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

August 18, 1995

Air Date: August 18, 1995


US Teen Pregnancy / Jennifer Ludden

After a decade of being officially unconcerned by global population growth, the US has taken new initiatives to help cut high fertility rates in developing countries. But here at home, we have some very high fertility rates of our own, particularly among teenagers — 6 percent of women and girls in the US between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year, a higher rate than in Asia and triple the teen fertility rate in Europe. Jennifer Ludden of member station WBUR in Boston explores the reasons for this, and what makes the difference in communities with low teen birth rates. *This piece originally aired August 1994. (08:33)

Family Planning in Malawi, Africa / Aida Opuku-Mensah

In the small African country of Malawi, women are just beginning to successfully implement family planning. Aida Opuku-Mensah spoke with some women, and men there, and found that they are experiencing advantages to contraception in a culture without a precedent for cooperative birth control. (05:57)

Idaho Grazing Rights Chew New Turf / Jyl Hoyt

In Idaho, an environmentalist is seeking to outbid ranchers for leases to grazing land he wants to protect from the cattle. Jyl Hoyt from member station KBSU in Boise reports on how one activist is seeking to change the landscape there — politically and physically. (06:41)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1995 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Stephanie O'Neil, Paula Dobbyn, Jennifer Ludden,
Aida Opuku-Mensah, Jyl Hoyt

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley.

Many people in the US see population growth in the developing world as a major environmental threat. But we've got a problem of our own here at home: the fastest population growth of any developed country. One reason is our high rate of teen pregnancy.

ELLIS: I got on the Pill at age 14, but my father told me that that gave me permission to have sex and took them away from me. But that didn't stop me.

NUNLEY: Also, population and women's rights in East Africa , and the grazing war heats up in Idaho.

CENARUSA: He testified. He said no, I'm not going to graze any livestock. I'm just going to fence off the stream and that's it. The rules state that that's a grazing lease. He wasn't complying with it; he said I'm not going to graze anything. He admitted that.

NUNLEY: On Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

BARON: From Living on Earth, I'm David Baron. A highly contagious strain of rabies found in wild coyotes could cause a lethal epidemic in people across the US. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta say the dangerous new strain is easily transmitted among canines, including domestic dogs, which could expose humans through bites or contact with dog excretion such as saliva. In Texas, where the rabies originated, 2 people have already died from the disease, and in Florida a 20-square-mile area has been quarantined. South Texas coyotes have been shipped across the south as game animals in recent years, possibly infecting local coyote populations. Scientists are working to prevent a rabies epidemic that could rival those of 50 years ago, when hundreds of people were killed by rabies each year.

A highly-touted smog fighting program in Los Angeles has suffered a serious blow. A flaw in its calculations could result in more, not less, pollution hitting Southern California. Stephanie O'Neil reports from Los Angeles.

O'NEIL: At risk is the aggressive, highly publicized Reclaim Pollution trading program developed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, or AQMD. A recent analysis by AQMD officials discovered that the program would actually allow 1996 emissions to climb 71% higher than 1993 levels. Reclaim is a pollution credit program; targeted companies are assigned emission credits they could use or trade. But many of the initial credit assignments were based on the amount of pollution the businesses produced in 1989, which was a high emission year. Since then levels have dropped 40%, due mainly to the recession. So as it now stands, the Reclaim program would enable companies until the year 2005 to emit far more pollution than they now do. AQMD officials say if an amenable solution isn't soon found, they may be forced to shelve Reclaim, and instead adopt dozens of individual smog rules, which is a far more cumbersome procedure. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neil in Los Angeles.

BARON: Nearly a quarter of a million fish have died in a north Alabama river, and environmental officials are trying to find out what killed them. Investigators from the State Department of Environmental Management suspect pesticide runoff from cotton fields is the culprit in the deaths along Big Nan's Creek, a tributary of the Tennessee River. The US Department of Agriculture has been spraying malathion and methyl parathion in the area to control boll weevils. Meanwhile, environmental activists charge that some local farmers have been combating boll worms with chemicals banned by the EPA. Scientists are testing water samples to determine which chemicals are responsible, and when the results are in the guilty parties will be faced with a $69,000 tab to replace the lost fish.

A Federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order barring King Salmon fishing in southeast Alaska. It's the latest round in a fishing dispute pitting Alaska against Oregon, Washington, and Canada. Alaska is charged with catching salmon in violation of international treaties. From KTOO in Juneau, Paula Dobbyn reports.

