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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 19, 2001

Air Date: October 19, 2001

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Smallpox

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Under the threat of bioterrorism, the nation is gearing up to provide each citizen with a vaccination against the highly contagious and often deadly disease smallpox. Host Steve Curwood talks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases about the smallpox threat and what's being done to offset it. (07:35)

WTC Pets

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Gail Buchwald with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and host Steve Curwood talk about what happened to pets in New York City that have been displaced or orphaned as a result of September 11th. (03:20)

Health Note / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on a study about the effects of low-level, but chronic exposure to pesticides on French vineyard workers. (01:15)

Almanac: The First Orchid Hybrid

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This week, facts about the first orchid hybrid ever created. When Calanthe Dominii successfully flowered, one scientist predicted, "It will drive the botanists mad!" (01:30)

Fire Lookouts / Jeff Rice

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Once there were five-thousand of them. But due to technology, the number of fire lookouts has dwindled to just a few hundred. Jeff Rice reports on what drives the people who belong to this vanishing breed to keep vigil over the forests of the West. (11:20)

News Follow-up

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

Technology Note

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Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports on a program to use the methane gas from landfills to help fuel garbage trucks. (05:45)

Energy Update

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The long-awaited energy bill is slowly moving forward in the Senate, but it's happening in a rather unusual way. Living on Earth's Washington correspondent, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, talks with host Steve Curwood about the legislative maneuvering, and what it might mean for future energy policy. (05:45)

Lost Hiker

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Boston (WBUR) public radio host Ted O'Brien was lost in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for three days and two nights. He returns to the trail with host Steve Curwood and gives a firsthand account of his experience as a hiker, lost and found. (09:30)

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Smallpox

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. The federal government is taking the first steps to protect every American against the smallpox virus. The move comes in the wake of a growing number of people being exposed to anthrax spores through acts of suspected bioterrorism. But, while anthrax can't be passed from one human to another, smallpox is highly contagious and often deadly. Right now, there are only 15 million doses of smallpox vaccine to protect nearly 300 million Americans. Joining me to discuss smallpox preparedness is Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci, why would smallpox be a dangerous weapon in the modern world?

FAUCI: Well, the reason it would be a dangerous weapon is that because of our own successes in the elimination and eradication of smallpox worldwide, that we have discontinued, I think appropriately, the routine vaccination of the American public, and that was discontinued back in 1972. Which means that we have a population of people in the United States, many of whom never had a vaccination, and many of whom who did had it many years ago, to the point where you wouldn't have a high degree of effective immunity. So we have a situation where, if smallpox were reintroduced into the population in a bioterrorism manner, that you have people who would not be protected as they were decades ago when routine vaccinations occurred. The other major difference, and it's a significant difference, between the anthrax threat and the smallpox threat, is that smallpox is efficiently transmitted from one person to another. Whereas, anthrax as a bioterrorism weapon is one that if you get directly exposed to the anthrax spore you have a problem, but you cannot transmit anthrax to another person. So you can amplify the effect of a bioterrorism incident if you have a microbe, in this case a virus, smallpox, that can be transmitted readily from one person to another.

CURWOOD: Can you describe what happens when someone contracts smallpox?

FAUCI: Yeah. Well, smallpox is a disease that goes as follows. If you're exposed, for example, on what we'll call Day 0, about 12 days later you start to develop a very serious flu-like illness. And then over a period of a couple of days you develop a reddish, slightly-raised rash on your body that generally starts off on the face and the upper and lower extremities and then ultimately gets to the trunk. Within a period of a few days that rash evolves into papules and then pustules and you get the classical large pustules that you see in individuals, who you have pictures of, who have smallpox. And then, over a period of a couple of weeks those pustules then start to scab, the scab ultimately falls off. If the patient survives, there are very disfiguring pockmarks that are left, throughout the skin, where those pustules were. About 30 percent of individuals, in some epidemics, would die from smallpox, and the rest might have some serious residual complications.

CURWOOD: So, how many doses of smallpox vaccine does the U.S. have stockpiled today?

FAUCI: We have stockpiled about 15 million doses, but we're doing a study, literally as we speak, that is going to ask the question, can you dilute that, either one to ten or one to five, to markedly expand and amplify that stockpile? We have some preliminary evidence to think that one to ten gives you about a 70 percent take, as we call it, and you can determine if the vaccination will likely work if you have a characteristic skin lesion as a result of the application. We're doing a larger study, now, to look at one to ten versus one to five. So let's assume that a one to five dilution actually is effective in giving you a high rate of take. Then right away you can amplify the stores that you have of smallpox vaccine from 15 million to 75 or more million. So that's a very good start, and that can be done relatively quickly. Simultaneous with that, there's a dramatic scaling up of the production of a second generation of smallpox vaccine.

CURWOOD: How will you use this vaccine when it's developed?

FAUCI: It will be kept in reserve, because you don't want to vaccinate people unless you actually have the reappearance of smallpox in society, because these vaccines have a degree of toxicity. You'd want to have it in reserve just in case something happened.

