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

October 27, 1995

Air Date: October 27, 1995


Trespasses in Washington State / Terry FitzPatrick

In an upcoming referendum, voters in the state of Washington will get to decide on whether the government should pay citizens if it restricts their private property land use. If it passes, the new law could set the precendent for wide sweeping bills across the country. Terry FitzPatrick of Living on Earth's Northwest bureau reports on this landmark measure. (06:59)

Bob Dole in '96: A View of the Politicans's Enviro Outlook / Alex Van Oss

In anticipation of the 1996 Presidential election, Living on Earth is featuring occasional profiles on the candidates' environmental histories. Alex Van Oss reports from Washington D.C. on Kansas Senator Bob Dole's record on legislation pertaining to environmental concerns. (06:52)

Living with Less / Vicki Robin

Steve Curwood talks with author Vicki Robin on the idea of downshifting — spending more time with family and smelling the flowers than paying the day care provider and jeopardizing health and relationships. Ms. Robin refers to this shift as trading quality of life for standard of living, considering the effects on the environment and the economy, as well as the family. (07:01)

The Living on Earth Almanac


Scary Tales of Pumpkins / David Hammond

This Halloween may have far fewer plump delicious pumpkins. According to this humorous report by David Hammond, this year's weather has given birth to a bumper crop of haggard, and even scary, squash. (03:53)

Model Methane Dump / Stephanie O'Neill

In Los Angeles lies a landfill project that takes noxious greenhouse methane gas and harnesses it to create safe usable energy. Stephanie O'Neill reports from L.A. on the uses of this emerging technology. (05:14)

Wolves in the West / Sandy Tolan

The cowboy is still king many places in the west, but his future is much less certain. Sandy Tolan reports from New Mexico on the movement to reintroduce the Mexican wolf, or lobo, to the region. Tolan visits with ranchers who depend on cattle and see the wolf's return as a bad idea whose time ought never come, as well as others who believe in an ecosystem approach to living and ranching where wild wolves are once again part of the terrain. (16:48)

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: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Doug Phillips, Steve Helwig, Terry FitzPatrick,
Alex Van Oss, David Hammond, Stephanie O'Neill, Sandy Tolan
GUEST: Vicki Robin

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

As the Presidential campaign heats up, supporters of Republican Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole say he's the man to protect our environment.

ROBERTS: I would say from the environmental community. Bob Dole would be a great environmental president. Not because of the agenda or any scorecard on their agenda they want to accomplish. But because in the real world of accomplishment you would see a lot of progress.

CURWOOD: And we meet a best-selling author who says our lives will be richer if we seek less money.

ROBIN: People have sacrificed time with their children. People have sacrificed their health. People have sacrificed knowing their neighbors. People have sacrificed safe neighborhoods. So we have sacrificed quality of life for standard of living.

CURWOOD: We'll have that and more this week on Living on Earth. But first this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. A raid by French commandos on a Greenpeace ship threatens to turn into an international incident. The Italian government has demanded that France explain why some 20 commandos from a French destroyer raided the Greenpeace boat Altair in the Italian port of Brindisi. The Greenpeace official says the commandos boarded the boat, broke the glass of the windows in the bridge, and threw in 6 teargas grenades. Witnesses said the crew of the Altair seemed to lose control of the boat for about 10 minutes after the commandos climbed aboard. Greenpeace is campaigning to stop French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. Ten years ago an attack by French agents on a Greenpeace ship in New Zealand resulted in the death of a crew member.

Florida agricultural officials are trying to confine an outbreak of citrus canker that threatens the state's billion dollar citrus industry. From Miami, Doug Phillips reports.

PHILLIPS: Citrus canker is a bacterial disease that disfigures trees and destroys fruit. An infected grapefruit tree was discovered last month in a neighborhood near Miami's airport, leading officials to suspect the canker arrived on illegally imported fruit. If the fast-spreading disease turns up in commercial groves, it would likely lead to a widespread ban against buying Florida fruit according to state agricultural spokeswoman Maeve McConnell.

McCONNELL: Other areas, other citrus producing areas, which provide some very large markets for Florida citrus, would not be anxious to have this imported.

PHILLIPS: So far agricultural inspectors have found signs of canker in about 25% of the trees they have examined, all located in residential areas. Florida's last major canker outbreak during the 1980s cost the citrus industry millions of dollars. For Living on Earth, I'm Doug Phillips in Miami.

NUNLEY: A key Senate committee has unanimously approved a bipartisan bill reauthorizing the Safe Drinking Water Act. It gives the government more leeway to regulate tap water safety. The bill would streamline the process of setting water quality standards, provide small water systems with greater regulatory flexibility, and authorize a billion dollar revolving fund for building or modernizing water treatment plants. Backers expect the full Senate to vote on the legislation before Christmas. The House has yet to consider changes in the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The White House and Pacific Northwest law makers have unveiled a plan to limit the cost of saving salmon threatened by hydropower dams while staving off potential rate increases. Under the agreement, the Bonneville Power Administration will provide $435 million annually for fish recovery. A $325 million contingency fund would come into play in cases where below normal rainfall strains the river system's water supply, or in the event a Federal court orders additional fish protection. Bonneville markets electricity generated by Federal dams on the Pacific Northwest's Columbia River system and has been central to the region's economic development.

US forests may be losing their capacity for absorbing carbon dioxide. Steve Helwig of KLCC reports on the Oregon State University Study.

HELWIG: The study, headed by ecologist David Turner, found 2 main factors which contributed to the slowing rate of carbon dioxide absorption: decreasing forest area and a remaining forest that's younger on average. Turner says carbon storage in older forests is higher, meaning they can store more carbon from the atmosphere.

TURNER: If you accept that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is going to cause global warming and that's a cause for concern, then in a sense the forests are benefiting us right now. Now, if you project a couple decades into the future, we will not have that benefit any longer.

