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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 11, 1996

Air Date: October 11, 1996

SEGMENTS

Dole for President / Terry FitzPatrick

In his dozens of stump speeches around the country in recent months, Bob Dole has been fairly silent on issues concerning the environment. But many supporters and critics alike say his agenda is all there in a decades-old record which speaks for itself. Reporter Terry FitzPatrick takes a look at the Republican presidential nominee's public votes, and closed door deals, thus far. (11:57)

Minnesota's Mutant Frogs

Mutant frogs abound throughout the state of Minnesota. Steve Curwood speaks with Dr. Judy Helgin of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency about the distressing deformities first discovered last year, and the State's new research plans to discover the causes. (06:00)

Audience Letters

Listeners react to last week's query and features. (02:30)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about...the United States Interstate Highway System. (01:15)

Maine Clearcut Referendum / Susan Chisolm

Maine voters struggle with the balance of the state's ecology and its economy in a ballot referendum next month. The ballot decides whether to ban timber clearcutting in the ten million acre region known as the North Woods. Susan Chisolm reports. (07:50)

The Maple Leaf Rag

Maple leaves create some of the most spectacular autumn foliage. But some maples are being threatened by the Asian long-horned beetle. New York's Park Commissioner Henry Stern fields questions from Steve Curwood on this newly arrived killer pest. (04:00)

Uncommon Loon Tunes / Jane Fritz

In northern Idaho producer Jane Fritz canoes on a favorite pond where she often encounters loons. Fritz interprets the calls, the cries and messages of these speckled water birds. (10:00)

First Frost / Susan Carol Hauser

In Minnesota the first autumn frosts have been felt. Susan Carol Hauser comments on these chilly harbingers of winter to come. (02:19)

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: Jordan Weinstein
REPORTERS: David Wright, Stephanie O'Neill, Terry FitzPatrick,
Susan Chisolm, Jane Fritz
GUESTS: Dr. Judy Helgin, Henry Stern
COMMENTATORS: Susan Carol Hauser

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole has been fairly quiet on the environment. But he may not have to say that much. On some key issues at least, voters already seem to have the message.

CUSHMAN: There's no questions that if you're a rancher, miner, a logger or are interested in private property, you are more apt to vote for Dole.

CURWOOD: Today, our environmental profile of Bob Dole. Also, in Minnesota, scientists are scrambling to figure out what's causing an epidemic of grossly deformed frogs throughout much of the state.

HELGIN: I was looking down at frog that I was about to measure that was missing both of the rear legs, and it was just pulling itself along with the front legs. How that frogs had made it for those 2 months or whatever is beyond me.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more, plus your comments this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this summary of the news.

Environmental News

WEINSTEIN: From Living on Earth, I'm Jordan Weinstein. Yellow fever may pose a threat to the United States for the first time in more than 90 years. Mosquitoes carrying the disease have infested urban areas of Africa and Latin America. Scientists are concerned they could spread to the southeastern US. The Journal of the American Medical Association says the disease is making an alarming comeback worldwide, with nearly 19,000 cases reported from 1987 to 1991: the highest incidence since the 1940s. Yellow fever hasn't been seen in North America since 1905, when an outbreak in Louisiana killed more than 1,000 people.

A logging operation in a grove of virgin California redwoods has resumed. Environmental activists are scrambling to find a way to stop the controversial operation, headed by the Pacific Lumber Company. From KQED in San Francisco, David Wright reports.

WRIGHT: Pacific Lumber Company drew immediate criticism from environmental groups and government officials when the company abruptly began removing dead and diseased trees from a redwood grove the company owns in Humboldt County, California. Just days before the company had swapped 7,500 acres of northern California timberland for $380 million cash and other government property. But although that deal protected the headwaters, 4 other virgin redwood stands were left vulnerable, and it was in one of those groves that the company launched its salvage logging operation. Company officials insist that they only want to remove dead and diseased trees but environmentalists say that even that could damage the sensitive ecosystem. Indeed, less than a day after Pacific Lumber began the salvage logging, a bulldozer crushed a 10-inch tall hemlock tree, prompting state forestry officials to halt the operation for 24 hours. That order has now expired. Federal officials who brokered the deal to save the headwaters for us say they're outraged at the company's decision to resume the salvage logging. So are environmental activists. More than 20 people have been arrested near Pacific Lumber mill since the logging began. That brings to more than 1,000 the number who have been arrested during the past month. For Living on Earth, I'm David Wright reporting.