CURWOOD: How does this vaccine work? When in the course of an outbreak must it be administered to be useful?

FAUCI: Well, if someone is not exposed but has the potential for being exposed, you would want to vaccinate the people who are within the proximal area of where the index case is. There is evidence to show that even if someone does directly get exposed, and infected, that you have about a four day period in which when you vaccinate the person, even after they have become exposed, that you can ward off the evolution of disease.

CURWOOD: I understand there's some concern that the former Soviet Union had genetically engineered a new variety of smallpox. How well might the vaccine we currently have work against this genetically engineered strain, if it exists?

FAUCI: I don't know about the Soviet Union's genetic manipulations but one cannot say, necessarily, that if you genetically manipulate it, that the body's immune response would not be able to still protect you against the smallpox disease.

CURWOOD: In the absence of vaccine, doctor, what are some of the other defenses the medical establishment has against smallpox?

FAUCI: Well, there aren't very many except good care of people who go through this rather terrible illness. There are some experimental antiviral drugs that we are looking at right now, that have shown promising results in an animal model. The name of the antiviral that we're looking at, and there are others in the pipeline, is an antiviral called cidofovir, which was originally developed for a different type of virus mostly seen in H.I.V. infected individuals.

CURWOOD: By the way, what role should vaccines play, in any, in the concerns about anthrax?

FAUCI: Well, again, since there is not a lot of vaccine available at this particular moment, and since the anthrax thus far has shown to be quite sensitive in being able to be controlled by the appropriate and expeditious application of antimicrobial therapy, vaccine does not play nearly the same role that it would play for example in a disease like smallpox. So, although we are working - and this is more of an intermediate long-range affair - to have vaccine that's less toxic than the current one, easier to make and easier to induce immunity so that we could have stockpiles of very, very large amounts of vaccine if we ultimately need it. But we do have that stopgap measure of antibiotics, which seem, in this current terrible situation in we're in of bioterrorism, seems to be curtaining and curtailing the evolution of disease rather rapidly. So that the bioterrorism that's occurring now is very heavy on the terror component and moderate and light, in the big picture of things, on the medical implications of it.

CURWOOD: Meaning that there are not a large number of people being affected?

FAUCI: Well, right. I mean, people are being exposed, but there's a very small number of people, relatively speaking, who actually have gotten infected.

CURWOOD: Dr. Anthony Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the N.I.H. Thanks for sparing a moment to talk with us today, Dr. Fauci.

FAUCI: You're quite welcome.

Related link:
CDC Smallpox page
Medline Encyclopedia page on smallpox">

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WTC Pets

CURWOOD: A number of people are still unable to return to their homes in lower Manhattan, more than a month now after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. But one small comfort is that the pets of those folks who still can't go back to their homes, and the pets of those who died in the tragedy, are being taken care of. Joining me from the A.S.P.C.A. shelter on East 92nd Street in New York City is Gail Buchwald. Gail, how many of the animals at the shelter with you there are connected to the September 11th events?

BUCHWALD: Well, right now, we're very fortunate to have only two that have been orphaned as a result of the disaster. We have one dog, named Leo, he's a beautiful - I'm looking at him now, he's a fluffy chow mix, and we named him Leo because he looks a little bit like a lion. And we have a beautiful longhair gray 11-year-old Persian cat that came in, who was - unfortunately her owners couldn't keep her, because they had been displaced and they're living in lots of temporary homes and they gave her up.

CURWOOD: So, what happened to the animals in New York whose owners were victims or somehow displaced by September 11th?

BUCHWALD: Well, the good news is that we here at the A.S.P.C.A. were able to retrieve and rescue approximately 200 animals, where they were stranded in homes that had been evacuated. Most of those animals were reunited with their owners. We delivered medical care to over 300 animals, some of which came in with their owners, and those that didn't, as I said, we reunited them with them. For those who unfortunately lost their owners because the owners perished, we placed them in foster homes until next-of-kin or friends and neighbors came forward to claim them. And, as I said, in only a very few cases no one did come forward to claim them. Or those who were the remaining survivors of the person who was a victim did not want to keep the pet, and in those cases we have put them in wonderful foster homes and now they're up for adoption.

CURWOOD: What type of response have you gotten from people both in New York and around the country about helping out?

BUCHWALD: Oh, the response has been overwhelming. It's been really heartwarming to see. In fact, for a while during our disaster period, while we were heavily engaged in the rescue mission, our phone lines were nearly paralyzed by the number of calls, the outpouring of people calling to find out what they could do to help. We also received calls from people as far away as the Midwest and California, the West Coast and the Midwest, asking if they could foster an animal or adopt an animal, and they were willing to fly into New York and take an orphan from the World Trade Center area. And so it really was astounding how many people came forward.

CURWOOD: There are a number of studies out there that show animals can be very comforting to us human animals.

BUCHWALD: Absolutely.

CURWOOD: What sort of evidence do you see that the people of New York have been seeking this kind of comfort? What's happened to your adoption rate there?

