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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

June 20, 2003

Air Date: June 20, 2003

FULL SHOW

(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

Whitman Successor / Jyl Hoyt

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Idaho Governor and former Senator Dirk Kempthorne's name is at the top of the list to become the new Environmental Protection Agency head. From member station KBSX in Boise, Jyl Hoyt reports the agency and the governor have had a rocky relationship in Idaho. (04:15)

Interior Associations

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Deputy Secretary of Interior J. Steven Griles is under attack for allegedly violating conflict of interest agreements. Host Steve Curwood speaks with reporter Mike Soraghan with the Denver Post’s Washington bureau, who has been following the story. (06:30)

Environmental Health Note/Men & Pesticides / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new study which links low sperm counts to pesticide exposure. (01:20)

Almanac/The Truth About Tomatoes

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This week, we have facts about the tomato. Once thought to be toxic, this hardy piece of produce has become one of the nation’s favorites. (01:30)

Nature Conservancy Changes

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The Nature Conservancy has made significant changes to its conservation policies, following a Washington Post series that outlined some of the non-profit’s more questionable activities. Host Steve Curwood talks with the Conservancy’s president Steve McCormick about the reasons behind the changes. (06:00)

Zuni Eagles / Daniel Kraker

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Eagle feathers are essential to Native American ceremonies, but they are hard to come by and regulated by federal law. Producer Daniel Kraker reports from the Zuni reservation in New Mexico on the nation's first Native-run eagle aviary. (06:15)

Gambian Giant Pouched Rat

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The Gambian Giant Pouched Rat has been in the news lately. The African rodent is blamed for starting the outbreak of Monkey Pox here in the U.S. Host Steve Curwood speaks with a keeper at Utah's Hogle Zoo to find out more about this creature. (03:00)

Emerging Science Note/GM Java / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new way to get the caffeine out of coffee. (01:15)

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Slow Food Nation / Pippin Ross

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The slow food movement began over a decade ago as a response to a plan to build a McDonald’s in Rome. The international organization promotes locally grown, unprocessed food, and taking time to eat with family and friends. Pippin Ross attended a slow food event in Brooklyn, New York and has our report. (06:00)

Tony’s Inner Nature Child

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Tony Soprano hasn’t been cured. The main character of HBO’s hit series has been seeing his shrink for four years, and she hasn’t been able to stop his panic attacks from dropping him like a stone. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Jeremiah Creeder, senior editor of Utne magazine, who suspects the root of Tony’s problem is “ecological alienation.” (08:00)

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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Mike Soraghan, Steve McCormick, Joanne Randinitis, Jeremiah CreederREPORTERS: Jyl Hoyt, Daniel Kraker, Pippin RossNOTES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

KEMPTHORNE: I told EPA that I am so frustrated with them that I’m on the verge of inviting them to leave the state of Idaho.

[APPLAUSE]

CURWOOD: That’s Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, the likely new head of the EPA. While some say he’s not a friend of the environment, others commend his previous tenure as a U.S. Senator and predict easy confirmation.

WEATHERBY: I think in both the ESA and safe drinking water act legislation, he again demonstrated his consensus building skills.

CURWOOD: And you’d think a TV mob boss who sees a shrink to cure his panic attacks should look to his violent past. Forget about it! Tony Soprano may be mean, but he should be green.

CREEDON: Tony may be suffering from alienation and distress tied to the degraded state of the natural world in which he lives.

CURWOOD: Shrinking Tony and more 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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Whitman Successor

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The name of Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne is now first on the list of candidates to run the Environmental Protection Agency when Christie Todd Whitman steps down at the end of the month.

Governor Kempthorne is a Republican and a former United States senator who has been at odds with the EPA in his own state and favors greater local control over regulation. From member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho Jyl Hoyt reports there's a good chance Governor Kempthorne will get Senate approval to be the nation's next top enviro-cop.

HOYT: If Idaho governor Dirk Kempthorne becomes chief of the Environmental Protection Agency, he’ll lead a body that he's spent years fighting in Idaho. As part of a massive cleanup of metal mining waste, the EPA wanted to name Lake Coeur d’Alene a Superfund site. Kempthorne and many Idahoans thought the agency was wasting money and they feared the label “Superfund” would hurt tourism and property values.

Governor Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho (R) (Photo courtesy of Wildland Fire Leadership Council)   

KEMPTHORNE: I told the EPA that I am so frustrated with them that I’m on the verge of inviting them to leave the state of Idaho.

HOYT: In a sense, he succeeded. The Coeur d’Alene site is now the first attempt in the nation to conduct a federal Superfund project through a state chartered commission. But Idaho has little money to clean up the site and the new commission has been criticized for having little power to enforce. It's an example of Kempthorne's longtime commitment to local control and local standards, even if, for example, those standards allow higher levels of lead, cadmium and zinc in Idaho's South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. Bill Sedivy, director of Idaho Rivers United, is wary of Kempthorne as EPA chief.

SEDIVY: Certainly, Governor Kempthorne is no friend of the environment.

HOYT: Sedivy says an Office of Species Conservation that Kempthorne created works to keep endangered wildlife off the endangered species list.

SEDIVY: The creation of that agency really decimated an outstanding Idaho Department of Fish and Game which had been a leader in the West in such issues as salmon recovery and habitat restoration.

HOYT: But John Sandoval, chief of staff at the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, applauds Kempthorne’s environmental record in the U.S. Senate and Idaho.

