• picture
  • picture
PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 13, 1996

Air Date: September 13, 1996

SEGMENTS

Where the Passaic River Runs North / Paul Conlow

Paul Conlow reports on the New Jersey congressional race where the Republican candidate is running to out-green his Democratic pro-business opponent. (07:53)

The Blind Date / Michael Silverstein

Commentator Michael Silverstein states a case for a Dole presidency being good, and in fact better, for United States environmental policy and activism than Clinton's tenure thus far. (03:05)

Torpedo Testing Under Fire / Bob Carty

With 28,000 torpedoes tested to date, a United States-Canadian test water site near Vancouver, British Columbia is under pressure from fishermen and environmentalists to cease Cold War games and return the area for sea life habitat. Bob Carty of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation provides this report. (09:52)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... the catamount, a New England mountain lion. (01:15)

Bikes Not Cars / Trish Anderton

Trish Anderton of member station WBUR Boston reports on Bikes Not Bombs, a non-profit group that helps Boston area teens and others to repair salvage bikes they can then own. Part of Bikes Not Bombs’ goal is to encourage a new generation of urban cyclists. (06:25)

Wheelchair-Friendly Path / Julia King

Commentator Julia King remarks on the nature path in her native Indiana and how pavement has changed the landscape in unimagined ways. (02:38)

Saving Your Seeds

Living on Earth's organic gardening expert Evelyn Tully Costa talks with Steve Curwood about saving one' s harvest seeds for planting next spring, and the benefits of threshing certain seeds before they go out of style. (05:08)

Phyllis Hogan: Portrait of an Ethnobotanist / Sandy Tolan

Ethnobotanist Phyllis Hogan who, while non-Indian, lives and works among the Navajo and other southwestern United States tribes for the past twenty years brewing her particular mix of herbal respect and commerce. Sandy Tolan talks with Hogan and her Indian neighbors about her work and ways. (10:40)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1996 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: Roger Adams, Ellen Lockyear, Paul Conlow, Bob Carty, Trish Anderton, Sandy Tolan
GUESTS: Evelyn Tully Costa
COMMENTATORS: Michael Silverstein, Julia King

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

The gritty New Jersey city of Patterson is one frontier in this fall's battle for Congress. In the face of a strong Democratic challenge and a weak party record on the environment, the Republican is trying to out-green his opponent.

MARTINI: I believe, frankly, that it would be immoral to have an economically sound future for our children and grandchildren if we didn't also give them a safe and clean world in which to live.

CURWOOD: Also, why a Dole presidency would be good for the environment. And allegations that a Navy test range is poisoning Northwest fishing grounds.

ABBEY: They've tested, I think, something like 28,000 torpedoes out there over the years, so that as a result there's more than a million kilograms of lead lying in chunks littered around the bottom.

CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Children exposed in the womb to small levels of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs are still suffering the effects 11 years later. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that children whose mothers ate fish from Lake Michigan while pregnant are 3 times more likely to have low IQ levels and twice as likely to be at least 2 years behind in reading comprehension. The report says that further exposure after birth through breast milk didn't affect the children's mental abilities. The mothers in the study ate an average of 11 pounds of contaminated fish a year. The study was released in the wake of an Environmental Protection Agency report that downgrades the cancer risk posed by PCBs. Downgrading the risk could make it less expensive to clean up Superfund site around the nation. Researchers at the EPA said that PCBs were up to 20 times less likely to cause cancer in people than previously believed. PCBs were used in transformers and other electrical components from the 1940s until they were banned in the late 1970s.

The co-chair of the International Joint Commission overseeing air and water quality on the US/Canada border has resigned in protest over an IJC report. From Detroit, Roger Adams report.

ADAMS: Canadian activist Adele Hurley quit her job as co-chair of the IJC over a dispute on acid rain. At issue was an IJC report which Hurley believed had been intentionally downplayed by her fellow commissioners. The report raises questions about pending US deregulation of the public utility industry, and what could be the resulting increase in coal burning. Among the concerns is that more coal burning in Midwestern states could lead to higher levels of mercury and other pollutants in Canada and in Eastern states. The report, if it officially is submitted to the Federal Government, would trigger sections of the Federal Clean Air Act, and that could put limits on the deregulation plans. In order for the Clean Air Act to be invoked, the IJC's report must be submitted to the US and Canadian governments in writing. Instead, the commissioners earlier this year chose to read portions of the report to the governments. Hurley unsuccessfully tried to get the report released before her resignation. For Living on Earth, this is Roger Adams in Detroit.

NUNLEY: New York City's Norway maple tree population is threatened by an Asian beetle never before seen in the United States. When authorities began noticing circular holes in Brooklyn trees they blamed it on teenage pranksters. But New York City's Parks Department soon discovered an unusual looking beetle with white spotted black wings in the tree's bark. Unfamiliar with the pest, they sent a sample to a Cornell University entomologist who identified it as an Asian long-horned beetle. The beetle, which comes from Japan, Korea, and the southern sections of China, bores holes into the maple's bark, mates, and then lays eggs in the bark cavities. The larvae that hatch bore into the inner bark to feed and then chew their way out, severely damaging the tree's vascular system. The Norway maple is the most widely planted shade tree in New York State.

Officials with the company that runs the Alaska pipeline are dismissing a report by an environmental group concerning safety problems at the 800-mile-long system. From Alaska Public Radio, Ellen Lockyer reports.

LOCKYER: A report released by the Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility charges the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline is so worn out that it poses a danger to the state's environment and to the workers who keep the pipeline running. Author Richard Feinberg.

FEINBERG: My conclusion was that the pipeline is at serious risk of a major spill or fire or explosion. The risk comes from the simple fact of an aging pipeline and Alaska's predilection for cost cutting.