BUCHWALD: Well, there's no question our adoption rates are up, significantly up for cats and also marginally up for dogs. And we do believe people have really reached out to adopt a companion animal, in large part because of the alienation and isolation that many of us feel in the face of a disaster. There's no question that animals can bring therapeutic benefits as well as health benefits to their human companion, and that's been scientifically studied and documented. So it really is remarkable that those people out there who had been considering adopting a pet were able to find it in their hearts to bypass the puppy mills and bypass the pet stores and come to adopt shelter pets that really had no chance of getting home.

CURWOOD: Gail Buchwald is director of A.S.P.C.A. Cares, in New York City. Thanks for speaking with us, Gail.

BUCHWALD: You're very welcome.

Related link:
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
The Humane Society of the United States">

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Health Note

CURWOOD: Coming up, the view from the mountaintop, watching for fires. First, this environmental health note with Diane Toomey.

TOOMEY: Drinking wine can sometimes make people act a bit foolish, but a new study shows that even farming wine grapes may lead to mental impairment. It's known that heavy doses of certain types of pesticides act as nerve toxins and can impair brain function. But there have been few studies on long-term exposure to pesticides. So researchers tested vineyard workers in Bordeaux, France, who worked with pesticide-treated grapes for at least two decades. The workers had either mixed pesticide applications or had labored in vineyards treated with pesticides. For comparison researchers also examined agricultural workers with no pesticide exposure. Both groups were given a series of mental and verbal tests. For example, people were asked to remember certain words and pictures as well as perform certain tasks, such as connecting a series of dots. Researchers found that workers exposed to pesticides were three-and-a-half times more likely to score low on these tests compared to non-exposed workers. But the researchers made another find. It appears that drinking wine or other alcohol on a regular basis actually improved workers' scores. Among moderate drinkers, there was no difference between exposed workers and those who had not been around pesticides. But researchers say they can't explain why this is so. That's this week's Health Update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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

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Almanac: The First Orchid Hybrid

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

[MUSIC]

CURWOOD: October 1856 was a big month for botany. That's when flowers bloomed on the world's first hybrid orchid. Botanist John Dominy raised the plant at a nursery in Exeter, England. The name? Calanthe Dominii, meaning, Dominy's beautiful flower. It was a breakthrough for the plant world, but one horticulturist warned, "You'll drive the botanists mad." And perhaps he did. Mr. Dominy started a trend that has blossomed almost beyond belief. He had produced 25 hybrid orchids by the time he retired in 1880. At the turn of the century there were more than 1,000. And today, the count is past 200,000 varieties and still climbing. Each year some 2,000 new hybrid orchids of all shapes, sizes and colors appear in greenhouses and at shows, and some are, well, downright bizarre. Consider the recent work of a genetic engineer in Singapore. Adding bioluminescent DNA from a firefly to an orchid produced a hybrid that actually glows in the dark. And that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.

[MUSIC]

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Fire Lookouts

CURWOOD: The wildfire season in the west has mostly come to a close now, as rain and snow damp down the forests. And that means it's time for fire lookouts to close up their lofty and lonely posts. At one time, over 5,000 lookouts served as the primary means of fire detection for the U.S. Forest Service nationwide. But today, all but 300 of the lookouts are gone. Jeff Rice has our look at this vanishing part of American culture.

RICE: In 1910, what seemed like half of Idaho and Montana suddenly went up in flames. More than three million acres burned in just two days. Eighty-five firefighters died. And it still remains the worst fire in U.S. history. Soon after that, little box huts of wood and glass began to sprout on mountaintops across the country and people were hired for the summer, to live in them and watch over the forests. Ray Kresek is a fire lookout historian.

KRESEK: The experience required to become a lookout is virtually nil. Lowest paying job on the ladder. But, at one time, it was considered the most valuable job in the forest service. It was the eyes of the fire detection system.

RICE: You had your radio and your binoculars, your wood stove, and those who could stand the solitude had the chance to live, for a few quiet months, among the high peaks.

KRESEK: You were king of the mountain and you had a purpose that really had rewards other than money.

READER: In the morning I woke up and it was beautiful. Blue, sunshine sky, and I went out in my alpine yard and there it was: hundreds of miles of pure snow-covered rocks and virgin lakes and high timber.

RICE: In 1956, Jack Kerouac spent two months on a lookout in Washington state, spending the time drying out from alcohol and hard living.

READER: And below, instead of the world, I saw a sea of marshmallow clouds as flat as a roof and extending miles and miles in every direction, creaming all the valleys.

RICE: The experience turned the beat poet into a first-class nature writer, in his book "The Dharma Bums." Desolation Peak was barren and windy and his writing is a mixture of lonely despair and rapture. No alcohol, no pills, no grass, just the void and Mount Hozameen staring back at him.

READER: And it was all mine. Not another pair of eyes in the world was looking at this immense cycloramic universe of matter.

