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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 5, 2003

Air Date: September 5, 2003

FULL SHOW

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Bush’s Pick / Jenny Brundin

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Last month, President Bush nominated Utah Governor Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. The Republican governor is seen as a moderate who tries to find the middle ground to resolve complex environmental issues. But environmental groups say Leavitt is pro-business and doesn t always consult them on important issues. Jenny Brundin of member station KUER has this profile of Governor Mike Leavitt. (08:00)

Eco-Terror

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Eco-terrorists struck especially hard in the West this summer, torching car dealerships and a construction site and bombing a biotechnology company. They caused more financial damage than in dozens of earlier attacks combined. (03:00)

Environmental Health Note/West Nile Vaccine / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth's Diane Toomey reports on progress in the development of a vaccine against the West Nile Virus. (01:20)

Almanac/Going Down the Road

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This week, we have facts about America's first cross-country highway. Ninety years ago, the 3,300-mile Lincoln Highway became the Main Street across America. (01:20)

Invented Eden

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Thirty years ago, camera crews descended on jungles in the Philippines to document what appeared to be the last tribe of Stone Age people. Through the years, however, the Tasaday became the object of a suspected scam, an elaborate hoax for attention and profit. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Robin Hemley, author of "Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday." (08:30)

Lewis & Clark Trail / Barrett Golding

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This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Thousands of Americans are expected to visit historic points along the trail of discovery. Producer Barrett Golding cycled the entire trail and brings us this audio postcard of a tribal elder and spiritual leader in Lewiston, Idaho. (03:30)

Lessons from 9/11 / Heather Dubin

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Heather Dubin was teaching in a high school next door to the World Trade Center on September 11th. The school reopened six months later. Dubin comments on the safety of that decision, given recent reports that the EPA misled the public about the quality of the air in lower Manhattan. (03:00)

Emerging Science Note/Sponge Optics

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a deep-sea sponge that creates highly efficient fiber optics. (01:20)

Grazing in the Grass / Guy Hand

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A small number of ranchers are rejecting the feedlot system and raising their cows on grass. Guy Hand follows one cattleman as he tries to make a go of ranching the old-fashioned way and selling direct to a new group of consumers. (13:30)

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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Robin HemleyREPORTERS: Jenny Brundin, Ingrid Lobet, Guy HandCOMMENTARIES: Heather DubinNOTES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.

[THEME MUSIC]

CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. There’s been a new wave of arson, bombs, and other attacks in the name of environmental protest in the western U.S. So far, no one’s been hurt but the damage runs into the tens of millions of dollars.

Also, out west, bucking the trend of feeding antibiotics and grain to cattle by sending them out to pasture.

ELZINGA: I think that wherever you get farther detached from the original way things were – like cattle originally ate grass. Grass! You know, and the more and more we remove these animals from the original things that they were meant to eat, the more and more concerns we're going to see as we eat them.

CURWOOD: The story of grass-fed beef, this week on Living on Earth. And the lessons of 9/11 for one New York City schoolteacher, coming up right after this.

[NPR NEWSCAST]

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

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Bush’s Pick

[THEME MUSIC]

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

Senate Democrats are hoping to turn upcoming confirmation hearings for a new administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into a critical review of the White House itself. The environment is shaping up to be a key issue for the presidential campaign. So that means the EPA nominee Utah Governor Mike Leavitt will likely face tougher questions and stiffer opposition than his record might otherwise engender. From Salt Lake City, Jenny Brundin of member station KUER has this profile of the man nominated to protect our nation’s environment.

(Photo: National Governors Association)   

BRUNDIN: Utah governor Mike Leavitt has a simple yarn that neatly sums up his views on the environment. It’s his story of seeing two very different bumper stickers in the same part of town.

LEAVITT: The first one said “Earth first - we’ll mine the other planets later” and the second one said “Save the earth, kill yourself.” I’m thinking somewhere in between those two bumper stickers is where the vast majority of people have their hearts and minds.

BRUNDIN: The 52-year old Republican governor’s middle-of-the-road approach to enviromental issues were shaped in large measure by his roots.

[SOUND OF BIRD FLYING]

BRUNDIN: Leavitt grew up in rural southern Utah, where ranchers and farmers scrape out a living amidst stunning scenery: fragrant sagebrush, redrock canyons, and creamy buttes. The land is also home to bitter environmental disputes, with locals eager to mine, recreate, and ranch the land and conservationists pushing wilderness designation. After years of studying these contentious debates, Leavitt, along with former Oregon governor Democrat John Kitzhaber, developed a new approach to solving environmental problems.

LEAVITT: It’s called en libra. It’s a Latin word. It means to move towards balance.

BRUNDIN: Mike Leavitt fervently believes the middle ground is where solutions lie. His philosophy of en libra was later adopted by the Western Governors Association. In a press conference with President Bush last month, Leavitt promised to bring these ideas to the national stage.

LEAVITT: To me there is an inherent human responsible to care for the earth. But there’s also an economic imperative that we’re dealing with in a global economy to do it less expensively and Mr. President, it’s your commitment to both that has enlisted me to this cause.