DOBBYN: The judge sided with Canada, Oregon, Washington, and Indian tribes in those states, which argue that Alaska's harvest of 230,000 king salmon is too high. The dispute began earlier this summer when Canadian Fisheries Minister Brian Tobin called on Alaska to lower its catch as a conservation move. Alaska Governor Tony Knowles refused, saying declining stocks in Canada and the Pacific Northwest are the result of pollution, development, over-fishing, and hydroelectric dams, and have little to do with Alaska. Knowles said Alaska has managed its stocks scientifically, and shouldn't be blamed for problems created outside its borders. Alaska's refusal to budge on the issue prompted a legal challenge by its opponents. Currently, the Southeast Alaska King Salmon Fishery is closed until the end of August. The court is reviewing Alaska's salmon management methods, and will decide whether to lift the restraining order or issue an injunction. Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote to Canadian officials this month and said he stands by Alaska's decision not to lower its catch. For Living on Earth, I'm Paula Dobbyn in Juneau.

BARON: Zebra mussels, the scourge of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River, may pose a threat to fresh water everywhere in the US. Officials at the National Biological Service say the pesky shellfish have been found alive on boats being transported by land from the Midwest to California, more than 1,000 miles away. The tenacious mussels, which first arrived in US waters in 1988, are notorious for colonizing and plugging water intakes at power plants and water treatment plants. Eliminating them is costly. Officials say controlling the mussels at some 72 nuclear and fossil fuel power plants in the Great Lakes basin will cost more than $800 million over the next 10 years.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm David Baron.

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(Music up and under)

US Teen Pregnancy

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley, in for Steve Curwood. Ten billion people by the year 2050, nearly double today's global population. Along with this common projection by population experts come dire predictions about the environmental impact of such growth. For over a decade, the US was officially untroubled by world population growth. Now the Clinton Administration wants to cut high fertility rates in developing countries. But the US has some very high fertility rates of its own, particularly among teenagers. Six percent of US women and girls between the ages of 15 and 19 give birth each year. That's the same rate as Ecuador and Rwanda, higher than in Asia, and triple the teen fertility rate in Europe. We asked Jennifer Ludden of WBUR in Boston to explore the reasons for this, and what makes the difference in communities with low teen birth rates.

(Baby: "Mm, ba ba." Babbles, with a young woman answering.)

ELLIS: My name is Betsy Ellis, and I'm 21. I have 3 children. My daughter's 5, and I have twin boys that are 2.

(Children playing; one begins to cry. Ellis: "You're fightin' with me, huh? I love you. I love you." Baby: "Ba ba." Ellis: "Kissy, kissy.")

LUDDEN: Betsy Ellis laughs nervously, her large, brown eyes look directly at you when she speaks. She says growing up in Haverhill, Massachusetts, no one in her family talked about sex. Except to tell her not to do it.

ELLIS: I got on the Pill at age 14, but my father told me that that gave me permission to have sex and that I shouldn't be on the Pill and took them away from me. But that didn't stop me, 'cause I was young and I was, you know, I just wanted to be loved like most teenagers.

LUDDEN: Of her first pregnancy, Ellis says she didn't understand, didn't comprehend the details of sex or its consequences. She gave birth and continued in a rocky relationship with her daughter's father. Then, almost on schedule, according to the statistics on teen mothers, Ellis became pregnant again.

ELLIS: I wanted a baby. I wanted another baby. My daughter was 3 and she was out of the baby stage, and I guess like, well, I thought that it would bring our relationship closer together if I had another baby.

LUDDEN: Has it?


LUDDEN: What's happened?

ELLIS: I just came out of a battered women's shelter. And our relationship's basically ended.

LUDDEN: Betsy Ellis's story is typical, a by-the-book profile of a teenage mother in the United States: a country with the highest adolescent pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates of any developed country. It's estimated a teenager has a baby in the US every 67 seconds. What's more, analyst Jeanie Rosoff of the Ellen Gutmacher Institute says half of all US pregnancies are unplanned.

ROSOFF: In a country in which well over 90% of people are practicing contraception, it's kind of unusual. Clearly, we think we should be practicing contraception and we are, but we're not doing it very well. We do, I think we do it sporadically.

LUDDEN: Rosoff blames this in part on US health care plans, which often don't pay for contraceptives. And what she calls an inexplicable low tolerance here for birth control. Yet much of the cause is the same that plagues Third World countries with exploding populations. Young American women, say experts, are more likely to have babies when they have less education, few economic opportunities, and little hope for the future.