HELWIG: Turner's findings are being published in the scientific journals Ecological Applications and Tellus. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Helwig reporting.

NUNLEY: An Idaho man has been convicted for shooting to death a wolf that had been transplanted to Yellowstone National Park. Chad McKittrick was found guilty on all 3 misdemeanor counts: killing the wolf, possessing it, and transporting it. He could face up to 2 years in jail and fines totaling $150,000. The wolf was shot in April just outside McKittrick's mountain home town of Red Lodge at the northeast corner of Yellowstone. McKittrick said he thought the animal was a wild dog. The wolf was part of an experimental program to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone.

And in California, the end of Los Angeles' unofficial smog season has brought some unexpected good news. This season was the cleanest in 40 years. The number of smog alerts from June to August dropped from 23 a year ago to just 13 this year. Just 10 years ago, 83 warnings were issued to avoid prolonged exposure to the air. The peak amount of ozone also dropped this year. So did the number of days air quality exceeded Federal pollution levels. State meteorologists say reduced emissions from cars and industry are responsible for the improved air quality.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

Trespasses in Washington State

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. If you own a house and the government decides to put a highway through your living room, they can take the house by eminent domain. But under the Constitution, you are entitled to just compensation. In other words, you get cash for your loss of property. Now, what if the government reduces the cash value of your land because it imposes a new environmental rule, say one against building on wetlands or cutting down trees? Should you get cash for this type of property loss? Voters in Washington State are being asked this very question in an upcoming referendum, and those concerned about environmental protection rules will be watching the outcome closely. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports from our northwest bureau at KPLU in Seattle.

(Hammering sounds, wooden boards being moved)

FITZPATRICK: Marymore Hill is typical of developments under construction around Seattle: 36 luxury homes in a former pasture beside a spring-fed creek.

(More hammering)

FITZPATRICK: Todd Woosley says the headaches he endured in getting this project approved are also becoming typical. His company had to redraft its plans when city officials issued new rules about building near wetlands.

WOOSLEY: The result of that was a 2-year delay in the ability to build the neighborhood, a loss of 25% of the lots, and the starting prices of the homes being $100,000 more per home than they would have been had we been allowed to build 2 years previously.

FITZPATRICK: Experiences like this prompted Woosley to join the property rights campaign in Washington. A coalition of builders, timber companies, and farmers has crafted a measure that requires payments to land holders when regulations lessen the value of their property.

WOOSLEY: What we'd like to accomplish is to restore a little balance in the land use regulation arena, and particularly restore what we believe are constitutionally guaranteed rights: guaranteed in both the Federal constitution and in our state constitution.

FITZPATRICK: Governments have always had to balance the needs of the public against the civil rights of individuals. The Constitution prohibits the taking of private property without compensation, and governments have traditionally paid people whenever an entire parcel of land is condemned for projects such as highway construction. However, environmental and zoning restrictions generally have not triggered compensation. But many property owners have begun to argue that environmental rules do constitute a taking. And they've launched a movement that has caught on nationwide. In the past 4 years, 19 states have enacted so-called takings legislation of one kind or another. The referendum in Washington known as R48 would go further than any existing law. Any reduction in property value would have to be compensated by the government. R48 not only affects land but includes water rights, trees, minerals, and crops. Economic impact assessments would be required for any new regulation, and government planers would have to choose options that pose the lowest financial burden on landowners. Supporters like Todd Woosley say Referendum 48 would protect the public from environmental laws that go too far.

WOOSLEY: We would like to see people be compensated for property if it is indeed taken for public use. It's only fair. We pay for parks with our tax dollars. If we all benefit we should all pay for it.

FITZPATRICK: However, the wording of Referendum 48 has alarmed environmentalists, civic organizations, and government officials.

HARRISON: It seems clear that R48 is a case of good intentions gone awry.

FITZPATRICK: David Harrison, chairman of the Northwest Policy Center at the University of Washington, says it is important to consider the impact of regulations on land owners. But Harrison thinks the referendum is poorly written, imprecise, and would make for bad government.

HARRISON: If you don't spend a lot of time on the drafting, what you can get is a case of defects in drafting, where citizens can't reasonably understand what the impact would be and have a very hard time evaluating the costs.

FITZPATRICK: Among the impacts opponents fear are strip malls and gas stations popping up in residential neighborhoods, because government could not afford the compensation costs to stop them. Farmers might even get compensation if they're prohibited from spraying pesticides near school playgrounds. David Harrison estimates Referendum 48 could require $11 billion in payments to land owners to prevent them from developing their property. Environmentalists say this burden could force officials to abandon environmental regulations. John Lamson is spokesman for the No on 48 Campaign.

LAMSON: Communities will throw their hands up in the air and say we can't afford to stop anything, and we're not going to hang ourselves out there in the wind for all sorts of compensation liabilities. So they're going to drop their regulations.

FITZPATRICK: Proponents of Referendum 48 say the fears of environmentalists and the estimated $11 billion price tag are exaggerations. They haven't offered a cost estimate of their own, but contend the proposal is carefully written and won't threaten local zoning.

(A phone rings. Man: "I'm calling from the No on Referendum 48 Coalition...")

FITZPATRICK: A lot is riding on the outcome of Referendum 48. Phone banks are being financed with sizable campaign war chests. Each side has raised more than half a million dollars, much of it coming from out of state. For John Lampsen of the No on 48 Campaign, the vote will be a national litmus test of public opinion.

LAMSON: If it wins here it could win anywhere. If we can defeat it here, we can defeat it anywhere.

FITZPATRICK: Property rights advocates have been successful in many state legislatures, but they've lost in the 2 states besides Washington that have put the issue on the ballot. Nancy Marzula, of the national group Defenders of Property Rights, says a loss in Washington could make it tougher to pass takings legislation elsewhere.

