death.
SCHALIT: Rachel Nixon is trail manager for the Maine Island Trail Association, or MITA, established in the late 1980s. The 325 mile long water trail features dozens of public and private islands open for day use and overnight stopovers. One of the reasons the Association was founded in the first place was to build a constituency for island protection. But so many people are using the islands now, says Nixon, that MITA's promotion of them has taken a toll on their fragile soil.
NIXON: What we usually find are hardened areas where the roots are beginning to be exposed. That makes the trees more vulnerable if a winter storm comes through. We had a lot of blow-downs this winter that actually have turned what used to be campsites into just downed trees. So that's a big management concern. And because the roots have been exposed because of camping, it traces right back to the human use.
SCHALIT: In addition, fire builders strip trees of lower limbs, roaming pet dogs harass wildlife, and waste and toilet paper are strewn throughout an island's interior.
[sound of motorboat]
SCHALIT: Rising up out of the outside edge of Casco Bay looms Jewel Island. Long and low, with cobbly beaches and a spruce-fringed shoreline, the 180 acre island is one of the largest on the trail. But Jewel is also the most heavily used. It's most protected landing area, named Smuggler's Cove, is frequented so often by partygoers that it's been rechristened Cocktail Cove. But this is also where a caretaker, sponsored by MITA and the state, will set up camp this summer. Gerhard Sass will keep an eye on island use from here.
SASS: The site is right off here. It's a really nice spot because this is, generally speaking, the main landing area, so I can really have a good sense of who's coming ashore, and also I'll be very accessible to folks as well.
SCHALIT: Sass says he'll spend his time visiting campers on the bay's islands, letting them know how they can tread lightly on the islands.
SASS: We're hoping that we can just get people to think about walking over banks, scrambling up mossy ridge lines--those are all very delicate parts of the islands and they're not easily recreated.
SCHALIT: Sass says he's not interested in being a policeman. He grew up spending time here, and just wants to preserve the islands.
SASS: I'm as guilty as the next person, about the impacts that I've had. But it's very important that we really make a strong attempt to manage these islands in a way that people can still find why we go to islands, why people go and seek the wilderness. If we fail at this attempt, then the islands are going to be managed in a way that's very different from what they have anticipated and have experienced in the past. And I guarantee you they won't like that at all.
SCHALIT: But some of the island's visitors aren't particularly pleased with the current guidelines. Brian Phipps is camping with a lot of friends on a spot overlooking Cocktail Cove this weekend. The campsite is so overly used that its soil is hardened to a sheen. Cell phones, guitars and fishing rods are strewn about. A beer keg sits in a prominent spot. Phipps has been coming to Jewel since he was a kid. He laments the creeping regulations on the once wild island.
PHIPPS: I noticed a lot of signed, noticed people have taken it upon themselves to put up a lot of rules. That's a big change. Kind of intrusive. I feel like it's my island, pretty much. And they tell you you can only stay a couple of nights, or no more than six people on a trail, you know. You don't need rules, you come here to get away from the rules. I don't feel it's necessary. I mean, people have been coming here 30 years just for the camping, and they've never had any problems. I haven't seen any problems.
SCHALIT: MITA's considering placing a roaming caretaker to watch over other popular islands, and, further down east, on Butter Island, its owners have had a caretaker on sight for a number of years. Rob Cabot, who manages the island for his family, says massive overuse led his family to restrict access to the island after generations of being open to the public. And even that's not stopped the abuse. One afternoon, a large group came and built a big bonfire.
CABOT: And our caretaker went over and visited with them and invited them over to the side of the island where they were really allowed to be for public use, and that they were not allowed to have fires, particularly that year. They had a fire ban through the state because it was so dry. And this particular group refused to leave, and refused to stop their fire construction, and had all kinds of threats including, well, you call whoever you need to call to throw us off of here. So at that point, we were stuck with nothing else to do but call the authorities.
