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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

September 13, 2002

Air Date: September 13, 2002



Homeland Security / Anna Solomon-Greenbaum

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It promises to be the largest reorganization of the federal government in decades, Congress is trying to finish up work on the new Department of Homeland Security. Living on Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports on the environmental ramifications. (07:00)

Ogonowski Legacy / Sean Cole

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John Ogonowski was the pilot of the first plane hit the World Trade Center one year ago. But Ogonowski’s life outside of aviation included his farm in Dracut, Massachusetts. Aside from his own business, he helped Cambodian refugees wishing to return to farming. As reporter Sean Cole reports, those involved in the mentoring program have done their best to continue it as a legacy to John Ogonowski. (05:00)

Almanac/Hadrian’s Wall

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This week, we have facts about Hadrian's Wall. Built in 122, this stone wall bisected Britain to separate Roman civilization from the barbarians to the north. (01:30)

Kuwait Cleanup / Anne Marie Ruff

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Ten years after Iraqi troops set fire to oil wells in Kuwait during the Gulf War, the environment remains in distress. Millions of barrels of crude oil still sit in oil lakes in the desert, preventing regrowth of habitat, polluting underground aquifers and sickening animals. Heavy metals still pollute the soil and sea. As Anne Marie Ruff reports, scientists are experimenting with how to manage a large-scale cleanup. (07:00)

German Elections

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Germany's parliamentary elections will be held on September 22. Host Diane Toomey talks with reporter Paul Hockenos from Berlin on prospects for the Green Party. (05:30)

Redwood Threat / Deirdre Kennedy

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For several years a pathogen distantly related to the Irish potato blight has been killing off California's oak trees. Now researchers have found the microbe infecting California Redwood and Douglas fir. Deirdre Kennedy reports. (03:00)

Health Note/Euro Itch / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that some Europeans may be allergic to the new Euro dollar coins. (01:15)

The Roadless Yaak

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The Yaak Valley lies in the northwestern corner of Montana, and has been logged for its timber more than any other valley in the state. There are, however, 15 areas that remain untouched by loggers. Author Rick Bass has recruited dozens of writers, scientists and locals in a campaign to preserve the last of the Yaak’s forested areas as wilderness. Host Diane Toomey talked with him about his new collection of essays called: "The Roadless Yaak: Reflections and Observations About One of Our Last Great Wild Places." (15:00)

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HOST: Diane ToomeyREPORTERS: Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Sean Cole, Anne Marie Ruff, Deirdre KennedyGUESTS: Paul Hockenos, Rick BassNOTE: Cynthia Graber


TOOMEY: From NPR News, this is Living on Earth. I’m Diane Toomey. It’s buggy. It’s swampy. There are no great vistas and few tourist attractions. But a group of writers say Montana’s rugged, remote Yaak Valley is worth saving.

BASS: I wanted the reader to love the place on its own terms, not for what it has to give the reader. It’s, it’s given and given and given. More timber’s come out of this valley than any other valley in the state of Montana for the last 50 years, and it’s time for the public to give back to the Yaak, rather than looking at it through the lens of ‘What does it have to offer me?’

TOOMEY: An effort to declare the Yaak an official wild place. This week on Living on Earth. Also we revisit a small farm in Dracut, Massachusetts where a lasting tribute to one of the heroes of September 11 is growing strong. Those stories and more right after this.


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Homeland Security

TOOMEY: Welcome to Living On Earth. I’m Diane Toomey, sitting in for Steve Curwood.

RIDGE: The President believes that his administration in this new department needs the freedom to manage.

Tom Ridge, head of the Office of Homeland Security

TOOMEY: That’s Governor Tom Ridge, head of the Office of Homeland Security, and he’s making the case before Congress on why the White House needs the flexibility to hire, fire and transfer workers without the usual constraints imposed by civil service protections. In the coming weeks, that’s what you’ll be hearing most about as legislation to create the new Department of Homeland Security is debated. But there are other concerns about the range and scope of this new government department, Living On Earth’s Anna Solomon-Greenbaum reports. Many of them could affect the environment.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Of the 22 existing federal agencies being drafted into the new Department of Homeland Security, many have an environmental component. Whether it’s protecting it, researching it or restoring it, agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service play a vital role in the nation’s day-to-day functions. In Congress, some are doubtful these functions can be maintained in a department so focused on national security. Of greatest concern is the Coast Guard, which is being absorbed by the Homeland Security Department in its entirety.

SNOWE: Frankly, we’re going to be keeping a watchful eye on the Coast Guard and this department.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine wants to preserve the Coast Guard’s traditional duties, like responding to oil spills and enforcing fishery laws. After 9/11, she points out, fisheries oversight declined as boats were transferred to security details. In the long run, Snowe argues, the Coast Guard must be able to do both jobs, and the provision in the new department promises to safeguard the Coast Guard’s classic functions. But Snowe warns:

SNOWE: If these missions are overlooked and lost in this process, then, clearly, we’re going to have to take concerted action.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: The new department’s power is being questioned on another front, as well. The Bush administration is seeking a special exemption from the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. It would protect information that companies voluntarily submit about their critical infrastructure from being released to the public, and that information couldn’t be used against the company in civil court. In addition, language in a House version of the bill threatens federal employees who leak such information with up to a year in jail. White House spokesman Gordon Jandreau defends limited access to information as a small, but necessary, security step.

JANDREAU: There needs to be an exemption from FOIA so that the information cannot be used by those who wish to cause us harm, as well as providing those companies with the ability to protect their proprietary information and keep it away from their competitors.