MARZULA: We will undoubtedly see that used as an example in debate at the Federal level and debate on other proposals pending in other states. And just in debates generally.

FITZPATRICK: There are mixed signals about the prospects for passage of Referendum 48. A poll last April found three quarters of the public supporting the general concept of compensating land owners. But a recent poll on Referendum 48 specifically shows 39% in favor, 33% opposed, and 28% undecided. The election is set for November 7th. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick in Seattle.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: What about you? Tell us which way you would vote in the Washington referendum if you could, and why. A yes vote means the state should pay if an environmental or zoning rule lowers the price of your property. Call us with your vote right now at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988.

Bob Dole in '96: A View of the Politicans's Enviro Outlook

CURWOOD: Throughout the presidential election season, Living on Earth will be following the campaigns with our eye on the candidates' environmental records and promises. Today we kick off our coverage of the 1996 electoral season with a look at Bob Dole, the Senate's Majority Leader from Kansas. The Republican frontrunner at this point, Dole has an enviable record as a highly effective leader of the Senate. He's had practice running for president, and he's got a strong organization and good financial resources. And in years past, Senator Dole has voted in favor of a lot of environmental legislation. Recently he has become more skeptical of Federal environmental rules, and as Alex Van Oss reports from Washington, Senator Dole's support of a giant regulation reform bill this year is drawing a lot of fire from environmental activists.

VAN OSS: In keeping track of Senator Bob Dole, some analysts quote his speeches, others check his voting record in Congress. But at the Sierra Club in Washington, DC, political director Dan Weiss reads another indicator: the daily comic strip Doonesbury, that's run a scathing series on Senator Dole's regulation reform bill.

WEISS: There's another panel that says, "If I'm polluting, why don't the Feds do one of these cost-benefit analysis and I still have to clean up?" And Bob Dole says, "In that case you go to court. We've made it much easier to sue the government." And the industry lobbyists says, "And we're allowed to continue polluting while it's tied up in court?" And then Bob Dole says, "I'm telling you, Jim, this is real reform."

VAN OSS: All comics aside, Weiss says Senator Dole is leading efforts in Congress to roll back 25 years of environmental protection.

WEISS: In the past, environmental protection has been very bipartisan. The previous Republican leader in the Senate, Howard Baker, had a pretty good environmental record in the 70s and 80s. President Reagan and President Bush, for all their flaws, did sign the Superfund law, the Right to Know law, and the Clean Air Act. Now, Senator Dole wants to undo those very good Republican achievements.

VAN OSS: Senator Dole has been a part of these achievements. Over the past decades he's cast what are considered pro-environment votes on such issues as clean water enforcement, the Superfund, energy conservation, Everglades protection, wetlands protection, and more. But now, Dole says it's time to step back and take a look at the costs and benefits of the many regulations those laws have spawned. One of Dole's major pieces of legislation this year was the comprehensive Regulatory Reform Act, S343. It would streamline review of costly regulations, many affecting environmental and public health programs. Critics say it would create a whole new bureaucracy of its own and slow down clean-up efforts. The bill got stalled in the Senate but may resurface; Senator Dole has portrayed the reform effort as a populist move to get the government off the taxpayers' back.

DOLE: A lot of bureaucrats who might lose their jobs if we can ease some of the burdens on consumers, farmers, ranchers, small businessmen and women, people across American left to pay for all the regulations. In some cases, the cost exceeds the benefits. In some cases there are no benefits at all.

ROBERTS: Well I think they have a very reasonable man, a very pragmatic man.

VAN OSS: Congressman Pat Roberts from Kansas has known Senator Dole for years, and is organizing his campaign in the House.

ROBERTS: I don't think this is a person who bases his decisions on ideology or philosophy so much, or even numbers in terms of the budgetary responsibilities. But what actually happens. What happens on the farm, on the ranch, in the city, or in suburban America in regards to the environment. And if it can be shown that we can spend less dollars and get a practical result and see a sound science resolution, you'll find Bob Dole very supportive.

VAN OSS: Critics worry that Dole is more supportive of business interests that have contributed to his campaigns.

McGEEHEE: Looking at the list of contributors, there's banking money, there's aircraft money, Coca Cola money, Coors money, oil money from Enron, and particularly you find a lot of contributions from Dwayne Andreas, Archer Daniels Midland chair, which has of course a lot of interest in what happens with ethanol and other agricultural issues.

VAN OSS: Meredith McGeehee and the group Common Cause have been tracking Senator Dole's money trail.

McGEEHEE: These are companies that have an interest both in terms of policies about regulation of their business and how their businesses and their industries could be regulated and the impact that could have on environmental regulations in particular.

VAN OSS: It's these financial ties that worry some environment activists. They point out that farming interests go hand in hand with business and technology. But they also overlap with public health concerns. For example, pesticide levels and field runoff in drinking water. Another cause for concern is Dole's apparent drift away from center over the years.

LOYLESS: His voting patterns have been going more and more anti-environment.

VAN OSS: Betsy Loyless is with the League of Conservation Voters, that keeps a scorecard on Congressional voting patterns. The LCV says that from a green perspective, Dole's scores have gone way down. But another tracking group, the Conservative League of Private Property Voters, says they've gone way up when it comes to such issues as grazing and mining, timber, agriculture, and recreation on Federal lands. Last year they gave Dole an award and they praised his efforts to rein in government. Ultimately, when trying to predict what Bob Dole might do if elected president, the question may hinge less upon ideology than upon politics. Ken Jeffries is a political analyst formerly with a number of conservative think tanks.

JEFFRIES: Because Bob Dole is such a political opportunist and not wedded to any particular view of the environment, economic issues are going to be extremely important to him whether he's president or remains as a Senator. So, if you can tie economic and health benefits to environmental issues, I think you can reach the real Bob Dole.