[SOUND OF PROTEST – CHANTING – “Western governors, we bring you greetings. Put an end to secret meetings….” ]

BRUNDIN: Last year, environmentalists demonstrated to protest en libra. The Sierra Club’s Lawson Legate says Leavitt doesn’t practice the princples of en libra, which stress negoti ation not litigation, collaboration, not confrontation.

LEGATE: His true style is to make an announcement – I’ve just cut a deal, as he’s cut a deal with the Secretary of the Interior recently to halt further wilderness studies in Utah – behind closed doors, and then he calls a meeting and says, here, I’d like to tell you what I did. That’s his idea of involvement. He says collaboration and not confrontation but he truly does not collaborate.

BRUNDIN: Legate also points to the Legacy Highway – a proposal for a 14-mile corridor along the shores of the Great Salt Lake, cutting through fragile wetlands. The plan is being championed by Leavitt, but environmental groups charge that they weren’t consulted, nor were alternatives to the highway considered, like mass transit. Larry Young is the executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

YOUNG: A guy who wants to slab asphalt down the middle of wetlands for the Great Salt Lake, you got to be nervous about that. A person who talks about how he was part of a multi-state effort to clean the haze up over the Grand Canyon, but we still look out over our urban valleys along the Wasatch Front and see pollution, haze, day in, day out - you wonder how serious he’s going to be about confronting the issue of air pollution.

BRUNDIN: Environmentalists recall that in 1997, Leavitt opposed tightening federal air quality standards, asking instead for more study. But Diane Neilsen, who heads the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, says Utah meets federal air quality standards now. That was not the case at the beginning of Leavitt’s administration. Utah counties developed car emissions testing programs to meet the standard—

NEILSEN: --without all the flap that occurred at the national level.

BRUNDIN: She says Leavitt’s en libra principle of “national standards, neighborhood solutions” made the task easier.

NEILSEN: We recognize the value of a national standard. But we recognize that a one size fits all regulation doesn’t work. Pollution looks different here in Utah than it does in New Jersey and that means we need different strategies.

BRUNDIN: Neilsen and Governor Leavitt also count among his environmental successes the regional plan to clean up air over southwest; the preservation of 35,000 acres of open space; more money for state parks and trails, and Envision Utah, the nation’s largest “smart growth” partnership. And though he can’t count it as a victory yet, Leavitt – in this 2002 state of the state address – seems, perhaps, most proud of this achievement.:

LEAVITT: I’d like to point out that it’s been another year – and not a single spent nuclear fuel rod has been moved to Utah – not now, not later, not ever! [APPLAUSE]

BRUNDIN: Leavitt has so far successfully foiled attempts to store the nation’s supply of nuclear fuel rods in an above-ground facility west of Salt Lake City. Environmentalists applaud him for this, but they uniformly agree that Utah regulators go easy on polluters.

[OUTSIDE SOUND]

BRUNDIN: For years, Magcorps, a magnesium refinery located here on the southwest shore of the Great Salt Lake, topped the list as the nation’s dirtiest polluter. But environmentalists say state regulators looked the other way. Diane Neilsen says there wasn’t a federal standard for burning magnesium that the state could model.

NEILSEN: We didn’t have the resources. It would have taken a lot of money and technical expertise to be able to do the research to establish that standard, and we just didn’t have the wherewithal to do that.

WARD: What I hear the Leavitt administration saying is that in the absence of clear federal law telling them what to do, they don’t know what to do on their own.

BRUNDIN: Environmentalist Chip Ward says similar plants in Norway, Israel and elsewhere had standards and were burning magnesium much more cleanly. Despite that, it still took years of citizen pressure on the state to make Magcorps invest in the technology that eventually cut emissions by 90 percent.

LEAVITT: [Talking with staff in limousine] My guess is we’ll go through most of the politics of the day, I don’t know of anything that hasn’t be already discussed…

BRUNDIN: As he flies from appointment to press conference in his limousine, Mike Leavitt is his usual relaxed self. His popularity ratings averaged 75 percent during his 11 years in office. But it’s likely he’ll face a much rockier road in Washington, as did his predecessor Christie Todd Whitman. How much flexibility Leavitt would have in a new post depends largely on how his views square with two men, says University of Utah law professor Bob Adler. Every major environmental rule and regulation, Adler says, must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget, headed up by Joshua Bolten. And of course, approved by President Bush.

ADLER: If Governor Leavitt is appointed or is confirmed and sees eye to eye with the two of them, he’ll probably get along better than Governor Whitman. If he does want to exert his own policies and his own sense of a different environmental vision, he’ll find himself in the same place that Governor Whitman was in.

BRUNDIN: Governor Leavitt’s confirmation hearings before a U.S. Senate committere could begin later as early as this month. For Living on Earth, I’m Jenny Brundin in Salt Lake City, Utah.

[MUSIC: The Uplifters “Inspired So” Burning Bush]

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Eco-Terror

CURWOOD: In the last several weeks, environmental and animal rights militants, or eco-terrorists, have struck at least five times on the west coast, causing tens of millions of dollars in damages. Joining me with more detail is Ingrid Lobet of our Los Angeles bureau. Ingrid, tell us, what’s been happening?

