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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

March 25, 1994

Air Date: March 25, 1994

SEGMENTS

Northern Forests Plan Issued / Eric Westervelt

Eric Westervelt of New Hampshire Public Radio takes a look at the Great North Woods and a recently finished plan for their future. After five years, the Northern Forest Lands Council has issued its recommendations for managing the twenty-five million acres of forest which spans New England and New York State. Local landowners and the timber industry are happy with the plan, which they believe will ward off development and preserve their livelihoods . . . but some environmentalists think the recommendations will do little to prevent devastating clearcutting in the eighty percent of the forest which will remain in private ownership. (08:38)

Fort Ord - Military Base or Wildlife Refuge? / Claire Greene

Claire Greene reports from central California on the closing of an unlikely refuge for rare and endangered species — Fort Ord Military Base. Set aside at the turn of the century for combat training, a large part of Fort Ord's sixteen thousand acres has become a time capsule of unspoiled land, harboring plants and animals that have disappeared from neighboring areas under pressure from development. (06:14)

Military Mimics Mother Nature

Host Steve Curwood talks to Richard Warner of the Nature Conservancy about the role of military land as unintentional wildlife habitat. A database created by the Nature Conservancy indicates that Department of Defense land may harbor as many rare and endangered species as other public lands deliberately created to preserve wildlife. (03:37)

Listener Comments

Living on Earth listeners sound off about Exxon, oil spills, and Superfund lawsuits. (03:04)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Louise Tunbridge, Stephanie O'Neill, Eric Westerveldt, Claire Green
GUEST:
COMMENTATOR:

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

The Great North Woods that stretch across the northern part of New York and New England have been under pressure from development and clear-cutting. Now there's a Federal plan to protect the area, and unlike the Pacific Northwest plan, many small local timber cutters like what they see.

AMY: I feel like I actually wrote the report. I'm that happy with it.

CURWOOD: Also, some of the most important and unexpected places of refuge for rare plants and animals in the United States are military bases. As bases close, some are being turned into wildlife preserves.

MASERA: Plants that grew here and also on other sandy bases were destroyed due to farming, construction of cities, whatever. And we have some species here at Fort Ord that grow almost nowhere else in the world.

CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news. Kenya's internationally renowned Wildlife Protection Program has been thrown into turmoil following Richard Leakey's resignation as director. Leakey left earlier this year amid so far unsubstantiated charges of mismanagement and racism. He was asked to return, then resigned again following what he called unacceptable conditions put on his service by Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi. From Nairobi, Louise Tunbridge reports.

TUNBRIDGE: Dr. Leakey is credited by conservationists with having built in the wildlife service a successful organization with the best interests of Kenya's wildlife at heart. He's actually stamped out elephant and rhino poaching and won multi-million-dollar funding from donors to develop Kenya's national parks. But he also earned the enmity of senior government ministers, a group of whom led a campaign for his removal on the grounds of alleged mismanagement. Following criminal investigations at the wildlife service, President Moi ordered key changes in financial policy and the handover of security in the parks to the police. Dr. Leakey resigned, saying he couldn't operate under such circumstances. Many Kenyans and international conservationists now say they're worried for the future of the country's priceless wildlife no longer under the protection of a man committed to its survival. For Living on Earth, I'm Louise Tunbridge in Nairobi.

NUNLEY: The Federal Government may buy out some east coast fishing boats to help restore severely depleted groundfish stocks. The Commerce Department has already announced an unprecedented $30 million program to help New England fishing communities adjust to stiff new harvest restrictions. Federal officials say the buyouts may come as part of an additional aid package to be announced this summer. The government isn't discussing a dollar figure, but one fishing industry advocate says it could cost up to $100 million to buy out half of the boats fishing on New England's George's Bank.
Scientists trying to measure one environmental threat could cause another with a controversial underwater experiment. Climate change researchers want to send sonic blasts through the Pacific Ocean to measure long-term changes in ocean temperatures. But other scientists fear the plan will harm whales and other marine species. From Los Angeles, Stephanie O'Neill explains.

O'NEILL: The blasts of sound would continue for 20 minutes every 4 hours for the next 20 years, and would be loud enough to be heard in New Zealand. By measuring the speed of sound through water, scientists can determine if ocean temperatures are rising. But environmentalists say those sound blasts could make whales deaf, leaving them unable to navigate for food. What's more, they say, the experiment could disrupt the feeding and mating patterns of other marine mammals and fish populations.