[WATER SOUNDS]

RICE: Gradually, lookouts across the country, including Kerouac's, have been phased out, replaced by technology like satellites and spotter planes. Now only about 300 in the U.S. are still functioning. One of the few places where they're still widely used is Idaho. Certain factors here still make lookouts a cost effective way of monitoring the forest. Part of it is tradition - the lookouts are already in place - and part of it has to do with the vast amounts of federal and state forest land. About 30 million acres of ponderosa pine and spruce spread from the tip of the panhandle to the edge of the low deserts. With so much area to cover, it's too expensive to rely solely on spotter planes. It helps to have extra pairs of eyes, on the mountain. Lookouts are essentially weather spotters and what they watch for is lightning. Aside from the occasional careless campfire, lightning is the main event here. And over on Long Tom lookout, in the Salmon/Challis National Forest, Janet Bloemeke describes what it's like to witness a storm blow in.

BLOEMEKE: You watch the cloud build, from blue sky to your first little puff, and watch the vertical development and an anvil, and you start seeing your first strikes, and you're waiting to see, well, which direction is it going to move?

RICE: Then it occurs to you, she says. You have one of those lookout epiphanies. You're at the highest point on a mountain, and Zeus is not happy.

BLOOMEKE: And we were just like, oh my god, it's coming, and we're not only going to be, like, in its path, we're going to be in it.

[MUSIC: Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" ]

BLOOMEKE: And it was like being in a room with, like, a bunch of strobe lights, just that flashy, blue, consistent light. And you could feel the electrical charge building up, because the hair on your arms will start to stand up and tingle. And I just thought, you know, it's just a matter of time before this lookout just gets slammed.

[MUSIC CONTINUES]

BLOEMEKE: It was intense, it was really intense. And then, when they go off, when you're in them like that and the adrenaline rush and stuff, and then when it starts dancing across the ridges and coming right at you, you just get really excited. When it hits, it's so quick. I mean, there's a sudden flash of white light. At the same time there's like a crack of a whip and a loud boom and you know that you've been hit. And, like, within ten minutes you turn in seven fires. I don't know. I guess it's the lightning rush that I really live for, up here.

[MUSIC AND THUNDER]

RICE: If you ever got stuck on a mountaintop during a storm, you could stop by Howard Crist's lookout, on the Boise National Forest. He'd be happy to take you in out of the rain, offer you some coffee, and maybe a little bourbon.

CRIST: You're welcome to stay as long as you can. Let's just be comfortable and talk.

RICE: Howard scans the view from 8,000 foot Jackson Peak. He's a tall man in his fifties, with generous shocks of tousled gray hair, and he's in constant motion, circulating the catwalk around the lookout, 15 feet off the ground, watching for phantom fires.

CRIST: I've always thought what I liked about it and kind of what got me addicted to it was the fact that you spend anywhere from 12 to 16 hours a day walking around, just letting thoughts run through your head. I mean, wasn't it Nietzsche who said that the only thoughts that man ever came up with that were worth anything were done while he's walking?

RICE: The job, understandably, attracts a more philosophical type of person, particularly those who don't mind making 11 or 12 bucks an hour plus overtime. Crist says he's held a lot of jobs, among them college professor, documentary filmmaker and cemetery plot salesman. And for the past nine years he's worked in the summer as a fire lookout.

CRIST: It's a good way to spend three or four months out of the year. It's an addiction, it gets in your blood and it's hard to get out.

RICE: Inside his one-room lookout, a square box that's mostly windows, Crist prepares a meal of ramen noodles on a hot plate, patiently waiting for the water to boil at the high altitude.

CRIST: Water's going to boil.

RICE: His faithful companion lounges on the bunk in the corner.

CRIST: That's the cat, Spazz.

[SPAZZ MEOWS]

CRIST: Way to go, Spazz. I spent three days on a lookout without a cat, and that's the only time I swore I'd ever do it. I'd never do it again. The chipmunks were carrying stuff out as fast as I carried it in, you know. So he keeps them at bay.

[SPAZZ MEOWS]

RICE: The job of a lookout might seem boring to some people: a full day of watching the horizon, roughly sun up to sun down, with a few breaks thrown in. But Crist doesn't see it that way. He came up here thinking he could use the time to write, but became captivated by the job.

CRIST: My first thought was, yeah, you can come up here, you can get a book written. Well, truth of the matter is, while the sun's up that landscape is changing and the moment, it's hard to concentrate on something else. Because the moment you're concentrating on something else, it's like closing your eyes, you know what I mean? And you're up here because of your eyes, really.

[CRIST TALKING TO DISPATCH]

CRIST: There's a lot of people down there that don't think lookouts have anything to do until there's a fire come up. But, how do you find it? It's like looking for a needle in the haystack. You keep telling yourself it's there, you just haven't found it yet.

[DISPATCHER SOUNDS]

RICE: When he does see a fire, he uses a device that hasn't changed much since the '30s. It's a telescope that sits at the center of the room, like the navigational equipment on a seagoing ship. By knowing the location of two fixed points you can use it to figure out exactly where the fire is and call in its location. But actually spotting the fires in the first place is the real trick. In the same way that maybe a native Alaskan understands the subtleties of snow and ice, fire lookouts know fire. For instance, lightning fires don't always burn hot. They tend to smolder. So for Crist, fires are like ghosts hiding in the underbrush.