LOBET: Well, in early August there was perhaps the largest eco-terror crime – that’s measured in dollars of damage – that we’ve ever had in the United States. Vandals torched a nearly finished five story apartment building and an underground parking garage in a fast-growing section of San Diego. They left a banner that read “you build it, we burn it.” And that arson caused 50 million dollars in damage. The Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, said it was their crime. And then two weeks later a related group, the Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, broke into an historic building where a restaurant was going to open. That was in Sonoma, California. They poured concrete down the sink and flooded the building and two adjacent businesses. They threatened the chef’s family. And the issue here was that the restaurant was apparently going to serve fois gras, which is duck or goose liver pate. And apparently the livers of the ducks or geese are often enlarged by forced feeding when you prepare that

CURWOOD: Rough business. What else is going on?

LOBET: Well then, in late August arsonists hit four car dealerships and several car owners east of Los Angeles. They destroyed 20 Hummers and damaged 50 other cars, SUVs, by painting them with slogans like “I heart pollution” and “lazy Americans.” It seems like the vehicles were all chosen for their low fuel efficiency, although one fire official did point out that the fires themselves released hundreds of tons of particulate pollutants into the air.

CURWOOD: What happened in Washington state?

LOBET: Then there was that case, also in late August. Animal liberation militants snuck into a mink farm in the rural town of Salton, Washington, and let out ten thousand minks. And they were then killed by traffic, and they also went on to eat people’s chickens and pet cats. And then, just as Labor Day weekend was beginning, two bombs exploded at the corporate offices of one of the country’s biggest biotech firms. That’s the Kiron Corporation. And here the gripe wasn’t even with Kiron, but a with a company Kiron contracts with for lab work, and it does animal testing, which as you know is required by the FDA before drugs can be used on humans. No one was hurt, but again the attack got pretty threatening personally, because they left a warning that said “you might be able to protect your premises, but can you protect all your employees’ homes?”

CURWOOD: So, what do the authorities and people who study these groups say is happening with these five incidents in such a short period of time?

LOBET: Some of them do see this as a ratcheting up of activity. In the biotech company attack, for example, they used bombs, explosives, instead of arson which is the more common tool for some of these groups. And then they also point to the extensive damage at the San Diego apartment arson, 50 million dollars. But, it’s also true that these groups have been increasingly active over time. They’re continually active.

CURWOOD: Ingrid Lobet heads the Living on Earth bureau in Los Angeles. Thank you, Ingrid.

LOBET: Thank you.

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Environmental Health Note/West Nile Vaccine

CURWOOD: Just ahead: the story of a tribe who, some say, was hidden from civilization for thousands of years. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.

[HEALTH NOTE THEME MUSIC]

TOOMEY: Despite efforts to curb West Nile, thi s year the virus has spread to all but six states. So far, about 18-hundred people have become infected, usually with mild symptoms such as low grade fever and headache. But the disease has been fatal in a few, mostly elderly patients.

Now, researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases say they are making progress in developing a vaccine against the West Nile Virus. To create it, scientists removed the outer proteins of a dengue virus and replaced them with the corresponding proteins from West Nile. They figured the resulting hybrid virus would be crippled to the point where it can't cause disease, but would trigger a strong immune response.

The vaccine was tested in a dozen rhesus monkeys. Even though the virus had only a weak ability to replicate itself in the monkey's blood, researchers found that all twelve animals developed high levels of antibodies. And when exposed to the West Nile virus, none of the monkeys became ill. Researchers plan to begin human trials of the vaccine by the end of year.

And that’s this week’s Environmental Health Note. I’m Diane Toomey.

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

[MUSIC: Radiohead “Meeting in the Aisle” Airbag Hog (1998) EMI Records LTD.]

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Almanac/Going Down the Road

[MUSIC: Leo Kottke “Vaseline Machine Gun” 6 and 12 String Guitar (1969) Takoma Records]

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

[MUSIC CONTINUES]

CURWOOD: The Lincoln Highway once connected Time Square in New York to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. And in 1928, Boy Scouts marked the highway with small busts of its namesake Abraham Lincoln. Each of the eleven states the highway passed through set up kiosks to greet visitors.

Today, the Lincoln is sectioned into several different interstates and the route has strayed from its original path. The kiosks and most of the Boy Scout markers are gone. To mark the anniversary, one hundred motorists re-traced the routes they once took along the 3,000 mile Lincoln Highway.

Car buff Bob Lichty from Canton, Ohio made the trip in his--what else?—Lincoln Town car.

LICHTY: To follow the original Lincoln Highway you have to know for example that this frontage road across the great Salt Lake is actually the old Lincoln Highway, or a dirt road in Nebraska to a town that has no real roads in it is the same way. It’s almost a little bit like a scavenger hunt. It actually makes it kinda fun.

CURWOOD: Bob and the rest of his caravan made the cross-country trip in a leisurely 17 days. And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac. What did you do this summer?

[MUSIC ENDS]

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Invented Eden

CURWOOD: Gather a group of anthropologists together and chances are before too long there will be an argument or two about the origins of the Tasaday. The Tasaday are a tribe of Stone-Age people who live deep in the jungles of the Philippines. Or are they? The Tasaday were sold to the world as aboriginal when they were “discovered” by westerners in 1971. But later the tribe was branded as a hoax invented to garner attention. Author Robin Hemley has written a book that attempts to sort out the fact and fiction of this tale. It’s called “Invented Eden: The Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday.” Mr. Hemley says he first heard about the Tasaday when he was a teenager watching TV.