Scientists at the Scripps Institute in San Diego, who developed the technology called acoustic thermometry, say the experiment is vital to studying the threat of global warming. The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to decide soon whether to allow the experiment. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. For the first time in almost 3 years, logging is set to resume in the habitat of the Northern Spotted Owl. Federal Judge William Dwyer has approved timber sales on 2,000 acres of Federal land in the Pacific Northwest. The ruling was supported by nearly all the environmental groups which originally sued to halt timber harvests in 1991. Almost 60,000 acres of land remain off-limits to loggers while the judge awaits the Clinton Administration's final management plan for the old growth forest. That plan is due in mid-April.

There is evidence that ancient societies used medicinal plants to control fertility, and that could have significant implications for contemporary societies. That's according to medical historian John Riddle of North Carolina State University. Riddle found Greek and Roman literature filled with references to plants such as Queen Anne's Lace, pennyroyal and pomegranate, all of which modern science has shown can prevent pregnancies or cause abortions in animals. Riddle says recovering such lost knowledge could help curb population growth in developing countries such as Uganda, where he says a year's supply of condoms cuts deeply into a household budget.

RIDDLE: Plus, there are things going in Uganda's soils that folk, years ago, centuries ago, knew about, but because there's so much mistrust now of folk medicine most of that knowledge is vanquished.

NUNLEY: Riddle isn't ready to put full faith in these folk remedies, but he believes well-funded research programs could find many cheap and natural ways to control fertility. On the down side, the ancients apparently also knew how to pollute the air. A group of Swedish Scientists writing in the journal Nature have found that lead polluted the skies of Europe 2,000 years ago. Greek and Roman silver smelters released lead into the atmosphere. Analysis of lake sediments indicates that ancient precipitation contained lead concentrations many times higher than natural levels. The scientists say that if disturbed, lead in lake sediments could still pose a threat today.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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Northern Forests Plan Issued

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

One of America's most densely populated areas, the Northeast, is also home to one of the nation's largest tracts of forest land. By the end of the 19th century, much of the northern parts of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, had been logged. But today, large tracts of near-wilderness have grown back. Here in majestic patches of tall green that stretch from Mt. Marcy in New York past Mt. Katahdin in Maine, there are more than 25 million acres of forestlands. But in recent years the North Woods have been shrinking, ceded to vacation home development for some of the millions who live within a day's drive, and to clearcutting by large timber companies. Five years ago, Congress created a regional council to study ways to protect the economic and ecological health of the region. Now at last they have released their draft plan. Eric Westerveldt of New Hampshire Public Radio has our report.

(Flowing stream water)

WESTERVELDT: Sunlight glares off the snowy banks of Indian Stream, spurring early spring runoff here at the headwaters of the Connecticut River, in extreme northwestern New Hampshire. It's part of the vast North Woods stretching from New York's Adirondack Mountains in the West through northern Vermont and New Hampshire, to the far reaches of Maine in the East. Though largely undeveloped, it's hardly pristine. The pine balsam fir and spruce trees helped build the cities and economies of early America. Today, these forests still uphold a strong yet troubled timber-based way of life.

(Flowing stream water)

WESTERVELDT: But the 26-million-acre forest is also home to moose, bear, loon, and osprey. Its rugged beauty is reflected in its two dozen mountains over 4,000 feet tall. A region where trout, salmon, and pickerel live in the cool waters of its numerous lakes, ponds, and rivers. It has the feel of wilderness. Yet it's less than an 8-hour drive away from 70 million people. And in the 1980s many of those people and their checkbooks threatened the future of the close-knit communities of the north country.

(Wood and wheels [a wheelbarrow?]; a cow lowing)

WESTERVELDT: Nancy Amey and her husband John own a 300-acre farm and 1,100 acres of timberland in Pittsburgh, New Hampshire, twenty miles from the Canadian border. Timber cutting is still shut down for the winter, but caring for their livestock is a year-round job. This land has been in Amey's family since the 1860s. The real estate boom in the 1980s put them and many others under intense pressure to sell.

AMEY: I just didn't want them here. It just seemed like, why would all these people from Massachusetts and Connecticut and the southern part of the state want to come up here, and try to buy your land from you? It was like a personal offense.

WESTERVELDT: With 2 kids and deep roots in the north country, the Ameys were determined to hold onto their piece of the northern forest. But others did sell out. Squeezed by high land taxes and low timber and farm prices, some couldn't resist the deep pocket offers to turn their land into subdivisions or vacation homes. John Amey.

AMEY: The boom came here, too, for a while. There was several, I mean, 15 or 20 subdivisions in Pittsburgh of anywhere from 5 to 10 or 15 lots each. People were cashing in, actually, and taking advantage of the big buck.

