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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

May 16, 2003

Air Date: May 16, 2003

FULL SHOW

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SEGMENTS

Eye on the Nature Conservancy

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The Nature Conservancy recently suspended a number of its activities following a three-day series about the organization published in the Washington Post. Host Steve Curwood speaks to Post reporter Joe Stephens about the investigation. (09:00)

Teamsters and Turtles Undone? / Mark Hertsgaard

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Commentator Mark Hertsgaard notes the formation of an alliance between the Teamsters Union and a Republican environmental organization, thereby ending the flirtation of the union with green groups on the left. (03:20)

Almanac/Watching Fish

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This week, we have facts about the first modern public aquarium. Back in 1853, the Marine and Fresh Water Vivarium opened its doors in London and the underwater world it displayed behind glass captured its visitors' imaginations. (01:30)

Counting Appeals / Sadie Babitz

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After last summer's wildfires, some observers blamed environmental groups for flooding the Forest Service with appeals of logging operations said to improve forest health. But researchers say it turns out environmental groups don't file the majority of appeals, and another report from the federal government’s General Accounting Office says most forest thinning-projects were never appealed in the first place. Sadie Babitz of Arizona Public Radio reports. (05:30)

Cultivating Weeds

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Gardeners all across the country are coddling invasive plant species in their yards. Science News Science Editor Janet Raloff talks with host Steve Curwood about why escapees from home gardens are a problem for wild lands. (05:30)

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Modern Thoreau / Tom Montgomery-Fate

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Although Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” was written more than one hundred years ago, commentator Tom Montgomery-Fate finds that many of its ideas are relevant today. (03:00)

Emerging Science Note/GM Experiments / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new technique to prevent genetically-modified plants from spreading their genes into the environment. (01:15)

Oregon Land Use, Thirty Years On / Robin White

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Thirty years ago, Oregon developed the nation's first blueprint for controlled growth. It was a heated public dialogue, the talk of the state for years. Reporter Robin White looks back at those heady days and at why an increasing number of Oregonians are now dissatisfied with their plan. (10:30)

Mail Order Chickens / Sy Montgomery

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The arrival of spring means different things to different people. For commentator Sy Montgomery, it means a fresh batch of baby chicks in the mail. (05:15)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Joe Stephens, Janet RaloffREPORTERS: Sadie Babits, Robin WhiteCOMMENTARIES: Mark Hertsgaard, Tom Montgomery-Fate, Sy MontgomeryNOTES: Cynthia Graber

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Oregon has more people that it had a generation ago, but thanks to strict statewide zoning rules, it's kept out many strip malls and cul-de-sacs.

BERNSTEIN: It doesn't look all that different than it did 25 years ago when I used to live here. And the reason why this town hasn't become swallowed up in a suburban sprawl is because of the Urban Growth Boundary.

CURWOOD: The Oregon approach creates lots of green space. But for many there, building a dream home has become a nightmare.

COGAN: It's become out of reach for a lot of people. And we planners are at fault for that.

CURWOOD: And for one winter-weary northerner, hope finally arrives in the mail.

[TELEPHONE RING]

ANN: Hi, Sy?.

SY: Yes.

ANN: It's Ann at the post office. We've got a box of peeping chickens.

SY: Great, I'll be right down.

CURWOOD: The promise of spring and more, coming up on Living on Earth, right after this.

[NPR NEWSCAST]

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and HeritageAfrica.com.

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Eye on the Nature Conservancy

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. A series of investigative reports in The Washington Post has prompted the nation's most affluent conservation organization, The Nature Conservancy, to suspend a number of its activities pending an internal review. These activities include tax-sheltered land deals with past and present members of the Conservancy's governing boards.

Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, have called for a probe of these transactions. A Post investigative team also detailed The Conservancy's ties to major corporations with poor environmental records. The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to protect millions of acres of sensitive habitat in the U.S. and abroad. But Joe Stephens of The Washington Post says something went wrong when the Conservancy went drilling for oil in Texas.

STEPHENS: Well, in Texas City, Texas, the Conservancy a number of years ago was given a plot of land by Mobile Oil that contained the last native breeding ground of a very rare form of speckled grouse called the Atwater's Prairie Chicken. And the Atwater’s Prairie Chicken is very close to extinction. The Conservancy calls it the most endangered bird in North America.

The Conservancy took over this plot, and a couple of years after they took it over, they announced that they were going to drill for oil and gas directly under the speckled grouse's habitat, which they did. And they held that up as a model of compatible development, the way you could make money off of drilling for oil--they had made millions off of selling natural gas they had extracted--as well as nurse along an endangered species.

CURWOOD: Did that work?

STEPHENS: Well, that's questionable. We found the story was a little more complex than the Conservancy had said publicly in the past. We found that there was a lawsuit that The Nature Conservancy got entangled in, on the business side, where another national charity and some other mineral rights owners had charged that The Conservancy had, in essence, stolen their oil-- that's their word, stolen--by drilling sideways into a pocket of gas which went across a property line. They filed suit. That suit was eventually settled for a payment of $10 million paid by The Conservancy, the drilling partners, and their insurance company.