MOULTON: What this essentially does is it starts shifting us from a ‘right to know’ to a ‘need to know’ approach.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Sean Moulton is an analyst at OMB Watch, a public interest group that pushes for greater government accountability. He says his group’s website, which includes nationwide data on everything from hazardous waste sites to chemical spills, frequently relies on FOIA requests. The site gets used by all sorts of people.

MOULTON: They’re a worker and they’re worried about what they might be getting exposed to. We’ve had people access it to find out about areas where they might be moving, what kind of chemical plants are there, what kind of risks they might face, what kind of pollution’s going on there.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: And public access to information, says Moulton, can make companies take the environment more seriously. He points to one EPA program that requires companies to report emissions of toxic chemicals. When the data first came out, he says:

MOULTON: You had environmental groups doing, you know, the worst 50 facilities in the country, ranking the states who has the worst. So suddenly there was a huge spotlight shined on us, and a great deal of pressure mounted on facilities and on companies to start doing something. And very quickly we saw the TRI numbers plummet.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Moulton acknowledges some information, like blueprints for bombs, should be kept out of the public’s reach. But he says FOIA already allows for exemptions based on national security concerns. These kinds of information access questions have grown commonplace in the last year. Can companies be trusted to accurately report information and put public safety first? Democratic Senator Jon Corzine isn’t betting on it. He tells the story of one chemical plant in his home state.

CORZINE: There’s one instance in New Jersey where a local television station has twice entered the grounds, sat on one of the storage tank facilities, and filmed what went on, and was there for over a couple of hours the first time, and an hour the second time without even being challenged why they were there. This was in a situation where there is highly explosive materials. And that’s bothersome.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Corzine says there have been similar incidents across the country. So he’s drafted legislation to put the EPA in charge of strict new security guidelines at 15,000 chemical facilities nationwide. His bill also contains a requirement that companies consider using alternative technologies, including chemicals that are considered safer or less toxic. But Chris VandenHeuvel of the American Chemistry Council calls Corzine’s bill a smokescreen. He says many companies are already taking steps to shore up security since 9/11 and that Corzine’s bill will leave them in the dark about how to proceed.

VANDENHEUVEL: A question may come up that says do you move a tank from the perimeter to 50 feet within inside the perimeter. Well that may be what we decide to do in conjunction with federal security experts as the best thing to do. In 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency may say, well, no, you need to bury that tanker. Well, we just spent $10 million dollars to move it, now you’re saying, spend another 50 to bury it.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: In the end, VandenHeuvel says, Corzine’s bill is less about national security, and more about pleasing environmentalists who want to reign in the chemical industry.

CORZINE: It used to be called Toxics Use Reduction. This is an environmental bill. This is not a security bill.

SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: But federal oversight of chemical security is not just being touted by green groups. Even the Bush administration, which generally favors incentives over regulations, is considering its own set of rules for the industry. Corporate accountability is just one issue being debated as lawmakers try to define just what a secure nation should look like. Among the questions, whether access to information makes us safer or more vulnerable; whether the people or the government or the corporations will say what is secure and what’s not; and whether national security is compatible with a clean, safe environment. That question is being raised most directly right now by the Department of Defense. The DOD says it needs exemptions from major environmental laws to better train its troops for the war against terrorism. For Living On Earth, I’m Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, in Washington.

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Ogonowski Legacy

TOOMEY: Last year we aired a story about a non-profit project that helps Southeast Asian refugees return to farming. One of the project’s mentor farmers was the owner of White Gate Farm in Dracut, Massachusetts. His name was John Ogonowski. But he also had another job. He was a pilot for American Airlines. And on September 11th it was his plane, Flight 11, that struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Since that day, those involved in the farmer program say the work has been harder without John Ogonowski. But as Sean Cole of member station WBUR reports, they’re determined to continue the project as a legacy to him.

COLE: John Ogonowski didn’t want to fly on September 11th. That was the day people were coming to tour the dozen acres of Asian crops flourishing amid the hay and pumpkins at White Gate Farm. Ogonowski and his wife, Peggy, had hosted such events before, and he told project director Hugh Joseph he would do his best to be around for this one.

JOSEPH: Finally, I got a call the night before from Peggy saying, ‘Listen, John’s not back yet, but he got the final word that he has to fly tomorrow. He can’t switch.’

COLE: Joseph never imagined that when he arrived at the farm the next morning, he’d be greeted with the news that Ogonowski was dead. Meantime, the Cambodian farmers were at their plots on the other end of the farm preparing a special lunch for their guests. Joseph broke the news to them through the project’s translator, Sophyroth Sun.

SUN: We all just broke into tears. All the growers cry like a baby, including myself and we closed the farm for the whole entire week. And I told the growers to go home -- take the food, and go home and share it with their friends and family.

COLE: Nearly a year later, a steady rain falls on the same lush rows of bok choy and pigweed, taro and Laotian mint where Sophyroth first learned of Ogonowski’s death. He says being here can still be painful for him. When the farm reopened and it was clear the Cambodians were welcome to continue growing their produce here and selling it at local markets for a small profit, Sophyroth didn’t think he had the heart to join them.

(Photo courtesy of NEFSP)

SUN: You know, I just didn’t want to work for this project any more. But after having a few conversations with Peggy, she keeps telling me, keep the project running to honor John. And I was just like, ‘Okay.’

P. OGONOWSKI: Having the Cambodian farmers here is a great source of comfort to me.

COLE: This is Peggy Ogonowski.