CRIST: So it can stay there for a week, two weeks, and just kind of creep around. And it may come up once. But then when that brush burns and the fire continues on its way, if the fuels aren't there to keep it real hot, it's gone, it doesn't seem to exist, because you can't see it.

[DISPATCHER]

RICE: This type of fire behavior, its phantom-like creeping around on the forest floor, is one of the reasons some people still swear by lookouts. Fires like these are nearly impossible to catch from aerial spotter planes.

KRESEK: Air patrols that are put up by the forest service, sometimes every day, sometimes twice a day, they still only pass over any given area for an instant.

RICE: Lookout historian Ray Kresek.

KRESEK: And if a lightning strike is smoldering, the odds are great that it's not going to be smoking enough to see when that plane goes over.

RICE: Kresek will go as far as to say that reopening more lookouts could save lives. Catching the fires early, before they become big conflagrations, like the blowup that killed four fire fighters this past summer in Washington State. At one time, there had been a manned lookout just a few miles away.

KRESEK: The fire would have been seen sooner had the lookout just two and a half miles away been in service. There's no doubt in the world it would have been seen before it became five acres. It was five acres before it was reported.

RICE: In fact, some lookouts are being re-manned. Numbers fluctuate, but about 70 are still in operation in Idaho. Many are being preserved for their historical value and, in some cases, you can rent lookouts, as a vacation spot. It's a rethinking of attitudes prevalent in past years, when many lookouts were seen as eyesores that were no longer useful. Some were even burned down, to clear away any signs that they had ever stood. Whatever the future holds, the opportunity to work a lookout still exists, and, as long as that's the case, people like Howard Crist will keep coming back.

CRIST: I keep telling myself every year's going to be the last, and there've been years that I haven't been able to do it. And every time I see a lightning storm I start kicking myself and saying, why aren't you on top of the mountain, where you belong?

RICE: For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Rice, in Boise, Idaho.

[MUSIC]

Related link:
National Historic Lookout Register
Forest Fire Lookout Association
Forest Fire Lookout Museum in Spokane, WA">

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News Follow-up

CURWOOD: Time now to follow up on some of the news stories we've been tracking lately. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has re-approved several strains of genetically modified Bt corn for another seven years. This is corn that contains genes from the Bacillus thuringiensis bacterium, which allows the plant to make a protein toxic to some insects. EPA Assistant Administrator Stephen Johnson says their review process found no unreasonable risks to human health, the environment, or non-pest bugs. The agency did call for increased monitoring systems from participating farmers.

JOHNSON: We believe that the safeguards that have been incorporated into these registrations will ensure that farms can continue to use an effective low-risk pest control alternative, which helps to protect the environment by reducing the amount of conventional pesticides used.

CURWOOD: But critics suggest that even with these safeguards Bt corn could lead to insect resistance, or have an adverse effect on other insects, including monarch butterflies.

[MUSIC]

CURWOOD: New research in Science magazine shows that cloud forests, like the one we recently visited with a story in Indonesia, may be at risk from deforestation. Scientists developed models that show that deforestation decreases local moisture in the atmosphere and leads to higher local temperatures. This results in fewer, and higher, clouds that no longer envelop the forests, says Robert Lawton of the University of Alabama.

LAWTON: The conservation impacts are, frankly, alarming. Cloud forests are homes to a large variety of plants and animals that are adapted to cloud forest conditions, adapted to a life immersed in cloud.

CURWOOD: So far, satellite images support the results of the modeling. Researchers are now planning to conduct field tests to see just how accurate the models are and what changes might be necessary on the ground to remedy the situation.

[MUSIC]

CURWOOD: The National Academy of Sciences recently released a report about the safety of storing coal waste slurry. Last year, an impoundment basin burst in Kentucky, emptying millions of gallons of coal waste into nearby streams and rivers. Representative Nick Rahall from West Virginia is one of the politicians who requested the study. He wants the Office of Surface Mining, as well as the Mine Health and Safety Administration, to implement the report's recommendations.

RAHALL: Chief among them is that while the regulatory authorities have been guarding the front gate, the integrity of the dam itself, very little attention has been given to securing the back door, the impoundment basin.

CURWOOD: Representative Rahall says he plans to press for congressional oversight to ensure that those offices carry out the necessary improvements. And that's this week's follow-up on the news from Living on Earth.

[THEME MUSIC]

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Technology Note

CURWOOD: Just ahead, how smart folks can get lost in the woods. First, this environmental tech note from Cynthia Graber.