Now, on the other side, on the conservation side, we found that there were indications that the birds hadn't fared so well during the drilling operation. In fact, we came across a biological opinion written by The Conservancy's Texas State science director that said that the drilling operation and the laying of a pipeline had led to a "higher probability of death" among the Atwater's Prairie Chickens. And, in fact, the number of Prairie Chickens has declined steadily since the Conservancy started drilling. There are now roughly 16 Atwater’s Prairie Chickens left on the preserve today.

CURWOOD: The Nature Conservancy has frozen what they call "conservation buyer transactions." They've frozen this for now in response to The Washington Post articles. What are these transactions?

STEPHENS: Well, they take a number of forms. What we wrote about in our series were transactions where The Conservancy would buy land, attach an easement restricting some kinds of development, and then resell it to so-called conservation buyers. And what we found is, in many instances, these buyers were current and former state trustees for The Conservancy. And they often would get large discounts on the purchases.

For example, we looked at one transaction which took place on Shelter Island, New York. It's near the Hamptons. where The Conservancy bought ten acres which was bordering their Mashomack Preserve. And they bought the ten acres for $2.1 million. They then added some development restrictions to the deed, and seven weeks later resold that land to one of its former local trustees for $500,000.

The buyer then turned around, and over some period of time, made $1.6 million in charitable contributions to The Conservancy. Well, if you do the math, that adds up to making the Conservancy hold $2.1 million in total. This has an advantage for the buyer, too, in that he could write that contribution off on his federal income taxes and realize some very substantial savings in income tax.

CURWOOD: Now, some would dispute your use of the word "discount," saying that if the development rights or other restrictions were placed on the land, in fact it would be worth less, and that therefore, there's a fair exchange given the value of the property.

STEPHENS: Yes. That's kind of the idea behind conservation easements. And this is since what we found, is The Conservancy would write the easements specifically tailored to the buyer's needs. And--actually I might read to you specifically--the Shelter Island land did allow the buyer to potentially build a home on the site. And the easement did restrict some commercial uses. But here's a list taken directly from the easement of what could be done on the property.

You can construct a single-family house of unrestricted size, garages, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a home office, a guest cottage, and a writer's cabin. The easement allows relocation of an access road, installation of septic facilities, construction of foot trails and related excavating, filling and bulldozing, and, on a particular portion of the property, it authorizes tree cutting, hillside terracing, gardening and lawn planting, all with the idea of providing what are called “enjoyment of views.” And it specifically does not permit public access.

The buyer told me that given those restrictions, it didn't change his potential use of the property at all in the future. He just wanted a home.

CURWOOD: Some environmental activists accuse The Nature Conservancy of greenwashing for corporations that have records of pollution or other problems with environmental stewardship. What were you able to find?

STEPHENS: Well, we found that their Board does include executives and directors from major corporations, including some with significant environmental issues. We also found the same thing in what The Conservancy calls it's International Leadership Council. This is an advisory group where corporations can make a large contribution to The Conservancy and get a seat on this council.

And we found, for example, sitting on these boards were senior executives from American Electric Power, which is the nation's largest power generator. It runs many power plants. And has been called by some other environmental groups the largest source of air pollution in the U.S. Also, the chairman of GM sits on The Conservancy's Board. The Conservancy also has close ties to some paper products companies, such as Georgia Pacific, and some oil companies, such as BP, Amoco, and Exxon-Mobile. And that's not to suggest that there's anything wrong with that. But we did think it was interesting in that these companies--not because they're necessarily dirtier than their competitors, but just because they're large companies--they're involved to a great degree in environmental issues because of the regulatory aspects of that. And we thought it was interesting to see how they can reconcile their fiduciary responsibility to the corporations, and their responsibilities as board members of The Conservancy.

CURWOOD: The Nature Conservancy says that your articles, well, they really weren't fair in terms of the vast amount of land that they've protected around the globe. And that the problems that you highlight are really very small in comparison to their entire body of work. How do you respond to that?

STEPHENS: Well, we think the articles were fair. We took some pains to point out the projects that The Conservancy is proud of. We included a full page of graphics illustrating the breadth of their work and how it extends around the globe. We think we've put everything in the proper context. But we chose to highlight projects that seemed novel, interesting and represented trends for the future. And we kind of dug down into a handful of those projects, and our series is what resulted. We don't know what occurred in the projects we did not look at in great depth.

CURWOOD: Joe Stephens co-wrote a three-day series of front page articles for The Washington Post on The Nature Conservancy. Thanks for speaking with us.

STEPHENS: Thanks for having me.

[MUSIC: Various Artists - Kwaito Hits - EMI (2001)]

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Teamsters and Turtles Undone?

CURWOOD: One of the enduring symbols of the 1999 anti-globalization protest in Seattle has come undone. The Teamsters and Turtles have split. The Teamsters, it seems have found someone new. As commentator Mark Hertsgaard explains, the union has been successfully courted by handsome Republicans in green clothing.

HERTSGAARD: When it comes to the environment, this is not your father's Republican party, or so Frank Luntz would have you believe. Mr. Luntz is a top GOP strategist. His specialty is crafting messages that sell a candidate or ideology to voters. And Luntz has concluded that Republicans have a problem with voters on the environment. In a memo leaked to the New York Times, he called the environment, "the single biggest vulnerability for the Republicans, and especially for George Bush." It's not hard to see why. The environment is now a mom and apple pie issue in America.