LOCKYER: The 800-mile oil pipeline, built in the 70s, pushes about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day the length of the state. Alaska Pipeline Company Vice President Doug Webb says there's nothing new in the report. He says the pipeline has already passed 2 government safety audits, and at its busiest moved more than 8 million barrels a day. Report authors are calling for more Federal and state oversight of the pipeline. For Living on Earth, I'm Ellen Lockyer in Anchorage.

NUNLEY: Building dams to prevent floods and fighting wildfires may endanger plants and animals that thrive on ecological benefits of natural disasters. Two studies in the journal Science point to the negative environmental consequences of human disaster prevention measures. In California, putting an end to periodic floods deprived the state's steelhead trout of food and in Wisconsin 14% of the plants that once thrived in the state's prairie preserves have vanished in the last 50 years because wildfires no longer clean out stronger competitors. Researchers also pointed out that the Midwestern floods of 1993, which wiped out whole towns, were exacerbated by dikes that eliminated river floodplains.

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

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

Where the Passaic River Runs North

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Over the sweep of this century, the major parties in the US have staked out fairly similar territory on the environment. Both the elephants and the donkeys have at various times been out front or lagged behind. But today, the Republican-led assault in Congress on environmental regulation has tagged the GOP as anti-environment, and handed the green mantle to the Democrats almost by default. Today, as the parties battle for control of Congress, many Republicans are trying to push their party back toward the mainstream on environmental issues. And nowhere is that more evident than in New Jersey, where nominees of both parties are claiming to be the truest green in a tight race for a House street. Paul Conlow of member station WHYY has our report.

(Water flowing)

CONLOW: The Passaic River thunders over the great falls in the heart of Paterson, New Jersey, about 20 miles west of Manhattan. The meandering Passaic defies common notions about rivers. It flows north for much of its length.

(Water gurgling)

CONLOW: The river is an appropriate symbol for this year's election in the Eighth Congressional District, which lies within its basin. In a hotly contested race for the District's House seat, nothing seems to follow normal patterns. And that goes for candidate endorsements by New Jersey environmental groups. Democrat William Pascrell, the mayor of Paterson and a 5-term state legislator, has the support of New Jersey's largest grassroots environmental group. Incumbent Republican William Martini has the backing of the League of Conservation Voters and he's the only freshman House Republican to earn the Sierra Club's endorsement. It's not clear how these endorsements will affect the close race in this district, which is equally divided between Democrat and Republican voters. But Ella Fillipone of the Passaic River Coalition says issues of the environment are important to the residents of the district's old cities and suburbs.

FILLIPONE: You will find what is the best in this country and some of its worst. You will find a diversity of people but they all have a great concern for their environment, their back yard. They speak all the languages of this planet.

(Salsa music plays)

CONLOW: Paterson's Puerto Rican Day Parade attracts a huge crowd, and in this election season, both candidates. Bill Martini wades into the crowd, leaving no hand unshaken.

(Martini: "What's your name?" Child: "Ernie." Martini: "Ernie? Ernie, you've got a great hat and some great sunglasses.")

CONLOW: Martini is 49 years old, with boyish good looks. In 1994, he became the first Republican to win the district in more than 30 years, but his margin of victory was less than 2,000 votes, and Democrats believe he's vulnerable. As 1 of 73 freshman House Republicans in the 104th Congress, Martini signed the Contact With America. So Democrats are casting him as a radical follower of House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But Martini, who earned a 73% rating from the Christian Coalition, casts himself as a moderate. He says he supports the Republican agenda of lower taxes and less government, but not at the expense of the environment.

MARTINI: I believe, frankly, that it would be immoral to have an economically sound future for our children and grandchildren, which we are achieving and we will get there, if we didn't also give them a safe and clean world in which to live.

CONLOW: On environmental issues, Martini often broke ranks with the Republican leadership. He voted against attempts to limit the Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement powers. And he drew praise from environmental groups for his efforts to preserve the Sterling Forest, a critical watershed in the Passaic River Basin. Tim Dillingham, President of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, says Martini's stand against the anti-environmental agenda in Congress showed courage.

DILLINGHAM: If we have more and more advocates like him in office, then the signal will get through that the agenda needs to change, and there'll be a more even course, a return to the bipartisan support for environmental protection, that this country's enjoyed for the last 25 years.

(Salsa music continues)

CONLOW: Challenging Martini is Paterson mayor Bill Pascrell. He's in his element leading the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Dressed in an embroidered geyaberra, the traditional long shirt worn by Puerto Rican men, Pascrell addresses the crowd and greets guests in his city.

PASCRELL: You're always welcome to Paterson! Let's hear it for the Puerto Rican community! Let's hear it! [Cheers]

CONLOW: Pascrell is known as a hands-on mayor, and in Paterson he has his hands full. The city, once known for the production of silk and locomotives, passed its prime long ago. Today, many of its old industrial sites are vacant. Pascrell's efforts to attract jobs to Paterson has cost him in the environmental community. The Sierra Club's Tim Dillingham says too often in recent years, Assemblyman Pascrell has supported Republican Governor Christine Whitman's business-friendly, deregulatory environmental agenda. Pascrell responds with characteristic bluntness.

PASCRELL: The Sierra Club chose not to endorse me because they don't understand what's going on in the industrial parts of this state. They don't have a clue what's going on. They don't know how to produce jobs, they don't know how to move ratables back onto the tax rolls again.

CONLOW: Pascrell did oppose Governor Whitman's efforts to cut hundreds of jobs in the state's Department of Environmental Protection. And he has solid support from the state's business community and labor groups. And while his recent record in the legislature has dismayed some environmentalists, Pascrell has earned the endorsement of the New Jersey Environmental Federation. Dolores Philips of the Federation says Pascrell 's passionate leadership on environmental issues, like his opposition to waste incinerators in the late 1980s, outweighs his recent record in the Assembly.

PHILIPS: The telling difference between these 2 candidates is that one has a long history of environmental activism. Personally, down in the trenches. The other one simply has a moderate voting record in Congress.