GRABER: The city of San Diego is in the process of making its garbage trucks less polluting. By converting these engines to run in part on liquefied natural gas, the city is reducing the pollution output from each truck by the equivalent of 20 S.U.V.s. Liquefied natural gas is composed mostly of methane and is extracted from locations around the country. Recently, San Diego officials thought they might be able to get this fuel from the very thing the garbage trucks were hauling around - the trash itself. Microbes in landfills produce methane, a greenhouse gas, as they digest garbage. Some landfills make use of this byproduct by capturing methane to make electricity. But most of the gas from U.S. landfills simply escapes into the atmosphere. Theoretically, it could be liquefied and made into fuel, but the gas coming off landfills isn't pure methane. So the city of San Diego has partnered with a private company willing to do that research. In return, the company receives access to the landfill and its gas, and a promise from the city to buy the methane fuel once it's produced. The program is expected to be up and running by the spring of 2002. That's this week's Technology Note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

[THEME MUSIC]

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

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Energy Update

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The anthrax scare turned Capitol Hill into Capitol Chill when Senate Democrat Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office received a letter containing a potent strain of the bacteria. With dozens of office workers testing positive for exposure, the work of Congress has been stalled. Lawmakers have been trying to get back to some of the business that was pushed aside after September 11th. For example, the Senate Energy Committee was starting to draft an energy bill. Then Senator Daschle told them to stop. Living on Earth's Anna Solomon Greenbaum joins me now from Washington. Hi Anna.

GREENBAUM: Hi Steve.

CURWOOD: Anna, tell us what happened. Why did Senator Daschle stop this process?

GREENBAUM: Well, the reason he gave was that the committee process was going to take too long and be too divisive. Not only, of course, is there the issue of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but he was concerned that there were too many committees involved in different aspects of the bill, that they were kind of stepping on each other's toes. So basically he suspended those committee markups and he directed the chair of the Energy Committee, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat from New Mexico, to write up the bill himself.

CURWOOD: How do the Republicans on the energy committee respond to this? I mean, there are senators like Frank Murkowski from Alaska, Larry Craig of Idaho, who are some of the most vocal proponents of drilling in ANWR.

GREENBAUM: Well, they're angry, as you might imagine. They feel like the Democrats were scared, really; that Bingaman and others thought that they wouldn't win on ANWR in committee, that there would be enough votes to bring a bill to the floor that opened ANWR for drilling. So, the Republicans feel like they're being shut out of a fair process. Here's Senator Craig, who you mentioned. He's speaking, here at a news conference.

CRAIG: Arguing that they may create it in their own image, behind the closed doors of the Daschle office, is not a way to craft a good public policy. I read that in only one way. This is an issue that the Democrat leadership of the Senate wants to duck for now. This is an issue that cannot be ducked.

GREENBAUM: Steve, one interesting point here. The energy secretary, Spencer Abraham, was also at this news conference, representing the administration, and he was there mostly to bolster the Republicans and put some pressure on Democrats to get this bill moving faster. But it's worth noting the administration's been totally silent on Senator Daschle's decision to bypass the committee process.

CURWOOD: And am I right, Anna, didn't Senator Daschle make some kind of offer to Republicans if they would withdraw on the issue of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

GREENBAUM: That's right. Senator Daschle came out with what he's calling a compromise proposal to drilling in ANWR. He's pushing another source of energy, it's also from Alaska, and it's the construction of an Arctic natural gas pipeline. Here's Senator Daschle.

DASCHLE: We are now, believe it or not, injecting natural gas back into the ground in Alaska. That natural gas could play a vital role in answering some of our energy needs in this country. Not only that, but the pipeline that we would build to transport that Arctic natural gas would employ 400,000 people. So there is no doubt in my mind, from an employment point of view, from an energy point of view, from an environmental point of view, that this makes a lot of sense.

GREENBAUM: So you can see, Daschle's pushing this particularly on the labor front, and you'll remember we saw in the House vote, back in August, the push from unions was really what wooed some Democrats over to the pro-drilling side. So with this pipeline offer Daschle's hoping he can provide another pro-labor option. It's a little disingenuous, maybe, for him to come out calling this a compromise, as if it's some type of sacrifice. This natural gas pipeline just isn't a very controversial issue. Most of the environmental community supports it, if it's built along a certain route. And the Republicans support it too, but they don't want it to be seen as a sort of quid pro quo for ANWR, as Daschle's trying to frame it. And I've talked with the Teamsters. They say the same thing.

CURWOOD: So, what happens from here?

GREENBAUM: Well, now Bingaman's going to draft this energy bill. At this point, he's just starting to sit down with staff from the different committees that have a role in energy policy. His office says that will include Republican staffers too. But I think it's clear that what we're going to see coming out of this process will be very much a Democratic energy bill. For environmentalists, that's probably a good thing. Here's Dan Becker, he's with the Sierra Club, and he's hopeful that this new process is going to result in a bill that's more to his liking than the one that the House came out with in August.

BECKER: The Democrats have now said that they're going to take a different tack in the Senate: that they're going to try to maximize energy efficiency and renewable energy, that they will ask the auto industry to do its fair share to reduce our oil dependence, and that there will be no effort to pillage the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for a six-month fix of oil.

CURWOOD: So, when this bill comes to the floor, presumably without drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, what happens then?