According to a Gallup poll released in April, 61 percent of Americans say they are either active participants in or sympathizers with the environmental movement. Eighty percent favor stricter emissions standards for business. Only seven percent endorse the Bush-Cheney view that government is regulating too much. Frank Luntz doesn't want Republicans to change their environmental policies, just how they talk about them. He advises them to use words like, common sense, sound science, and balance. Tell voters you love national parks. Tell them you favor environmental protection, but think local people, not Washington bureaucrats, should be in charge.

Luntz's message seems to be getting through. The White House included a pitch for hydrogen fueled cars in this year's State of the Union Address. And just in time for Earth Day came the birth of a new environmental alliance, between a Republican advocacy group and one of the nation's largest labor unions. The Labor Environment Alliance brings together the International Brotherhood of Teamsters with a council of Republicans for environmental advocacy. It promises to lobby for "responsible environmentalism that walks hand-in-hand with job creation." The Alliance advocates more highway construction, brownfield redevelopment, and increased domestic energy production. It applauds the Bush-Cheney energy plan, with its emphasis on nuclear power and fossil fuel production, including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other federal lands to oil and gas drilling.

As the 2004 campaign kicks off, Republicans need political cover against the public perception that they're in bed with corporate polluters. So, expect Republican candidates to proclaim their love of the great outdoors, and promise to preserve and protect it. They'll say they support a balance between the environment and the economy, and they'll thank the Labor Environment Alliance for showing that good jobs and clean air go together. In short, Republicans will show they understand that today, any politician who sounds indifferent to the environment invites defeat on Election Day.

But to talk the talk on the environment is one thing. Before casting their votes, Americans should demand that Republicans and all political candidates walk the walk, as well.

CURWOOD: Commentator Mark Hertsgaard is the author of “The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World.”

CURWOOD: Coming up, foreign enemies in our backyards masquerading as beautiful plants. You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Ry Cooder “Ganges Delta Blues” A Meeting by the River - Water Lilly (1993)]

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Almanac/Watching Fish

CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: The Beatles “Octopus’s Garden” Abbey Road Capitol (1969)]

CURWOOD: Fork over a fin to focus on a flounder? That's just what people started doing 150 years ago this week with the opening of the world's first aquarium. Called The Marine and Freshwater Vivarium, it was meant to be a research facility for scientists in London. Tickets were sold only to cover expenses. But the aquarium proved to be a popular attraction, and it quickly spawned imitators across Europe and the U.S. Early attempts at indoor fish tanks were often deadly for oxygen-starved fish, but Victorian scientists learned to replenish the oxygen with underwater plants.

The invention of plate glass in the late 18th century helped make fish more visible to spectators. Most of the fish at the London Aquarium were caught in nearby rivers and ponds. When more colorful, tropical fish came a decade later, they presented new challenges. Primitive tank heaters would sometimes cook the fish. Today's modern aquaria use flowing water and species diversity to provide healthier habitats for their denizens. And there's more than fin fish to see.

On the sites these days are an amazing kelp forest at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the friendly Beluga whales at the Vancouver Aquarium, and a stunning exhibit of jellyfish at the Chattanooga Aquarium. And if you go, you'll be among the 35 million people in the U.S. who visit aquaria each year.

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

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Counting Appeals

CURWOOD: After last summer's devastating wildfires in the West, many politicians blamed conservation groups for stalling beneficial tree thinning by filing mountains of appeals. But a new report from the Congressional General Accounting Office challenges that rhetoric. The GAO says three quarters of all forest thinning projects were never appealed, and of those that were, the majority were back on track within 90 days. Still another study says environmental groups aren’t responsible for many of the appeals filed on a variety of forest service projects. Researchers at the University of Northern Arizona have created a database of forest service administrative appeals, the first of its kind. Arizona Public Radio’s Sadie Babits reports their work comes just as Congress moves to prevent future fires.

BABITS: In the forest just outside Flagstaff, Arizona, four men are busy cutting trees, and their chainsaws ring through the pines. For the next few months, these men will be out here every day cutting more than 146,000 trees in the overgrown forest. This is a timber sale, and it's part of the Coconino National Forest's latest efforts to reduce the threat of wildfire by removing smaller trees.

Arizona Congressman Rick Renzi's district includes hundreds of thousands of acres burned in last summer's Arizona wildfires. He says this tree thinning project in the Coconino Forest wasn't appealed but many other projects in Arizona and across the West have been delayed.

RENZI: The 37-cent stamp is all you need to do to file an appeal, and the whole process comes to a halt. It's judicial frustration and constraint, where you put the hands of the decision in one judge or maybe a three-judge panel. Where it's more, I believe, a public policy decision particularly for the people of that region to decide.