WESTERVELDT: Fear of more speculative development led Congress in 1989 to create the Northern Forest Lands Council, a 16-member committee with representatives from all 4 states. Now after nearly 5 years, the Council has issued its draft recommendations for preserving the integrity of local economies and forests. Richard Ober, with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, says the report goes a long way toward helping landowners like the Ameys.

OBER: There are very strong recommendations that will deal with real land owner issues. Of rising property taxes, of estate taxes, of trying to find markets for their wood. Of knowing how to manage for the long term. Those are things that landowners are really grappling with.

WESTERVELDT: A core assumption of the report is that local timberland owners have been fairly good stewards of the land. That the ability of landowners to grow and cut trees has fed rural communities, and shielded the region from unbridled development. John Amy says he thinks the plan's call for tax reform will help ease pressure to over-cut or sell off forest land.

AMEY: I feel like I partially wrote the report. I'm that happy with it. When it's time to transfer our property to the next generation, if there were some real advantages there to make it easier to move it to the next generation without a high tax to pay, it would be most helpful.

WESTERVELDT: To help landowners hold onto their land, the Council recommends that each state tax the land on how it's currently used, not on its potential development value. It also calls for capital gains and other tax breaks, and a new tax on outdoor recreation equipment to help fund land management programs. The Council also recommends that the states look into setting aside particularly vulnerable and important forest tracts, possibly through public purchase, land trusts, or easements. But it does not propose any new large land reserves. More than 80% of the northern forest is in private hands, and the Council recommends that it stay that way. But some environmentalists involved in the northern forest debates say the Council's plan is soft, and contains nothing to address what they say is one of the biggest threats to the northern forest.

(Cessna radio voice: "Uh, Bangor Radio system 489-er 6 echo of 122.0 directly over moose headlight.")

WESTERVELDT: Easy sun cuts through thin clouds as the Environmental Air Force swoops low over northern Maine. A fragmented carpet of dark forest stretches as far as the eye can see, spotted with white, snow-covered lakes and huge bald patches. Rudy Engholm, the Environmental Air Force's New England director, dips the wing of his Cessna pontoon plane to get a better view of the massive clear-cuts below. Speaking on the plane's fuzzy intercom over the engine roar, Engholm says the devastation below is evidence of industrial forestry's liquidation of the Maine woods.

ENGHOLM: This whole area of rolling clear-cuts start to draw a line around the edge of this rolling clear-cut section, what is in excess of, uh, 20- or 25,000 acres.

WESTERVELDT: Engholm and his colleague, Charles Fitzgerald, point out that some industrial clear-cuts below have been replanted. But Fitzgerald says the replantings resemble one crop tree farms, not vibrant forests.

FITZGERALD: The problem with this is you are seeing the development of monocultural plantations. That in itself is a dangerous stop on the pesticide treadmill, means massive aerial spraying will have to occur periodically when there are outbreaks of one pest or another.

WESTERVELDT: Many forest biologists agree that clear-cutting can lead to serious long-term ecological damage. About half the northern forest is owned by large pulp, paper and timber companies. Engholm and Fitzgerald say the report doesn't adequately address the forest practices of those companies, or the economic changes in the forest products industry. What spurred Congress to create the Lands Council in part was a hostile takeover of Diamond International by Georgia Pacific in the late 80s. The sale sparked fears of increased clear-cutting, or even massive sell-offs by big timber companies to generate quick capital. In part because of the recession, only a small part of that land was carved up for development. But, critics say, there's little in the Council's report to control the fate of these lands in the future. For their part, timber companies say any further restrictions on how they manage their land could actually backfire and increase the threat of sell-offs. Bob Withrow is the Northeast Manager of Forest Resources for Boise Cascade Paper Company, which owns almost 700,000 acres of northern forest. He says the plan doesn't call for big changes in forest management because current practices are working well.

WITHROW: We're very concerned over the health of the forest and, uh, we do our utmost to make sure that that forest remains healthy. The biggest threat to, uh, a large industrial landowner such as ourselves is the uncertainty of how actively we can manage the land for basically, uh, making a profit. We - obviously we don't own the land because we like to. We own it because we are supporting a mill and we also would hope to make some profit from it.

WESTERVELDT: The Northern Forest Lands Council's draft recommendations aren't likely to resolve the ongoing debate over the future of the region. The Council's final report carries no legal authority. Still, many here agree that the Council has at least started a much-needed dialogue over the future of the last great stands of eastern forest. For Living on Earth, I'm Eric Westerveldt in Concord, New Hampshire.

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Fort Ord - Military Base or Wildlife Refuge?