P. OGONOWSKI: It was a program that John very much enjoyed being a part of, and we’ve received a lot of help in keeping it ongoing. And I think that it will add to his legacy, that we keep the Cambodian farmers working here and that we’re helping attain more acreage for them, and that the program is growing.

COLE: In the months leading up to September 11, Ogonowski had been trying to preserve 33 acres of land near his farm for the Cambodian growers. Now Congress has appropriated money to make sure that wish is fulfilled. But while the growers will have more places to raise their crops, they won’t have Ogonowski’s expertise to help them do it. Jim Ogonowski, John’s brother, says it’s all he can do to keep the hay business in operation while maintaining his full-time job at the Air National Guard.

J. OGONOWSKI: Well, I’ve tilled the ground for them, I went out and purchased some of the fertilizers and the potting soils that they’d be using to get started. I went out and got that, arranged that to be here for them. But as far as sharing agricultural techniques and stuff like that, I haven’t had that time yet.

COLE: The project has hired a farm manager to give the growers some of the training and technical assistance Ogonowski used to provide. Still, project director Hugh Joseph says it’s not as easy to get things done as it used to be. He says all Ogonowski had been asked to do was to rent some of his land to the Cambodians. But he did so much more.

(Photo courtesy of NEFSP)

JOSEPH: Providing training and technical assistance to the farmers, or helping to get a shed put up, or putting up irrigation, or getting the greenhouse in order and telling them where to market, you know, all of these little bits of information. Now it’s staff that provides that because he’s not there.

COLE: More than anything else though, what the growers miss is John Ogonowski himself. He would sometimes come by their plots just to joke around, or to pick off the tip of a pea tendril and pop it in his mouth. One of the growers, Visoth Kim, says White Gate Farm can be an unsettling place without John around.

KIM: Every morning I come, ‘Hey, John, how are you?’ This is the good memory. I come I say, ‘Where John around?’ Then after he passed away, then I was just dreaming, just hear like sound or something, ‘Oh, John somewhere?’ He’s a kind guy. We needed him.

COLE: In a way, John Ogonowski’s death has had as much of an impact on the immigrant farming project as his life did. And as long as there are Cambodian growers tilling the soil of Dracut, Massachusetts, he will be remembered. For Living On Earth, I’m Sean Cole.

TOOMEY: To hear a tribute to John Ogonowski we aired shortly after September 11, and to link to all of Living On Earth’s 9/11 related coverage, go to our website, loe.org. Coming up, checking the vital signs of Kuwait’s environment more than a decade after the Gulf War. You’re listening to NPR’s Living On Earth.

[MUSIC: Massive Attack, "Safe From Harm," BLUE LINES (Virgin Records, 1991)]

Related link:
hjoseph@tufts.edu or (617) 627-4102">

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Almanac/Hadrian’s Wall

TOOMEY: Welcome back to Living On Earth. I’m Diane Toomey.

[MUSIC: "Scotland the Brave"]

Once upon a time, a great wall was built to divide a sprawling empire from the barbarian tribes to the North. If you’re thinking the Great Wall of China, think again. 1,880 years ago the Roman emperor Hadrian ordered construction of the wall that bears his name. Hadrian worried that his empire was getting too large to defend, so he ordered the borders reinforced.

Where possible, boundaries were set at natural features. But when Hadrian visited Britain in 122, he saw no obvious demarcation. So the Romans chose one of the narrowest sections of the island near the present day Scottish border, and built a thick stone wall, 15 feet high, stretching 73 miles from coast to coast.

Among the artifacts discovered in the vicinity of the wall are messages written in ink on small wooden tablets. "I have bought 5,000 bushels of grain and unless you send me some money, I shall lose my deposit and be embarrassed," wrote a man named Octavius on one of the tablets.

Over the centuries the wall was treated like a quarry, and its stones carted off to build farmhouses, field walls and churches. Today, remnants of the ancient wall still snake across Northumberland, and more than a million people visit this World Heritage Site every year.

And for this week, that’s the Living On Earth Almanac.

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Kuwait Cleanup

TOOMEY: As President Bush tries to garner international and congressional support in his effort to oust Saddam Hussein, some look back to 11 years ago when his father sent US troops to free Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in the Gulf War. The Iraqis withdrew after seven months, but not before setting fire to Kuwait’s many oil wells. Scientists estimate at least one-third of Kuwait’s land was damaged by soot and oil that pooled into lakes in the desert and sea. As Anne Marie Ruff reports, Kuwait is still trying to recover.


RUFF: The city of Ahmedy in Southern Kuwait is a company town. It was built in the 1940s to house employees of the Kuwait Oil Corporation. It was the first Western-style city in the country. Tree-lined streets and rows of buildings rise up from the surrounding desert. On one hillside a brilliant garden blooms with wildflowers and desert grasses.

AL-ZALZALEH: We have atriplex plants, and we have bottle brush tree over there and the most common tree now in Kuwait, we have the Cannus forbias.

RUFF: Hani Al-Zalzaleh strolls along a garden path, pointing at flowers, plants and trees along the way. He is a horticulture scientist with the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, a government-funded organization. Al-Zalzaleh proudly describes his team’s experimental garden.

AL-ZALZALEH: This park is a unique kind of park, maybe not only for the Gulf region, as well as in the world.