HEMLEY: When I was about 14, I saw this NBC documentary on the Tasaday.

NEWS ANCHOR: The outside world, after maybe a thousand years, has discovered a small tribe of people living in a remote jungle in the Philippines. Until now, the outside world didn’t know they existed, and they didn’t know the outside world existed. Their way of living is approximately that of the Stone Age.

HEMLEY: This must have been 1972 or 1973, and it looked like this complete idyll that they were living in that was free of worry or want. And I saw this group and I thought, you know, I wanted to be a Tasaday.

CURWOOD: Now I remember back in the early seventies when this story burst onto the news. There was much excitement that these were truly aboriginal people. How were the Tasaday first discovered?

HEMLEY: Well, there was a hunter, named Dafal, from one of the local tribes, who had actually had contact with them for a number of years, probably. He and his father had visited the Tasaday in the rainforest and traded items with them, given them metal technology, some brass earrings and bolo knives and some cloth and so on. And this Marcos government minister visiting the area, Manda Elizalde - he was in charge of the ethnic minorities of the Philippines under the Marcos administration – he asked this guy Dafal, do you know any poor tribes or poor groups of people living in the area? And he said yes, well, I know this one group. And Elizalde said, well, I’d like to meet them. And so Dafal went to meet the Tasaday and he asked them to come see this guy Elizalde, who he said would do great things for them. So, a clearing was made in the jungle, and on June 7th 1971, Elizalde’s two helicopters landed in this clearing. And several frightened Tasaday men came out of the clearing, lead by Dafal, to meet them. And that’s how it all started.

CURWOOD: Describe for me what the first journalists saw, in that clearing, the first time the Tasaday were brought out for them.

HEMLEY: The journalists saw this incredible tableau of these people standing at the mouth of a cave dressed in leaves. And it was as if they were thrown back in time 10 thousand years. And they were stunned. So the National Geographic reporter wrote this sort of glowing article about these cave people in Mindanao. And that was something that a lot of people read, and it really gathered a lot of force about who these people where.

CURWOOD: Now, this chap, Manual Elizalde – or Manda, as you refer to him often in the book – gets very much involved in presenting these people to the world. What do you think were his motivations in publicizing the Tasaday?

HEMLEY: Well, Elizalde was a very strange character. He had a rather dubious background. He came from the fifth richest family in the Philippines, he had the reputation as a playboy, and everyone was very skeptical of his motives. As he got more and more involved in the Marcos administration, he kind of got co-opted by them, and he was able to use the Tasaday to give good publicity to the Marcos dictatorship at a time when they needed it.

CURWOOD: Robin, how did the suspicions of a hoax first begin?

HEMLEY: The suspicions really started in 1986, right after the overthrow of the Marcos regime, when a Swiss reporter named Oswald Iten , acting on a tip, hiked into the rainforest led by a Philippino reporter named Joey Lozano. And he was told through Lozano’s translators that the Tasaday were actually a group of Tbolis – that’s a local tribe - who were recruited by this guy Manda Elizalde to pose in caves, to wear leaves instead of cloth, to carry stone tools, and to basically pretend to be cave people.

CURWOOD: Tell me, what’s the fascination with the Tasaday?

HEMLEY: Well, when the Tasaday were, quote, discovered in 1971, they weren’t just considered a, quote, stone age people, but their purported gentleness was also quite fascinating to the public at large, and the media. Because this was at the time of the Vietnam War, and it was a very difficult time in terms of a lot of conflicts going on in the world. And here was this group of people who supposedly had no word for war, or enemy, or weapon. It was almost like this group of flower children had been discovered in the rain forest who were a kind of antidote to the warring nature of human beings. Then also in 1986 when the hoax story broke, it was a time very different from the early 1970s – a post Watergate time – when people were suspicious of government. And the hoax story really hit a chord in people at that time too, in a more cynical time.

CURWOOD: So where do you come down on this question? People tend to believe in the two extremes of alternatives for the Tasaday, that they are in fact a hoax, or were a hoax, or that they really are a somewhat Stone Age people.

HEMLEY: Well I believe that they were a group, basically, or poor Manobos, who had fled into the forest maybe 150 years ago to escape a smallpox epidemic. They hadn’t separated, you know, a thousand years ago, or ten thousand years ago as first reported. But they weren’t a hoax either. I mean a hoax is something that is calculated, and they weren’t this group of farmers who were recruited to pose in caves. In fact, what I found out through my research, which was really fascinating, was that some of the hoax proponents, in fact, had created a kind of alternate hoax. In order to prove their point they had created fake geneologies and done all kinds of things to prove the Tasaday were a hoax.

CURWOOD: Now there’s a law of physics that says you fundamentally change anything you observe. I’m wondering, how did the Tasaday themselves change as all this attention was given to them?

HEMLEY: Well, the Tasaday really, I think, were maybe, initially, a little baffled by all this attention but quickly became used to it. They became kind of Stone Age stars, if you will. And over time they became used to being visited by reporters every once in a while asking them whether they were fake or not. In fact, the word “fake” has entered their lexicon. They now use that word in saying, “Well, people call us fake. What does that mean? We don’t call other people fake.” Some of them have actually become quite cynical about this, or angry. One young man named Lobo, who became very famous – he was about 13 or 14 years old at the time of the discovery, and was even on the cover of National Geographic – he at this point is really angry, and really feels that promises were made by everyone to the Tasaday, and that very few people kept any promises to them.