(Traffic sounds; a church bell rings)

LUDDEN: This church bell tolls every hour in Haverhill, a largely white, working class community north of Boston, where about half the residents are Catholic. Here, unemployment runs above the state average, while incomes lag behind. Fewer than one third of residents complete college. And every year, 80 of every 1,000 women in the area have a baby, a rate close to that in some developing countries where population growth is considered dangerously high.

(Office sounds; a telephone rings. A conversation between 2 women: "That's about the IUDs, okay?" "Okay." "So, kind of look at all that, and...")

LUDDEN: Lorraine Christenson sends another patient home with information on contraceptives. The women's center here at Haverhill's Hale Hospital was strictly OB/GYN. But 2 years ago it added family planning because, Christenson says, many women were returning with repeat pregnancies, citing the same reasons as teens.

CHRISTENSON: It's that need to be accepted. It's that changing of partners, oh maybe this guy will come in, and he told me he wants me to have a baby. I don't really want to have a baby but he told me he'll be here for me. Well, often even before the pregnancy is even done with, this guy's gone out the door. Or maybe, I'll see the same father's name pop up on two or three different women.

LUDDEN: Christenson talks of a culture of increasing acceptance of teen mothers, in which young motherhood is repeated generation after generation; and pregnant students, even in middle schools, are revered by peers. She sees women routinely ignore the economic dependence that comes with teen motherhood, and instead glorify the independence and control over their lives they believe they will gain.

CHRISTENSON: It's a way of getting their own apartments. It's cool to have a boyfriend come and visit you at your apartment, you know, and things like that. They look past all the taking care of the baby and all that responsibility and everything, and they look at let's see, now, what will this bring me that's different and bring attention to me.

(Traffic sounds)

LUDDEN: The city of Newton, Massachusetts, is an hour south of Haverhill by car, and a world away in attitude. Full of upwardly mobile, white-collar families, it boasts the lowest birth rate in the state despite having no public family planning center and little sex education in the schools. At Newton-Wellesley Hospital, the largest OB/GYN provider here, Department Chief James Beresford says typically, the women he sees put off having children until their careers are established. Those seeking contraceptives, he says, are well informed.

BERESFORD: I think in Newton population, they probably researched it, and they come in and say well, I think this is the one for me. And you usually agree with them because they're usually right.

LUDDEN: What Newton also has that Haverhill lacks are teenagers with a solid sense of control over their future. Nineteen-year-old Alexandra Zane takes the Pill faithfully and says she's not ready to be a mother.

ZANE: My goals are basically just to, for school, really, to be educated. Part of me wants to go to med school, so, I mean, my long-term goals are just to be successful. I mean I want to do everything, you know? So...

LUDDEN: If it's cool to have a baby in Haverhill, it's definitely not in Newton, according to Zane. She and a friend recently baby-sat another friend's 3-year-old daughter.

ZANE: My friend and I took the little girl to Dunkin Donuts. We ran into a girl whom we knew at school, and the girl thought that it was one of ours. And the attitude that we got was unbelievable. The looks, you know, the staring, the "Oh " so, is this yours?"

LUDDEN: The kind of attitudes that prevail in Newton may be more the exception than the rule. The average teen birth rate in the US is closer to that of Haverhill. For many organizers of the Cairo conference on population and development, the key to bringing birth rates down in the developing world is to give women better opportunities for education and economic development. In the US, much of the focus is more narrow: increasing access to contraception, and forcing men to take responsibility for their sexual behavior and for out of wedlock children. Yet increasingly, here as in the Third World, experts say the key to fewer unplanned pregnancies is what they call empowerment: expanding opportunities for women. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Ludden in Boston.

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(Music up and under)

Family Planning in Malawi, Africa

NUNLEY: The continent with the fastest-growing population is Africa. And a tiny sliver of land between Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique, called Malawi, recently brought down its growth rate from one of the highest in Africa. But its population is still growing faster than its ability to provide for itself. Reporter Aida Opuku-Mensah recently traveled to Malawi, and what she found was low contraceptive use, high illiteracy, and a traditional culture which puts nearly all control over reproduction in the hands of men. She files this report.

(Women singing)

OPUKU-MENSAH: Singing from the women of Insanjay in southern Malawi. And as they sing, the fact remains that the rural woman in Malawi, as in most parts of Africa, is a beast of burden. They are the carriers of water, hewers of wood, farm hands, mothers, wives, all rolled into one.

KAVINYA: Right from the girl child, they are bidden with household chores. The girls together with their mothers walk long distances to fetch firewood, to fetch water, and they take care of the too many children whom they have.