CONLOW: The outcome of the race may be in doubt, but one thing seems certain: it will be expensive, with the combined tab expected to exceed $2 million. Victory in the district is considered vital in the neck-and-neck races for US Senate and President in New Jersey this year. Neil Upmeyer of the Center for the Analysis of Public Issues in Princeton notes that Democrats must turn out the votes in cities like Paterson to win in New Jersey, where President Clinton won by only 79,000 votes in 1992.

UPMEYER: It's very uncertain whether Clinton can duplicate what he did 4 years ago. And the key to whether he can or not lies in places like the Eighth District.

(Water flowing)

CONLOW: The past above, the future below, and the present pouring down. That's how poet William Carlos Williams described Paterson's great falls. For the present, political observers say the race in the Eighth Congressional District is to close to call. Anything can happen in a place where the rivers run north. For Living on Earth, I'm Paul Conlow in Paterson, New Jersey.

Back to top

(Water flowing)

The Blind Date

CURWOOD: Commentator Michael Silverstein has been wondering about which of the 2 major party candidates for President would be best for the environment. His thoughts have not been cheery.

SILVERSTEIN: Remember that guy or girl your mother always wanted you to date, or even better, marry? Yeah, she was nice looking, smart, courteous and caring, and guaranteed to say just the right thing, always. Remember how awful it was when you actually dated this person and had the worst Friday night of your life? Voters of an environmental bent might keep this image in mind in November when they help elect a president. Bill Clinton is the mother's choice in this election. He articulates beautifully in Rose Garden environmental ceremonies, grieves convincingly about the horrors of pollution, and has introduced a record number of administrative gimmicks into the Beltway regulatory apparatus. Unfortunately, these well-meant efforts notwithstanding, he has been by any objective measure the worst environmental chief executive in decades. Until updated pesticide legislation was enacted this summer, not a single new or revised environmental measure became law during Mr. Clinton's first three and a half years in office. Worst of all, perhaps, this nation's environmental movement, so filled with energy and creative potential at the start of Mr. Clinton's first term, has slipped into a kind of shocked catatonia, retreated into a state where politically correct mumblings and fundraising hustles have replaced the vigorous new thinking and dynamic organizing so evident during the early 1990s.

Will things get better, environmentally speaking, if Bob Dole were elected president? Sure they would. No matter who wins the big prize this November, some environmental reforms are now assured because the American people themselves made their feelings clear on these matters last year in the face of an environmentally lackadaisical Clinton White House and a frothing anti-environmental Republican House of Representatives.

The main environmental challenge for the next administration is therefore not one of legislation but of animation, or rather, re-animation. It is to see that once again, Americans sense a meaningful, a visceral relationship, between environmental well-being and their own prosperity, health, and their children's futres. President Clinton had the opportunity to shape a vision in this realm and failed. His chance to lead is past. Mr. Dole still could lead here. Conservative presidents have been known to do stranger things. Indeed, especially in harness with a Democratic Congress, environmental innovation might make a perfect theme for a new Dole-Kemp administration in an era of fiscal restraint and visionary vacuums.

At the very least, a Dole Presidency would infuse, intentionally or otherwise, new life into an environmental movement now institutionally tethered to a Clinton White House that takes it for granted, manipulates it for its own ends, and gives little or nothing in return.

CURWOOD: Commentator Michael Silverstein is an environmental consultant based in Philadelphia.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Defending the nation versus defending the environment. A torpedo test site comes under some fire of its own. That story just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Torpedo Testing Under Fire

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. To help prepare for the defense of North America from foreign military threats, the US and Canadian navies use a number of test sites for their high-powered weapons. Among these are submarine warfare ranges off St. Croix in the Caribbean, and off Vancouver Island on the Canadian West Coast. Antiwar activists have long tried to shut these ranges down, and now in Vancouver they have a new set of allies: environmentalists and fishers. Together, they are calling for an end to torpedo tests and other submarine war games in these key fishing grounds. Bob Carty of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has our story.

(Motors running)

DALZELL: The air we're flying over now is Georgia Straits. This is the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges. We test basically underwater units: torpedoes, underwater vehicles, things of that nature.

CARTY: Commander Mike Dalzell is an officer in the Canadian Navy who goes to work every day in a helicopter. It's a short trip, a little hop from the east coast of Vancouver Island to a rock outcropping that serves as headquarters for the world's best torpedo and submarine test range. Across the Strait of Georgia you can see the suburbs of Vancouver, yet most Canadians don't even know that war games go on in their neighborhood waters.

DALZELL: The reason the range is here, it's a very large body of water, about 75 square miles. It's deep, it's about 1,400 feet overall. It has a soft, muddy bottom which allows us to recover any of the torpedoes we fire. We've fired somewhere in the area of 28,000 torpedoes. We've never had any damage to people or to personal property in all that time operating.

(Commercial: man's voice over background music: "The Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges, more commonly known as CFMETR, is a joint Canadian-American operation and is North America's most sophisticated 3-dimensional underwater weapons test range...")

CARTY: CFMETR is basically a big block of water with a lot of sonar equipment on the bottom to track torpedoes and submarines in 3 dimensions. Canadian military commanders insist the test range is safe. All the torpedoes used are unarmed. They claim the base is good for jobs and necessary for defense, and they've put all those arguments into a $100,000 promotional video.

(Video and voice over continued: "In these waters, important work is being carried out by the men and women of the Canadian forces. Work that's essential to the continued security of all Canadians...")

CARTY: The video is actually a sign of how sensitive the Canadian military is to the growing opposition to CFMETR. One of its longstanding opponents, a local peace group called the Nanoose Conversion Campaign, has produced its own video, at about 1% of the cost of the military one, and a video with quite a different tone.

(Submarine beats and suspenseful music, a man's voice over: "This is a United States nuclear powered marine. It is designed to unleash a fury of nuclear weapons of unimaginable destructive power. Their regular presence in British Columbia goes virtually unnoticed by the millions of people who live only a few miles from their path...")