CURWOOD: Robin Hemley is author of “Invented Eden: the Elusive, Disputed History of the Tasaday.” Robin, thanks so much for speaking with me today.

HEMLEY: Thank you very much, I enjoyed it.

[MUSIC]

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Lewis & Clark Trail

CURWOOD: This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Lewis & Clark expeditions .

[WATER SPLASHES]

MAN: Paddle. Come on, harder.

CURWOOD: We wondered who lives and works along the trail now, from the northwest coast to the mouth of the Missouri.

WOMAN: One, Two, Three.

[MUSKET SHOT]

CURWOOD: Producer Barrett Golding bicycled the entire Lewis and Clark Trail and sent us a series of audio postcards like this one from his visit with tribal elder and spiritual leader Horace Axtell of the Nez Perce. in Lewiston, Idaho.

Nez Perce Elder, Horace Axtell   

AXTELL: Good morning – tats meywie, tats meywie (ph.). Daytime is tats hallop (ph.). It sounds really hard – hallop. And then evening or nighttime is koulawed (ph.), tats koulawed. Tats means good. Tats – everything is good. And when you say bad it’s topsice, topsice (ph.). Even the word sounds like it – bad (laughter). That’s the way the Nez Perce language is.

[BIRDS IN BACKGROUND]

AXTELL: So, here I am. I’ve been the leader of our spirituality here for about 25 years or more. A lot of people will call it religion, but I term it as our way of life, because that’s the way our people lived a long time ago. And so we’re trying to keep it going. I do a lot of reburials and funerals and weddings and things like that that they have, the old Nez Perce way. Mostly the reburials, when people are resurfaced to the ground with erosion, construction. So I have to rebury the bones.

So I’m well, I guess I’m really the only elder now that really can speak the language fluently. That’s because I grew up with my grandmother, and she never did learn how to read or write or speak English. So I teach my grandchildren and my relatives about all the ways that our people had, and try to speak the language, because that’s who we are. Our identity (speaking Nez Perce). How can I identify myself and this land where I live? It’s my homeland. To me, it’s like my sacred home. All the water that flows from different rivers and streams is like the blood veins we have in our bodies. Without blood veins we can’t live and without water we can’t live.

People building homes along the river, and they’re polluting the river – I don’t know, some things I look at a different way. And they use all these chemicals to kill weeds, and all that in time comes into the rivers and water and into the earth, and then they dig wells on top of that (laughter). We’ve got two rivers, one here and one over there, and we have a water shortage (laughter). Unbelievable. So, I don’t know. It’s just the way I look at life. It’s just a battle all the way (Laughs).

CURWOOD: Barrett Golding's portraits of the Lewis & Clark Trail: 200 Years Later are part of Hearing Voices, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. For more audio, images and interviews from the trail, please visit our website livingonearth.org..

[BIRDS CALLING, CRICKETS CHIRPING]

CURWOOD: You’re listening to NPR’s Living on Earth.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation. Major contributors include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for coverage of western issues, and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman 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.

Related link:
"A Little Bit of Wisdom - Conversations with a Nez Perce Elder" by Horace Axtell and Margo Aragon

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Lessons from 9/11

CURWOOD: A few weeks ago, the inspector general of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found the Bush administration had "convinced the agency to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones" in its press releases about air quality in lower Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. Heather Dubin, who taught school at Ground Zero, doesn’t know what to believe now.

DUBIN: Recent findings that the EPA wasn’t exactly honest about the air quality at Ground Zero don’t surprise me. Two years ago, I was one of thousands running down the street on that horrible morning with a building chasing me. The public high school where I taught, Economics and Finance, at 100 Trinity Place, is a hundred feet from the World Trade. We were displaced for six months, but with pressure from the city to prove New York was still New York, the Board of Ed sent us back.

The school staff was divided over our return. Some teachers readily accepted promises that the air quality was safe. I was opposed to going back without assurance against long-term health risks. It seemed like common sense to me, but I was perceived as some kind of radical instigator.

The Board of Ed hired contractors to clean the building and fix the air filtration. But a walk-through revealed the job wasn't stellar. Soot was in the elevator shaft, dust was on several floors, and asbestos was found above the ceilings.

The kids were upset that the Board of Ed was less than candid. As minorities, racism is part of their everyday lives. But that didn’t prepare them for how carelessly they were being treated. The evidence was all around them every time they took a breath. When one student said, "I don't want to get cancer,” her somber tone brought quiet to the classroom. I could see in their faces a combination of fear and expectation. My role as a teacher had been to earn their trust and to help them figure out the answers. What was I supposed to tell them? I couldn't lie.

The area was filthy. The building covered in scaffolding. You could taste the heavy layer of dust. We were within yards of where WTC workers were coming down with respiratory problems. Streets were ripped open while workers re-wired. After school, some of the kids would wait outside for their friends. They'd stand across the street, breathing in dust. We’d tell them to get out of there, to go home.