SANDOVAL: He is probably the best advocate for environmental protection in Idaho. He is sometimes referred to as being pro-industry and pro-business, and maybe there is some truth to that, but I also think that he is also pro-protection of public health and the environment.

HOYT: While in the Senate Kempthorne championed amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act that helped rural areas improve their drinking water while minimizing the financial burden. He pushed through the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act which requires agencies to make public the financial costs of proposed regulation. He worked with Democrats to reform the Endangered Species Act to give property owners greater regulatory certainty in exchange for species protection. That bill wasn’t successful, says Boise State political scientist Jim Weatherby, but the collaboration was.

WEATHERBY: I think in both the ESA and Safe Drinking Water Act legislation he again demonstrated his consensus building skills.

HOYT: Many of Kempthorne's former colleagues in the U.S. Senate hold him in high regard. Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee, who serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, says he would support the Idaho governor to head the EPA.

CHAFEE: There’s a great deal of respect and affection for him and I think he’s held in high esteem here.

HOYT: Lawmakers, political scientists, and environmentalists agree that one major challenge facing the next EPA administrator is how to assert control. Boise State political scientist John Freemuth.

FREEMUTH: The biggest concern I would have if I was Dirk Kempthorne going in is whether I could get carte-blanche from the White House to lead EPA without political interference from White House operatives and staff.

HOYT: Several observers, Democrat and Republican, noted that these days the environmental shots are being called from the White House, not the EPA. For Living on Earth, I’m Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.

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Interior Associations

CURWOOD: J. Steven Griles, the deputy secretary of the Interior, is under investigation by his own department’s inspector general over questions of conflict of interest. Some environmental and government watchdog groups are also asking the attorney general to appoint a special counsel to investigate Mr. Griles.

Steve Griles was a mining regulator in the Reagan Administration before he became a lobbyist for the oil, gas and coal industries. Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman has led the official criticism of Mr. Griles, alleging that promises made during his confirmation hearings to keep an arm’s length from his former clients have not been kept. For example, Mr. Griles’ datebook shows he met a former client in the gas industry a day before he sent a memo to EPA officials. asking them to speed up the review process on coal-bed methane drilling in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

Mike Soraghan is a reporter with The Denver Post’s Washington bureau and has been covering this issue. Mike, why does Mr. Griles have so many critics right now?

SORAGHAN: Basically, they think that he’s tilting the playing field toward industry. And they see that because he used to be an industry lobbyist. And those fears and concerns are confirmed, in his critic’s minds, when they see that he continues to meet with many of his old clients, from the coal, oil, and gas industries.

CURWOOD: Well, people work, have jobs, and then do government service. Are they expected to give up all their friends, all their contacts, with that service?

SORAGHAN: Well, I think one of the key things here is that he has a continuing financial tie. And for $284,000 a year , which is what his old firm is paying him, critics and other would maintain that some additional caution is necessary, and maybe you need to find someone else to go to lunch with.

CURWOOD: Tell me about the money that he is earning from his firm. Why and how is this coming to him?

SORAGHAN: Well, he came to this firm, National Environmental Strategies, and apparently helped them build up their client base. And by the time he left, he had been making more than half a million dollars a year. When he left, his firm agreed to buy out that interest at what they said was book value. They say that book value is 1.1 million dollars. We don’t know exactly why – whether it’s for tax reasons, or just the company can’t take a 1.1 million dollar hit all at once – they’re paying that out over four years. He has agreed to stay away from that firm’s clients for four years, and then, I believe, federal law requires an additional two years after that.

CURWOOD: Has he been meeting with these clients in contradiction of what he said during his confirmation hearings?

SORAGHAN: Yes, he has been meeting with those clients. It’s up to someone else to decide if he’s in contradiction of those pledges. But he has been meeting with clients fairly soon after taking office. He was in a conference call with the head of his old lobbying firm, who is also a close friend, Mark Himmelstein. The folks at the department have explained to me that was just four golfing buddies who were busy, and the only way they could have their friendly conversation was to have a conference call scheduled during the day.

He has met a couple of times with folks from the National Mining Association. That is a former client who has several high profile issues before the government, not the least of which is mountain top removal mining in West Virginia. Mr. Griles was a member of the Clear Skies Task Force, which was the group of high-level administration officials who were charged with coming up with an air pollution strategy for the Bush administration. During that time, he sat in on a meeting with 13 chief executives from another old client, the Edison Electric Institute. And then when you get to the memo, in the Powder River basin – the day before he sent that memo, he had met with Western Gas Resources, which was a former client and one of the companies in the consortium that was paying for the environmental study to get drilling moving there. And then three days later he was at a barbeque at Mr. Himmelstein’s house. He and Mr. Himmelstein and some of the other top Interior Department officials in charge of land, and mining, and oil, and gas—having a cookout at the home of the top lobbyist for the natural gas companies.

CURWOOD: Mike, Mark Pfeifle, who is the press secretary at the Department of the Interior, talked to us about some of these issues. And he said that all of these meetings were cleared by the ethics office of the Department of the Interior. He also points out that Mr. Griles has worked to eliminate some abuses of the resource extraction industry, and that the deputy secretary has been fully accessible to representatives of environmental groups, and that, frankly, these allegations, and what they would say is innuendo, is part of frank partisan politics, is just partisan politics. As, a reporter, Mike, what do you see going on?