CARTY: The central concern of local peace groups is the fact that US nuclear submarines regularly transit Canadian waters, carrying weapons systems that can blow up the world. Michael Candler is the coordinator of the Nanoose Conversion Campaign.

CANDLER: We have to live with the routine threat of a nuclear accident because of the floating nuclear warships coming into Georgia Strait to do Cold War testing at a Canadian facility that's used 75% of the time by the United States. And they're saving $2 billion over the 30 years. It's absurd. It's crazy.

CARTY: But Commander Mike Dalzell argues the test range is necessary because, well, the world is a bit crazy.

DALZELL: The Canadian government's position has been one of, that we should be capable of going out there in anywhere around the world, and operating in a threat environment. And the thing I want to mention here is that we monitor the submarines, we monitor them before they come into the harbor and we monitor them after they've gone. There's been no indication at all of any increase in radioactivity. There is always some risk, okay, but the risk is so low that basically Canada has felt that it is safe to operate these vessels in our waters.

CARTY: And Canada still supports the test range. Although its enthusiasm now seems to be a bit ambiguous. In June the latest 10-year Canada-US treaty for operating CFMETR came to an end. It has not yet been renewed. That means the test range keeps operating under the terms of the old treaty. Critics of the base say this is a perfect opportunity to close it down, and that there are mounting reasons to do so.

(Someone punches into a keyboard)

DALZELL: So what I'm going to do is I'm just going to start up the replay, so we see the torpedo being launched, it goes down to depth. Right now it's doing about 26 knots.

CARTY: When the test range is operating it gives new meaning to the phrase "Run silent, run deep." The only activity you can see is in the control room, where officers monitor a huge computer screen.

(More typing on a keyboard)

DALZELL: You can see right now it's looking out kind of measured targets, and sees the submarine, alters to intercept the submarine. If this was designed as an actual torpedo, that would have hit the submarine.

CARTY: But none of this is visible to the public, a reason, perhaps, for the low profile the test range has maintained for 30 years. Also invisible is the 30 years of garbage left behind. And that's what bothers Norman Abbey. Norman Abbey describes himself as a biologist, a sailor, and a tree planter, who joined the campaign against the base because of environmental concerns.

ABBEY: When the test fire these torpedoes, I guess the torpedoes are probably worth about a million dollars each so they want to recover them. The way they do that is that at the end of the torpedo's test run they eject a chunk of lead about 16.2 kilograms of lead I believe. That is just jettisoned onto the bottom of the Georgia Strait, and then the torpedo rises up to the surface. Now, they've tested I think something like 28,000 torpedoes out there over the years, so that as a result there's more than a million kilograms of lead lying in chunks littered around the bottom.

CARTY: Public concern about the toxic effects of heavy metals like lead have prodded the Canadian Navy to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the test range. That study concludes the range has no measurable impact on the environment. Lieutenant Daniel Harris is the officer in charge of American forces at CFMETR.

HARRIS: There are a number of things that we're going to work on to eliminate or reduce the amount of lead that's inadvertently being placed on the bottom. But by the same token, I don't feel that what we've done so far has adversely affected the environment.

CARTY: But ecologist Norman Abbey points out that the environmental impact assessment admits the base has dumped 2,200 tons of garbage on the ocean floor, and that there is no plan for a site clean-up upon termination.

ABBEY: There's literally thousands of miles of fine guidance wires; that also has left littering along the bottom. The sonar buoys are powered by lithium sulfate batteries; when those sink to the bottom you've got lithium sulfate. That's prime salmon habitat. And in British Columbia, as on the east coast, the fisheries are in a severe crisis. I mean, we should be using that for fishing and for providing a habitat.

TOLGIA: I fish and go up side the Preser River, beautiful day, sunny day, no wind.

CARTY: Mike Tolja is a recent opponent of the torpedo and submarine test range. He's a member of another group of Canadians, people who fish or sail or work on these waters, who are concerned about the submarines that CFMETR attracts.

TOLJA: And this American submarine running straight right into my net, and is cutting the net like nothing. So I yelling out at the guys towards the tower and they just do the hands like that: who care about you, your net? They don't even say they are sorry what they did cutting my net.

CARTY: When the test range was first established, the Strait of Georgia was relatively unpopulated. Now it's one of the fastest growing areas in Canada. So it's not surprising there have been other recent cases of a submarine sinking a sailboat and an old torpedo turning up in a fish net. Critics say this is not the place for a torpedo and submarine test range, and those critics include some surprising voices.

BUSH: My name is Captain James T. Bush, US Navy Retired. I was in the United States Navy for 26 years, I spent 10 of those years in submarines. It's difficult to pick up a submarine either visually or by radar. It is somewhat dangerous to operate in restricted waters. I think that that's another reason why the US submarines should not be routinely operating in CFMETR. If you're going to take a dangerous ship with a dangerous propulsion plant, you should operate it, as far as I'm concerned, in American waters and not in foreign waters.