VAN OSS: Still, says Jeffries, it'll be tough for environmental interests to compete with big business for Dole's attention during the campaign. But Representative Pat Roberts of Kansas says that the Senator's record shows that he's done a lot for the environment. And if electors carry him to the White House, even critics may be pleasantly surprised.

ROBERTS: I would say from the environmental community. Bob Dole would be a great environmental president. Not because of the agenda or any scorecard on their agenda they want to accomplish. But because in the real world of accomplishment you would see a lot of progress.

VAN OSS: Representative Pat Roberts of Kansas on presidential candidate Bob Dole. For Living on Earth, this is Alex Van Oss in Washington.

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CURWOOD: A best-selling author who says you can live a richer life with less money is just ahead on Living on Earth. Stick around.

(Music up and under)

Living with Less

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. While Senator Dole and others are trying to reduce Federal spending, there is a growing group of Americans who are rethinking their personal spending habits and trying to simplify their lives. Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez are leading thinkers in what's called the Voluntary Simplicity Movements. They encourage people to help improve the environment and the quality of their own lives by getting less stuff. Their book, Your Money or Your Life, has sold more than a half a million copies since 1992. Their advice: keep track of how you spend your money. Then adjust your spending to match your values. I met Vicki Robin for a chat about her work, and asked her to explain how she believes reducing consumption can increase the pleasures of living as well as helping the environment.

ROBIN: Frugality for me is a very juicy word. It means the pleasure derived from the use or possession of something. It's the maximum joy to stuff ratio. It's like, if you liked it when you got it from the store, you might as well use it till it turns to dust because you're going to get the maximum pleasure from that item. And you don't even have to own it. Because every dollar that we spend is the equivalent of one pint of oil extracted and burned. So your consumption is directly related to what's happening to the earth. Any environmental problem you look at, it's kind of like you turn the stone of any environmental problem; underneath it you will find a consumer. And we here in North America are by all measures the biggest consumers on the face of the earth.

CURWOOD: Okay. So if you consume less you help the earth more, but what's the human incentive to do that? Why have less? What's the good for them, personally?

ROBIN: Well that's the approach that we're taking. Actually, the environmental benefit is a byproduct of a sane, rational relationship with money. What we say in Your Money or Your Life is look, all money really is in your life, it's the hours that you invest in getting it. That you pay for money with your time, and your time is precious, and you're actually not doing as good an exchange as you might think.


ROBIN: Because if you have a $20 an hour job you might think oh, that's a pretty decent job. But if you think about that hour, actually that $20 you have to take off taxes, car fare, day care, job costuming, looking right for work. All of that is expenses associated with your job. So it might be that every $5 that you spend represents an hour of your life. So the less money you spend, at some point in your life, the more time you get back.

CURWOOD: Wait a second. You're saying even if you work for $20 an hour, actually you're only working for $5 an hour?

ROBIN: We have people do this computation for themselves. This is an example that I'm giving. But there was one person who did this program, who realized his salary was a wash. He and his wife were both working, and the amount of money he was spending on his truck and tools etc. etc. etc. to maintain a job that he did not enjoy and was not on his desired career track was such that he could leave the job, go back to school, retrain, and his family would come out ultimately ahead.

CURWOOD: If people follow your program and don't work any more, who's going to do the work, and how will in fact business go ahead?

ROBIN: What you're " the question is grounded in the old way of thinking. Either I work for money or I'm a lazy bum. We're saying that people who followed our program, within a year their expenses are down by 20 to 25%. We've done surveys. So maybe they can cut back on their hours; maybe they could work 30 years instead of 40 years. There's all sorts of options that open up.

CURWOOD: Okay. So let's say that by following your program that people's consumption does go down by 25%. What happens to the economy? Doesn't that go down by 25%?

ROBIN: What we'll have is a kind of a settling out of the economy. And so that it may be that there are some industries that go belly-up, as there always have been in a free market economy. I mean, what happened to the horseshoe makers? I mean, that industry's disappeared. But we have new industries that grow, and hopefully they'll be more environmentally sustainable industries. Maybe we will have, if people save money maybe we'll have a pool of capital that can invest in wind power, solar power, clean technologies.

CURWOOD: But what you're saying is that the economy should shrink, actually, if we follow this program. That we would have a smaller, numerically speaking, economy.

ROBIN: I am not a macro-economist. I'm simply somebody who helps individuals rethink their consumption. But I, my sense is that it's possible to have a steady state economy rather than a growth economy, one that is not producing as much waste and is not as overheated. And where people are harvesting time instead of more stuff. And that time that they're harvesting, they can either spend time with their family and friends, they can have one wage-earner in the family instead of two, so that we wean ourselves from this over-monetarization of our lives, where we pay people to take care of our children, to take care of our problems, to take care of our cars, our accounting. I mean, we pay people for everything. And so maybe we could become an increasingly empowered society where people once again have a sense that they can manage their own lives.

CURWOOD: What you're talking about would require a whole shift in values.

ROBIN: Mm hm.

CURWOOD: How do you do that?

ROBIN: There are things in life we have already sacrificed on the altar of our material wealth. And that all you need to do is point to them and people know that they're true. People have sacrificed time with their children. People have sacrificed their health. People have sacrificed knowing their neighbors. People have sacrificed safe neighborhoods. So we have sacrificed quality of life for standard of living. But the idea that you're going to live your life according to your values is kind of quaint. You know, it's not a bottom line idea. And so, to ask yourself month in, month out is how I'm spending my money, i.e., my time, in line with my values, introduces that question perhaps for the first time in people's lives.

CURWOOD: What's your long-term goal here?

ROBIN: My goal is a dual goal. Number one, my goal is sanity, social sanity. Perhaps you would call that spiritual sanity. And then the secondary goal is saving the Earth. Is basically stopping this juggernaut of consumerism from sweeping across the face of this globe, and the only way I see it has a hope of stopping is if there is a turning here in North America. We just have a sense that this is what needs to happen.