SORAGHAN: You know, a lot of the things that you just mentioned are true. He, from what I can tell, did work to eliminate some of the bad practices by bad actors, fly-by-night operators in, especially, the coal industry. I think what you’ll find Mr. Griles’ critics say is that he’s kind of tilting the playing field in favor of the mainstream energy companies, which has its own detrimental effects. Certainly, the people who are Mr. Griles’ critics here—these are people who didn’t like Mr. Griles to begin with. But perhaps he’s given them some fuel on the fire by quite openly meeting with some of his old clients.

CURWOOD: Mike Soraghan is a reporter for The Denver Post Washington bureau. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

SORAGHAN: Thanks for having me.

[MUSIC: Icicle Works “When It All Comes Down” Best of Icicle Works Beggars Imports (1995)]

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Environmental Health Note/Men & Pesticides

CURWOOD: Just ahead: The Nature Conservancy gives itself a scrubbing. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

[MUSIC: Health Note Theme]

TOOMEY: For the first time, researchers have found a possible link between exposure to crop pesticides and low sperm counts in the general population .

Researchers at the University of Missouri looked at two groups of men--one from Minneapolis and another from agricultural areas of Missouri. The men didn’t have any known risk factors for reduced sperm count such as advanced age or smoking. Researchers then analyzed the men's sperm as well as the pesticide levels in their urine.

In general, the men in Minneapolis showed very little exposure to pesticides. So low sperm counts in some of those people couldn’t be attributed to pesticides. But in Missouri, researchers found higher levels of pesticide exposure. And they found that men with elevated levels of three pesticides, in particular, were significantly more likely to have a low sperm count and poor sperm quality. For instance, Missouri men with the highest levels of the common weed killer Alachlor were thirty times more likely to have lower sperm counts and less vigorous sperm. Since these men didn't work in the pesticide industry or on farms, researchers say they were most likely exposed through drinking water.

Researchers caution: although this is a preliminary indication that pesticides might be affecting sperm, this was a small study, with just 86 men enrolled. And more confirmation work will be needed. For instance, researchers will need to examine the effects of pesticide exposure at various stages of sperm development by testing for it weeks prior to sperm collection.

That’s this week’s Health Note. I’m Diane Toomey.

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

[MUSIC: Parlour “Mperfect” Octopus Off-Broadway Temporary Residence (2002)]

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Almanac/The Truth About Tomatoes

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

[MUSIC: Oscar Peterson “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” Oscar Peterson Plays the George Gershwin Song Book Polygram (1996)]

CURWOOD: This week in 1820, the story goes, Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson climbed the steps of the Salem, New Jersey County Courthouse before an expectant crowd as a band played a dirge. Brandishing a bushel basket filled with a bright red fruit, he declared, “The time will come when this luscious, scarlet apple will form the foundation of a great garden industry.”

And then, to the gasps of onlookers, the colonel bit off a huge chunk of the “wolf’s peach,” known today as the tomato. This event is celebrated in reenactment each year in Salem City. There’s just one thing: it didn’t really happen. It’s just a tall tale loosely based on the science of the time.

The Aztecs domesticated tomatoes, but European botanists suspected the New World crop was poisonous because it comes from the same plant family as toxic belladonna and deadly nightshade. They weren’t completely wrong. Tomato leaves do contain the neurotransmitter, solanine, which can cause vomiting, convulsions and death. After all, Hollywood warned us about the attack of “the killer tomatoes.”

Still, the tomato has grown in popularity – and good thing. What would modern life be without pizza or rather, I should say, the tomato pie? And what would scrambled eggs be without ketchup from the tomato – or if you prefer – the tomahto.

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

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Nature Conservancy Changes

CURWOOD: The nation’s wealthiest conservation organization is making significant changes in the way it does business. The Nature Conservancy temporarily suspended many of its activities earlier this month after an investigative series in The Washington Post raised questions about loans to employees, tax-sheltered land deals with insiders, and oil and gas drilling on conservation land.

Now, its board of governors has come up with new standard operating procedures. Joining me to discuss the changes is Conservancy President Steve McCormick. Welcome to Living on Earth.

MCCORMICK: Thank you very much, Steve.

CURWOOD: Let’s go down the list of changes that you made at the recent board meeting of the Nature Conservancy, the significant ones. Can you just tick them off for me, please?

MCCORMICK: Sure. The board established a policy that stops any purchase or sale of land to or from a member of our board of governors; a trustee, which is a volunteer advisor at our state level; and employees or their immediate families. It made sure that any charitable gifts associated with a sale of land to a so-called conservation buyer – where we impose significant restrictions—is legally documented as part of the transaction. Third, we established that there will be no loans of any sort to employees, even to assist with relocation, which is what they were all used for. Fourth, we won’t initiate any new oil, gas drilling, or mining of hard rock minerals on preserves that we own. We’ve only done that twice in 52 years but we thought, nonetheless, we should, for appearances’ sake, not do that again. And finally, that we would enlist a group of independent, outside experts to help establish a standard of best practice for governance of an organization like the Conservancy, that’s highly decentralized and which has a culture of innovation through competent risk-taking.

CURWOOD: I want to talk to you, in particular, about the Shelter Island transaction that attracted so much attention by The Washington Post. There was this parcel of land, I think it was about ten acres or so, that someone associated with the Nature Conservancy -- at the end of the day-- was able to purchase for about a half a million dollars. And at the same time make a substantial donation – I think perhaps it was a million and a half, or 1.6 million dollars -- to the Nature Conservancy, in the form of a charitable donation, and therefore tax deductible. At the same time, as I understand it, the property was appraised for a total like 2.1 million dollars. Now, to someone looking at this transaction, it looks like the Nature Conservancy got this person, essentially, a discount. What’s your response?