(Water splashing)

CARTY: CFMETR is now under concerted attack. Environmentalists want the government to lay pollution charges against it. Provincial politicians are trying to use it as a bargaining chip, threatening to keep US subs off the test range until Alaska agrees to reduce its catch of Canadian salmon. Meanwhile, the volume of submarine traffic coming to the base is declining in the wake of tighter defense budgets. The world's best torpedo and submarine test range is sailing into troubled waters. For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty on Vancouver Island.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major support from the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics; the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation; all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; and the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Coming up: saving vital plant species in the deserts of New Mexico and right in your own back yard. That's ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

(Theme music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: A hundred and fifteen years ago, near the town of Bernard, Vermont, Alexander Crowell shot the largest recorded panther ever killed in the state. It was 7 and a half feet long, a catamount, weighing in at more than 180 pounds. At the time, experts also thought it was Vermont's last catamount, and many were glad to be rid of the predators. But it wasn't long before the big cats appeared to be prowling in the Green Mountain State gain. Reports of sightings began to circulate in the 1890s, but rumor wasn't confirmed as fact until almost 100 years later. Two years ago this month state fish and wildlife officials confirmed the presence of 3 panthers: a mother and her 2 cubs, near the town of Craftsbury. The animals are being studied from afar, so we don't know yet whether they are catamounts or another subspecies of panther that's become the cat of the Green Mountains. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Bikes Not Cars

CURWOOD: In garages and basements across North America there are millions of bicycles gathering rust and dust, as their owners have outgrown them or moved on to the latest fashion in gears or tire size. For years the Boston-based group Bikes Not Bombs has grabbed some of these unwanted bikes on their way to the scrap heap, fixed them up, and shipped them off to war-torn countries in Central America. Now the group is recycling these bikes right in their home community with an innovative after-school program. Trish Anderton of member station WBUR in Boston has our story.

(WOMAN: See where it's up? Don't get nervous. [Laughs] There's no need for speed.)

ANDERTON: Fourteen-year-old Asha McClarence has never fixed a flat before. Her teacher, Shiki Reeves, shows her how to use an air hose to fill the inner tube.

REEVES: And press it real hard and air won't escape. Then you can stick the rim out; there you go. Cool. [Air rushes out of the inner tube] Let it go. [Laughs] Now, what you gonna do with it? [Laughs]

ANDERTON: By the end of the lesson Asha has not only patched the tube and put the tire back on, but she's able to explain the process herself.

McCLARENCE: You take this.

REEVES: You gonna, what you gonna do -- yeah?

McCLARENCE: You put an air compressor on it.

REEVES: Uh huh. It's right, air compressor.

ANDERTON: One bike standover, 13-year-old Noel Ayala, has nearly finished his tire.

AYALA: I'm scraping off the rubber, so like, when I put on the patch and the glue so that it will stick better.

ANDERTON: Noel used to have a mountain bike of his own until one day he was hanging out in front of his apartment building.

AYALA: And like 6 men came over, they were like starting to look at it. And they stole it. And I never found it. I was trying to hit 'em, like, you know, trying to get rough, but I couldn't. So now it's lost.

ANDERTON: Noel's teacher Jose shows him how to put glue on the inner tube and tells him to wait 5 minutes for it to dry. But Noel's a little impatient, so he decides to speed things along.

AYALA: [Trying to pump tire] Ugh. I'm dizzy.

ANDERTON: If they come to class faithfully for 2 weeks Asha and Noel will get to keep these bikes. They'll also learn how to fix everything from the handlebars to the bottom bracket. The students pay a sliding scale fee for the glass, which Bikes Not Bombs runs on a shoestring. The bicycles are rescued from trash heaps and curbsides. Anything that can't be gotten for free is paid for with a patchwork of grant money and fundraisers. Most of the half dozen teachers are volunteers, but they take their work seriously.

NORMANDIA: We're going to drop an actual egg in this demonstration. And what's gonna to happen, usually if I just take an egg and toss it on the sidewalk...

ANDERTON: On the first day of class instructor Paul Normandia takes the students outside to demonstrate the importance of wearing helmets.

NORMANDIA: And hold it up over your head. [An egg splats] Whoa. Okay.

WOMAN: That is your head!

NORMANDIA: Surprise, surprise, your head is cracked.

ANDERTON: Paul holds up a second egg packed in foam rubber and styrofoam.

NORMANDIA: The same head. [Drops it] Who wants to open it?

WOMAN: Oh my God.

WOMAN 2: Is it cracked?

WOMAN: No, it isn't.

WOMAN 3: It didn't crack! [Applause all around]

ANDERTON: Afterward the students troop inside to be fitted with their own helmets. Over the next 2 weeks they'll go out on bikes several times to learn how to ride in Boston's legendary traffic. It's all part of a plan to create a new generation of urban cyclists.

NORMANDIA: After they'll all fitted on we'll put our names inside, okay, so that you can keep them...

ANDERTON: When Karl Kurtz founded Bikes Not Bombs in 1984, it was a loose bunch of volunteers that fixed up abandoned bicycles and sent them to Nicaragua. Over the years the shipping operation began to run itself and the group turned its attention to its own city of Boston. Three years ago they started running youth programs from a former industrial space near a housing project. Bikes Not Bombs draws many of its students from this neighborhood where Hispanic and African stores rub elbows with Irish pubs. Carl Kurtz says bike mechanics of part of what students learn at Bikes Not Bombs, but so are language skills, arithmetic, and problem solving.

KURTZ: The bicycle is sort of the carrot that draws them in here. And we use the bicycle as a way of teaching higher order thinking skills that help all of us through life.

ANDERTON: One way the program uses bikes to teach bigger lessons is a race pitting bicycles against other kinds of transportation.

WOMAN: Okay. On your mark! Get set! [Laughter] Get ready! Go! [Laughs]

ANDERTON: Two teams bicycle into the middle of Boston, while another team take the subway and another drives. Whoever gets back to the bike center first wins. On this particular Wednesday the bicycle teams come panting in first and second. The subway team arrives a few minutes later. And a good half hour after that the car team limps home. They couldn't find any parking downtown. Head teacher Mira Brown gets the students to talk about the quality of their experience.

BROWN: So is anybody relaxed right now?

(Several voices: "Yeah." "I am." "I've been relaxed." "I'm relaxed." "Me, too.")

BROWN: Did you make any new friends on the ride down, anybody?

GIRL: I did. A two-year-old.

BROWN: A two-year-old.

BOY: I did. A motorcycle guy. I said, "Nice bike," and he said, "Thanks."

BOY 2: And a little kid.

ANDERTON: Then instructor Arthur Grupee helps them tackle the larger issues.