CURWOOD: Vicki Robin is cofounder of the New Road Map Foundation and author, along with Joe Domingus, of the book Your Money or Your Life.

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CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Major support for Living on Earth comes from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Joyce Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; and the National Science Foundation for reporting on science and the environment.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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CURWOOD: This season, as Halloween approaches, the ones who may be getting the most scared are the pumpkin farmers. Find out all about it in the second half of Living on Earth, coming right up.

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CURWOOD: This is National Public Radio's Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. When you talk about bringing wolves back on the Western range, you'll likely see a smile from an environmental activist or a biologist. But that might be too much to ask for from a cowboy. Coming up, producer Sandy Tolan explores the battle over the wolf and the soul of the Southwest. In this half hour of NPR's Living on Earth. But first, this week's almanac.

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: One hundred and twenty-five years ago the German zoologist Ernst Heckel coined the word "ecology" to describe the study of relationships between organisms and their environment. It has become just one of the many dry, scientific words we use to describe the natural world. There are more colorful words, of course, some more scientific than others. Here are a few phrases that have crossed our desk recently. The "hopeful monster;" no, they're not referring to Frankenstein on Prozac. A hopeful monster is a scientific term describing a mutation that is of no benefit to an individual but may benefit its descendants. "Charismatic megafauna." That's a phrase used by environmental activists to describe the large animals that strike a friendly chord with the general public. That's why you see bear cubs on wall calendars and not the more threatened Krechmar cave mold beetle.

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Scary Tales of Pumpkins

CURWOOD: Are you ready for Halloween? I mean, really ready, with some giant orange pumpkins that you can carve into something good and scary that'll make those trick-or-treaters gasp before they bang on your door. Well if you live anywhere between Minnesota and Massachusetts, you might not want to wait for the last minute to go pumpkin shopping. The combination of a long, hot, dry summer and some early frosts have given the region the worst pumpkin harvest in years. Living on Earth's David Hammond reports from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

(A brass band, people milling around)

HAMMOND: There's the smell of barbecue in the air, as band members warm up before a Michigan football game. The leaves have fallen from the trees, and there's a little bit of chill in the air. All of the things which make up a normal autumn in Ann Arbor. All, that is, except for one thing. Looking around my neighborhood, I've noticed that not many people had pumpkins on their porches, and the pumpkins that are out seem small and green.

(Traffic sounds; a shopping cart)

HAMMOND: I ventured to some area stores to investigate. Mandy's in charge of stocking the pumpkin display at a local grocery store. She's not sure why, but she confirms that this year's pumpkin crop is a bad one.

MANDY: Well, I think last year's were nicer, just that they're, you know, more rounder, more colorful, like the oranges were nicer. They just looked healthier overall, as a plant.

HAMMOND: In addition to their poor appearance, Mandy says that this year's pumpkins seem to be rotting faster than usual. That poor quality caught the attention of Lucy and Dina, 2 health care professionals.

HAMMOND: How would you diagnose the problem with this particular pumpkin?

LUCY: Severe acne. (Laughs) Severe.

HAMMOND: A birthmark.

DINA: It's got a birthmark, returning to something, you know, malignant.

HAMMOND: So what's the problem with this year's crop? Has there been a pumpkin plague? A veggie Valhalla?

(A cock crows)

HAMMOND: I ended up at Michigan's pumpkin mecca, The Pumpkin Factory, located on a 60-acre farm in Belleville, Michigan, the store sells everything from apple cider to Halloween costumes. But as its name suggests, its main focus is pumpkins. Its owner, Linda LeBlanc, has been raising pumpkins for 17 years.

LeBLANC: This is the worst I've ever seen it. We've had an awful lot of dry heat, and the blossoms, from the understanding that I have and from what I could see, just burned right up on the vine. Last year we had a beautiful, we had a surplus of rain, it was a good growing year. Just, it was excellent last year, where this year it was just totally the opposite. Pumpkins were not only affected. Most gardens were affected by the weather.

HAMMOND: LeBlanc says that on top of the hot, dry summer, the dramatic changes in temperature this fall have caused excessive rotting.

LeBLANC: We have already experienced one freeze, and when you have a freeze and then you have your 80-degree weather, and then we have now, today, it's been cool and raining yesterday and today, they will rot 10 times faster.

HAMMOND: LeBlanc says that she normally raises 40 acres of pumpkins, but that this year she'll be lucky to get half that. She says it's the same all around the great lakes.

LeBLANC: I had one farmer call me from Chicago wanting 60 tons. I was informed that in Chicago and in Ohio, in the Indiana-Ohio area, there are no pumpkins out there to be gotten.

(Shopping carts)

HAMMOND: But it's not bad news for everybody. Back in Ann Arbor, our 2 health care professionals are decidedly upbeat about the poor crop. Each year they go to great lengths to find the ugliest pumpkin, and this year they have a bevy of choices.

LUCY: Yearly I've gotten a bad looking one, yeah.

DINA: After the nice one for the artistic point and the ugly one for fun, to scare them.

LUCY: Scariest or funniest pumpkin.

HAMMOND: Well you definitely found one of the ugliest ones.

DINA: There you go.

LUCY: Maybe we'll get the award.

HAMMOND: For Living on Earth, I'm David Hammond in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Model Methane Dump

CURWOOD: There's plenty of energy in garbage. In the past, cities and towns burned trash, and used the heat to generate electricity. But that process tends to pollute. But there is another way to harness the energy of trash: garbage decomposing in landfills gives off methane gas. And this can be trapped and burned with very little pollution. Currently, methane gas from most landfills is now simply escaping into the atmosphere and adding to urban smog and the greenhouse effect. Now the US Environmental Protection Agency is urging dump operators to capture methane and put it to work, a move which also helps to clean up the air. Stephanie O'Neill reports from Los Angeles.