CURWOOD: With the end of the Cold War, there was a lot of talk of a peace dividend with the conversion of military budgets and hardware into resources for civilian use. But in many cases, the wave of base closings have also meant a flood of lost jobs. Still, the downsizing of the US military is yielding some unlikely dividends, some of them ecological. In central California, for instance, the Army's Fort Ord is home to a surprising number of rare plants and animals. And as Claire Green reports, the base is being closed and redeveloped, but its rare species will be protected.

(Trumpeting. Newscaster's voice: "And with an emotional ceremony at Fort Ord, the Seventh Infantry Light bid farewell to the central coast this afternoon...")

GREEN: When Fort Ord closed in August, 30,000 people went with it, along with a large segment of the region's economy.

(Traffic sounds)

GREEN: But this is the Monterey Bay Peninsula, the heart of the Golden State. It's the home of such tourism gold mines as Pebble Beach and Cannery Row, and boasts visitor revenue of over a billion dollars a year. It's also home to the largest vegetable producing county in the country, with annual earnings of nearly $2 billion. So Fort Ord's closing was a mixed blessing. While it took a chunk out of the region's economy, it also appeared to free up 28,000 acres of prime California real estate, which local leaders and developers were eager to put to use. Initial ideas included plans for a resort mecca, with everything from high-rise hotels and entertainment centers to luxury cruise ship ports, even another Disney World. But such grand designs were quickly abandoned. Lieutenant Colonel Ron Perry is in charge of base realignment and closure at Fort Ord.

PERRY: People have come to realize that you can't just do anything you want to. The local reuse authority has come to that realization.

GREEN: That's because it turns out that Fort Ord is home to nearly 50 species or rare and endangered plants and animals, many of which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The species are rare because over the past 75 years, development has dramatically transformed the area around Fort Ord. The species are here because of the kind of training activities carried out on the base. Mainly shooting and playing war games on foot, which requires large expanses of unbroken landscape. So, 16,000 acres, which is over half of the total land on Fort Ord, is largely as it was when the Army acquired it just after the turn of the century.

(Birdsong)

MASSERA: We're standing on the highest part of Ford Ord and we look to the north of us, you can see the Salinas Valley: rich bottomland. You look to your left, you can see, which is south, you can see the Santa Lucias. Granite mountains, higher rainfall, Monterey Pine Forest.

GREEN: Jack Massera is Ford Ord's plant specialist. He's a civilian and has been looking after the grounds on the base for 22 years.

MASSERA: Straight ahead what Fort Ord is, it's a sandy mesa. There were other sandy mesas up and down California, but Fort Ord has become an island, so the plants that grow here have no room to, to really expand or a lot of the special plants that grow here. Plants that grew here and also on other sandy mesas were destroyed due to farming, construction of cities, whatever. And we have some species here at Fort Ord that grow almost nowhere else in the world.

GREEN: While the Army may seem unlikely stewards of wildlife habitat, they have in effect been just that. While the rare species here include Monterey dusky-footed wood rats, the California black legless lizard, even American badgers, there are also more common species, like coyotes and black-tailed deer. There are also a handful of vernal pools whose wetlands spring to life during the rainy season, as well as rolling grasslands, lots of old oak trees, and a thriving community of what were once common coastal shrubs.

MASSERA: The maritime chaparral community is a rare community because it grows in very sandy soil, it grows very close to the ocean. Heavily influenced by the ocean. And all those areas are all developed now, and so it's important because the plant community is rare.

(Footfalls on sandy soil)

MASSERA: This is [sounds like: San Mat Man's Anida], and San Mat Man's Anida is found only on the so-called Fort Ord island, nowhere else in the world.

GREEN: Indeed, Jack Massera says these 16,000 acres represent a virtual time capsule of how this part of California looked long before the region was developed. It's one of the few areas in California like this. In April, this vast parcel will be turned over to the Bureau of Land Management to be preserved in perpetuity. There is one hitch: half of the BLM land is said to have unexploded ordnance on it. The Army and the BLM are working on a long-term plan to clean it up. In addition to 1,000 acres of coastline, right alongside the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, will be given to the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Endangered species living on this 4-1/2 miles of fragile dune habitat include the Smith's blue butterfly and the western snowy plover, a small seabird which lays its eggs right on the sand. Even with all this land being preserved, there are still 12,000 acres of Fort Ord up for grabs. Much of this acreage has been developed by the Army. Reuse proposals include turning it into a blend of education, research, and recreation centers. But regardless of who gets what, the base's reuse guidelines require all its new users to sign on to a comprehensive habitat management plan. Final development plans for Fort Ord won't be determined until early this spring, but Pentagon officials are watching the success of the redevelopment process closely, largely because they are looking to make Fort Ord the model for how sensitive habitat on other, soon-to-be-closed military bases around the country will be handled. For Living on Earth, this is Claire Green reporting.