RUFF: What is unique is that this garden’s plants are thriving in soil that was once contaminated by oil. Al-Zalzaleh and his colleagues use naturally occurring microbes to clean the soil. The decontamination process is environmentally friendly, but Al-Zalzaleh concedes, it’s probably too expensive and time consuming to be used on a large scale. And the scale here is large. There are more than 200 lakes of oil in the desert and more than 40 million tons of soil are contaminated with spilled oil and soot from the fires. Ironically, extinguishing the fires exacerbated the damage because firefighters used seawater. The salts in the water bonded with the heavy metals and the oil, creating toxic metal salts, which are easily absorbed by plants, animals and humans.

OMAR: These are deep, deep scars in the environment.

RUFF: Samira Omar is a Kuwaiti ecologist. She’s been studying the effects of the Gulf War pollution for the last decade. She has seen animals mistake oil lakes for water lakes, only to become trapped in the sludge. And soot fallout creates a crust on the ground that prevents native plants from returning. She acknowledges that the Kuwaiti government responded quickly after the war, pumping up millions of barrels of oil from the desert floor to get the oil wells working again. She says that the environment needs that same kind of concerted effort.

OMAR: Even what activity we do is minor, compared to the damage that occurred here due to the Iraqis. It’s going to take years and maybe generations for it to completely remove all these marks to make it non-existing. It will be, in my opinion, impossible.

RUFF: The damage is not only limited to the land. 40 percent of the country’s scarce underground aquifers are contaminated with oil, and the Kuwait Bay is threatened by heavy metals and other pollutants left over from the fires. Lamya Hayat is a biochemist with Kuwait University. She believes that lingering pollution caused a 2,000-ton fish kill last summer.

HAYAT: We have two benthic fish. They are very well known, and they are edible. They are coming to the surface and they are opening their gills wide, going into circles. Their eyes are popped, their mouth is bleeding, and they die. At that time nobody was saying anything.

RUFF: She suspects that the fish died when a phosphate spill in the Arabian Gulf drifted into Kuwait Bay. When the phosphate mixed with heavy metals left in the water from the Gulf War, it created an especially potent poison. But the government’s story differs sharply from Lamya Hayat’s. The Kuwait Environment Public Authority blames the fish kill on climatic conditions, such as especially high temperatures and low oxygen content in the water. Such reasoning angers Shukri Al-Hasham, an environmental activist in Kuwait. He thinks the government is in denial.

AL-HASHAM: There’s no honest and sincere studies has been done after the liberation of Kuwait, unfortunately. So, it’s all in all, what I’m saying is that we do have the problem, we still have it, and we will have it for the near future until someone from the government says, no, we have to stop it, and give us all the experts in the world to fix it.

RUFF: Shukri has tried to organize like-minded Kuwaitis to spur the government into action on the environmental problems. But non-governmental organizations are forbidden in Kuwait. Instead, public opinion filters up to the government through weekly meetings, called dewaniyas. These are men-only affairs, where citizens and officials meet in the opulent homes of influential Kuwaitis, where they gossip and discuss politics.


RUFF: At a dewaniya hosted by Faisal Al-Dosary, the spokesman for the Ministry of Health, the public health crisis is a hot topic. Government figures show that cancer rates have risen by 300 percent in the last decade.


Al-Dosary says the increase is due to better and earlier detection. But most of his guests are skeptical. They blame Gulf War pollution for the increase in cancer, along with a host of other illnesses, including asthma, neurological diseases and skin rashes. Khalifa Al-Bahoo is an official with the Kuwaiti Judicial Department. He agrees that pollution problems are pervasive, but he is reluctant to take responsibility for finding solutions.

AL-BAHOO: Of course we feel it. I know everybody feels it here in Kuwait, especially it affects the children. We need somebody to take care of this, I mean, to be serious.

RUFF: The Kuwaiti government wants Iraq to pay for the environmental damage and public health crisis. The Kuwait Public Authority is conducting a study to determine the environmental price tag. The five-year study is being funded by Iraq through a United Nations reparations fund to the tune of $108 million dollars. Whatever the study determines, ecologist Samira Omar thinks it won’t cover the true costs.

OMAR: The damage for us is priceless. I cannot put a price for it. It’s a permanent damage to nature. It’s sad to say that. It’s a great loss.

RUFF: And, she says, the longer the Kuwaiti government waits to clean up the environment, the greater those losses will be. For Living On Earth, this is Anne Marie Ruff in Kuwait.

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German Elections

TOOMEY: The possibility of war with Iraq is turning out to be an important campaign issue in the upcoming German elections. Chancellor Gerhard Shröder is against U.S. military action in Iraq. And that’s a popular position in Germany, where a majority of voters say they’re opposed to intervention. Shröder and his Social Democrat Party are trying to hold onto power. Together with the Green Party, they’ve led Germany’s ruling coalition government for the past four years. Until recently though, the Green’s popularity was slipping, and it looked like they’d be voted out in this month’s parliamentary election. But things changed when devastating floods swept through Europe this summer. Reporter Paul Hockenos joins me now from Berlin. Paul, how did the recent floods affect Germany’s political landscape?

HOCKENOS: Well, until the summer floods, the numbers of the Greens and their coalition partner, the Social Democrats, were lagging quite a bit behind that of their conservative challengers. The Greens in particular, though, received a big windfall from the disaster. For decades, the Greens hammered away at issues like global warming, like urban overdevelopment, and the need to find alternative energy sources. Now, they’re saying, and they’re saying it loudly, ‘We told you so.’ And this is something that Germans are listening to. In Germany, in contrast to the United States, there is a consensus that global warming is a man-made phenomenon, and that the extreme weather conditions that we’ve been seeing in Germany and elsewhere in the world are a result of global warming.