(Garbage trucks)

O'NEILL: More than 2,000 trucks, each piled high with a colorful and pungent assortment of garbage, dump their load in a crater-like pit here at the Puente Hills Landfill in Whittier, about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Within minutes, yellow tractors spread the trash in huge earth scrapers covered up with a layer of clean dirt.

COSULICH: They keep what they call the open face area very small. So even though we're sitting here right next to it, there's no seagulls, there's no odors.

O'NEILL: John Cosulich is a supervising engineer with the Los Angeles County Sanitation District, which operates the Puente Hills facility.

COSULICH: The refuse, once it's landfilled, it undergoes a natural biological decomposition process. It results in a natural gas. It's the same way natural gas is formed. We just beat the oil companies by a few million years.

O'NEILL: About half of the gas produced at this and other landfills nationwide is highly-polluting methane, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide and one of the main causes of global warming. Left alone, methane seeps from landfills and into the air, but since the early 80s operators of the Puente Hills facility have captured the gas and turned it into energy.

COSULICH: We have one of the most successful landfill gas to energy facilities in the world here. It's 50 megawatts, it generates enough power for almost 100,000 homes.

O'NEILL: What's more, the profit from the electricity sales is used to lower disposal fees for nearby residents. These benefits of landfill mining are among those touted by the Environmental Protection Agency, which is hoping to encourage landfills nationwide to follow the Puente Hills lead. Right now, only about 140 landfills in the US turn their gas to energy. But Cindy Jacobs, head of the EPA's methane outreach program, says many more could follow suit.

JACOBS: We estimate that there are about 750 landfills out there that could economically recover their landfill gas for energy. If the full 750 were to turn that landfill gas into electricity, that would be enough energy to power 3 million homes.

O'NEILL: The EPA has recently imposed strict methane emissions standards on landfills after studies showed them to be among the largest source of human-produced methane. The new regulations require landfill operators either to burn the gas as it escapes, which produces less polluting carbon dioxide, or to collect it for energy. Christopher Flavin is vice president for research at the World Watch Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC.

FLAVIN: One of the convenient things about it is that it's generally found near cities, which is where we need electricity. So it's an important supplementary source of energy.

O'NEILL: Moreover, Flavin says, as power plant technology advances the gas to energy option will become an economically viable choice for even the smallest landfills.

FLAVIN: One of the things that's going on in the power industry is that much smaller scale generation is becoming economical. The average size of a new power plant has declined dramatically in the last few years. And I think there are some new technologies coming along, like, you know, very small gas turbines and fuel cells that could make this an economical resource.

O'NEILL: At Puente Hills, 60 miles of dark green pipes carry the methane to the power plant where it's converted to electricity and then sold to the local utility company. The rest goes either to fueling county vehicles at on-site gas pumps, or is piped directly from the landfill to a nearby college where it's used for heating. Cosulich says while smaller dump sites that can't afford today's power plants await technological advances, this so-called direct use of landfill methane lends itself well to their operations.

COSULICH: It's a very viable technology for some of the smaller sites, where it's not really cost-effective to build an entire power plant. You can just put it in a pipeline a mile away to a large industrial user. And that is a common way of doing it and a very cost effective way.

O'NEILL: Another plus, John Cosulich says, is landfill gas is truly a renewable energy source that may prove one generation's trash can become another's treasure. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

Back to top

(Garbage trucks)

CURWOOD: Just ahead on Living on Earth: will the romance of the cowboy be eclipsed by the return of the wolf?

(Music up and under)

Wolves in the West

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth; I'm Steve Curwood. Long before the cowboys, before the Spaniards, before even the Apache and the Navajo and the Hopi, wolves roamed the ancient Southwest. But with the coming of the cows, predator wolves were considered obstacles to commerce and to the manifest destiny of the frontier. By the 1920s, Federal bounty hunters had nearly exterminated them from the western landscape. Now, like the wolves of Yellowstone, the Mexican gray wolf may be making a comeback. In early 1997, the same US Fish and Wildlife Service that eradicated the wolves 50 years ago plans to reintroduce them into the wilderness of Arizona and New Mexico. This reversal came not because a few bureaucrats changed their minds. As Living on Earth producer Sandy Tolan reports, it came about because of the shifting public values in the land use battles of the west. Battles that are still being waged.

(Music up and under: "With my rope and my saddle and my horse and
my gun, I'm a happy cowboy...")

TOLAN: The cow lies butchered and quartered under a tarp in the flat bed of Jim Cook's pickup. It's a gray day with bite in the air. Cook flicks Marlboro ash out the window, squeezes the wheel with one hand.

COOK: In 60 days we'll have snow on the ground. Keep riding that horse with snowflakes falling, wondering what am I doing here?

(Singer: "And I love to hit the leather in any kind of weather, and I know I'll never change. With my horse and ... ")

TOLAN: The cowboys and their herds cover the land here in Catron County on the western edge of New Mexico. Cows outnumber people 10 to 1. They graze millions of acres of public lands. And cowboys like Jim Cook, foreman of the Pueblo Creek Ranch, have spent a long time trying to make the land safe for cows. In Catron County, wolves are not welcome.

COOK: We've got to contend with bear. We've got to contend with lions. We've got to contend with coyotes. The last thing we need's another predator. I don't know where the idea that we have to have wolves back in the forest or back in the wilderness or whatever. Our forefathers spent a lot of time and a lot of money and energy exterminating them because of what they were. I don't see any reason to ever bring them back. I think they belong in a zoo someplace; people want to look at them, they can go look at them.

(A motor stops. A creaky door slams. Paper rustles.)

MAN: Butcher it this morning?

COOK: No, yesterday evening. Split it this morning.