WEINSTEIN: The Colorado River's flow through the Grand Canyon will now be regulated according to environmental needs. New Federal regulations restrict how much power companies can vary the amount of water passing through the Glen Canyon Dam. Several studies of the Grand Canyon, including a manmade flood last March, concluded that its ecosystem had been choked by decades of extreme fluctuations in water releases. Under the new rules, the dam will probably release a major deluge every 7 to 10 years, with smaller floods every spring. Until restrictions were put in place in 1991, the Glen Canyon Dam was operated according to power needs, abruptly raising water levels to provide more electricity when people wanted it. Last spring's flood deposited sediment on the shores of the Grand Canyon, bringing back plant life to large areas of the national park.

Residents of Burbank, California are in court over health problems and property damage allegedly caused by toxic waste at a former Lockheed Aircraft plant. Stephanie O'Neill reports from Los Angeles.

O'NEILL: More than 500 residents are part of a lawsuit just filed against the Lockheed Martin Corporation plant in Burbank, where the Stealth fighter was built. The lawsuit accuses the aircraft company of failing to warn surrounding residents of the danger from toxic chemicals discharged by the plant. The suit goes on to say that had residents been warned about the health effects caused by the toxic substances, their ailments, which range from respiratory problems and chronic headaches to birth defects and cancer, could have been diagnosed and treated earlier on. The lawsuit is the second to be filed against Lockheed since it reached a confidential $60 million settlement in August, with more than 1,000 other residents of the area. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

WEINSTEIN: The hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic is already twice the size of Europe. The World Meteorological Organization says the hole in the Earth's protective layer now covers more than 7.7 million square miles. The previous record over the Antarctic was 8.5 million square miles, set last year. This year's ozone hole began appearing earlier than last year. The stratospheric ozone layer, a fragile shield of gas which blocks most ultraviolet rays of the sun, is being depleted by man-made chemicals. Excess radiation can lead to an increase in skin cancers in people and animals and severely damage plants.

Caterpillars now kill more people than snakes in southern Brazil. In a letter to the medical journal Lancet, doctors said encounters with the poisonous Lenomia caterpillar were rare until the 1980s, but are now on the increase. The hairs of the caterpillar contain a powerful venom that prevents human blood from clotting. Contact with the species causes uncontrolled bleeding.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jordan Weinstein.

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(Theme music up and under)

Dole for President

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. How would Bob Dole manage our environment if he wins the White House in November? That's a question that so far Mr. Dole himself has been reluctant to answer. The environment rarely comes up in his campaign speeches, and he's not been available for interviews on this topic. His supporters say a Dole Administration would diligently protect our life support systems. But his opponents say he was part of a major attempt by Congressional Republicans to roll back many environmental protections. Once in the White House, critics fear, he would continue on that path. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick has our environmental profile of Bob Dole.

FITZPATRICK: In the Cascade foothills there is a town named for a century-old showdown between settlers and Indians. Battleground, Washington.

(Chickens cackle)

FITZPATRICK: Here you'll find the farm of Chuck Cushman.

(A door opens)

FITZPATRICK: Armed with an arsenal of computers and phone lines, Mr. Cushman is fighting a new war for the west, a battle involving America's environmental laws and presidential candidate Bob Dole.

(A keyboard is punched, a modem connects)

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Cushman is faxing a nationwide alert to his network of 18,000 supporters.