OPUKU-MENSAH: That was Agnes Kavinya, Coordinator of the National Family Welfare Council of Malawi, voicing the difficult life of rural women. One problem they face is rampant and frequent pregnancies.

KAVINYA: You know, most of these people have more than 5 children in every family. And these girl children and women are having terrible health conditions. Their bodies are very overburdened and they feel very helpless. The husband does not allow them to go ahead to plan their families or to space their children, because they do not understand them. So they are crying out for help from all sides.

OPUKU-MENSAH: And the more children they produce, the more pressure this has on the environment. As one of Africa's least developed countries, Malawi's population is growing faster than available resources. Robert Ingayae, Information Director of the Malawi Population and Environment Program, explains further.

NGAIYAYE: The population has been growing, using the same land resources which are developed. And because of this we have been having a lot of land shortages, which are so " anybody can just see as you travel along the Malawian roads.

OPUKU-MENSAH: And as you mean that this person has 4 children and maybe in 5 years time the children increase to 8. That means that he still has the same piece of land on which to feed these 8 children with. Is that what you're trying to say?

NGAIYAYE: That's right. So we have a big problem

OPUKU-MENSAH: Whether there's a big problem or not, contraceptives and birth control methods are still alien in rural societies. Traditional beliefs are such that children are seen as insurance and extra labor. And although this attitude is slowly changing, old habits die hard. Women don't have a choice in their reproductive health. However, John, a family man from the village of Insanjay, welcomes the use of contraceptives. John already has 7 children with his first wife. And although contraceptives have helped his second wife, it seems he has also benefited.

JOHN: (Speaks in native language)
TRANSLATOR: I think it's been very successful, in the sense that I'm going to be loyal and stick to my partner. Without that, it means moving around and then possibly contracting the AIDS disease. So birth control is pulling the family together. And I can still be able to enjoy a sexual life without going out to accommodate for the wife, who has to nurse the baby. Why else waiting? For it is known as the abstinence period. So to me, it has been very helpful.

OPUKU-MENSAH: Maria, John's second wife, also sees the use of family planning methods in a different light. Merely a girl-child herself, Maria is an example of the health dangers early marriages can cause. But with sound advice from family planning officials, she now has 2 young children.

MARIA: (Speaks in native language)
TRANSLATOR: The reason why I had to start family planning is that I was suffering from miscarriages. I lost almost every child and now I have 2. After following family planning methods, the children are now surviving.

OPUKU-MENSAH: Can men like John be considered progressive? At least his use of contraceptives is a step forward. Sadly, his wife has no say in the matter. And clearly, he alone makes the decisions in the home. And that is because the contraceptives serves his interests more than anything else. Family planning practitioners and policy makers have to recognize the social realities facing women. So how can women take control of their reproductive lives? Agnes Kavinya has some suggestions.

KAVINYA: What the government needs is to develop policies which will reinforce the information, education, and communication activities to target mainly the men and the secondary, the women and the girl child. The government has to also develop education policies which will make more women become literate. And finally, the government has to bring out very, very sound economic policies which will improve the economic status of women, because that's one of the things that is the, you know, hindering women.

(Women speaking in a group)

NUNLEY: That report was prepared by Aida Opuku-Mensah, with the assistance of Down to Earth and the Panos Institute.

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(Music up and under)

Idaho Grazing Rights Chew New Turf

NUNLEY: The political tug of war over grazing on Federal lands moves onto new turf this month. Under new rules imposed by the Clinton Administration, environmental controls over Federal grazing allotments are being tightened, and the public will get more input into the management of public grazing lands. But many western members of Congress have vowed to overturn those rules and put ranchers in the driver's seat. The grazing battle rages on at the state level, too. An Idaho environmental activist has sued over a new law giving ranchers exclusive access to some state lands. John Marvel says many of these areas have been seriously damaged by over-grazing, and he's fought back with such novel tactics as outbidding ranchers for the right to use the land. But his methods have drawn criticism, even from other environmentalists. From member station KBSU in Boise, Jyl Hoyt has this profile of an activist who's kicking up a lot of dust on Idaho's rangeland.

HOYT: John Marvel is a trim, silver-haired architect with a strong environmental streak. We leave his second-story office in Haley, a small town in the mountains of central Idaho, climb into his rig, and make our way through a steady rain to Silver Creek, a spring-fed waterway Ernest Hemingway used to fish in. The road turns from asphalt to gravel to mud before we finally stop, pull out a pair of umbrellas, and make our way to the water's edge.