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Military Mimics Mother Nature

CURWOOD: The biodiversity at Fort Ord may be unique in its content but not in its occurrence. According to researchers at the Nature Conservancy, US military bases are among the most biologically rich areas in the nation. The Nature Conservancy has been compiling a computer database of rare and endangered species on public lands, working in cooperation with the government. Richard Warner is in charge of the project, and he joins us on the line from Washington. Mr. Warner, just how important are military lands in terms of biodiversity?

WARNER: Our data indicates that Department of Defense lands harbors many endangered species, as the lands of Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, or Bureau of Land Managements. For example, at Nullis Air Force Base in Nevada, our teams last year discovered large new populations of the Miriam bear claw poppy. This is a species that is a candidate for Federal listing. It was previously known from only about a dozen populations between Death Valley and Las Vegas, probably totaling less than 1,000 individuals. And our work at Nullis, we've turned up 25 additional populations totaling more than 50,000 individuals. This may be enough to remove this species from consideration for Federal listing.

CURWOOD: And when you say listing you mean listing as an endangered or a threatened species.

WARNER: Yes, exactly. Under the Endangered Species Act.

CURWOOD: Why is it that the military has such a rich diversity of rare or endangered species?

WARNER: Many of the military lands are very large preserves. They acquired many of these lands very early in the century, and often acquired them in areas where we don't have national parks or other sorts of protected areas. Many of the military lands have been pretty much off limits, and in addition, the military mission often does not disturb the land very much; they often want an intact landscape for their exercises and training. There are several cases where the military mission has in fact helped mimic the natural ecological processes. For example, some of their firing ranges, they in fact start fires on a very regular basis, in ecosystems where fires are in fact needed. Whereas off side the installations we've often suppressed those fires.

CURWOOD: Are you optimistic about the future of your work in the cataloguing of the species that are on Defense Department land?

WARNER: Oh, very, very optimistic. Steve, let me give you an example of how the military has taken a proactive approach to managing biodiversity. In New Mexico, the Orgin Mountains are an area with a number of endemic species, such as the knotting rock daisy and the organ evening primrose. While these species are not endangered right now, they're not found anywhere else in the world. And the military managers at Fort Bliss are interested in managing those lands to ensure that those species maintain healthy populations in the Orgin Mountains and thereby avoiding any need to list these species in the future. The military has proved a very good partner in not only developing inventories on their lands, but also on how they manage their lands.

CURWOOD: Thank you very much for taking this time to join us. Richard Warner is director of conservation databases for the Nature Conservancy in Washington. Thank you, sir.

WARNER: Thank you, Steve.

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Listener Comments

CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners. Our listener line has been humming with comments on our program about the lingering impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill five years later. This response from a listener in Baltimore was typical.

CALLER: We feel very powerless when the oil spill happened, but I have never purchased a gallon of gas from Exxon since that time, because I felt it was the only thing that I can do. And yet, are you causing equal harm when you purchase gas from other companies? I don't know. But at least I feel like I've done something.

CURWOOD: Jim Sykes of Talkeetna, Alaska, also called.

SYKES: One of those things that the Exxon Valdez demonstrated, that it wasn't the state or the Federal government or the Coast Guard or Exxon who knew what to do. It was the people who lived and worked in Prince William Sound who understood the currents and the winds and the fisheries. So one of the good things that came out of the Exxon Valdez is, it made people realize that local people have valuable information and people need to make it part of the public policy process.

CURWOOD: And from Bridgeport, Connecticut, John Santa, the President of Santa Fuel Rights: "We observe a remarkable phenomenon of inconsistency in the American media and public. A very strong passion and zeal to punish Exxon for doing its job, combined with a staunch unwillingness to forego a tank of gas for your Taurus, or the jet fuel for your weekend trip to Acapulco, or even your electric toothbrush. American wants the energy, but it doesn't want it to be manufactured, or drilled, or transported, or spilled." Roger Thoma of Grandville, Ohio, called to comment on our interview with NAACP head Benjamin Chaves about Superfund reform and his efforts to speed up cleanup of toxic sites in communities of color.

THOMA: I was quite surprised to hear Mr. Chaves say that industry had told him that they were tired of litigation. It's primarily at the impetus of industry that most of the lawsuits occur. So if the NAACP thinks that somehow the industry is serious, I'm afraid they're going to be woefully disappointed.

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(Music up and under)

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Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

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