CUSHMAN: This is a scorecard on how members of Congress vote on grazing, mining, timber, private property, endangered species, wetlands issues, all across the United States.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Cushman's organization, the League of Private Property Voters, believes people should be compensated when laws like the Endangered Species Act prevent them from developing their land. And in the group's Congressional report, Bob Dole gets a perfect score. On every key vote during the 104th Congress, the League had an ally in Senator Dole. To return the favor, Mr. Cushman has used his fax machines to spread the word about Dole campaign events.

CUSHMAN: There's no question that if you're a rancher, a miner, a logger or are interested in private property, you're more apt to vote for Dole. Dole is much more on those people's side. The Clinton Administration has demonstrated that he's not. His constituency are the green advocacy groups and they're anti private property and anti mining, timber, grazing, and so that's where it stands.

FITZPATRICK: America's ranchers, miners, and loggers are a small constituency compared to organized labor or senior citizens. But it's a constituency Bob Dole has gone out of his way to court.

(Applause and cheers)

FITZPATRICK: In July he toured remote timber towns in California to show solidarity with those who feel President Clinton's environmental policies have gone too far.

DOLE: You have been abandoned by this administration, and I think you and your families and your communities have suffered too much. When I'm President of the United States, we're not going to play games with the timber industry. I'm going to be on your side, the workers, the families, the communities. That's the pledge from Bob Dole, your candidate for President of the United States, and when I'm elected that will happen.

(Applause and cheers continue)

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Dole hasn't disclosed many specifics about his own environmental policies. So far he's stressed only that his approach would involve straightforward common sense.

DOLE: We're going to ask 3 questions about every policy that relates to the environment and the people who make their living on the land. Number one: is it reasonable to all concerned? Number two: does it look at the long term? Number three: have we listened to the people who are closest to the problem? That's you. Listen to the people that are closest to the problem. And...

(Applause and cheers)

FITZPATRICK: Many who have felt the heavy hand of environmental laws feel this approach is balanced and fair. But to leaders of the nation's major environmental groups, the prospect of a Dole presidency is alarming. They fear that the centerpiece of his campaign, a 15% tax reduction, would result in devastating cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency. And they say his proposal to transfer Federal authority to the states would turn back the clock decades to a time when local officials did little to safeguard America's air, water, wildlife, and public lands. Greg Wetstone is legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

WETSTONE: We have reason to fear that a Dole Administration would be very bad for the nation's environment. We'd be seeing proposals that would really handcuff the enforcement agencies that turn our environmental protection laws into something meaningful as opposed to just paper.

FITZPATRICK: Two bills that Senator Dole championed during the 104th Congress might have turned the nation's environmental agencies into paper tigers. Both measures died in the Senate, but they do serve as a guide to Mr. Dole's philosophy. The first would have required payments to businesses or land-holders when regulations lessened the value of their property. Environmentalists viewed it as a back door approach to weaken enforcement of Federal rules, since agencies can't afford to pay people to obey the law. The second bill, which Senator Dole called regulatory reform, would have required agencies to conduct extensive cost-benefit studies before issuing new rules. This measure would have made it tougher to prevent pollution and protect endangered species, because the value of clean air and spotted owls can't be measured simply in dollars.

WETSTONE: What this bill would do is basically require us to start over in environmental protection. Instead of saying let's take the gains we've got now, the system that has worked to improve our quality of life in giving us cleaner air and cleaner water, and build on that system, what this bill would have done is really torn it down.

FITZPATRICK: The Regulatory Reform Bill generated criticism from more than environmentalists. Charles Lewis, executive director of a watchdog group called The Center for Public Integrity, contends part of the proposal seemed tailored to help a Dolecampaign contributor. At the time, Coke Industries was facing heavy fines from government regulators.