GREENBAUM: Well, the Republicans will try to attach their own energy plan and that, of course, includes ANWR; they'll try to open it up for debate on the floor, and at that point some Democrat, most likely Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, is going to threaten a filibuster. Then Senator Daschle has said he'll allow a vote to cloture. Basically that means Republicans would need more than a simply majority, they'd need 60 votes to stop the filibuster and get the straightforward yes or no ANWR vote that they want.

CURWOOD: And that's going to tell us the fate of ANWR?

GREENBAUM: Well, it's not quite that simple. I think one of the major questions still to be answered is whether this is even going to come up before the end of this year. Senator Daschle has made no commitment on that. And we're also going to see drilling in ANWR come up in other forms. We've already seen Republicans trying to slip it in in other places. Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma tried to pin it to the Defense Authorization Bill. Phil Gramm of Texas threatened to attach it to the Airline Security Bill. And, at this point, Republicans are promising to attach it to just about any legislation that moves through the Senate for the rest of the year.

CURWOOD: Anna Solomon Greenbaum is our Washington correspondent. Thanks for joining us, Anna.

GREENBAUM: You're welcome.

Back to top

 

Lost Hiker

[HIKING SOUNDS, CHILDREN PLAYING]

CURWOOD: It's a crisp fall day in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, where I am out hiking in the wilderness. I'm here to see how someone could get lost for days especially since the trail markings here are obvious.

CHILD: Look, there's a yellow one. I need to stay by the yellow one.

CURWOOD: But over Labor Day weekend these woods were the focus of major search for one of the best known voices and faces of New England. His name: Ted O'Brien.

[MORNNG EDITION THEME MUSIC]

TED O'BRIEN: Good morning, I'm Ted O'Brien, sitting in for Bob Oakes. Coming up this hour on Morning Edition...

CURWOOD: These days Ted O'Brien announces for NPR member station WBUR in Boston, after a lengthy career as an evening TV news anchor and commercial talk show host. And on the Sunday before Labor Day, he set out for what he thought would be a day hike. He left behind his trail map on the kitchen table so his wife Susan would know where to pick him up. And what would make matters worse: that map's advice that the Attitash Trail would take six hours to traverse. Better mountain guides suggest the trail takes twice as long and warn that it has a dangerous section in the middle where the markings disappear.

[SOUND OF WALKING IN WOODS]

CURWOOD: Ted O'Brien says he wants to tell his story so others won't make the same mistakes. So, what did you bring with you

TED O'BRIEN: I had two peanut butter sandwiches, two bottles of water, 4 cheese sticks, was wearing a sweat shirt and heavy short-sleeved shirt under that and heavy T-shirt, these blue jeans, a pair of sandals with thick socks, and a tote bag.

[LEAVES CRUNCHING]

TED O'BRIEN: I started about 8:30, saw an elderly man on the trail who was wearing shorts and a tank top and I chuckled to myself that I was certainly better prepared for this hike than he was, although I'm sure I was going farther. And I said, well, good luck, and I kind of moved on passed, and that was the last person I saw for 50 hours.

CURWOOD: Take us through now that day. You pass this guy, and keep hiking. What happens next?

TED O'BRIEN: I went along for what I thought was a good 7 miles. I went to look for the next leg of the trail, and I could not find it. And I decided to backtrack. And the shadows grew long, and the trail was pretty sketchy anyway, and I frankly wound up loosing the trail.

CURWOOD: He decided to make what he called a dry camp.

TED O'BRIEN: That's where you have no water (laughs), and your mouth tastes like cotton and you bite into a sandwich and can't get the food to go down; it just kind of rolls around in your mouth and finally you have to spit it out. So I pulled together some moss, put the moss together, and I got this piece of a dead tree to pull over me, for some reason. And I shivered, and that was how I got through the first night.

CURWOOD: Susan O'Brien had gone looking for her husband at the spot he was supposed to meet her. By nightfall she had called the authorities. They told her they'd begin searching in the morning if he didn't show up.

SUSAN O'BRIEN: It's the most helpless feeling in the world, when you have a loved one lost. You just hammer it out, hour by hour. Through that first night, I got up every time I heard a noise, because I convinced myself that he was probably late. I think part of your mind splits off, and you try to put the panic or whatever it is over to one side. And the mind is a strange thing, and then you create a scenario to live with it.

TED O'BRIEN: At some point, I said, well if this is where it's supposed to end, then alright. My father died at 59, and if I got myself into this, it's supposed to be it. But if there's something for me to do, then let me come through. And that point it was as if some powerful but unseen force that was benevolent passed between the mountain and the moon and at that point I relaxed. And the next thing I knew, it was morning and I had slept for about six or seven hours. And I got up and headed up over the hill for the road that I knew was there, and there was just more wilderness. That was a daunting moment.

CURWOOD: By now the media had gotten wind of the missing anchorman.

WBUR ANNOUNCER: The search for Ted O'Brien, the WBUR news anchor missing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire resumes this hour...

REPORTER: They found no sign whatsoever of Ted last night. The dogs were out and they came up with absolutely nothing.

CURWOOD: The state dispatched search parties led by Lieutenant Rick Estes. He's a 29-year veteran of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. Ted O'Brien may be famous, but for Lt. Estes it was just another a fairly routine case, brought on by the all-too-frequent failure to prepare.