BABITS: The national debate over appeals really took off last summer during the Rodeo-Chediski fire, which burned nearly 500,000 acres in Eastern Arizona, and it continues in Congress. Renzi and two other Arizona congressmen recently tried to change the appeals process to make it easier to thin trees in burned areas. But the idea that conservation groups are abusing the appeals process may be a myth. Researchers at Northern Arizona University have analyzed 3,600 Forest Service administrative appeals, creating a database, the first of its kind. Researcher Hannah Cortner says the data shows environmental groups aren't filing most of the appeals.

CORTNER: The first thing that jumped out at me was the high number of individuals who filed administrative appeals. And we found that individuals comprised the largest component. And of those individuals that filed, a very high significant did not file in conjunction with another organization.

BABITS: Fellow researcher Jacqueline Vaughn also says, contrary to what politicians and press reports have said, the number of appeals has not increased since 1997. And, she says, the subject of appeals varies more than what's portrayed in the media.

VAUGHN: Some of the appeals, for example, relate to trail maintenance or road closures. Others deal with the recreational use of forests for things like backpacking trips or skiing. Some of them have to do with the grazing allotments and mining. So there's a whole range of activities that are potentially appeal-able that are not strictly forest-related.

BABITS: Environmental groups say the data proves their contention they are not to blame for the poor health of the country's forest. But whatever the source of the appeals, their impact is still felt, according to Mark Ray who oversees the Forest Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ray says the entire decision-making process--from the project idea to actually thinning and burning, takes too long--which is why the Bush administration has proposed a plan to exempt high priority fire work from extensive environmental review and from administrative appeals.

RAY: So, what we're proposing is that in order to file an appeal on one of our decisions in the future, that you do have to make a reasonable, good faith effort to participate during the public comment period, and express your concerns so that the agency has a change to rectify them if they believe they're valid.

BABITS: But whether appeals are the real reason behind the delay of thinning projects remains a question of intense debate. According to Senator Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat from New Mexico, a new GAO report shows other factors, like a shortage of money and staff, are just as significant.

BINGAMAN: The challenges have not been a major impediment to them going ahead. But I think this report makes the case pretty strongly that it's the lack of resources that is, by far, the larger part of the problem.

BABITS: Other lawmakers say the GAO data is more complicated. They point out that more than half of all thinning projects are exempted from appeals altogether. Of the projects that are appeal-able, almost 60 percent are appealed. That's a very different way of looking at the numbers, according to a Republican sponsor of the administration's plan to reform the appeals process. As Congress continues to debate the wildfire legislation, it's likely both sides will continuing sparring over the interpretation of the data. Whatever conclusions they reach, there are almost 190 million acres of national forest still in need of fire treatment, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. And the wildfire season is already underway in some parts of the West.

For Living on Earth, I'm Sadie Babits, in Flagstaff.

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Cultivating Weeds

CURWOOD: No one wants to aid and abet an invading army, but across the nation, American gardeners are unwittingly harboring, even coddling, horticultural terrorists in their own backyards. Gardeners frequently choose inappropriate plants for their region and their yard's growing conditions without realizing they could be promoting the spread of invasive species. Janet Raloff details the dilemma of cultivating weeds in Science News. Hi, Janet.

RALOFF: Hello, Steve.

CURWOOD: I was shocked to find out that I'm in trouble when I grow Bachelor Buttons.

RALOFF: I was shocked to find out that I'm in trouble with most of the plants I purchased last year.

CURWOOD: Why does it matter what happens along one family's sidewalk, in one family's garden, for instance?

RALOFF: The real problem is when these things spread into areas where there are no people around to weed them out. We're talking about wildlands like National Parks or wetlands or prairies or deserts. And when these plants take over there, they can ride roughshod over the local native plants, either killing them, or taking the water that they had ordinarily depended upon, or shading them to such an extent that they die from lack of light. It's become a real problem.

For example, locally at Rock Creek Park, which is a small National Park in Washington, D.C. It now has 238 invasive species, and most of these are plants that have escaped from local gardens in Washington, D.C. Right now the National Park Service spends close to a quarter million dollars a year for this very small park, just trying to manage invasive species. It can't even begin to deal with the problem nationally.

CURWOOD: Well, let's talk about some of these chlorophyll-filled criminal types. Who are the really bad boys of this list?

RALOFF: Well, you'd like it if there was like a ten most wanted list. But in fact, the ten most wanted list is going to be different for New England, where you are, than for the mid-Atlantic states where I am, or from the mid-West where I grew up, or from California drylands. There are several plants that are probably a problem for everybody. Norway Maple and Tree of Heaven are good examples. But a lot of these things are rather site-specific, and we just have to be diligent and watch how plants are behaving in our own particular yards.

CURWOOD: Give me a couple of other examples, Janet, of some plants that we can find for sale in nurseries and are flourishing in backyard gardens that are also on this invasive species list.

RALOFF: Well, some of the more popular ones in the local nurseries around here are like Burning Bush, which is also known as Winged Euonymus. There's also the Butterfly Bush. There's the English Holly, European Privet, Ornamental Figs, Japanese Honeysuckle, Multiflora Rose, Norway Maple. In the mid-West, English Ivy is a big problem, so is the European Buckthorn. It's a real problem in the prairies there, which are having a hard time surviving anyway.