LEWIS: The government charged that Coke had spilled 2.3 million gallons of oil in 300 spills in 6 states since 1990, and one of their favorite members of Congress, to whom they had given more than $200,000 over his career, Bob Dole, introduced a bill that would make it extremely difficult for the government to do anything against them.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Dole's staff said the bill made economic sense and would have helped hundreds of companies. They deny it was a special favor for a campaign contributor. But it wasn't the only time questions like this have surfaced. When it looked like this year's Federal Farm Bill would include a tax on sugar cane growers to clean up the damage they've caused to the Florida Everglades, Senator Dole intervened. He brokered a deal to shift the costs away from sugar producers, who are also campaign contributors, and onto the general public. Deborah Luderbeck investigated the incident for the watchdog group Common Cause.

LUDERBECK: People all across the country, many of whom had never even seen the Everglades, are going to help pay for it to be cleaned up. Meanwhile, the industry that was in large part responsible for polluting the Everglades, is not going to pay anything extra.

FITZPATRICK: Again, the Dole staff denies anything improper. And Mr. Dole has said it was unfair to saddle a single industry with the costs of cleaning up the Everglades. Still, Gregory Wetstone at the Natural Resources Defense Council sees a pattern of behind the scenes deals for Mr. Dole's friends in industry.

WETSTONE: The philosophy that is reflected is not that the polluters should pay or that, you know, each company bears a responsibility not to pollute the environment, but instead that the taxpayer bears a responsibility for subsidizing the cost of protecting the environment. That is a very troubling philosophy; it's really at odds with the very foundation of environmental protection law in this country as it's evolved over the past 25 years.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Dole's corporate tilt has made him a favorite of ranchers and industry. But it also runs the risk of alienating the vast majority of voters who think protecting the environment is an important Federal responsibility. So aides have been attempting to soften Mr. Dole's image. Campaign brochures suggest he's been at the forefront of environmentalism throughout his 35 years in Congress. One handout boasts Mr. Dole has voted in favor of America's major environmental laws. A close look reveals a checkered voting record, one that has earned him a lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters of just 20%. Nevertheless, many Republicans maintain Mr. Dole is indeed a moderate when it comes to the environment.

BOEHLERT: Now, if he posed a threat in the area of the environment, that would be big news, and that would require a good deal of explanation, but he doesn't.

FITZPATRICK: Congressman Sherwood Boehlert of New York has long
been considered an ally by many environmentalists.

BOEHLERT: I think people feel comfortable with a guy like Bob Dole, because they know he's not an extremist in any way, shape, or manner.

FITZPATRICK: Republicans learned, during the 104th Congress, that extremism doesn't sit well with the public. And those who've counseled the Republican nominee say Mr. Dole understands this. Former EPA administrator William Ruckelshaus predicts as President, Mr. Dole would seek consensus instead of conflict.

RUCKELSHAUS: Bob Dole is no more going to try to confront public opinion on this issue than Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan did ultimately. Both of these people in fact supported regulations, supported much of the apparatus that is currently in existence at the national level, not because they were charter members of the Sierra Club, but because they knew public opinion would not permit a backing away by the government in protecting the environment, and that they'd get in deep trouble if they tried to do that.

FITZPATRICK: Still, Mr. Dole is facing an uphill battle because of the public perception that his party is willing to sacrifice the environment to foster economic growth. And so Mr. Dole must walk a very fine line. Even as he reaches out to ranchers and industry to shore up support, he must avoid being seen by the general public as beholden to these special interests. It's a difficult challenge but Mr. Dole seems willing to accept it. In California, when he told loggers he was on their side, he quickly tempered his remarks.

(Applause and cheers)

DOLE: And although some have suggested otherwise, I don't believe we need to choose between a strong economy and a safe environment. It's a false choice; we can have both in America. We can have both right here in Reading. We can have both in California. We don't need to put one against the other. So...

(Applause and cheers)

FITZPATRICK: So far, Mr. Dole has done little to attract the environmental vote to his side. And with less than a month left in the campaign there seems little chance he could do so before election day. Throughout his candidacy, he seems to have taken a strategy of damage control, simply avoiding anything that would mobilize environmental voters to actively work against him. For Living on Earth, this is Terry FitzPatrick reporting.