GRUPEE: All right, we're going to try and discuss, like, exactly what it means to be on a train, on a car, and on the bike, all right? And so we all can like collectively estimate how much it costs per year for like to purchase one, the maintenance, and everything.

ANDERTON: The students make a chart comparing the costs of each way to get downtown. They also talk about the environmental impact of each kind of transportation. In the process they wrestle with the kind of word problems they dread running into on math tests.

WOMAN: Lets say it gets 21 miles per gallon and he went 7 miles. How may gallons he use, anybody know?

GIRL: One third?

WOMAN: One third.

ANDERTON: The discussion is lively, but it comes to an abrupt end when the students realize it's cutting into their workshop time. After all, it's the bicycles that are the carrots here. Fourteen-year-old Gabrielle Regis is pretty close to finishing his shiny silver Gary Thomas bike. Peering out from under the ever-present cap that hides his eyes, Gabrielle is satisfied with his work.

REGIS: I fixed the brakes, the rings, the hubs, and the chain. It looks nice.

ANDERTON: For Living on Earth, I'm Trish Anderton in Boston.

Back to top

(Shop sounds, a bicycle bell ringing)

Wheelchair-Friendly Path

CURWOOD: There may not be any wilderness left in Indiana, but there are some lovely wild and natural places. And when commentator Julia King heard that a favorite trail in her hometown was going to be paved over for a bike path, she felt an impulsive sense of loss.

KING: I've walked along the canal a thousand times. Bicycle tires have formed long, skinny grooves in the narrow dirt trail. Roots protrude from the ground and holes masquerade as shadows in an apparent attempt to trip the careless and carefree. But not for long. When my city's park department announced that they were planning to pave one of the area's few dirt footpaths, I winced. Pavement is not progress! I moaned to those who would listen. The smooth isn't inherently superior to the bumpy, I insisted. Considering Indiana's rather unspectacular geography, it seems Hoosiers would welcome even the hint of topographic variation that a worn and weathered path can offer. But the pavement proponents say that the new walkway will draw more people. They say this is a good thing. I say that those who are attracted to cement should hop in the car and head for a city sidewalk or the shopping mall, but leave me the dangerous life. Let me risk a twisted ankle. This was my battle cry.

Then the following week the work began. Heavy trucks and machinery made their way into the neighborhood. The water disappeared from the canal. Bulldozers scraped away the scouring rushes and wildflowers that grew beside the path on the banks of the canal. It was just as I had feared. And for what? Roller bladers? My only solace was being right. How I love to be right.

The destruction still fresh, a few of us headed out to explore. My little girl bounced happily as I pushed her stroller along the rugged trail. I breathed in the smell of turned soil. Soon the scent would be of tar and concrete. So goes the senseless manipulation of nature. Then, just up ahead, I saw the wheels. Not roller blades, or bicycles, or skateboards, but wheelchairs. The electric chairs hummed and beeped as they made their way over the uneven ground. We quickly gained on and passed the man and woman as they navigated the surface with intense concentration.

A few minutes later, as my daughter stretched her little legs chasing bugs and collecting dandelions, the man in the wheelchair pulled up behind us and stopped. He adjusted velcro straps around his torso. He inhaled and sighed deeply. He looked me straight in the eye. "That's rough back there," he said with a seriousness I couldn't really understand. "Yeah," I nodded. "But it won't be for long." Pavement, as it turns out, is a lot more complicated than I thought.

CURWOOD: Commentator Julia King lives in Goshen, Indiana. She comes to us through the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Evelyn Tully Costa and the Green Garden Spot is next. Today, while you should save some of your harvest for seeds. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under: Prince's "When Doves Cry")

Saving Your Seeds

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As nearly every school kid knows these days, wild animals are in trouble. Extinction is at an all-time high and creatures beloved and obscure are headed for oblivion with unknown consequences for the Earth and its people. But what not so many people realize is that plants are also in trouble. Both wild plants and cultivated varieties, which have provided food for humans for thousands of years and are part of the genetic base for many of our current food crops. By one estimate we're losing 27,000 plant species a year, 1,000 times the natural rate. Much of this loss is by accident. Human communities are squeezing out wild ones and new crop varieties more suited to current conditions are replacing older ones. Some of the loss, though, is actually by design. Companies that produce and sell seeds are replacing common varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers which can reproduce themselves with infertile hybrids, which of course can't. And in some cases, with patented bioengineered versions. But there's a movement around the world to preserve traditional or heirloom plants, and Living on Earth's organic gardening expert, Evelyn Tully Costa, says backyard gardeners can play a role by preserving their own seeds from their favorite plants. Evelyn joins us now from New York. Hi, Evelyn.

TULLY COSTA: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: How do we do this now, with my cherry tomatoes? I love the sungold cherries. They're so delicious. How can I save their seeds?

TULLY COSTA: Okay. What you want to do, Steve, is look at your favorite plants, and you want to select them for certain traits. You can look at them for their color, whether or not they're disease resistant, their flavor, their size, how vigorous they are. You want to make sure that their heirloom varieties, or non-hybrid types, because heirlooms' offspring are identical to the parent plants. In other words, when you plant the seed, you're going to get the parent plant, which is unlike a hybrid. The flavor is oftentimes superior, and over time the strain can actually be improved. That's why people do this.

CURWOOD: Okay, so like I have about 6 of the sungolds. I should pick the best one, the one that had the best output this summer.

TULLY COSTA: Mm hm. Yep.

CURWOOD: And save the seeds from that.

TULLY COSTA: Right.

CURWOOD: How do I do this?

TULLY COSTA: The first thing you need to do is you need to know when this plant has matured, okay? Now, I'm just going to give a general overview of a lot of different plants that people can sort of figure out when the plants have gone to seed. Ripe flowers of herbs, ornamentals, and even some vegetables have exposed seeds emerging from dried pods, which are off the buds. Now, sunflowers are a really common example of this. You've got to pick these buds and lay them out to dry. Now, seeds from the brasica family, like mustards, cabbage, and broccoli, develop inside pods. Now, the key is to harvest these seeds before those pods crack.