MCCORMICK: If someone makes a contribution to National Public Radio of $100, and you get a CD set worth $50, you’re entitled to a contribution of $50.

CURWOOD: Absolutely.

MCCORMICK: So in this case, we put the property on the open market. We weren’t able to find anyone who was willing to buy it for $500,000 except this one couple. And they bought it for $500,000, and they could easily have said that’s the end of the deal. But they thought the Conservancy is an organization they believe in, and they gave us a 1.6 million dollar contribution. And they’re entitled to do that because they weren’t required to make that contribution whatsoever. They bought property worth $500,000 when no one else would do that. In the last two, well, say five years, we’ve done well over 5,000 different transactions. We’ve probably done in the order of 15 to 20 with people who’ve had this kind of relationship – with trustees. And in every case that I’m aware of, it’s the trustee who has come to our help, not someone who has been given an inside opportunity . Nonetheless, because they are called trustees, and their involvement on chapter boards, which are simply advisory boards – because that does leave an impression that they are an insider, we want to avoid even the hint of impropriety.

CURWOOD: Let me ask you about another thing that came out of the board meeting. And that was to “not initiate new oil or gas drilling, or mining of hard rock minerals on Nature Conservancy preserves unless required by existing contracts.” What does that mean in terms of continuing to drill as part of an existing contract on that project in Texas City, Texas, which is home to the endangered Atwater’s prairie chicken?

MCCORMICK: We’re looking into whatever legal obligation we may have. There are a number of other parties that have fractional interests in the subsurface oil and gas rights. And if we’re under some contractual obligation , then we would be unable to do that without their concurrence.

CURWOOD: It seems that The Nature Conservancy could have avoided a lot of bad press had you made these internal changes before The Washington Post series came out. Why did you wait to make these changes now?

MCCORMICK: I would say that the Post series accelerated and intensified examination of these kinds of practices. But, as I say, what the Post didn’t, I think, properly reveal is that we’ve been going through a number of changes. But inasmuch as the Post coverage implied that there are appearances of impropriety, it was appropriate for the board to address those concerns, and reassure our members and our supporters and those who are loyal to the Conservancy that, although they’re legal, although all the activities are well within accepted practices, that we would sort of go to a higher standard and assure people that we are mindful of perceptions of our work, as well as the substance.

CURWOOD: Steve McCormick is president of The Nature Conservancy. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

MCCORMICK: Thank you, Steve.

Related link:
The Nature Conservancy

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Zuni Eagles

CURWOOD: For America, eagles are the symbol of freedom, courage and strength. For Native Americans, eagles are a crucial element in religious ceremonies. For half a century, the federal government has struggled to protect eagles while fulfilling the Native American religious demand for eagle carcasses and feathers. Now, the Zuni tribe of New Mexico has opened it’s own aviary: the nation’s first tribally owned and operated eagle sanctuary. The goal is to supply feathers to tribal members, and revive an ancient practice of eagle husbandry. Daniel Kraker reports.

[SOUNDS OF EAGLES]

KRAKER: I’m standing inside a huge birdcage, as long as a football field and two stories high. The walls and roof are wooden slats, allowing the high desert breeze to blow through. Across from me, perched comfortably on Astroturf roosts, are eleven eagles. They stare at me with cold eyes, and squawk at my intrusion.

LUNA: The majority of the ones on the lower perches are juvenile bald eagles, pretty much all the ones on the high perches are goldens.

KRAKER: Nelson Luna is a wildlife technician for the Zuni Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the new aviary and cares for its 21 eagles. Though his voice is understated, Luna’s affection for his charges is clear as he talks about his job. He leads me past a small pen of golden eagles off the main cage or flyway.

LUNA: He’s microphone-shy.

KRAKER: They quiet as we pass, and we enter another room.

[SOUNDS OF FOOTSTEPS, OPENING DOORS]

LUNA: In this second enclosure we've got all of the mature bald eagles I think this big female was from Tulsa, it got hit by a vehicle eating roadkill in the winter two years ago. In order for them to be saved they had their wings amputated, thus they're deemed non-releasable, and that's the primary reason why they're in this facility.

KRAKER: If these birds could fly, federal law would require they be freed. But since they’re injured, the law says they can go to zoos, educational centers, or somewhere like here, where eagles are considered sacred. Like many Indian people, Zuni religious leader Francis Liki, Jr. is reluctant to talk about their ancient ceremonies. But in talking to him, it’s clear there is a huge religious demand for eagle feathers.

LIKI: There's two different times than we have to make prayer feather offerings, in the winter and the summer, and most of the tribal members do that. The other type of religious doings is through our cultural, our religious dance purposes, the night dances, we use a lot of eagle feathers then. There are medicine men, some other religious societies that use a lot of eagle feathers too.

KRAKER: And that’s just on the Zuni reservation. There are more than 500 federally recognized tribes, and most use eagle feathers in ceremonies. The Zuni gather molted feathers here every day, but that doesn’t come close to meeting even the local demand. Until the Zuni built their aviary, the only place Native Americans could legally get feathers was from a place called the National Eagle Repository in Denver. Bernadette Atencio is a supervisor there.