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CURWOOD: An epidemic of weirdly deformed frogs puzzles scientists in Minnesota. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Minnesota's Mutant Frogs

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the summer of 1995 a class of Minnesota teenagers on a field trip to a farm made a startling discovery. Frogs in the marshy areas were grossly deformed. Some were missing legs. Some had shriveled body parts. And others had extra limbs. Researchers soon discovered misshapen frogs in wetlands throughout Minnesota, and scattered reports of such deformities are coming in from as far off as Vermont and eastern Canada. The Minnesota legislature quickly voted an emergency grant to study the problem, and recently 60 scientists gathered in Duluth to chart a research plant. Dr. Judy Helgin of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency joins me from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. Dr. Helgin is overseeing the state's efforts to figure out what's going on. Dr. Helgin, you've seen some of these frogs, haven't you?

HELGIN: Yeah, lots of them.

CURWOOD: And so, what do they look like?

HELGIN: Well they don't look good. They're not only abnormal, that is with abnormal legs, missing legs, some with a missing eye, a few with extra legs. There are some possible abnormalities, internally, too.

CURWOOD: This must be very upsetting to see these frogs.

HELGIN: It is very upsetting and it's just really difficult. I know last year, when we were collecting at the end of September, I was measuring a frog, I was looking down at a frog that I was about to measure that was missing both of the rear legs. And it was just pulling itself along with the front legs. How that frog had made it for those 2 months or whatever is beyond me.

CURWOOD: What do you think could be going on here? What are the major theories or hypotheses here?

HELGIN: Well, at the conference that we had in Duluth recently, we prioritized two areas, one of which is the large area of chemical contamination or environmental contamination, and the other is the possibility that a parasite could cause the abnormalities.

CURWOOD: And which way do you lean?

HELGIN: Well, I lean towards the broader area of chemical contamination, partly because I don't think we've really demonstrated that the parasites can directly cause abnormalities in frogs.

CURWOOD: Are you looking at the prospect of synergy among more than one chemical?

HELGIN: That was discussed at the meeting, that we need to be looking, particularly in the laboratory work, at complex mixtures of chemicals or, for instance, at the interaction of ultraviolet light with particular chemicals, whether there could be a photo-reactivation.

CURWOOD: Because of the loss of the ozone layer.

HELGIN: Yeah. Yeah. And that the ultraviolet actually can damage the genes directly, but the thinking was that it's probably not that intense for the frogs here. But that possibly it could photo-reactivate a chemical that's in the water and make that the agent.

CURWOOD: Do you think this could be related to pesticide spraying or other toxic chemicals in Minnesota? I mean, you have a lot of agriculture. You grow a lot of corn.

HELGIN: Right.

CURWOOD: And other crops.

HELGIN: Yeah, that, I mean that's certainly one big area that we want to look at. We've been having conversations with our Department of Agriculture and with other people and in fact anyone who is aware of any changes in products that would be helpful for us to know about it. What complicates it is that there are 2 or 3 locations where there are deformed or abnormal frogs, where there isn't any agriculture immediately in the landscape. So just because it's predominantly an agricultural state doesn't necessarily mean that it is agricultural chemicals. So we have to keep our eyes open for other, you know, other kinds of chemicals like heavy metals, arsenic, mercury, selenium and cadmium are known to cause abnormalities in animals.

CURWOOD: There's been a lot of research recently about the relationship between tiny amounts of certain kinds of synthetic chemicals and heavy metals, persistent toxics, and hormone disrupters --

HELGIN: Right --

CURWOOD: -- that could lead to deformities and bizarre behavior in wildlife and humans. Do you think this, what you're seeing with the frogs, could be related to these chemicals?

HELGIN: Well in a broad way it could be. We -- the developmental process in the frog is driven and regulated by hormones or hormone-like chemicals, so it's certainly possible that a mimic, or a chemical that looks a lot like it, could muck up that process.

CURWOOD: Hm. What are the implications for human health?