In the Southwest you have some grasses that are going into deserts, and it's causing fire hazards where there had never been one before, and it's killing off cacti. In other areas, you've got sunflowers that were from--they initially evolved, anyway, in the plain states--and now they've crossed with other sunflowers in Texas and Oklahoma and become incredibly invasive.

CURWOOD: So, what are the warning signs that your garden might be home to invasive species?

RALOFF: One sign is that you get plants popping up that you didn't, in fact, plant. Or you may find that some of your plants are producing more seeds than usual, a lot more seeds than usual.

CURWOOD: Now, what about the Bachelor Button? One of the reasons that I like it is that, well, let's face it, it's really easy to grow.

RALOFF: Well, that's one of the warning signs, too, of plants that can behave badly. From an invasive species point of view, horticulturists would prefer that we put plants in our yards that really take a bit of coddling, so that they won't start spreading willy-nilly on their own if they get released into the wild. In fact, that's exactly the opposite of what a gardener wants. We want a plant that takes no maintenance and grows easily on its own. So, you run into that conundrum.

CURWOOD: What can gardeners do?

RALOFF: The first thing is become aware that we potentially can be part of the problem. I think then, after that, you have to sort of lower your expectations and realize that you probably can't have just any plant because it's pretty and you can afford it. You have to be responsible. If you don't know what plants are invasive in your area, it pays to buy from experienced nurseries. You also have to start scouting your yard periodically for invaders from somebody else's yard, and make sure that you evict these bullies as soon as you can. And then we just have to stay diligent because there is no one-stop shopping to find a list of all the invasive species in your area or anywhere. You have to make the effort to find out, you know, sort of stay on top of that list, but realize it will never be up-to-date. Certain plants will continue to become invasive this year and take years to make it onto the list.

CURWOOD: Janet Raloff is senior editor at Science News. Thanks for filling me in on your article, Janet.

RALOFF: My pleasure, Steve.

[MUSIC: Various Artists - Kwaito Hits - EMI (2001)]

Related links:
- Janet Raloff’s article in Science News
- Additional info on invasives in yards and gardens

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CURWOOD: One of the most popular tourist destinations in South Africa these days is a prison. And when a guide suggested to our group that it might be a cool place to go, we were curious. So we went down to the waterfront of Cape Town, and out to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela, the father of modern South Africa, was held for many of his 26 years of detention by the apartheid government. Our guide, a former political prisoner, showed us the tiny cell that had held Nelson Mandela. He told us that for many years, prisoners had slept on the concrete floors. He spoke of the brutal torture by the guards during his 16-year imprisonment. So, we asked, what did you do when the African National Congress came to power? You were free and these guards were now at your mercy. He paused and then said, "We talked a lot about it. We had suffered a lot. But we decided to do nothing.”

Today, former political prisoners and their former guards live side-by-side on Robben Island, part of the new South Africa that is dedicated to reconciliation, at a time when much of the world is divided. Thanks to Heritage Africa, you too can travel to South Africa and see peace and reconciliation at work. Living on Earth is giving away a 15-day trip for two on the ultimate African safari, with visits to several of the continent's most spectacular wildlife enclaves, such as Kruger and the Serengeti. Please go to our website, livingonearth.org, for more details about how to win this 15-day trip to see some of Africa's most spectacular sites. That's livingonearth.org.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Town Creek Foundation, and the Wellborn Ecology Fund. Support also comes from NPR member stations, and the Noyce Foundation, dedicated to improving math and science instruction from kindergarten through Grade 12. And Bob Williams and Meg Caldwell, honoring NPR's coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR President's Council.

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Modern Thoreau

CURWOOD: “Walden,” by Henry David Thoreau, is considered one of the most important pieces of 19th century American literature. And it remains immensely popular, even in today's fast paced society. Commentator Tom-Montgomery Fate explains why this might be.

MONTGOMERY-FATE: This month, I've been re-reading Thoreau's journal, “Walden.” How can a book written in the middle of the 19th century, before electricity and cars and indoor plumbing be so current, so predictive of the risks of unbridled technology and affluence. Thoreau lived alone for about two years in a cabin he built himself on land that belonged to his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"I would rather sit alone on a pumpkin than be crowded on a velvet cushion," he writes. Thoreau powerfully captures a resilient hope rooted in his deep connection to the natural world, the trees and water, birds and muskrats. Many philosophers and psychologists have noted that in spite of our stunning affluence, Americans continue to search for hope, for something to believe in, for a remedy to the cynicism that accompanies a culture of "never-enoughness."

For some, the solution is a kind of romantic search for the wild, for the remembering of human relationship in the natural world. Urban and suburbanites alike long to escape the high-tech clutter and dizzying speed of their convenient but virtual lives. Some are desperate to get their hands dirty and plant flowerbeds and vegetable gardens. Others hike and camp and canoe in state parks and national forests and visit model or working farms. Often we hate to leave.

We want to slow down and be more connected to nature. We want to belong. Being, longing. Thoreau understood the difference between the two, between being satisfied where you are and always longing for something else. For a little bit more. It is “Economy,” the long first chapter of “Walden” which contains the book's most famous line: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." But few remember the next two sentences: "What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city, you go to the desperate country and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats."