TOLAN: At Jake's Butcher Shop, men in white lab coats hoist the bloody cow quarters Jim Cook's been hauling over to a hanging scale.

COOK: Hind quarter?

MAN: The front.

COOK: Front. (Grunts as he hauls meat onto the scale)

TOLAN: Then they're hauled into the cooler.

MAN: Just throw it on the floor. (Laughs)

TOLAN: Next to an elk hanging from a hook, a bear's head stares out from a box on the floor.

COOK: All right. It's a nice bear. Big ol' foot.

TOLAN: Reducing animals to harmless fur and meat, that's the custom here. Few people tell romantic stories about bears or mountain lions or wolves. Especially not when the Federal government comes down to the County seat to introduce its plan to put the Mexican wolves, or the lobo, back into the wilderness just west of here.

MAN: They've completely romanticized the wolf, but you know, we can't make decisions based on this Disney emotion. And wolves do eat Bambi, you know? And they pull Bambi down and rip him open and start eating his liver before his heart stops beating.

MAN: We had lobos down there when I was growing up. The most devastating animal that ever crossed the border. And being such a natural killer not only for what it eats, but just for the joy of killing. And here they are today trying to reintroduce it and I just can't understand it.

MAN: I'm just like Jim; I don't, I can't see why they want to turn them loose.

MAN: Oh, they want things to go back to the nature, like what it was before the white man got here. And if they're going to release that wolf they ought to release some Indians down here and some buffalo, and put these gringos across that ocean back where they belong. That's where it's coming from. (Laughs.)

TOLAN: Standing here, you can understand how the lobo was nearly exterminated in the 20s, and you might wonder why anyone would bother trying to bring them back. But the men of Catron County, like ranchers across the Southwest, are now outflanked by city dwellers with different values.

BROWN: The land is not the same as it was 50 years ago. We have to recognize that time goes on, that things change, that there are more people, there's less wild land to use for everybody. And so we all have to make adjustments.

TOLAN: Pamela Brown has ventured to the hearings in Catron County from her home in Santa Fe. She teaches grade schoolers about the value of wolves in the wild.

BROWN: The general public in large percentage is very much for the return of wolves. I think that's the result of a changing feeling nationally and around the world. A more conscious attitude that wilderness supports us all. And that we need to take that into consideration and not see ourselves as the dominant life form here, but rather just one that's connected to everything else.

(Highway traffic; horns. Woman on radio: "Good morning again, we are looking good, heading toward 7:30 with no serious wrecks reported. Interstate...")

TOLAN: For 100 years the cowboy way dominated politics in the west. But as people have come in in big numbers to Albuquerque and Tucson and Phoenix, new values have come in with them. Just south of Catron County, Silver City, old home of Billy the Kid, has grown by nearly a quarter in just 5 years. Now, right around the corner form the old Buffalo Bar, you'll find the Espresso Bar.

(A cappuccino machine whirrs)

WOMAN: At Air Espresso we serve the regular espresso, plus lattes, cappuccinos, mochas. We do iced drinks...

SALMON: Yeah, it's a new kind of person coming in. There's a lot of retirees, but there's also a lot of younger people who are bringing their money and their lifestyle from someplace else.

WOMAN: We serve biscotti, which is an Italian cookie...

SALMON: Those kind of people tend to be wilderness lovers. They tend to be more environmental than the old timers who have been here a long time.

TOLAN: Dutch Salmon is publisher of High Lonesome books in Silver City, and author of Home is the River, a novel about placing wolves back in the wild.

SALMON: Urban people tend to view wildlife differently than rural people. As you get urbanized you yearn for the great outdoors, and you have this ongoing need for wildlife and wilderness and so forth. And you want to see it preserved. And so naturally they're going to want to bring the wolf back as a kind of aesthetic symbol. And since they're not raising any livestock it's no skin off their nose as to what these things eat. It's kind of an armchair fantasy. But that doesn't mean it's irrelevant or illegitimate. Urban people need some connection with the natural world, and if knowing there's a few wolves out there makes them feel better that's all to the good.

RUSSELL: Most people won't ever see wolves, and although they'd like to imagine they could hear the howl most will never hear the howl of a wolf. But that doesn't matter.

TOLAN: Charmin Apt Russell longs to hear the howl from her home outside of Silver City. She's the author of the book Kill the Cowboy.

RUSSELL: As our world becomes more industrialized, as most of our lives are more alienated from the land, we even more need to keep a psychic sense that we are, that there's land out there, that there is wilderness out there, and that we're stewards of it, that we're protecting it.

TOLAN: This ethic emerged not simply through shifting demographics, but through an overall change in values away from the doctrine of eradication and control.

RUSSELL: There's a whole visceral thing about hunting and protecting your land. And I think of just taming the land, you know, of making it safe for cows. In my family I have great uncles who were big lion hunters, and they were the Lee Brothers. And you know, there is just this whole masculine thing about hunting down another predator and of killing them and eradicating them. I think there is a shift in how we see the natural world. There has to be a shift of controlling the world and taming the world and the poison and moving streams around, and just that control: I can control it. What's happened is that science has shown us that's not true. When we try and control those things, sometimes, we destroy them.

TOLAN: But the old-line ranching values are hanging on for dear life.

MAN: But it's not about putting wolves out here, and wolves surviving or being part of the balance of nature. It's about land control.

TOLAN: At a Stop the Wolf Barbecue up in Catron County, people say it's outsiders who are out to control and destroy. The government trying to control people's lives with more and more regulations. The environmentalists trying to destroy local culture and run ranching families off the land.

SCHNEBURGER: We've got a big crosshair on us and we know it.

TOLAN: Al Schneburger runs the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association.