TOOMEY: Until the recent floods gave the party the bounce in the polls, it was likely that the Greens would have been voted out of power. How did they get to this point? Why was their position so precarious?

HOCKENOS: Well, the Greens have had a bad string of defeats at the polls over the past couple of years. Ironically, it is the Greens’ traditional voters that have been abandoning them. These are the activists who had been showing up for demonstrations year after year, who worked in grassroots campaigns, or who, for example, blocked the transport of nuclear wastes by camping out on train tracks for weeks on end. Now, these people were very unhappy with the compromises that the Greens have had to make while in power. They didn’t want to see nuclear power phased out over a 20-plus year period. They wanted to see it phased out very quickly, if not immediately. Also the fact that Germany, with the Green foreign minister, took part in the war in Kosovo. This disturbed a lot of traditional Greens. They have roots in the peace movement. There are a lot of pacifists in the Greens, although it is not strictly a pacifist party.

TOOMEY: So then, is the party going after new support, new voters from other sections of society?

HOCKENOS: The Greens have a big problem getting new voters. For one, they’re essentially a West German party, and they’ve not been able to make inroads into eastern Germany. Also, ironically, the Greens don’t make inroads with young voters. For them – and this is really quite surprising – but the Greens are considered to be very uncool. Green politicians, their image is one of beards and wool sweaters and sandals. They tend to remind young people of their parents or their social studies teachers. This is the generation.

TOOMEY: What a horrible image, yes.


TOOMEY : What do you make of the theory that the Greens would be more effective working outside of government, rather than being part of a coalition?

HOCKENOS: There are those people in the Greens who think that the Greens’ role is one of opposition. In fact, when they were formed, they were opposed to politics as such. They have since those years become part of the system. They’ve got position papers as concrete and detailed as the rest of the parties. And I think it would be very difficult for them to go back to this idea of a scourge of the system.

TOOMEY: The Greens used to say they were the anti-party party, but in the four years that they’ve been part of Germany’s ruling coalition government, what have they been able to accomplish from within the system?

HOCKENOS: Well, considering the fact that the Greens are the junior coalition partner, they’ve really led the way in a number of really important reforms. For example, the new citizenship law in Germany has allowed millions of foreigners who lived in the country for decades to finally qualify for citizenship. Also, Germany now boasts Europe’s most stringent arms exports restrictions. There’s a new environmental tax on fossil fuels, a same sex marriage law, and new consumer protection measures. Perhaps most important for the Greens, they’ve engineered a compromise with the energy industry to phase out nuclear power in Germany.

TOOMEY: In Germany, in the German political system, the Greens need to get five percent of the vote nationwide to stay in parliament. The election is going to be held on September 22nd. What’s your take on how they’re going to do on that day?

HOCKENOS: It seems almost certain that the Greens will receive over five percent of the vote, but they have to put together a majority with the Social Democrats in order to receive a mandate to form a government again. In order to get the seven or eight percent like they did in 1998, the Greens are going to have to win back their hardcore traditional supporters. At the moment, they’re trying to scare some of those voters back by posing the alternative of a return of the conservative Christian Democrats, those who held power before 1998. They’re saying it’s either us or it’s them. And despite all the compromises we’ve had to make, we’re still the Greens and we’re still your party.

TOOMEY: Paul Hockenos is a writer and reporter based in Berlin, Germany. Thanks for speaking with me today.

HOCKENOS: Thank you very much.

[MUSIC: Massive Attack, "Hymn of the Big Wheel," BLUE LINES (Virgin Records, 1991)]

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Redwood Threat

TOOMEY: And you’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth. Forestry experts at the University of California say the same pathogen that’s killed tens of thousands of California oaks, is now infecting Redwood trees and Douglas fir, the Northwest’s most important source of lumber. From San Francisco, Deirdre Kennedy reports.


KENNEDY: In a shady grove at the University of California at Berkeley, forest pathologist, Dr. Matteo Garbelotto carefully examines tiny Redwood samplings for signs of attack by an epidemic tree killer.

GARBELOTTO: The symptom shows itself as a discoloration of the needles. And eventually the whole needle becomes brown and the infection can proceed into the twig, and then the twig itself can become girdled.

KENNEDY: Once the pathogen girdles, or chokes off, the twig from its nutrients, it dies. Tens of thousands of oak trees have fallen prey to the disease, but Redwoods are virtually indestructible, and are holding their own, losing mainly needles and new sprouts. Professor Garbelotto says the pathogen is actually a type of green algae and a distant relative of the microbe that caused the Irish potato famine. It thrives in cool, moist areas, finding a perfect environment in the coastal forests of California and the Pacific Northwest. The pathogen can infect a tree in a matter of hours, says Garbelotto.

GARBELOTTO: Especially if it’s very foggy and moist and wet, it will produce spores that are shaped like footballs, but very, very tiny. And they will be picked up by strong winds, and they will be splashed, if it rains, on leaves of neighboring trees. We don’t know how far they can be splashed.

KENNEDY: That’s sending a shudder through Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. California Governor Gray Davis has asked the Bush administration for $10 million to contain the problem. And forestry officials are particularly worried about what could happen if Sudden Oak Death takes hold in one of the Northwest’s most profitable trees, the Douglas fir. Rod Nichols is a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Dave Rizzo/U.C. Davis)

NICHOLS: Oregon exports about $7 billion in wood products each year, and Douglas fir makes up the lion’s share of that. Sudden Oak Death doesn’t appear at this stage to kill Douglas fir trees, but even if it just slowed their growth, that would have a tremendous impact economically.