The Latin root of the word "desperate" means “without hope.” Yet the word has also come to mean “frantic” and “dangerous.” Perhaps, in our culture of accumulation it also means the inability to be satisfied. In spite of Thoreau's love of the country, he implies we can feel desperate anywhere if we don't understand our connection to the natural world, if we're unable to be satisfied to belong.

Thoreau chose sustenance over satiation. He knew what enough was. This was his genius, and is, perhaps, the object of our greatest longing.

[MUSIC: Walt Michael “Arran Boat” Hammered Dulcimer: Retrospective Rounder (1998)]

CURWOOD: Tom Montgomery-Fate is author of “Beyond the White Noise,” a book of essays about living in the Philippines.

[MUSIC]

Related link:
Henry David Thoreau Homepage

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Emerging Science Note/GM Experiments

CURWOOD: Coming up, Oregon's greenbelt planning a generation later. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.

[MUSIC: Science Note Theme]

GRABER: Critics of genetically modified plants have long been concerned that the crops could contaminate wild relatives or non-GM crops through cross-pollination. Now, scientists believe they may have come up with one possible solution. Researchers in Canada introduced two genes into tobacco plants. One is a so-called terminator gene which keeps the plant's seeds from germinating. The other is what's known as a repressor gene. It turns off the terminator and allows the plants to reproduce. Here's why this technique might help in a real world situation.

When a GM plant cross-pollinates with a non-GM one, the terminator gene separates out from the repressor. This turns off the repressor and allows the terminator to kick in so the plants can't reproduce. In other words, the genetically modified plant would be unable to spread its genes. This was a carefully controlled experiment. Many more tests are needed to verify if this will work out in the field.

That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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

[MUSIC: The Beatles “I Want You” Abbey Road Capitol (1969)]

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Oregon Land Use, Thirty Years On

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood. Thirty years ago this month, the people of Oregon took part in a far-reaching debate over how their state should look in the future. They decided to protect farmland and open space and stop cities from sprawling out across the land. Oregon's land use laws became a beacon for urban planners around the world and remains so today. But as Robin White reports, some Oregonians are now questioning their own rules.

MALE: I'll have a decaf latte, please. A sixteen ounce.

WHITE: By now, in any other western state the town of Sandy would have spread far enough to shake hands with the towns next door. But Sandy, Oregon is still a compact town of 5,000.

MORRISON: It's a small town. You have your normal good people, rotten people, rednecks, hicks.

WHITE: Becky Morrison runs the one espresso hut in Sandy. She was born here.

MORRISON: I'd like it to stay small, little Sandy.

WHITE: And it may, even though it's a developer's dream. It's 40 minutes from Portland and only 25 minutes from powder skiing on Mt. Hood. But it doesn't have acres of modern homes for Portland commuters and the downtown has stayed a diverse collection of old wooden houses with gardens a few little stores. Barbara Bernstein now lives in Portland but she's been watching Sandy.

BERNSTEIN: It doesn't look all that different than it did 25 years ago when I used to live here. And the reason why this town looks this way, and has the integrity it has, and hasn't become swallowed up in a suburban sprawl is because of the Urban Growth Boundary.



Hillsborough, a suburb outside of Portland,
manages to retain open space and compact development.
(Photo: Robin White)


WHITE: The Urban Growth Boundary. Now in use from California to Tennessee, it was a brand new idea in Oregon in the 1970s. Each town drew a ring around itself and agreed to keep development inside the line. Towns would become denser towns and fields would stay fields. The Oregon planning process controlled sprawl, preserved natural beauty, and became almost a religion.

BERNSTEIN: I think people really understand it, and it has made a major difference in the development patterns in Oregon.

WHITE: The program started with a determined Governor, Tom McCall. McCall adored Oregon's mountains and fields and was passionate about it's farming way of life. He called sprawl a pox on the landscape. At a time when the remote corners of the west were filling up with a new influx of people, McCall mobilized Oregonians.

MCCALL: There is a shameless threat in our environment, and of the whole quality of our life, and that is the unfettered despoiling of our land. Sagegrass subdivisions, coastal condominia, and the ravenous rampage of suburbia here in the Willamette Valley, all threaten to mar Oregon's status as the environmental model of this nation.

WHITE: Rapid growth in California was spilling over into Oregon. Oregonians' distaste gave rise to a new word, "Californication." Governor McCall famously invited people to visit Oregon but asked them not to stay. McCall, a Democrat, was joined in his campaign by Republican State Senator and farmer, Hector McPherson. McPherson farmed then and still lives in the flat, grassy meadows outside Albany, in the Willamette Valley.

MCPHERSON: I was a dairy farmer and I saw the subdivisions creeping out from the city, up to where they looked to me like I'd be surrounded if I didn't do something. And I knew that they wouldn't be too happy with the odor, and the flies, and the various things that I did. So I thought, this is a place where we ought to have zoning to protect me and to keep them away at a reasonable distance.

WHITE: McPherson wrote a bill putting these ideas into law, and a powerful new planning division was born. Its first act was to find out why Oregonians loved their state, and what they wanted it to look like. Arnold Cogan led a rolling statewide survey.