SCHNEBURGER: Their vision is to crowd people into cities and force people off the land so that they'll be room for these large carnivores. And what they're talking about is crowding people into pretty small areas. I think they kind of envision it as, you know, the little George Jetson city where everybody rides a bicycle and it's all done with little walkways that move and everything. But the rest of it is just wild. It's the land control; the wolves are really almost a side issue. It's the control by the government; it's about, you know, bringing wolves in to school kids and indoctrinating school children into complex issues that adults can't even agree on. It's by using those kinds of tactics. We know what these people are about and we know what it all means, and it's just one more step to the destruction of our community and our society, and we're well on the way.

(Wind chimes)

TOLAN: Chimes call out from a front porch on an Arizona ranch, just across the border form Catron County. Sunflowers and yellow asters slope through the valley below. Cottonwoods and sycamores snake along a riverbed. This porch stands on middle ground. It's lonely ground staked out by a pair of young ranchers, Will and Jan Holder. Lonely ground, but pretty.

J. HOLDER: I'm looking out over Bear Canyon. It's been pretty over-grazed over the years and there's a lot of rock showing through, but there's still quite a bit of trees. A lot of rolling hills out beyond it.

W. HOLDER: There's about, you see the 20 elk there's about 20 elk out there now. You can see the whole herd.

TOLAN: Just beyond the elk stands the blue range, where the wolves are likely to be reintroduced. Will is third-generation rancher here. For a while, he and Jan were doing time in advertising jobs in Phoenix, until Jan says she was nearly ready to climb a skyscraper with an uzi. They moved back to the ranch but with a different philosophy: to ranch holistically, in tune with the entire ecosystem, and that means predators.

W. HOLDER: We'd like wolves reintroduced onto the ranch. Wolves are part of the ecosystem, part of the biodiversity. The wolf plays a very important part of this whole scheme of things.

TOLAN: Their neighbors think they're crazy, fly by night. But they're tied here, now. Last year they lost a baby girl in childbirth. They scattered her ashes on the ranch. Today, the memory of Will's grandfather, from a different time, a different ethic, lives on in the name of their new baby boy.

W. HOLDER: My grandfather, Cleve, the one we named our son after, was credited as shooting the last gray wolf off the Muggyon Rim. So that was, we'd like to be the generation that reintroduces the wolves back to Arizona.

J. HOLDER: Every time I see an elk, every time I see an antelope, every time I look out and see the coyotes at night or hear them howling, I just think it's just magic that this still exists. And I think we have to fight really hard all the time to keep this way of life and to keep animals alive in the wild. It seems like these pockets of wildness are just getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And I think we have to fight to keep them, or we won't ever hear a coyote howl or a wolf howl, anywhere.

W. HOLDER: I've only heard a wolf once, and that wasn't a wild wolf. There's a guy that has wolves he rents out for movies. I'd really like to hear one. I'm afraid we won't hear one, I'm afraid -- I'm afraid the whole project is not going to work.

J. HOLDER: I'm really afraid of what's going to happen. To be very honest, we live amongst a lot of people out here in Arizona that are so afraid of the wolf, and a lot of it, you know, from stories, from everything from Little Red Riding Hood on down. But we're constantly being confronted by other ranchers that tell us that the wolves are going to eat our child. And they plan on, and they talk about it very openly in public that they are going to shoot them all on sight.

(Crickets at sundown; a gun cartridge is pulled)

TOLAN: On the other side of the Blue Range, dusk, back at the Pueblo Creek Ranch. Two young men stake out a coyote.

GREINSTEFF: I'm Jason Greinsteff.

PENDLETON: I'm George Pendleton.

TOLAN: This is not a wolf stakeout. Jason and George say they wouldn't do that. But the hunt is in their blood; it's part of their culture. Last year Jason and his high school buddies raised money for their senior trip by shooting coyotes and selling the pelts. Now they crouch, poised in the juniper bushes, watching the bait they've laid out, the guts from this morning's butchered cow.

GREINSTEFF: We kind of set them in the clearing so we can draw them out of the brush. See right now, they're in the trees in the forest up there and we're trying to pull them down off that ridge right there. The coyotes off the ridge. We're trying to bring them down to this opening so we can get a better shot at them.

(A recorded rabbit calls)

TOLAN: And from their pickup truck comes the recorded call of a wounded rabbit. The young men are still. In the pale, fading light, a coyote appears from behind a juniper bush. Skinny and alert, he sniffs the air. Jason draws a bead with his Remington 30 ought 6.


TOLAN: He misses. Then he whistles. The animal stops one last time and stares back.


TOLAN: Jason misses again.

GREINSTEFF: He come right down through that clearing, and I had a good shot at him. I just missed him. (Laughs.)

TOLAN: And now darkness envelopes the hills. The coyote has disappeared into the forest. Perhaps to appear again. And across the Southwest, in large holding areas hidden from human sight, the Mexican gray wolf paces endlessly in captivity. Like the coyote, who's had his narrow brush with death, the destiny of the lobo is unknown.

MAN: Wolves and men do not get along well, under any circumstances.

MAN: When I think or see a wolf, the quickest thing I want to do is get my gun and kill him. He just doesn't belong here.

WOMAN: There could be some ugly times, you know. But I think if we can all stick in this long term, I think that we're going to see that we can all live together, and I just really hope that both ends of this argument can just calm down long enough to give it a chance.

(A wolf howls)

TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan reporting.

Back to top

(Music up and under: wolf howls with Paul Winter consort)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced and edited by Peter Thomson. Our director is Deborah Stavro; our coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our associate producer is Kim Motylewski. Constantine Von Hoffman is our news editor. Our production team includes Jan Nunley, Julia Madeson, Jessika Bella Mura, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Eric Losick. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Karen Given and Laurie Forest. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthelliere and Jeff Martini. Special thanks to Alan Mattes. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Bullitt Foundation for northwest reporting; from all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt " whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the Joyce Foundation; the George Gund Foundation; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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