SCHALIT: Most people involved with the islands acknowledge that the promotion of tourism on Maine's fragile coast has turned out to be a Pandora's Box. Tom Berg with Maine Island Kayak says, if he wasn't running such a successful business, fewer people would be on the islands.
BERG: It's a real issue for us. We think a lot about that. I used to take people into real delicate, sensitive places in the western deserts, and I gave that up, because they were so delicate, protected places. There's many places in the coast of Maine that I don't talk about or take people.
SCHALIT: Even friends, says Berg. For Living on Earth, I'm Naomi Schalit, on Casco Bay, Maine.
[MUSIC LEAD-OUT: Schatz, "Go Home with the Girls".]
CURWOOD: Bald eagles have made a dramatic comeback from the edge of extinction in many places, but not California. There are only about 150 breeding pairs in that state. In southern California, bald eagles are only found on Catalina Island, off the coast, near Los Angeles. And, as KPCC's Ilsa Setziol reports, these eagles are still threatened by the same chemical that nearly wiped them out, decades ago.
[far-off voices: ready to go? Yeah. All the way...]
SETZIOL: On the shoulder of a popular sight seeing road, three biologists are discussing how to climb one of Catalina Island's many large eucalyptus trees. Cradled in the tree's upper limbs is a bald eagle nest. The biologists are here on an unusual mission: they're going to steal the eagle's eggs. Peter Sharpe, from the Institute for Wildlife Studies, says taking the eggs is the only way to save the unborn chicks.
SHARPE: This is the first major climb that we've had to do. We hopefully can do it in about 20 minutes. At this early stage in nesting, they have a tendency to abandon the nest, if we keep them off for about 20 minutes or more.
SETZIOL: Catalina's bald eagles are so highly contaminated, they can't reproduce without human assistance. For nearly 40 years, Montrose Corp. manufactured DDT in Los Angeles County, and discharged tons of the pesticide into local sewers. Today, the water's off the L.A. coast are still tainted by the nation's largest deposit of DDT. The chemical accumulates in eagles, as the birds consume contaminated animals lower on the food chain. DDT weakens the shells of the eggs, to the point where they can break under the weight of the nesting birds.
One of Sharpe's assistants unfolds a ladder, while biologist Kevin Ryan straps on climbing spikes and prepares to scale the tree. Sharpe offers Ryan some last minute instructions.
SHARPE: Just sort of gently roll the egg into your hand. First I'd put--if there's only one egg, put two fake ones, we want to put at least two, in case the ravens do come in and steal it, which has been known to happen.
SETZIOL: So why do you need to put fake eggs in there?
SHARPE: The fake eggs just keep them sitting in the nest until we have a chick to put in. Whoop, there goes the eagle. Eagle left at 6:42.
SETZIOL: Ryan reaches the nest and begins to remove the eggs. Today's mission is paid for by some of the damages awarded in two of the nation's largest settlements for ecological destruction: a total of $145 million for Montrose, other chemical companies, and local governments.
Here she comes.
SHARP: That's what I like to see, some defense.
SETZIOL: The mother eagle protests the intrusion with a series of clucks, squeals and whistles. Ryan slowly lowers two eggs down to Peter Sharp.
SHARPE: We have two healthy looking eggs. No obvious cracks.
SETZIOL: Sharpe places the eggs in a portable incubator. Within the hour, he will take the first helicopter off the island and hop a plane at LAX for San Francisco, where biologists will try to hatch the eggs. But Sharpe says that will be difficult because the DDT-tainted shells are so thin, and dehydrated.
SHARPE: We only have about 15 to 20% hatching success with the eggs from the island, and I'm not counting on these eggs to hatch.
SETZIOL: Because of the difficulty hatching wild eggs, most of the chicks reared on Catalina are really the offspring of captive eagles at the San Francisco Zoo. Of the 33 eaglets the Institute has placed into nests on the island over the past 20 years, only five were descendants of Catalina birds.
SETZIOL: How old is he?