CURWOOD: And I just put this into a jar, or what do I do?

TULLY COSTA: What you get to do is thresh, which is still done all over the world by people that don't have industrialized agricultural methods. This method is used for flowers, herbs, mints, onions, berries, corn, grain, and even some beans. And basically what you're doing is separating the chaff from the seed. This is done with a series of screens and a 3 speed house fan which simulates the wind.

CURWOOD: Okay. How do I do this, though, with tomatoes? I mean, they're kind of, you know, gushy.

TULLY COSTA: Ah, okay. Well that brings us then to the mushier side of fruits and vegetables. We're talking here, like you said, about tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumbers, eggplants, and even some chilies. They need to rot. They need to ferment a little bit before their seeds are screened, dried, and stored in that order, Steve.

CURWOOD: Okay. And then how do I store these?

TULLY COSTA: Okay. Uh, this is the important part. I would recommend that people use well-labeled jars. Store them in a cool, clean, dry, and insect-proof area. Seeds should be as dry as possible before going into storage, since heat and humidity can be damaging as well as encourage bacteria and fungus.

CURWOOD: Boy, I tell you, with a garden one is always busy. There's canning and now there's seed saving. But I suppose this way I get to make a connection between my favorite tomato plant and next summer, huh?

TULLY COSTA: Right. And really what we're doing here is closing a circle. You grow from seed and instead of buying seedlings or seed packets you grow the plant directly from a seed that you have saved and this leads you into the next growing season. It's also important for your listeners to be aware once again of the big picture drama each human on this planet takes part in every time we eat. From the poorest peasant to the CEO of a multinational corporation, learning about the seed gene pool, who owns it, and how food crop diversity is being manipulated, it's critical to anyone who's interested in eating. So I am now going off to enjoy my last heirloom Amish Brandywine tomato and cucumber sandwich of the season.

CURWOOD: Well, there's another mouthful from our own Brooklyn-based gardening correspondent Evelyn Tully Costa. Thank you so much.

TULLY COSTA: Okay, Steve, thanks a lot.

Back to top

CURWOOD: And if you want to know more about how to save the seeds from your garden, or if you have any other questions for Evelyn, you can reach her here at Living on Earth's Green Garden Spot, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Or try e-mail. That's LOE@NPR.ORG.

(Music up and under)

Phyllis Hogan: Portrait of an Ethnobotanist

CURWOOD: Twenty years ago a search for herbal remedies might have taken you to a back shelf of a health food store. These days, many people can find a wide choice of herbal cures for maladies ranging from headaches to depression in their local supermarket. But who makes these herbal remedies and where do they come from? Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan recently paid a visit to one herbalist who plies her trade in Flagstaff, Arizona. Her knowledge base rests in Indian country.

(Cutting, sweeping sounds, cranking)

TOLAN: In a basement lab in downtown Flagstaff, a botanist peers through wire-rimmed glasses at the dark fennel liquid being squeezed through an old juice press.

HOGAN: It's the juice from that dry mass, we're going to yield a couple of ounces.

TOLAN: Behind her are bottles filled with extracts and herbs to soothe a vast range of ailments: upset stomach, arthritis, asthma, backache, sluggishness, sleeplessness, a pounding head.

HOGAN: These are our formulas. We have echinacea golden seal, what we call allergies and arthritis tonic, expectorant, ginseng complex, this is real good...

TOLAN: Phyllis Hogan has been doing this work as proprietor of the Winter Sun Trading Company for 20 years now. It's part New Age herbal repository, part trading post for the silversmiths and Kachina carvers of Navajo and Hopi country, and part pharmacy for the medicine men.

HOGAN: We're very well known throughout the reservation as being a place where you can come and ask us in your native tongue for childechee, for instance, or zilthnar toe, atza aze, any of these herbal medicines that are required for ceremonies.

(Wind and traffic sounds)

HOGAN: This is a plant called Tetradimia canadensis, and it's kind of unique to our area. And I learned about it through the Navajos. If a person is having nightmares or bad dreams about someone who died, they called it chindichil, chindi meaning ghost weed, and then that is to alleviate bad nightmares of the dead. The Hopis, however, use this to expedite childbirth.

TOLAN: Walking through an old Pueblo ruin north of Flagstaff, Hogan explains that her business began humbly. She lived in a teepee and sold jewelry and a few herbs from a tiny log cabin just across the road here.

HOGAN: Right across the street, right here. And I would see these elders out here, you know, picking. They were Navajo elders and I'd give them this plant called napin. And it's, it was like my calling card, it was like their most important ceremonial plant. And I would hand it to them and I would point that I was across the street, and they'd follow me over there and they'd see all the herbs in the jars. They were fascinated. They would come back in the next week with one of their grandchildren to translate, because they couldn't speak English. And they'd want to know who I was and what was I doing with all these things. And that's how I got known among the Navajos.

TOLAN: Hogan was already an herbalist when she came from southern Arizona. That was long before herbal remedies became popular. She arrived with a base of white man's science. But as she started learning from the old healers of Indian country, her knowledge deepened.

HOGAN: And I can show you plants around here that are still in use and very important today. Old food plants, like that lyceum right there. The berries and the flowers were used as food by the Navajos after they were being held captive for 4 years by the United States Government and they had no food. They used a lot of seeds and grass seeds, and this one particular plant. About 4 years ago I was working with a Navajo and he got tears in his eyes when he saw that plant, and he said this is the plant that my people survived on.

TOLAN: For Phyllis Hogan, ethnobotany is detective work. Who used what, when, for what purpose. And how did plants native to southern Arizona get all the way north to Flagstaff's higher altitudes long before settlers arrived?