ESTES: You have to have the things that if it should go bad, that you can make a stand. Okay? You have to have matches, compass, map. Plan on if you've got to be out overnight. Do the "what if?": If I get up there and I twist an ankle, what's going to survive me? Do I need a tent? Do I need a signaling devise ? I suppose some folks may think that's a little pessimistic. Believe me, if you got out there and you needed those things, you wouldn't determine them to be pessimistic at that point.

CURWOOD: So what did Ted do right?

ESTES: I think he kept his head, certainly. At no time were we ever told anything but that he'll keep moving, because he'll put his chin out and just keep going. That's a good thing. If somebody just flat gives up, then they're probably going to die.

CURWOOD: Ted kept moving for another whole day hearing aircraft searching overhead, but when night came he found himself alone, making camp.

TED O'BRIEN: And in the morning; it was the morning of the third day. As soon as it was light, I was up. It was a different level of movement. I was convinced that I had to get out today, and that the only way I was going to do it was by going, going, going.

CURWOOD: What did you say to yourself? What did you even sing to yourself, perhaps?

TED O'BRIEN: Coming down the wash, it was "Hey, Jude." Hey Jude, don't be a fool. Take a sad song and make it better. Remember to let her under your skin, and you begin to make it better. And somehow that was right for sliding over the rocks.

[BEATLES SONG, "HEY JUDE"]

TED O'BRIEN: Because there were boulders and rocks and wet places, and it was hey, Jude, don't be a fool. Take a sad song, and I was moving, man. I was moving. After two hours, three hours, I don't know how long, I looked up and saw a blaze.

CURWOOD: What color?

TED O'BRIEN: Yellow. A blaze on the tree. And I didn't believe it. And I looked across, and there was another tree with a yellow blaze, and that's when I knew I had found the trail.

CURWOOD: How did you feel at this point?

TED O'BRIEN: I think I was stunned. There's a feeling of exultation, that I had made it. It's hard to describe, but it's like a high.

[CLAPPING]

CURWOOD: As he walked out, he ran into a search team. Susan O'Brien was waiting back at the head of the trail. How soon are you going to let Ted go hiking again?

SUSAN O'BRIEN: (laughs) Well, Ted has to do what he's gonna do. I think that if he does go again, he's got all kinds of compasses and trail mixes, but I can't say, "You can't do this again."

[ZIPPING UP A PACK]

CURWOOD: So Ted, what did you bring with you on this trip?

TED O'BRIEN: (laughs) Ok, well, here's the White Mountain Guide Book, put out by the Appalachian Mountain Club. I got this walking stick with a compass on the top, and in here we have a Power Bar, flashlight, extra compass, knife, and storm proof matches. This is a tarp if you have to make shift tent. Remember, this is not for an overnight hike, but this is for a day hike, in which you might be caught out overnight.

ESTES: Certainly in my talks with him since that he has a renewed idea of what it is to be in the wilderness.

CURWOOD: Lt. Rick Estes.

ESTES: Unfortunately, when you get together with Mother Nature, she has no compunction about it; she has no conscience about it. And if you mess up, you suffer the consequences.

TED O'BRIEN: You have a cold compress for that; you have an Ace bandage to help, and some tape to hold it tight.

CURWOOD: And that's it?

TED O'BRIEN: That's it.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking all this time with us today.

TED O'BRIEN: Steve, it was my pleasure.

CURWOOD: Ted O'Brien is news anchor for WBUR Boston.

TED O'BRIEN: Happy trails.

CURWOOD: Let's go.

[WALKING SOUNDS]

Related link:
Tips for Hiking Safely in New Hampshire
Appalachian Mountain Club New Hampshire Chapter
White Mountain Explorer's Kit from the Appalachian Mountain Club">

Back to top

 

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Our feature on the lost and found Ted O'Brien was produced by Jennifer Chu and recorded by Dennis Foley. Next week, and just in time for Halloween, it's the science of bug forensics, how scientists use maggots to solve murders.

WOMAN: They literally blow up parts of the body by stuffing their eggs in, and then when the maggots hatch they inflate - the mouth, the nose - as their maggots grow.

CURWOOD: Ugh, gross. It's the creepy crawlies of crime, on the next Living on Earth.

[SOUNDSCAPE]

CURWOOD: We leave you this week with music from a dueling duo. Sound gatherer Jonathon Storm recorded the calls of two bull elk trying to outdo each other for female attention. The scene is a high meadow on an autumn evening in Yellowstone National Park, and it's appropriately called, "The Challenge."

[Jonathon Storm, "Elk Challenge," The Dreams of Gaia]

CURWOOD: Living On Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, and Gernot Wagner, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson and Milisa Mu¡Viz. Special thanks to Ernie Silver and George Hicks. And special thanks also to Hearing Voices and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, for our feature on fire lookouts. We had help this week from Jessica Penney and Jonathan Waldman. 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.

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 Lucille Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; The W. Alton 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.

This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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