KENNEDY: In the hundreds of millions of dollars, says Nichols, including the cost of Oregon’s Christmas tree exports, the biggest in the nation. Researchers are testing mild pesticides on the spores, but they don’t know yet whether large scale spraying is practical. Timber officials say for the moment they’re confident that quarantines will prevent Sudden Oak Death from spreading. They say the public can help by not moving soil, wood products or host plants like bay leaves, rhododendrons or huckleberries from infected zones. For Living On Earth, I’m Deirdre Kennedy, in San Francisco.

[MUSIC: Robert Rich, "The Forest Doctor"]

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Health Note/Euro Itch

TOOMEY: Just ahead, the poetry and prose inspired by Montana’s Yaak Valley. First, this Environmental Health Note from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: Europe’s new currency is rubbing some people the wrong way. It turns out Euro dollar coins can increase allergic reactions in people with nickel sensitivities. That’s according to researchers in Zurich, Switzerland who noted something strange in the months after the Euro was introduced. More people suffering from nickel sensitivity were showing up in allergy clinics. The Euro coins contain the same amount of nickel as other coins, such as the Swiss Franc. But the Swiss scientists did a few experiments and found that the Euro releases more nickel when exposed to human sweat because it contains two different nickel alloys, or mixtures of metals. And when people handle the coins, their sweat conducts a current between the two metal mixtures, sort of like a battery. This, in turn, corrodes the nickel, so more of it is released in a way that can affect the allergy sufferers.

Swiss researchers say there is no epidemic of sensitivity to the new Euro. But their findings may lead future coin makers to design coins with only one alloy, instead of two. That’s this week’s Health Note, I’m Cynthia Graber.


TOOMEY: And you’re listening to Living On Earth.

[MUSIC: Modern Quartet & Cibelle, "Tantos Desejos," SUBA/TRBUTO (Six Degrees Records, 2002)]

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The Roadless Yaak

TOOMEY: It’s Living On Earth. I’m Diane Toomey. In the northwestern corner of Montana sits a million-acre forest called the Yaak Valley. The Yaak is part of the Kootenai National Forest and has been heavily logged for decades. But there are 15 pockets of land in the Yaak that so far have escaped the chainsaw.

BASS: You can feel it immediately, entering such lands, such small remaining gardens. So great is the power in mystery, indeed the health that emanates from these last roadless cores, that you can feel the difference even standing at the edge of one of these last gardens.

Upper Yaak (near Canada)
(Photo: Rick Bass)

TOOMEY: Writer Rick Bass lives in the Yaak Valley and he’s waging a campaign to have Congress declare those regions "wilderness," a legal status that would keep those pockets of the Yaak roadless and prevent logging there. As part of that effort, he’s asked dozens of authors, scientists and Yaak Valley residents to write about their experiences in the Yaak. The result is a collection of essays and poems called "The Roadless Yaak." You’ll hear a few of these authors read a few of part of their essays in just a moment. But first, Rick Bass joins me from the studios of KUFM in Missoula, Montana. Welcome to Living on Earth.

BASS: Thanks for having me in.

TOOMEY: Give us a tour for those of us who have never been to the Yaak, and I’m sure that is many of us, give us a tour of the Yaak Valley. What would we see?

BASS: Sure. Well, it’s up against the British Columbia border and the Idaho border, and that’s one of the things that makes it so biologically wild. It’s this Pacific Northwest weather system in a Northern Rockies landscape. If you were to head north up off the Kootenai River, you’d start seeing a lot of clear cuts, and then you’d see some big trees, and then more clear cuts, then a lot of small trees where we’ve logged hard in the past. You’d see a real mixed assemblage of management and no management. And you’d see big, sweeping fronds of cedars, you’d see bright foliage, you’d see conifers, you’d see wildflowers. Every bend in the road would bring something different. It would remind you very much of New England, real soft, low hills. Again, being at such low elevation, there’s not a lot of scenic vistas. It’s foggy, rainy country.

TOOMEY: What kind of wildlife would I see if I went to the Yaak? Would I come across any charismatic megafauna?

BASS: That’s a good question. If you come up there, you’re not going to see the charismatic megafauna, because there’s so few of them. We’ve got five or six wolves left in a million acres. We’ve got 10 or 12 grizzlies left in a million acres, and nobody ever sees the grizzlies. I mean, you hardly ever see a track if you hike all summer long, all fall long. You may see one track if you’re lucky. We’ve got a handful of lynx and handful of wolverine. It’s like a reverse Noah’s Ark. We’re down to single or double-digit populations of this incredibly long list of threatened and endangered and sensitive species.

[MUSIC: Rick Rizzo & Tara Key, "Sinfo," ALL TOMORROW’S PARTIES (ATPR, 2001)]

RAY: Once at a campsite in the upper Yaak, a woman with long gray hair and wild eyes roared up in a pickup nearly as old as she was. She cut the motor and stalked over to where I sat in the grass talking with a group of college students who were camping beside a little creek. "A bear lives up here," she said, accusingly glaring. "She’s been here for years. You have to be careful with your food; lock it up at night. If the bear becomes a nuisance, they’ll take her away, and there’s nowhere else for her to go."

"We’re being careful," we said truthfully, placating, but the woman was severe.

"If you leave food out, that’s not the bears’ fault," she said. "This is the end of the road for her. There’s nowhere else to go."

Janisse Ray, Yaak Valley, June 1997.