HELGIN: Well that we don't know, and it's a real tough question to, you know, when we get that from a citizen it's really tough to respond to it. My personal feeling is that when we have something this serious happening to a population of animals, so widespread in our state, that we all ought to be concerned, you know, at both levels. You know, is there any possible consequence for humans? And then what are we, what are we doing to the environment and can we stop it?

CURWOOD: So, how are you going to look at what's going on with these frogs?

HELGIN: In a limited number of sites we're looking at the chemistry of the water and the sediments. We're looking for contaminants in the frogs themselves. And we're looking at their genetic material to see if there is gross damage to the genes in the frogs.

CURWOOD: Dr. Helgin, I'm wondering, how much money do you have to complete your studies?

HELGIN: Well this, this study from the legislature, this is the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources. They had some funding which we accessed in the end of May this year through next June, and it's $123,000.

CURWOOD: Excuse me. You're telling that you've got $100,000 to figure out what's happened to these frogs?

HELGIN: Well I think, what I have to say to be honest, is that what we're doing this year is just a start to identify the scope, maybe get some hits on some sort of analyses. It's going to require a collaborative effort of a number of different labs and state agencies, Federal agencies, and academic people. I think we need all the best scientific minds we can get on this.

CURWOOD: Thank you for taking this time with us. Dr. Judy Helgin is with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Thank you.

HELGIN: Thank you.

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Audience Letters

CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners. Jane Day, a listener to Maine Public Broadcasting, called about our story last week on the Clinton Administration's land swap proposal to protect the ancient headwaters redwood forest in Northern California.

DAY: I am absolutely shaken by the thought of the redwood trees being destroyed. I feel like this is a living monument. This is our legacy. I would rather see them cut down the Washington Monument; I mean that's nothing but mortar.

CURWOOD: Pepper Trail, a listener to KSOR in Ashland, Oregon, called to say the proposed government land swaps have great potential.

TRAIL: However, the devil is in the details, and in the case of the headwaters forest in California, I think clearly that Charles Hurwitz and Maxxam Corporation have gotten the best of the government because of extreme political pressure on the Clinton Administration to make a deal, any deal, in order to be able to present the environmental community with the appearance of having worked hard to preserve this irreplaceable national resource.

CURWOOD: On the other hand, Nils Olsson sees a dark side. Mr. Olsson, who tunes into Living on Earth on KALW in San Francisco, fears that companies may actually buy and then threaten land like the headwaters in order to get a very sweet land swap deal from the government. He writes, "This sounds to me like a kidnapper threatening to kill a hostage and getting ransom in exchange. And then killing another hostage."

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CURWOOD: Questions, comments, story ideas? Send them all our way. The Living on Earth listener line is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. Find out more about Living on Earth by visiting our home page. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. This is NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett 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 W. K. Kellogg Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; and Patagonia: a clothing company committed to making quality outdoor clothing with the earth in mind. For a free catalogue call 1-800-336-9090.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Fall foliage at risk in the northeast. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

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(Theme music up and under)

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

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Forty years ago just outside of Topeka, Kansas, a ribbon cutting ceremony kicked off one of the most profound social changes in US history. A small stretch of Interstate 70 was opened to the public. It was the very first section of what would become the nation's Interstate Highway system. President Dwight Eisenhower created the massive freeway system to increase America's mobility. Cars, trucks, and buses were beginning to clog the nation's streets. He also wanted a means to move people quickly out of cities, hoping to give the nation a better chance of better survival in case of nuclear attack. President Eisenhower succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. In 1950 less than a quarter of the nation's population lived in the suburbs. Today almost half of us live in single-family homes with large yards, instead of it tightly knit city neighborhoods. The corner store and small town centers have given way to malls and giant chain stores. And the growth of sprawl is still not over. As of last year, there were 53 more miles of Interstate Highway yet to be completed. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Maine Clearcut Referendum

CURWOOD: The State of Maine has the lobster on its license plate these days, but maybe the pine tree would be more apt. Maine is the most heavily forested state in the nation, and this November voters there will decide the fate of a ballot measure that would ban clear-cutting in a 10-million acre region known as the North Woods. Some conservationists worry that paper companies are ruining the state's ecology. Opponents warn passage of the measure will ruin the state's economy. Maine Public Radio's Susan Chisolm sorts out the arguments in this report.