I developed a sore throat and cough – as did co-workers and students, along with thousands of others who lived and worked in the area. The kids with asthma were our biggest worry. Eventually, we got used to it. Used to the air. Used to the dirt. Used to the Deutshe building swathed in black drapery. But can we get used to lies? Sometimes it’s vindicating to be right. Not this time. I feel jaded. Now I know what it’s like to be invisible, something my students understand all too well. What I wasn’t prepared for was the responsibility of their trust. No one had answers. We could only hope the government was telling the truth. Turns out, they weren’t. Now, It seems the only thing we can rely on is the expectation of disappointment.

CURWOOD: Heather Dubin teaches high school in New York City, and lives in Manhattan.

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Emerging Science Note/Sponge Optics

CURWOOD: Coming up: what we really eat when we eat beef. The case for grazing in the grass. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.

[EMERGING SCIENCE THEME MUSIC]

GRABER: Scientists have discovered a type of deep sea sponge that creates more efficient fiber optics cables than humans can manufacture. The sponge, nicknamed the "Venus flower basket," lives deep in the Pacific Ocean. The creature has a ring of thin glass fibers at its base that anchors it to the ocean floor. These sponge cables transmit light more efficiently than industrial fibers. They’re also much more flexible than their human-made counterparts which break if bent too far.

Scientists think the fibers concentrate light from deep sea organisms that glow and then channel it around the sponge. As part of the biological process to build these fibers, small amounts of specialized elements such as sodium are added that make light transmission more efficient. And the sponges make all this happen at ambient temperatures while man-made manufacturing takes place at extremely high temperatures. The heat makes it impossible to add these beneficial elements. The next step is to learn how to mimic the sponges’ biological process and create more efficient, flexible fiber optic cables.

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

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

[MUSIC: Beastie Boys “Son of Neckbone” The In Sound From Way Out (1996) Grand Royal]

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Grazing in the Grass

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

We'd like to think that that juicy steak we toss on the summer grill comes from the kind of pastoral landscape it did a hundred years ago. But few do. Most beef cattle in America are fattened up in feedlots, on a complex diet of grain, antibiotics, and agricultural byproducts. The beef industry says that's what consumers want, but critics argue it’s a system that pits biology and health against the bottom line. Producer Guy Hand visits one of a small band of cattle ranchers who've abandoned the feedlot for pasture. They’re trying to raise their herds from start to finish the old fashioned way, on grass.

[CATTLE MOOING, PEOPLE WHISTLING, GATES OPENING]

ELZINGA: Come on guys, get down there, come on guys.

[SOUND OF CATTLE CLATTERING THROUGH GATE]

HAND: On the Idaho - Montana border, where Lewis and Clark once walked, rancher Glenn Elzinga is weening his calves. Weening isn't a pleasant time for calf or cowboy.

ELZINGA: I just wonder if they know it's this time of year, and they get that sinking feeling that this is the day, this is the day we must part ways.

HAND: Cows bellow in protest as Elzinga shuts a gate, separating mothers from calves for the first time. [GATE CREAKS] Cowpoke lean, his stetson cocked over a bushy, wild bill mustache, Elzinga is all but apologetic as he ushers a few more calves through the gate to new pasture.


(Photo: Guy Hand)


ELZINGA: Sometimes we call it Glenn and Caryl's Counciling Center for Wayward Cows .

HAND: If Elzinga and his wife Caryl were traditional ranchers, their soft treatment would be short lived. They'd send these calves to faraway feedlots where they'd eat an unfamiliar diet of corn and antibiotics, fattened up quickly and efficiently for slaughter. Instead, Elzinga's calves will spend their lives on the pastures where many of them were born.

[SOUND OF WALKING THROUGH GRASS]

ELZINGA: Really, I'm a grass farmer, because this grass is the foundation of my entire operation.

HAND: Elzinga and two of his five young daughters walk through green pastures. He used to send cattle to the feedlots, but was discouraged by the bleak economics of modern beef production. And he just didn't like the industrialization of something as ancient, as simple as cowboys, cattle, and grass.

ELZINGA: I think that wherever you get farther detached from the original way things were – like cattle originally ate grass. Grass! You know, and fish swam in the ocean and now we're farming fish. The more and more we remove these animals from the original things that they were meant to eat, the more and more concerns we're going to see as we eat them.

HAND: Writer Michael Pollan agrees. In a scathing critique of the beef industry he wrote for the Sunday New York Times, he lamented the broken connection between cattle and grass.

POLLAN: There's a wonderful co-evolutionary relationship between cattle and grass. These are animals who have evolved to be able to digest grass, which is a marvelous trick that we don't have. We cannot digest grass at all.

HAND: Pollan calls it a solar-powered food supply.

POLLAN: The sunlight feeds the grass and the grass feeds the ruminants and along we come and we eat the ruminants. So it's an indirect way for us to get our food energy from the sun.

HAND: He says it's an ecologically elegant system, but one beef producers began to abandon in the 1950's.

POLLAN: The logic of economics or industry are very different than the logic of biology. And in economics time is money, and people discovered that if you put cattle on corn they got fat quicker. So that when corn got cheap – and there are a lot of reasons for that, having to do with subsidies and technology – it made sense. It was very efficient to take cattle off of grass and put them in feedlots where they would get heavy very, very quickly.