COGAN: We outfitted the vans with all the equipment that you need, everything from masking tape and tacks, and felt pens, and easels, and newsprint, and all that stuff, and we hit the road. And we scheduled three rounds of 35 meetings each round.

WHITE: The entire state took part in the discussion, a black and white documentary film caught the spirit of the moment.

FEMALE: What should be done for the future? How about machine gun nests of the borders?

MALE 1: They're coming here because of the open space and all the things that we have, a lack of pollution. But if we have a tremendous influx of people, we're going to end up with all the problems that they had wherever they came from, aren't we?

MALE 2: So, it sounds to me like what I hear you're saying is that we want to plan it so that we've got a balance between timber, agriculture, and people.

WHITE: A majority of Oregonians got behind the planning goals. They didn't stop the influx of Californians, but they did preserve farm and timberland, and stop sprawl. Now, compared to suburbs in other states, Oregon's new houses and apartments are tightly clustered, eating up less land. Orenco Station, west of Portland, is the epitome--compact houses, walkable streets, a light rail station, and a brand new Starbucks.

Dunn: Oh, it's great.

WHITE: Physician Pat Dunn and his partner moved here from a larger house in another part of Portland.

DUNN: When we have to walk down to get our mail--which should take about 10 minutes to go there and 10 minutes back--it usually takes us about an hour because we're pleasingly forced to interact with our neighbors in our community. We can't get out without running into somebody and catching up with them about how their lives are going.

WHITE: The majority of Oregonians live in the city of Portland, which grew 22 percent in the 1990s. Many people say they're happy with how Portland's been shaped. But an increasingly vocal group in the south and east of Oregon are challenging the one size fits all approach to the state's land use.

[MUSIC ON RADIO]

WHITE: Far to the east of Portland, the town of Pendleton doesn’t have a Starbucks. You approach across miles of flat, high sagebrush deserts. It's wheat and cattle country, and the home of the Pendleton shirts. It's also the home of Gordon Smith, one of Oregon's U.S. senators.
After a Town Hall Meeting with constituents, Smith, a Republican, called on planners to be more flexible.

SMITH: The problems of Portland are, frankly, the problems we pray for in Pendleton. When I was born in Pendleton 50 years ago, there were 15,000 people. Today, there are 15,000 people here. Portland needs land use planning and these boundaries to be a little tighter than Pendleton.

WHITE: Oregon's regulations can make it expensive to develop housing and businesses in this depressed area. For example, it would be more affordable for homeowners to build further out and to put in septic tanks and wells. But the planning laws force new homes to be connected to city sewers and water lines.

Just west of Pendleton, on the outskirts of Umatilla, Clyde Noble is pacing on top of a small volcanic butte. It's part of a lot he inherited from his father.

NOBLE: This desert we're standing on is about 100 acres that has no water route, and has never been farmed. This high desert, as you see, is just not suitable for farming. There's blockout crops all over.

WHITE: Noble wants to subdivide some of the land into four-acre parcels to be able to build houses for each of his children. But Noble is up against the Oregon planning bureaucracy. Even though he's within the urban growth boundary, it's zoned for farming only. The city of Umatilla asked the DLCD, the Department of Land Conservation and Development in Portland to rezone the land so that Noble could build the houses.

NOBLE: But the DLCD, out on the other side of the mountain, over in Portland, those people are always trying to tell us over on this side of the mountain how to live. They're the ones that are saying, no, we recommend you keep it in large lot sizes. And the reason they're doing this, they're just trying to get people to go live in the city.

WHITE: It's an example of what some call the fundamentalism of Oregon's planning process. Critics say Oregon's planners treat agricultural land as sacrosanct, even with the well-being of farmers and their families is put at risk.

CHARLES: As long as your ox isn't getting gored, it's a nice deal.

WHITE: John Charles is a free market environmental analyst for the Cascade Policy Institute. He says preserving agricultural land is not the issue.

CHARLES: I would like planners to admit that that is a hoax. What it's about is an aesthetic preference that many of the intellectuals in the state have to have people live in dense urban centers, and to have vast green spaces around them.

WHITE: Many people now question Oregon's planning system. Three years ago, the voters approved a ballot measure to compensate landowners for loss of value due to planning laws. Measure 7 was overturned, but a new bill dubbed the Son of 7 is much alive. If it passes, it will effectively gut the Oregon planning system. Even insiders say the system needs to change.

Arnold Cogan, who lead the survey in 1974, says the program has become Byzantine.

COGAN: It's become out of reach for a lot of people. And we planners are at fault for that.

WHITE: Cogan says it's probably time to reinvolve the public and maybe have different rules for different regions of Oregon. Many are concerned that the state could lose its unique planning vision altogether, and the world could lose an example of how to grow and preserve landscape.

For Living on Earth, I'm Robin White.

[MUSIC: Duane Eddy “Cannon Ball” The Best of Duane Eddy Curb (1998)]

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Mail Order Chickens

   A 10 day old Dominique chick on her first venture outdoors. (Photo: Sy Montgomery)

CURWOOD: Springtime means longer days, budding trees, and planting seeds to harvest when the days grow short again. And for commentator Sy Montgomery, springtime means it's time to fill the coop again with freshly hatched baby chickens.