CHISOLM: When Basal Powers looks out the kitchen window of his farmhouse is remote western Maine, he sees large bald spots on a mountain that was completely forested 10 years ago. As much as the patches bother him, he says they're nothing compared to the massive cookie-cutter style clear-cuts visible from a nearby hillside.

POWERS: It looks to me like they're going to build a jet port here and they aren't going to have to cut a bush. It's already this jet port. You could put a jet port in there, look for yourself! And you wouldn't have to cut a sprout.

CHISOLM: A former logger and state legislator, Powers is now a member of the group Ban Clear-Cutting. Today he and colleague Greg Gerritt are getting a first-hand look at some of the logging that has taken place in Maine's unorganized territories, a 10-million acre network of forests, lakes, and streams, mostly owned by paper companies. Surveying the barren hillside, Gerrit is convinced that what he's seeing is the liquidation of Maine's greatest natural resource.

GERRITT: I would not be at all surprised if this was an illegal cut that was done since the Forest Protection Act, because this one goes right over the top of the hill, it goes as far as the eye can see. And then when you look out on the hills all around you, as far as the eye can see there's clear-cut after clear-cut after clear-cut.

(Motors)

CHISOLM: Maine's Forest Practices Act of 1989 was designed to halt the huge rolling clear-cuts of the early 1980s, when paper companies cut down hundreds of thousands of trees devastated by a spruce bloodworm epidemic. The rules limited clear-cuts to 250 acres, but Gerritt says the law is not working. That's why his group went out and collected 55,000 signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot. The measure would ban clear-cutting and prohibit landowners from taking out more than a third of the trees on any given acre over a 15-year period.

GERRITT: In a forest like this, which is predominantly hardwood and some mixed forest with, you know, fir and spruce, you would be selectively cutting through here and, you know, every 10, 15 years you could come back and do another selective cutting job. Whereas the areas that have been clear-cut, it's going to be a lifetime before anybody can come back in here.

(Motors and bulldozing continue)

CHISOLM: In New England's poorest state, the clear-cut ban quickly raised the jobs versus environment debate. Critics, including Governor Angus King, and a coalition of timber companies, mill workers, and business groups, warned the measure would drive a stake through the heart of Maine's already struggling economy. An analysis by the State Planning Office suggests that as many as 16,000 jobs will be lost along with $400 million in annual wages. Among those who worry about the effects of the referendum is logging contractor Reagan Pingree. He says he's prepared to lay off half his 17-man crew and unload his heavy equipment if the referendum passes.

PINGREE: The way we operate now and the way we're harvesting trees, and the way I've set to cut wood, you know, how long will I be able to cut wood the way I'm cutting wood?

CHISOLM: To head off the clear-cutting ban the state's major land owners, backed by Governor King, have placed a competing measure on the ballot. Called the Compact for Maine's Forests it would set up a voluntary audit program for large landowners and limit clear-cuts to 75 acres statewide. Governor King says his proposed Compact tightens existing timber harvesting regulations and promotes sustainable forestry.

KING: It gets our major land owners and the smaller land owners if they choose to start thinking long term, and to move themselves toward excellence.

CHISOLM: Governor King's compromise measure has split the state's environmental community. Leaders of the Natural Resources Council and the Maine Audubon Society say they support the governor's compact because the clear-cutting ban takes a one size fits all approach to forestry. They fear it will result in the practice called high grading, in which the biggest and most valuable trees are harvested and the less desirable wood is left standing. Thomas Urquardt of the Maine Audubon Society says the compact makes better sense to improve the condition of the woods through cooperation.

URQUARDT: This agreement goes beyond the jobs versus trees argument. It forges new relationships between stakeholders, so that we will all in future have a place at the table in deciding the future of Maine's forests.