HOGAN: And they're agreeing that these plants were brought in, in a trade probably, on an ancient trade route, by very important ceremonial leaders from these prehistoric tribes. Then these plants were used, and some of them today are still used ceremonially. Like the tobacco. And so now I'm looking at the plants here and finding plants that grow in the desert like the lyceum. Did the Hohokum bring it up, did they get it in a trade from them? It's just a mystery. It's history but it's a mystery.

(A train hoots)

TOLAN: But it's not just fascination with days gone by that motivates Phyllis Hogan.

(Train continues hooting)

TOLAN: In a tiny storefront around the corner from her trading company and half a block from the Santa Fe railroad tracks, she works to preserve rare and native species through her Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association.

(Creaky sliding doors)

HOGAN: So this is what you call an herbarium, and an herbarium is a repository of pressed plant specimens all categorized in alphabetical order according to family. And I'll pull one out here and just show you this tobacco here.

TOLAN: Phyllis Hogan wants to help preserve something, and as people on the reservation have begun to realize that they've let her in, slowly. They know she won't reveal certain things about their ceremonies. So now she's asked to identify rare plants in order to help protect those ceremonies.

HOGAN: A Hopi medicine man died and I was asked to come and document his plants by his family. I found an unusual plant, a root, in there, that I had never seen before or smelled before and it was all ground up.

TOLAN: Hogan was told the plant was a key element of the crucial lightning ceremony. But where the medicine man used to gather the plant there was now a shopping mall. She burned the gray root and smelled it. After years of searching through herbariums, she narrowed it down to 2 plants. She asked a fellow botanist if he could help her find one of those specimens.

HOGAN: He did. He brought it to me. When I scratched it, it turned gray. I smelled it, it had the exact smell that the root had from the Hopi medicine man. And we found a huge field where it grows. And so now 3 of the herbalists that I work with that could really use this plant and have not been able to find it for years are very excited and we're going to go all on a pilgrimage and do some prayers and pick this plant. And they're going to be able to pick as much as they need.

(Train hoots continue)

HOGAN: My biggest motivation, I believe, is for the elders and for cultural preservation. I like being able to go to an elderly person and make them smile by giving them a gift of something that maybe they couldn't find and they haven't seen for a long time. So this is another thing where I feel like I'm contributing and being able to give back to the native people who have taught me so much.

(Train rolls on tracks)

TOLAN: When she first started some Native Americans resented a white person looking into Indian medicine. People wondered if she was just profiting from their knowledge. But standing in a Flagstaff fair in front of her stunning beadwork, Ella Bedonie, a Navajo who's worked with Hogan over the years, says Phyllis has proved herself.

BEDONIE: She's always been an inspiration to me and my kids call her their hippie aunt [laughs]. And I really admire her for the respect that she has for herbs and the respect that she has for people as a whole. Through the years we've learned a lot from each other and she fixed herbs for me during the times, you know, when I was sick. I think she's carrying on something that is very sacred to our people, and in a way she's carrying on for us because a lot of the young people, they're not learning about it.

TOLAN: Clearly, Phyllis Hogan has benefited from the knowledge others have shared.

(Silverware on glass)

HOGAN: I'm going to put some of the milk thistle in her tonic, but I think you should just have your own straight milk thistle.

TOLAN: In her shop she mixes tinctures from the dozens of bottles and herbal extracts that line the back walls.

HOGAN: ... really want her to get serious about taking this in. I could always mail, would you mail order ...

TOLAN: While out front Kachina dolls and the work of master silversmiths catch the eye of tourists. Hogan does good business in both, but she says she worries sometimes about the herb business getting too successful. Soon, she says, herbalists will need to stop gathering some herbs and start farming them. Already, big herbal companies gather seeds and plants from the land with huge vacuum packs, and export nature's bounty overseas. And sometimes, Hogan says, the damage can come from just one lone entrepreneur trying to get in on a good thing.

HOGAN: And every barefooted, longhaired, bearded guy hanging around with nothing better to do and they want to get in on this, they're going out, picking sage, wrapping sage. And I'm not sure that a lot of these people are doing it conscientiously and they're over-gathering. And women, Indian women in California, in the coastal areas of California, have told me that they would like to have everybody just stop picking the California sage. And I just hate to see people coming in and unconsciously just thinking that they can make the big buck and the dollar off of wild crafting plants, not knowing what they're doing, not making prayer offerings, possibly treading into traditional medicine gardens that they don't even know are there, because these gardens don't have fences around them that say I belong to the Hopis or I belong to the Havasupis, you know? And this is how we get bad relationships with the traditionals, and with the Indian tribes.

This is our Hopi silver case right here, looks like here's a Hopi silversmith walking right in [laughs], bringing me some of his beautiful jewelry. Can we see some of your...

TOLAN: It's been 20 years now since Hogan started forging her own relations with Arizona's Indian tribes.

HOGAN: And the designs are all from your legends, right?

SILVERSMITH: Yeah.

HOGAN: Clouds and rain and moisture...

TOLAN: If she wanted to, she could probably cash in on that knowledge nationally in the exploding New Age market. But she says she wants to keep her business small and use her knowledge locally, to give back some of the things she's received. For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan reporting.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our senior producer is Chris Ballman. Our senior editor is Peter Thomson, who'll be switching gears and becoming our senior correspondent reporting from Southeast Asia. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Susan Shepherd, Liz Lempert, and Julia Madeson. We also had help from Michael Giammusso and bid farewell to intern Jennifer Sinkler. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Frank DeAngelis and Mark Navin. Our WGBH engineer is Antonio Olear Cross. Our Harvard University engineer is Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

(Music up an under)

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

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

P.O. Box 990007
Prudential Station
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Telephone: 1-617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Newsletter
Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Major funding for Living on Earth is provided by the National Science Foundation.

Committed to healthy food, healthy people, a healthy planet, and healthy business.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live.

Kendeda Fund, furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary hummingbird photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.