MONTGOMERY: I ordered them on a day our country was at war, a day with six inches of snow on the ground. A day when it seemed here in New Hampshire that spring would never come. Weary of gray days and mounting sorrows, I knew what I had to do.

[TELEPHONE RING]

JESSICA: Cackle Hatchery, this is Jessica, how can I help you?

MONTGOMERY: I called Cackle Hatchery. I'd like to order ten Dominiques.

JESSICA: Okay. Did you want them in pullets or straight run?

MONTGOMERY: Oh, pullets, please. Dominque's, a rare old breed, were the chickens of the Pilgrims. We'd breed our own, but we don't have a rooster. The last one attacked the minister and had to go live somewhere else. So every few years, I have to order supplements to the aging flock.

[SOUND OF CHICKENS]

MONTGOMERY: Here's the older ladies. Hello, ladies. Hello, my girls.

This is Scarlett. Scarlett is one of our older ladies. She's got a little balding going on. Oh, someone’s working on an egg here. But there's no other eggs at all. You know, when they're young, you get an egg out of almost everybody everyday. But lately I haven't been able to make cakes and pies because there hasn't been an egg until like 4:00 in the afternoon. Let me see if you’ve got something for me, have you? No, there’s no egg yet. You go back to work.

I count the days till the new chicks arrive. Half a day out of the egg, the babies are bundled off into a box and mailed from Lebanon, Missouri to Hancock, New Hampshire. Yes, they come in the mail. Still shaped like eggs, the chicks arrive on their third day of life in a cardboard box.

[TELEPHONE RING]

JAN: Hi, Sy, it's Jan at the post office. We’ve got a box of peeping chickens.

MONTGOMERY: Great. I'll be right down. Hey, Mike, have you got my chicks?

MIKE: (in background). Yes….

MONTGOMERY: Do they sound alright? Does it seem like everyone is alive?

JAN: Everybody looks good. And the little yellow ones have fur on their feet.

[SOUND OF PEEPING CHICKS]

MONTGOMERY: Oh, my darlings, I love you so much. I can't believe their restraint that they didn't open the box.

JAN: I didn’t want to take the liberty…oh, it’s the softest feel in the whole world.

MONTGOMERY: Then I bring them home to live in my office. After giving each chick a drink, I move them to their new quarters. The cardboard box that once held 24 rolls of Charmin toilet paper, warmed by a heat lamp and provisioned with chick mash. The chicks won't live in my office forever. After they've lost their yellow and gray baby fluff, after they've grown their beautiful black and white feathers, once the days are soft and warm, they'll join the other 12 ladies scratching for bugs in the yard. But until that day, they're with me almost all the time.

I can see a few reasons why some people might not do this. Some might find all this peeping and the rambunctious thumps as the chicks get older a little distracting. And, yes, it can get messy. For the next five or six weeks, I'm going to be dressing in clothing that goes with chicken droppings. I hold them and stroke them all the time. One or two will sleep in the folds of my sweater as I write. Tiny reptilian chicken feet walk across my desk and scatter my papers.

Few authors raise chicks in the room where they write. But perhaps this is the problem with literature today. I don't know really how these ten chicks affect my writing, but I do know how they affect my soul. They're adorable and soft and soothing, at a time when winter-weary, war-torn, I need soothing so desperately. But, also, chicks are intense. They love their food. They love the warmth of their heat lamp. They’re champion sleepers. And the moment they wake up, usually en masse, they seize the day in their tiny, strong orange bills. They peck with great passion and confidence, assurance going back to their direct ancestors, the dinosaurs.

These babies remind me that life is that old, and this new. They speak of spring and of eternity, reminding us in their peeping voices that we can summon the strength, always, to begin anew.

[MUSIC: Lynn Patrick “California Zephyr” Winnie’s Guitar Karoo Music (1998)]

CURWOOD: Sy Montgomery is author of “Search for the Golden Moon Bear: Signs and Adventure in Pursuit of a New Species.”

[MUSIC]

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, environmental activists debate population and immigration.

FEMALE: When you start to talk about immigration policy, you're accused of racism, elitism. You're accused of xenophobia, nativism. These are all the words that we use to silence any discussion around stabilizing our population and reducing immigration.

CURWOOD: The politics of population, next time on Living on Earth. And remember that between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to livingonearth.org. And while you're there, you can also get a chance to win a safari for two to Africa. That's livingonearth.org.

We leave you this week with the sound of elephants dreaming. Chris Watson recorded this snoozing family on a moonlight night in Masai Mara, Kenya.

[ELEPHANT SOUNDS: Earth Ear Elephants Slumber Dreams of Gaia! Earth Ear Records (1999)]

CURWOOD: 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 Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Maggie Villiger, and Jennifer Chu, along with Tom Simon, Jessica Pennye, Al Avery, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, and Liz Lempert. Special thanks to Ernie Silver.

We had help this week from Katherine Lemcke, Jenny Cutraro, and Nathan Marcy. Allison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.

[ELEPHANT SOUNDS]

CURWOOD: Our technical director is Chris Engles. Ingrid Lobet heads our western bureau. 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 National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science, and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, supporting the Living on Earth Network, Living on Earth's expanded Internet service.

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