HAND: Corn-fed cattle reach slaughter weight in 14 months, at least twice as fast as pastured cattle. For the consumer that means more beef at less cost. But Pollan says there's a big problem.

POLLAN: When you hear the expression "corn-fed steaks" just like "corn-fed midwesterner" it has the ring of all-American wholesomeness about it. But in fact cows are not designed to eat corn. And what happens is the corn acidifies the digestive system of the cow in ways that lead to all sorts of problems. As soon as you put your cow on corn at six months you've got to start giving it antibiotics and the reason is the corn is going to make them sick.

HAND: But Gary Weber, animal scientist with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association disagrees with Pollan.

WEBER: Cattle would prefer to eat grain rather than grass. It's just easier for them to chew. It must taste good to them, and that's why we have to actually keep cattle away from grain. Because they'll eat so much if left to their own devises, maybe like kids in candy perhaps. But they do enjoy it and it's not something that is against their nature to eat grain.

HAND: While Pollan looks at the feedlot and sees sick cattle wallowing in their own feces, Weber sees something entirely different.

WEBER: It's not uncommon on a cool day in the summer in the morning to see cattle kicking up their heels, their tails up in the air and hooves kicking around, having fun with each other in those feedlot settings. And they have fresh food, water available at all times. They've got their buddies with them. It seems like a very pleasant place to be, looking at it from the outside.

HAND: Weber says the practice of feeding corn to cattle isn't the product of cold economics, but came from the extra care pioneers gave the steer they raised for their own families.

WEBER: They'd feed grain to that steer and fatten him up, as it were, and they learned that that beef was tastier, more tender, more heavily marbled for their own family's uses. And the word started to spread around and that lead to opportunities for people to raise these animals in more of a commercial way, and the reason being its that consumers really like the taste, the juiciness of grain fed beef.

HAND: But writer Michael Pollan finds the feedlot diet a good deal less appetizing.

POLLAN: There's not just corn in there. We feed cattle in feedlots a lot of horrible things. We feed them chicken manure in places. We feed them brewery waste. We basically look at cows as repositories for all sorts of junk. And to think that what we feed animals, we're not feeding ourselves, is really to kid ourselves. You often hear you are what you eat, but we are also what what we eat eats, if you can follow that [LAUGHTER].

HAND: Studies show that grass-fed beef is lower in fat and higher in beneficial omega three fatty acids than corn-fed beef.

[SOUNDS OF KIDS LAUGHING]

HAND: But rancher Glenn Elzinga has other reasons for growing grass-fed beef.

ELZINGA: It's a place to raise not only these cattle, but my family. And they're just my number one priority. We have fun. We eat together and spend a lot of time with each other so really that's why I'm here. It's for these kids.

HAND: Do you like it here?

MELANIE: Yeah.

HAND: Why?

MELANIE: Because there’s a lot to do. [ABIGAIL IN BACKGROUND: What’d she say?]

HAND: Do you like living here?

ABIGAIL : Yes.

HAND: Why?

ABIGAIL: Because it’s pretty.

HAND: Do you like the winter?

ABIGAIL: Yes.

HAND: Why?

ABIGAIL: Because you can slide down hills.

HAND: Seven year old Abigail smiles a big, slightly mischievous smile and then yanks a handful of grass and tosses it at her sister Melanie.

ELZINGA: Hey, don’t waste the grass, guys. You’re wasting this grass. Cut it out!

HAND: But life for the Elzinga family isn't all pastoral bliss. Every cattleman in America confronts the fact that 80 to 90 percent of the beef processing business is controlled by four large packing
companies. Those companies have tremendous influence over cattle prices and production methods. So small ranchers, with profits falling and little bargaining power to wield, are finding it harder and harder to stay in business – feedlot or not.

ELZINGA: [SIGHS] You know, I believe that independently operated small farms or small ranches are going to be a thing of the past over the next ten years. The only way that I'm going to maintain profitability at a small scale, say a hundred to a hundred and fifty cows, is by trying to find my own market and eliminating the many steps between my production and the consumer.

[FIDDLE MUSIC, CROWD SOUNDS]

HAND: Here, at the Boise farmer's market, Elzinga looks like he took a wrong turn at the corral, frozen steak in hand, surrounded not by pasture but office buildings.

[SOUND OF POTS CLANGING]

ELZINGA: Want to try some? Absolutely free. No obligation.

HAND: He had little luck finding customers among his rural neighbors back home, so every summer weekend he drives five hours through Idaho mountains to sell his beef to city folk.

ELZINGA: It's a long drive. Yesterday my car died in Fairfield on the way down here and I had to get out and push for a while.

HAND: But at least, he's found people who appreciate the fruits of his labor.

WOMAN: Wow. That is flavor!

ELZINGA: I haven't had one person at this market come back and say they didn't like my beef. And that's a real positive thing, that kind of keeps you going, that kind of puts a little gas on the fire

HAND: Elzinga finds the farmer's market a refreshing for another reason.