ATENCIO: We average about 1,000 eagles a year. Currently, we have over 5,000 Native Americans who are on a waiting list to receive eagle feathers. Right now, with 5,000 people on the waiting list, the waiting period for a whole bird is about three and a half years.

KRAKER: Whole birds are prized for their full sets of tail and wing feathers. But loose feathers, like the Zuni aviary provides, are also in demand. The U.S. government thinks more tribally run aviaries could help reduce the waiting time for feathers. And John Antonio, who works with the Fish and Wildlife Service as a tribal liaison, says it would be no trouble finding eagles to fill those sanctuaries.

ANTONIO: There’s quite a few birds. I was surprised to find out talking to the different rehabbers, that there's a lot of birds that they get all the time, injured birds. A lot of times they'll call and say, hey do you have any other aviaries ready to go, because we can certainly help supply some birds. So they're excited, because they now have an option. Rather than euthanize these eagles, they can provide them to the tribes.

[SOUND OF FLAPPING WINGS]

KRAKER: The afternoon has turned warm on Zuni. A few golden eagles take flight to cool themselves and stretch their wings. Eagles will soon also be flapping on Oklahoma’s Cherokee reservation, where construction is set to begin on the country's second tribally operated eagle sanctuary. The Cherokees have asked the Zuni Tribe to borrow their design. But for the Zuni, the aviary is more than just a source of eagle feathers. It’s a way of reconnecting with their ancient customs. Prior to federal laws protecting eagles, Zuni religious societies would rear their own eagles in village cages. It was a sacred practice. Edward Wemytewa of the Zuni Fish and Wildlife Department says the tribe can now reclaim that tradition, even if it does mean putting up with federal oversight.

WEMYTEWA: It's a very uncomfortable feeling when we can't openly express our philosophies, our ideas and our activities. But again, we're trying to be, I guess, accommodating to a certain extent. Personally, I would say that we're going to play the game, and that eventually it's going to be a win-win situation.

KRAKER: So far, the Zuni have played the game well. John Antonio says they have gone above and beyond what’s required in caring for a threatened species. They have plans to expand the main aviary, and have two mini aviaries under construction. The new, smaller facilities are being built right in the communities. Religious societies will care for the birds, just as they did hundreds of years ago.

For Living on Earth, I’m Daniel Kraker, on the Zuni reservation.

CURWOOD: And you’re living to NPR’s Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation, for reporting on U.S. Environment and Development Issue and the William and Flora Hewlett foundation, for coverage of western issues.

Support also comes from NPR member stations 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, and Paul and Marcia Ginsburg in support of excellence in public radio.

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Gambian Giant Pouched Rat

CURWOOD: The first outbreak of the African disease, Monkey Pox, in the western hemisphere has been traced to infected prairie dogs in an Illinois pet shop. And it’s believed the prairie dogs got the disease from an African import that also lived at the pet store, a Gambian Giant Pouched Rat. To find out more, about this little known creature, we called an expert. Joanne Randinitis is one of the keepers at Utah's Hogle Zoo, in Salt Lake City where the giant rats are part of the education program. Hi Joanne.

RANDINITIS: Hi.

CURWOOD: I understand that the Hogle Zoo has not one but two Gambian rats. What are their names?

RANDINITIS: They are named Gabby and Eureka.

CURWOOD: Joanne, I got to tell you, when my oldest son said that he wanted a pet rat a number of years ago, I was privately horrified, but I went along with it. But you know, the rat was actually quite a wonderful pet.

RANDINITIS: Right.

CURWOOD: How about these Gambian rats?

RANDINITIS: They do not make very good pets at all. They’re very temperamental, and they are also very territorial. They’re also rather large, so you need a lot of space to take care of them so they’ll have a good quality of life.

CURWOOD: What’s large?

   Gambian Giant Pouched Rat (Photo courtesy of Utah Hogles Zoo)

RANDINITIS: A Giant Pouched Rat can weigh almost three and a half pounds. And they can probably grow to be about a foot and a half long.

CURWOOD: That’s a lot of rat.

RANDINITIS: Mm hmm, it sure is.

CURWOOD: And tell us about those pouches. What’s that all about?

RANDINITIS: In their cheeks they have these big skin flaps that they use. And they’ll go out in the wild and gather food and store it all in their pouches, then go back to their nests and unload it in a little food cache. And then they’ll just sit there and eat that.

CURWOOD: What do you feed these giant rats?

RANDINITIS: They get a whole selection of fruit and vegetables. Gabby particularly likes grapes, and she’ll just take grapes and keep shoving them in her pouches until she has a whole face full of grapes.

CURWOOD: I suppose, as you know, the Gambian rat has not been getting much good press these days.

RANDINITIS: Yes, I’ve been reading about that, too.

CURWOOD: But you’re the ambassador now for the Gambian rat. Tell me, what do you like about this rodent?

RANDINITIS: I really appreciate how intelligent they are. I’m working on training with the rats, to teach them to come to me, and to target, to crate. Their learning ability is just—they’re very quick. They can be very vocal. When they get excited or they feel threatened, they’ll fill their cheek pouches with air. And then they’ll release the air and it makes like a muffled sound. The rats, in the morning, they will vocalize for me. They’ll come and they’ll squeak at me, because they are familiar with me. So I think that we have a good working relationship.

CURWOOD: When you take these animals around to classrooms or to rest homes, how do people respond to these giant rats?