(Footfalls on gravel)

HOYT: We take shelter under a large willow, and Marvel explains that for years there's been no livestock grazing on this side of Silver Creek.

MARVEL: These willows here are very tall. They're probably 20 feet tall. It's really remarkable what this " this sense of life. And here's some wild rose here, and there's also some red twig dogwood here, too, that brilliant red color.

HOYT: But on the other side of Silver Creek, there are no willows, no dogwoods, and no wild roses. Marvel points across the 50-foot-wide stream.

MARVEL: And we see here a very badly dull-colored landscape of dead grasses and virtually no willows or woody species at all extending for over a mile. This is literally from many, many years " well, over a hundred years " of livestock destruction of this riparian area.

HOYT: Marvel says stream banks all over the west are so overgrazed by livestock that they're lifeless. Marvel wants to change that.

MARVEL: We want to act as a tool to change management on public lands.

HOYT: Marvel's new group, Idaho Watersheds Project, is trying to get rights to lease state lands that traditionally have been used by ranchers. And instead of grazing livestock on them, he wants to fence cattle off the lands.

MARVEL: And protect them in ways that can provide an example, as this one is here, to what could happen in terms of the environmental protection of the land.

HOYT: Marvel's effort has succeeded, sort of. He submitted the high bid at auctions for grazing leases, but the state land board has ended up giving the leases to ranchers anyway.

(People speaking at a gathering. A man speaks: "Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats.")

HOYT: The land board is made of Idaho's top 5 elected officials, 3 of whom have agriculture backgrounds. Board member Pete Cenarusa has been Idaho's Secretary of State for almost 3 decades. Sinarusa's family grazes livestock on public lands, and he says the livestock industry brings more than $700 million into Idaho's economy. The 77-year-old Secretary of State blusters at Marvel's efforts to stop grazing on the state lands.

CENARUSA: He testified. He said no, I'm not going to graze any livestock. I'm just going to fence off the stream and that's it. He didn't comply with the rules. The rules state that that's a grazing lease. He wasn't complying with it; he said I'm not going to graze anything. He admitted that.

HOYT: The parcels that John Marvel is bidding on all have streams which make grazing in surrounding areas possible. The strategic importance of the streams isn't lost on Marvel, or Bob Sears of the Idaho Cattle Association.

SEARS: The surrounding areas aren't good to anyone at all, and drastically limits the grazing process for the overall allotment.

HOYT: Sears admits stream banks have been trampled down by cattle. But he says ranchers have improved grazing methods and are now protecting riparian areas. To thwart efforts like John Marvel's, the legislature has changed the law to dictate the way certain state lands can be used. While only a small fraction of people in Idaho actually work in ranching and farming, an increasing number of people value land that is open and natural. But most political power in Idaho is held by agricultural interests, who are determined to make sure the state continues its traditional character. Land board member J.D.Williams.

WILLIAMS: Idaho's changing, there's no question that we have become an urban state. But we're still a western state, and I think the western lifestyle is very much a part of our heritage. And part of that heritage isbeing attacked now.

MARVEL: Well, the reality is that sure, there's a war on the west. But it's not being waged by people from New Jersey or Atlanta, Georgia, or Chicago.

HOYT: John Marvel of the Idaho Watersheds Project is from Delaware. But he's been in Idaho several decades. As we drive back to town, he explains his version of the much touted war on the west.

MARVEL: It's been being waged by those who've lived here for the last 120 years. Where they've succeeded in destroying some of the most extraordinary fauna and flora that's ever existed on the face of the Earth, all for personal gain through ignorance.

HOYT: Many other Idaho environmentalists think John Marvel's analysis is sound, but say his tactics are so polarizing that they've kept politicians from forming coalitions to push through moderate environmental protection. Marvel remains undaunted, though, by criticism from either side. And he continues to apply for grazing leases. The Idaho Supreme Court is expected to rule on one of his contested leases later this year. For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise.

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(Music up and under: "Don't Fence Me In")

NUNLEY: Living on Earth's director is Deborah Stavro. The coordinating producer is George Homsy. The associate producer is Kim Motylewski. Our producer and editor is Peter Thomson, and our production team includes Constantine Von Hoffman, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, David Dunlap, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, Bob Emro, and Catherine Gill. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Keith Shields and Rita Sand. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Special thanks to Jane Pipik and Larry Bouthillier.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, and is recorded at the studios of WBUR, Boston and Harvard University. The executive producer is Steve Curwood. I'm Jan Nunley.

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Great Lakes Protection Fund; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science and the environment; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; and all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt " whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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