ELZINGA: When you're selling cattle on the commercial market, it's a very negative sort of deal. Because you've got a buyer; he's picking through your cattle and he's saying there's something wrong with this one, this one’s got a bad eye, this ones got a bad foot. You know they're coming up with excuses not to buy your product. Here, people come back because they like your product and it makes you feel good. It's a positive thing rather than a negative thing. And I like to build a relationship. I like calling people on a first name, and I like it that they know me, and there's just a lot more meaning to that than shipping my cattle on a truck to a Nebraska feed lot to a guy I've never met in my life.

What have you tried before? (to customer)

WOMAN: I think I tried the London broil and it was very, very, very delicious. Oh, good deal, that's great.

[SOUNDS OF COOKING, KIDS. CARYL: Okay, you set the table….]

HAND: Elzinga's wife and business partner Caryl also likes the personal contact of the farmers’ market, but that close connection doesn't pay the bills. Their meat is comparable in price to premium corn-fed beef, but it can cost several dollars a pound more than supermarket beef. Caryl explains as she fixes dinner.

C. ELZINGA: you can't sell it for the commodity price. We simply can't compete with the way cattle are raised in mass in feedlots on cheap feed. Just can't do it.

HAND: Grass-fed cattle are more costly to raise because it takes longer to bring them to slaughter weight. It's also harder to keep the quality of the meat consistent during the winter months when cattle are eating hay rather than fresh grass.

C. ELZINGA: I don't know if there's a big enough clientelle out there who are interested in what we do to actually make this a big enough market to make this a viable income for us.

HAND: Caryl stares out the kitchen window for a long moment.

C. ELZINGA: About six months ago we said either we're going to do this and go at it whole hog, and do the whole effort that it takes to market this, or we're going to have to re-think everything we're doing and maybe quit what we're doing all together and do something different. I don't think we'd leave the ranch. The kids have already said - do we have to leave and move to town?

GIRL: I found some candy!

C. ELZINGA: You found some candy? Where?

GIRL: Behind my chair.

HAND: Raising five young daughters doesn't give Caryl and Glenn much time to dwell on the future. The kids are hungry now. So, they herd them to the dinner table and set out piles of home-grown vegetables and a juicy grass-fed roast.

GIRL: The corn’s ours, the tomatoes are ours, the cucumbers are ours, and the cauliflower is ours.

GIRL2: And I love the corn!

HAND: Grass-fed beef is part of a growing list of foods that buck America's agricultural trend toward higher technology and greater industrialization. Like organic potatoes, free-range chickens, wild salmon, and heirloom corn, grass-fed beef has become something more than a food choice. It's a symbol for a kind of agriculture that places faith in the small scale, in tradition rather than technology. Critics call that a kind of misplaced nostalgia. Yet farmers and ranchers like the Elzingas see it as a chance to preserve not only a fading kind of agriculture, but themselves.

For Living on Earth, I'm Guy Hand

ELZINGA: OK, lets pray. Dear Lord, thanks a lot for this food and I pray that you please bless us.

FAMILY: (singing) Evening has come. The corn is cooked. Thanks be to God, who gives us bread. Praise God for bread.

ELZINGA: Ok, dig in!

[MUSIC]

Related links:
- Glenn and Caryl Elzinga's website
- Clearinghouse for pasture raised animals
- National Cattlemen's Beef Association

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CURWOOD: And for this week - that's Living on Earth. Next week - not many wild horses roam the West anymore, and today some of the survivors are dying of starvation because of a drought that’s plagued the region. Now, a call has gone out to save what’s left of one herd.

WOMAN: The 30 horses that we were talking about, I was aaware of, was probably the last of the herd. This was all that there was left out there after hundreds of years. So I had to make the call. I called board members and said “This is the situation. We have 30 horses left at Red Rock. We have them at Oliver Ranch. And this is it gang, if they go, they’ll be gone forever. What do you want to do?”

CURWOOD: Find out, next week on Living on Earth. And between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to our website livingonearth.org.

You can also check out our work with inner-city and rural schools across the country where we teach environmental radio journalism to high school students. The kids produce their own radio web shows about the environmental issues that affect them and their communities. We’ll visit a Camden, New Jersey high school where students report on high asthma rates, a neighborhood butterfly garden and lead in their drinking water.

MALE STUDENT: The district which can’t even afford enough textbooks or computers for students has no choice but to pay for bottled water. There were unsafe levels of lead at 21 schools between 1999 and 2002.

MALE STUDENT2: You can tell by looking at it if you see it’s clear, then it’s good.

FEMALE STUDENT: Sometimes it can look clear but something might be wrong with it like chemicals or stuff is in it.

CURWOOD: Listen to the voices of youth, on our website, livingonearth.org.

[BIRDS CALLING; LOONS]

CURWOOD: We leave you this week on Echo Pond.

[LOON CALLS]

CURWOOD: Ruth Happel recorded this wildlife scene in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, featuring the enchanting call of the loon.

[LOON AND BIRD CALLS]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced for the World Media Foundation by Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu, Cynthia Graber, Ingrid Lobet, and Diane Toomey. You can find us at livingonearth.org.

Andy Farnsworth mixes the program. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

[LOON CALLS FADE]

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; and Stonyfield Farm – organic yogurt, cultured soy, and smoothies. Ten percent of their profits are donated to support environmental causes and family farms. Learn more at stonyfield.com. Support also comes form 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.

ANNOUNCER2: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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