SHARPE: This is an eight-day old chick; we usually wait till they're about a week old to put them into the nest.
SETZIOL: When he can, Sharpe times his trip to San Francisco so he can return with a hatchling. On a recent night, in his living room, he cared for an eaglet born from a zoo bird.
SHARPE: At this age, they're getting fed every three hours, throughout the daylight.
SETZIOL: Sharpe dunks the beak of a plastic eagle puppet into a bowl of ground quail meat and feeds the chick. He hopes using the puppet will keep the chick from bonding with him instead of its new mother. In between bites the eaglet cheeps so energetically its body throbs.
SHARPE: You're making a mess. Can you pick up your head?
SETZIOL: Finally full, the chick droops into a baby blue sheet, cooing a new, contented call.
The next morning it's time to introduce the bird to its first nest. Sharpe gathers a hefty pile of gear plus eaglet and pet carrying case, and we head for a remote spot. He stops at an opening where hills, studded with small slender oaks, relax into a cliff top meadow. Zipped into a banana yellow suit, Sharpe straps on a safety harness that will hook him to a 100 feet of rope dangling from...a helicopter.
PILOT: We're going to start up the engine in about a minute.
AIR CONTROL: All right, copy that.
SETZIOL: The chopper lifts off slowly, trailing Sharpe under it. He looks as if he's standing in the air.
SETZIOL: The nest is perched 150 feet above the ocean, on a rock pinnacle. Shouting over the roar of the chopper, Sharpe records his trip on a video camera mounted on his helmet. After the parent flies off, he retrieves the fake eggs and deposits a stunned eaglet in a grassy bed. In a scene reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sharp glides over the treetops to a smooth landing.
SHARP: There was an eagle on there, I couldn't tell if it was a male or female, I just started circling around sort of my elevation, and as soon as I left it was back there, probably within 20 or 30 seconds.
PILOT: 402, 401.
AIR CONTROL: 02.
PILOT: What's going on?
AIR CONTROL: That was the female, and she came right back, and she's brooding the chick.
PILOT: Good to hear.
SETZIOL: The mother eagle begins to care for the baby immediately, apparently unaware, or unconcerned, that it's not her own. Peter Sharpe says the Institute for Wildlife Studies has introduced six eaglets to Catalina this year, bringing the total number of bald eagles currently living on the island to 20. With funds from the DDT settlement the Institute plans to reintroduce bald eagles to other local islands. Settlement dollars will also pay to cover parts of the DDT deposit with clean sand. Sharpe says if clean-up efforts are successful, the biggest pay off will come in about ten years, when the eagles will be healthy enough to reproduce on their own.
For Living on Earth, I'm Ilsa Setziol, on Catalina Island.
[CUT AWAY MUSIC-Trygve Seim, "Search Silence"]
CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next time, on a windswept prairie in Southern Manitoba, for just a few weeks every year, one of the most astonishing spectacles in the natural world unfolds.
MAN: When you look over here, you basically see a huge knot. I'd say that's probably the size of maybe a person's living room couch. So I don't know, there's probably, there might be 2 or 3,000 snakes in that mass of snakes moving up there.
CURWOOD: Garter snakes, garter snakes, and more garter snakes, next week on Living on Earth.
[MUSIC CONTINUES To: "Humpback Whale Chorus"]
CURWOOD: Before we go, let's take a quick dip into the ocean. Lisa Walker recorded this chorus of Humpback Whales in the Pacific, off Alaska.
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, Milesa Muneez, and Bunny Lester.
We had help this week from Marie Jayasekera and Katy Saunders. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of Earth Ear. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempard is our western editor, Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor, Chris Volman is the senior produce of Living On Earth. Our program this week was produced by Diane Toomey. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth come from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education; the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, for reporting on marine issues; the W. Elton Jones Foundation, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment, www.wajones.org.; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for reporting on western issues; The Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change; The Rockefeller Foundation, and The Turner Foundation.
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