RANDINITIS: I think, first off, people can’t get over how large they are. And all the people at the presentations are allowed to touch the rats—in a controlled way, though. And I think then people can warm up to a rat.

CURWOOD: Joanne Randinitis is on the animal care staff in the docent animal facility at Utah’s Hogle Zoo. Joanne, thanks for taking this time with us today.

RANDINITIS: Great. Thank you very much.

[MUSIC: Frank Zappa “Peaches En Regalia” Hot Rats Rykodisc (1969)]

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Emerging Science Note/GM Java

CURWOOD: Coming up: the opposite of fast food. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.

[MUSIC: Science Note theme]

GRABER: Some people like their coffee decaffeinated. But getting the buzz out of the beans is an expensive process. It can be done chemically by adding a solvent to soaking beans. The caffeine bonds to the solvent and is flushed away.

But the down side is that the solvent becomes a waste disposal headache. One environmentally-benign process uses carbon dioxide, and another uses water to get the jive out of java. But coffee aficionados and roasters complain that the process leaves a bean that pales in comparison to its more robust, caffeinated cousin.

So, scientists are developing a genetically-modified plant that represses the enzyme that helps create caffeine in the first place. In one experiment, 35 transgenic seedlings were cultivated and had between 50 and 70 percent less caffeine than their wild cousins.

If the process can be replicated in the field it could eliminate the need for costly – and some say tasteless – caffeine removal systems. But critics worry that caffeine protects coffee plants from insects and herbivores and from harmful fungi. Some of these fungi produce toxins that can harm human health.

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

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

[MUSIC: Parlour “The Living Beginning” Octopus Off-Broadway Temporary Residence (2002)]

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CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood and coming up: The greening of Tony Soprano. But first:

[MUSIC: Andrew Vasquez “Through My Eyes” I am Walking: New Native Music Narada (1995)]

CURWOOD: The twisted sinews of the acacia trees reach up and flatten themselves against a clear African sky. Down below, a troop of baboons - tails arched like flags - patrol the copse of trees, and then slowly move out across the Savannah. Huge confident males swivel their long, naked muzzles in my direction. These are not cuddly monkeys. .

My guide tells me that even the leopards are reluctant to take on an adult male baboon. Brains help, along with the brawn. Baboons walk on all fours but this largest of all monkeys is a not too distant cousin of ours. Behind bars at the zoo the baboon has such little grandeur. But in the wild, this troop acts with purpose and dignity and I’m reminded of the evolution of my own species. Baboons can make us feel uncomfortable because they look and sometimes act like in ways that threaten the logic of our self-appointed exalted status.

But on this day, the smart, knowing way they move through this territory fills me with humility. There are some things I know well, but little of my knowledge involves the land the way these creatures know it. I do know that by coming here I am somehow wiser.

You too, can learn the ways of the African wilds, if you win our Ultimate African Safari. The end of June is the deadline to take a chance to have heritageafrica.com bring you to some of Africa’s wildest places, such as Kruger and the Serengeti. To enter the contest - go to livingonearth.org. That’s livingonearth.org for the trip of a lifetime.

[MUSIC FADES]

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Slow Food Nation

CURWOOD: McDonald’s may be the undisputed purveyor of fast food but it’s unwittingly responsible for spawning what’s known as the Slow Food movement. Slow Food is a worldwide association that promotes a return to food that’s unprocessed, grown locally, and eaten at leisure with family and friends. It’s all part of a trend that has made natural foods the fastest growing segment of the industry. Reporter Pippin Ross visited a recent Slow Food event held in Brooklyn, New York and has this report.

[CITY SOUNDS]

ROSS: Okay, so it’s kind of a no-brainer that the opposite of fast food would be slow. But just what does that mean and why are there 70,000 dues-paying Slow Food members in 45 countries? Patrick Martins, the U.S. director of Slow Food, sits on the back of a tractor trailer truck in a gritty, industrial neighborhood in Brooklyn.

MARTINS: Slow food was founded very much on the pleasure component. I saw this great bumper sticker in Iowa that said “if I am what I eat, then I’m fast, cheap, and easy” and that’s one of the thing we’re trying to change too – that there won’t be as many people who live that bumper sticker.

ROSS: Slow food began as a protest to a plan, in 1986, to build a McDonald’s in Rome. Italian activists responded to what they saw as the globalization of fast food. Their strategy was to rally people to reject Big Macs in favor of food that’s local and naturally raised, and in so doing, support small farms.

[GRILL SOUNDS]

ROSS: The operative word is indeed slow in this Brooklyn parking lot, where three, 120 pound pigs are splayed across giant charcoal grills to roast all night long in anticipation of tomorrow’s third annual Slow Food barbeque.

EASON: We’ll show you these over here, because they haven’t been cooking long.

ROSS: Bill Eason, a professional pig-cooker was recruited from North Carolina to grill the pigs. He says there’s nothing new about Slow Food.

EASON: Because unbeknown to me until I became familiarized with it--and a part of it--that’s what I was doin,’ cookin’ slow food, low and slow, not fast. So, you know, with that attitude, the Slow Food movement suits my way of thinkin’.

ROSS: The pigs, with gentle blue eyes and lean, muscular bodies, came all the way from Iowa. They were handpicked for this event by farmer Paul Willis because, he says, they were raised like pigs ought to be.