TOOMEY: You’ve got about three dozen writers who contributed to this collection. There’s everyone from the former Chief of the Forest Service, Mike Dombeck, to nature writer, Terry Tempest Williams, to even one of the local fishing guides. What was the process like to get all of these people to contribute?

BASS: A lot of them are our friends, and they’ve been hearing me bellyache about the Yaak for so long, maybe they thought if they came up here and did something, I’d stop asking for help. I don’t know. But it was pleasant. It was just an excuse to go into the backcountry with friends, one at a time. Something that surprised me was how many times people referenced healing in their personal lives and a need for emotional healing, or sometimes physical healing and how that need incorporated itself into their visit. That was something I had not expected, but it was a very recurring theme.

TOOMEY: You describe, as you put it, 15 small remaining gardens is the word you used in the Yaak. Tell me about them.

BASS: Right. These last 15 little roadless areas. That’s the only land we have left in the Yaak that is still eligible for designation in the National Wilderness System. We don’t have any lands in the National Wilderness System in the Yaak, amazingly, despite this incredible biological wildness. If we lose the Yaak’s wildness, if we lose those 15 little gardens, we lose the bridge between the United States and Canada ecologically, or we lose a major part of the bridge.

TOOMEY: In this collection, there is a number of references to something called the Dirty Shame Saloon. And I want you to tell me about the Dirty Shame Saloon, Rick. What’s it like? How did it get its name?

BASS: You know, thank you for asking that question. I hate the sound of my voice when I get wound up and panicked about the future of those roadless areas. And the Dirty Shame is the cultural center, a really watering hole, another rank, rough place, check your pistols at the door, kind of thing. And dogs, and kids, and old folks have wandered around in there drinking beer or lemonade respectively. And it’s got music on Friday nights. It’s really the only island of humanity in a very wild landscape.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder, "Feelin’ Bad Blues" MUSIC BY RY COODER (Warner Bros., 1995)]

TOM FRANKLIN: I parked the Chrysler beside a blue Nissan pickup, the only vehicle there. Inside the saloon, a man named Dick McGary was reading a Missoula newspaper. Missoula, I thought, sitting at the bar, remembering how far south that city was from here. Ken had uncased his guitar and was plucking it, while I studied the dollar bills stapled to the walls, the names of people everywhere. We were the only customers at the time and, as it turned out, the only customers that night.

McGary set Bud Lights in front of us. "Where are you guys from?" I told him. He raised his eyebrows. "You drove here? From southern Alabama?" We both nodded. "Jesus, why?" Ken paused in his playing, and I tried to tell how I thought I needed some place like a wild valley to give me back what I couldn’t put into words. I didn’t explain myself very clearly, I guess.

McGary grunted and said other tourists came up here too, too damn many. That we weren’t the first. "Nobody from as low as you though," he said. I got quiet then, feeling diminished, as McGary told us about the valley, its tiny population, the severe winters, what to do if we hiked and came across a grizzly, how to avert our eyes, slump our shoulders, and make ourselves non-threatening. But it was the opposite, he said, for a mountain lion. For one of those, you wave your arms and charge it.

Outside, the rain was picking up, spattering the roof. The crack beneath the door flickering with lighting. Low rumble of thunder rolling in from the mountains.

Tom Franklin, Yaak Valley, June 1990.

TOOMEY: Tell me about your neighbors?

BASS: Well, you won’t see, they’re part of the charismatic megafauna, and you won’t see them either. They live way back in the woods. And we’ve all moved up there to kind of check out of the main flow of the times. It’s the full gamut, as can be expected. There are people who hate the government and don’t want any kind of protection. And there’s people who hate corporations and say ‘No, we’ve got to have the government protect everything we do, everything that’s special and dear to us.’ And then there’s folks in the middle, and there’s folks who like to fight, and there’s folks who don’t like to fight. It’s a perfect cross representation of the country.

[MUSIC: Tracy Scott Silverman, "Prelude 2," TRIP TO THE SUN (Windham Hill, 1999)]

SCOTT DAILY: Driving to our cabin, we stop at the meadow. The rain has quit, and suddenly the sky is only mottled with clouds. Shining our headlights across the meadow, we see water from the river seeping over the bank into the growing pond. Ducks startled by our intrusion make their way to its safety. We turn off the headlights and shut down the engine. A loon calls as it wings its way through air above the river.

In the distance, we can hear the river gurgle as it rises slowly and powerfully, coursing toward the Kootenai, then the Columbia, and then to the sea. Shortly after we were sitting in our own cabin, our fire, like 50 or so others in the valley, is crackling and popping in the stove. Candlelight dances in the log walls, and Sammy perks her head up and lets out a muffled bark. Sherrie, my wife, found bear scat in the road yesterday while taking a walk, and we talk about how we hope our composting bin is safe now that spring is creeping in.

We borrowed a movie from a friend earlier in the day, but decided against threatening the night with a roaring generator. The night is too peaceful for such commotion. From our cabin we cannot hear the rustle of the river, or the sound of water rising over the bank to flood the land.

Instead our conversation drifts like smoke into the fog, talking first about our plans for the garden and finishing the cabin, and then moves at its own rhythm to our families in Pennsylvania, and how hard it can be at times, especially at their age, and how sometimes we wish we can be there for them, as they have been for us.

The rain starts again, and it patters on the tin roof, and the gas lantern hisses into the night, eventually growing dim. Sammy lay on the floor twitching, perhaps dreaming of running off into the rain and trees in pursuit of something untamed.

Scott Daily, Yaak Valley, Montana, July 2001.