Roasted pig was the main dish at a recent Slow Food event
at the Brooklyn Brewery in New York.
(Photo: Robert Kelly)


WILLIS: Which means they’re, if you will, free range or outdoor raised. We don’t use antibiotics, and we try to focus on the natural inclinations of a pig and how a pig likes to live. So they have bedding and they run out in pasture and this type of thing.

ROSS: That back-to-basics upbringing is both sanctioned by the Animal Welfare Institute and central to the Slow Food ethos, as are things rooted in tradition. Like the copious amounts of beer that will flow during tomorrow’s event. Brooklyn Brewery manager Tom Grubs says micro-brew recipes—some dating back to the Egyptians—that use whole grains and avoid preservatives are a perfect fit with the Slow Food concept.

GRUBS: A pure form of brewing – brewing not for the masses anymore, but actually for those with more sensitive taste-buds and those who actually know the difference between mass produced something and not mass produced something and who are searching for flavors.

ROSS: Flavor, tradition, unprocessed food, and the chance to sit with friends and meet new ones inspired about 400 people to pay 85 bucks a head to show up the following day. The menu? Ribs, pulled pork, lamb sausage, baked beans, cornbread, cole slaw, and pickles, in celebration and support of farmers and businesses the Slow Food movement recognizes as purveyors of salt-of-the earth food. A marriage that Steve Goldberg, the director of Whole Foods Catering is loving, as he unloads a truck full of coleslaw and cornbread.

[SOUND OF FOOD BEING UNLOADED]

GOLDBERG: We started off as a small company with small stores and it was all about nurturing relationships with small producers, whether it was small farmers, artisan cheesemakers. And so for us, we’ve been doing this a long time and we love the fact that more and more and more and more people are getting involved in it.

[LIVE BLUEGRASS MUSIC AND CHATTING]

ROSS: Inside the brewery are long, rectangular, wooden tables, chafing dishes piled with steaming food. A bluegrass band licks their musical chops in a corner. The scene evokes a church supper and a Slow Food buzzword: conviviality. Slow foodie Doug Duda.

DUDA: Within the big tent of Slow Food there’s a lot of people who have political inclinations and environmental-friendliness inclinations. But, then there’s just a lot of people who want to eat good.

ROSS: Case in point: Juan Sanchez, a recent convert to Slow Food, whose head is just about buried in a plate of ribs and beans.

SANCHEZ: Hmmmmm…it’s really tender, its really good. I always start with the ribs.

[SOUND OF CHOMPING]

Reporter Pippin Ross digs in to a slow food meal. (Photo: Robert Kelly)   

ROSS: The schedule of upcoming Slow Food events is as dense as it is international. This summer, New York’s Slow Food chapter will host seminars on—among other things— cooking grass fed beef and traditions in pickling. Hagen, Germany will be the site of a cherry harvest festival, and in Chicago, numerous chefs will serve food in art galleries to underscore the notion that food is art.

For Living on Earth, I’m Pippin Ross in Brooklyn, New York.

Related link:
Slow Food

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Tony’s Inner Nature Child

[MUSIC: Alabama 3 “Woke Up this Morning” Music From The Sopranos Sony (1999)]

CURWOOD: Just in case you don’t recognize it, that’s the theme from the hit HBO series “The Sopranos.” Yes, today we consider Tony Soprano and his extended dysfunctional family from the Jersey ‘burbs. Mob boss Tony is the program’s central character and one of the most talked about segments of this program is his psychotherapy with Dr. Jennifer Melfi.

TONY: This isn’t gonna work. I can’t talk about my personal life.

MELFI: You were just telling me about the day you collapsed.

CURWOOD: There’s been much online chatter among real life psychotherapists about these sessions. Emails back and forth discussing what Doctor Melfi is doing wrong, and why she hasn’t been able to cure Tony of his frequent panic attacks despite four years and more than fifty episodes of therapy. For a second opinion, we turned to Jeremiah Creedon, senior editor at Utne magazine. His article, “The Greening of Tony Soprano,” appears in the current issue of Utne, and in it he explores a theory that Tony may be suffering from what eco-shrinks call “ecological alienation.”

CREEDON: I went back to the very beginning, and to the very first episode, and the very first session between Dr. Melfi and Tony, and tried to go from there and see what really might be bugging him.

CURWOOD: Uh, huh. What did you see?

CREEDON: Well, as I watched the episode, Melfi asks Tony what’s wrong and he explains how happy he was when wild creatures came to his pool and had their babies.

[QUACKING DUCKS]

TONY: A couple months before, there’s these two wild ducks landed in my pool. It was amazing. They’re from Canada or someplace and it was matin’ season. They had some ducklings.

CREEDON: They then proceeded to fly away, at which point Tony has his first panic attack that drops him like a stone in his suburban backyard. He says that he was sad to see them go, and then goes on to say, I was afraid I’m going to lose my family. And from that point on, Melfi begins exploring everything that those ducks could symbolize. But I began to see that she never really took the ducks for what they were, that maybe ducks are just ducks, and that Tony was really sad to see them go. And that made me think that Tony may be suffering from alienation and distress tied to the degraded state of the natural world in which he lives

CURWOOD: Now, I’m looking at this article that you wrote for Utne, and in it you quote psychologist Andy Fisher, a book that Fisher wrote titled “Radical Ecopsychology.” And let me read to you the quote, I’m sure you remember it. “Ecopsychology has emerged largely from a sense of loss, and one of its goals is simply to articulate such sorrow, which many people might feel today but have no way to express. A psychic numbing from the environmental damage of the world around us and from our disconnect from nature.” How do you see this being played out in the show?