TOOMEY: When I first got this book, before I read a word of it, I thumbed through it, and I looked and I looked, in vain, for a map. There is no map in this book, Rick, why is that?

BASS: It’s a good question. It’s not a place that I think of as a tourist destination. It’s public land. Anybody’s welcome to come up and check it out. But the point that I wanted to make is that it’s a biological wilderness and not really a recreational wilderness. There’s not a lot of scenic vistas. There’s a lot of clear cuts, a lot of fog and rain and mosquitoes, and, quite frankly, unsociable people, myself included, living up there. I wanted the reader to love the place on its own terms, not for what it has to give the reader. It’s given and given and given. More timber’s come out of this valley than any other valley in the state of Montana for the last 50 years, and it’s time for the public to give back to the Yaak, rather than looking through it as the lens of ‘What does it have to offer me?’

Aerial view of clearcuts & fragmentation in the Kootenai National Forest. Yaak Valley, Montana.
(Photo: © 2001 Randy Beacham)


LYNN SAINSBURY: We were walking up a ridge that bordered the Yaak River when I saw the larch tree. It had a blackened cat-face, a fire scar cavity beginning at ground level and ascending several feet up the trunk. A sort of oval, wavy shaped frill set the black interior apart from unscorched bark. There seemed to be something missing, gone from this black oval space. It was as if the rim were outlining a palpable absence.

As I turned to go, I realized what the space cried out for was Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas. In a miraculous appearance, she made a promise to a Mexican peasant in 1531 that she would listen to lamentations of the poor and remedy their miseries, afflictions and sorrows. I was reminded of a time while hitching a short distance in Baja when my friend and I were picked up by a Mexican family on a mission. Three generations had piled in a beat-up, old, black Ford pickup, and set off as custodians for the various shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As each small shrine appeared, the patriarch driving would suddenly swerve off the road, and the family would tumble from the truck. They removed the worn out candles and scraped off the built up wax, arranged the shiny tokens left by other wayfarers, and swept out the little enclosures. No one had left offerings in the cat-face of the larch, not a penny or a candle or a scrap of food. Why should they? But then again, why not? Why not covet a miraculous sylvan lady who looks out for unfallen trees, or gives eternal hope to the stumps? The big trees have many reasons to hope for a savior.

Lynn Sainsbury, Yaak Valley, March 2001.


TOOMEY: Lynn Sainsbury, what was your reaction when you were asked to contribute to this collection?

SAINSBURY: Well, at first, when he asked me to contribute to the collection, I said "Well, gee, I don’t know Rick, I don’t know the Yaak." And he said "Well, come up, come up." And so, I did. And after leaving I sat down to write it, and it kept coming back home. The essay would turn from the Yaak to where I live now. So what I realized is that what I was writing about were the trees, how the trees have been pretty much slaughtered all around where I live; it’s industrial forestland. And how in the Yaak there’s not that. There’s still places that there are a lot of trees. And it’s also public land. So citizens have input. We can say, "Hey, we don’t want these areas cut or entered or whatever it is," and you can’t do that on private lands.

TOOMEY: Rick Bass, how did the Yaak get its name?

BASS: It’s a Kootenai Indian word. It means arrow. The Yaak comes so straight down out of the mountains that it’s in the shape of an arrow, and it intersects the curve of the Kootenai River, which is shaped like a bow. That’s one of the great places about this landscape. There’s metaphor everywhere you look. And one of the reasons I think there’s so much metaphor and so much richness is that nothing has gone extinct there yet. We’ve still got everything that was ever there; it’s just down to the very bitter end. But it’s all still there. And there are very few places, if any, left in this country about which you can say that.

TOOMEY: Rick Bass is a writer who lives in the Yaak Valley in Northwestern Montana. He’s edited a collection of essays called "The Roadless Yaak: Reflections and Observations About One of Our Last Great Wild Places." Rick, thanks for talking with me today.

BASS: Thank you. Thanks for listening.

TOOMEY: To hear more readings from "The Roadless Yaak," as well as interviews with some of the authors, go to our web page at loe.org.


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TOOMEY: And for this week, that’s Living On Earth. Next week, school’s back in session, and so are some potential hidden dangers. Some storage closets and science labs are filled with hazardous wastes and toxic chemicals.

BROCK: We found enough to bring the bomb squad down to 16 different schools on the Cape. Some of the chemicals we pulled out were 80, 100 years old. Things don’t last forever, you know.

TOOMEY: Chemical Management 101, coming to a school near you. Next time on Living On Earth. We leave you this week with a little monkey business. Douglas Quin recorded and then condensed a day in the life of a group of Wooly Spider Monkeys who live near the Caratinga Biological Station in the Atlantic forest of Brazil.


TOOMEY: Living on Earth is produced by The World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at www.loe.org. Our staff includes Maggie Villiger, Jennifer Chu, Jessica Penney, and Al Avery, along with Julie O’Neill, Susan Shepherd and Carly Ferguson. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. We had help this week from Andrew Strickler and Nicole Giese. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar. Our Technical Director is Chris Engles. Ingrid Lobet heads our Western Bureau. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. Chris Ballman is the senior producer, and Steve Curwood is the executive producer of Living On Earth. I’m Diane Toomey. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER 1: Funding for Living on Earth comes from The World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for coverage of Western issues, the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, supporting the Living On Earth Network, Living On Earth’s expanded internet service, the Educational Foundation of America for coverage of energy and climate change, the Ford Foundation for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues, the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity, www.wajones.org, the Oak Foundation, supporting coverage of marine issues, and the Town Creek Foundation.

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