CREEDON: Well, I noticed, watching through very closely, that there’s all sorts of very subtle and witty allusions to the fact that the world in which Tony and his family live has been degraded. Everyone seems to be doing a drug or two or three, both legal and illegal, in a way to treat themselves for the psychological abrasiveness of modern life.

CURWOOD: Well, what about the opening scene, I mean…

CREEDON: Well, that’s a good point. The opening credit sequence of Tony leaving New York City and driving across the Meadowlands to his suburban home, that area he crosses, the Meadowlands, has been for thousands of years a haven for migrating birds. And yet now, it’s become more or less a badly damaged environment.

CURWOOD: A lot of smokestacks, pollution, and the bodies that Tony Soprano dumps there, too.

CREEDON: Well, yes, you do get the sense that this is a place where nature has become a place that’s more or less a body dump for the gangsters, where they go to commit their misdeeds and to hide the remains.

CURWOOD: Now there’s a point in the show, Jeremiah, where the daughter, Meadow, is screaming at her dad, “I’m tired of telling people that you work in environmental cleanup,” as a cover for him being a mobster.

MALE: So, Meadow, what business is your father in?

MEADOW: Actually, he’s in waste management.

MALE: Ah, toxic chemicals, medical waste, that sort of thing?

MEADOW: Yeah, sort of. Environmental cleanup.

CURWOOD: So, you think the writers are having some fun with this too, I guess, huh?

CREEDON: Yeah, they are. All through the series they look at this issue in a real witty way. For instance, Meadow’s roommate at college is from a small town in Oklahoma, and she immediately begins to wig out living in Manhattan. And eventually she ends up at the psych ward of the local hospital there, getting anti-anxiety medication. And yet, when she comes back and they ask her what’s wrong, she puts it pretty bluntly.

CAITLIN: I think I miss my ferrets.

MEADOW: You’ve got to snap out of this, Caitlin.

CURWOOD: You say some pretty intriguing things about male psychology in your piece. For example, you quote a writer named Paul Shepherd as saying that our disregard for the Earth has made us estranged from our natural family, changing the way we raise and educate our children, especially boys. That this makes men who want to destroy other living things in response to their own insecurities. Is that what you think is really wrong with Tony?

CREEDON: Well, I think Tony certainly has a love-hate relationship with nature. And that also runs throughout the series. That he clearly loves animals—we see that from the very first episode. And yet he’s also a creature who resorts to violence at almost every turn.

TONY: You got to help me with these cinch bugs. They’re killing my sweet corn.

MALE: Well, this blue stuff works pretty well, and its safe for the environment.

TONY: I tried that. You got any DDT back there?

MALE: That stuff’s illegal. It’s been banned.

TONY: Yeah, but you got a little surplus in the back…you go…you look…I meet you back there.

MALE: Look, Mr. Soprano, if I could do something, I would.

CREEDON: I think that somehow this is analogous to the way one kind of male role model in our culture does function. A philosopher like Paul Shepherd would probably go all the way back about four hundred years, to 1600, to the work of Francis Bacon. To say that this is really part of the Western mind from the beginning, that we’ve had a pathological desire to conquer nature. Or, in Francis Bacon’s term, that we can turn nature into our harlot, and get from nature what we want. And I think this is the thing that the ecopsychologists say is the broken relationship we have to heal.

CURWOOD: Well, we’re just about out of time here, but I got to ask you one thing before you go. I understand that the Meadowlands is now in the process of being cleaned up after all these years of being a dumping ground, and being riddled with pollution. And since Tony’s fired his shrink, I’m wondering if he’s going to find his salvation not in therapy, but perhaps become an environmentalist, and then help clean up the Meadowlands.

CREEDON: Well, let’s hope so. It would be great if Tony did that.

CURWOOD: Jeremiah Creedon is the senior editor at Utne magazine. Thanks for taking this time with me today.

CREEDON: Well, thanks so much for having me.

[MUSIC: Alabama 3 “Woke Up This Morning” Music From the Sopranos Sony (1999)]

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CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth.

Next week – as the Democrats prepare to pick a challenger to George W. Bush, the pack is starting to draw lines between the Republican and each other on environmental issues. Join me and a panel of reporters as we question the Democratic hopefuls in a League of Conservation Candidates’ forum from Los Angeles. It’s Democrats on the environment - next time, on the next 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.

[EarthEar/Michael Rüsenberg “Rodenkirchener Brücke” Cologne Bridges Symphony Artelier]

CURWOOD: We leave you this week spanning the River Rhine. Michael Rüsenberg placed microphones on the many structures that cross this famous waterway in Germany. He took the sounds into a studio and manipulated them into a work he calls: “Cologne Bridges Symphony.”

[RIVER SOUNDS AND CLANGING]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at livingonearth.org.

Our staff includes Jennifer Chu, Tom Simon, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Nathan Marcy, and Liz Lempert. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. Our interns are Carolyn Johnson, Julia Keller, Taylor Ferguson, and Mary Beth Conway.

Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.

Our technical director is Al Avery. 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. Support also comes from NPR member stations and the Annenberg foundation, and Tom's of Maine, maker of natural care products and creator of the rivers awareness program to preserve the nation's waterways. Information at participating stores or tomsofmaine.com.

ANNOUNCER 2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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