CHISOLM: But Jonathan Carter, a leader of Maine's Green Party and executive director of the Ban Clear-Cutting group, calls the compromise a sham. He claims loopholes in the compact would double the number of acres allowed to be clear-cut. Carter is convinced that if current forest practices are not altered, the future of the Maine woods will be jeopardized.

CARTER: There's absolutely no way they can continue to harvest 2.1 million cords and ever expect the forest to catch up to sustainable level. The truth is that the forests of Maine are being heavily over-harvested, and one of the things that this bill will do, or referendum, will be to bring the cut down towards sustainable levels.

CHISOLM: Both sides accuse each other of distorting the facts. Carter says the state has over-inflated the number of jobs that will be lost with passage of the clear-cutting ban. Timber industry officials maintain that clear-cutting can actually enhance forest productivity by creating a new and healthy forest from the ground up. They've raised over $2 million, more than 20 times Carter's group, to get the message to Maine voters.

(Voice over: "Voting for 2B is the only way to decisively defeat the Green Party's referendum and protect our economy and our forests. Choose the positive alternative. Vote yes on 2B, the Compact for Maine's forests. Authorized and paid for...")

CHISOLM: After enjoying initial widespread support, momentum for the clear-cut ban has sputtered since the compromise was announced. Recent polls indicate that voters favor the governor's Forestry Compact by a 2 to 1 margin. But there is also a large number of voters who are still undecided. Some of them may choose yet another option on the ballot that would preserve the status quo in Maine's North Woods. With little time remaining before the election many appear confused about their options.

MAN: I pretty much knew what I wanted to do before, and I didn't want the Green Party idea in there, because I didn't think it was good for forestry. But now I'm kind of, I'm more confused about it now.

WOMAN: I can't remember how the referendum is worded.

MAN: All the smoke hasn't cleared yet as far as I'm concerned.

WOMAN: I am not quite sure about it, not quite clear about exactly what they're talking about.

CHISOLM: The November referendum may signal the beginning of a long-term effort to get Maine voters to see the forest through the trees. Carter says if the clear-cutting ban is rejected, his group will forge some other measure to protect Maine's woods. For Living on Earth, I'm Susan Chisolm.

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(Music up and under)

The Maple Leaf Rag

CURWOOD: Trees in the northeast face another threat besides clear-cuts. The Asian long-horned beetle, a small black bug with white spots, hitched a ride to the US probably from China or Japan, probably in a stack of lumber. It has turned up in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where it is boring into its favorite food, maple trees, and killing the tree in the process. Henry Stern is New York's Parks Commissioner and he's been monitoring the outbreak. I asked him what an Asian long-horned beetle does to a maple tree.

STERN: Oh, it's terrible.

CURWOOD: Yeah?

STERN: What it does is they chew into trees with their mandibles, that's their sort of jaws. Then they lay eggs, which develop into larvae. The larvae feed on the heartwood inside the tree. And once the larvae have developed, like the chickens in an egg, once they develop, they bore their way out, leaving large exit holes that can leave the host tree susceptible to secondary pathogens.

CURWOOD: So what kind of damage have you seen these beetles cause so far among these 200 trees?

STERN: Well, enough of them can kill a tree, and so far they've affected 150 to 200 trees. Mostly maples and horse chestnuts. They seem to be the trees of choice for these predators.

CURWOOD: That's funny, because maple's a pretty hard wood, you know, if you try to saw it or work with it it's pretty tough. But it's tasty to these guys, I guess, huh?

STERN: Sweet maple.

CURWOOD: [Laughs] You know, there must be, what? Twenty-five, 30 percent of the large trees in the Adirondacks and in the northern forest here in Massachusetts and Vermont are maples, and this time of year we just love the way they look. They have all these wonderful colors and they're the source of maple syrup. Is there concern that --

STERN: Sure.

CURWOOD: Yeah.

STERN: There's concern that this can spread, the way the plague of Japanese beetles did, which came over to this country maybe 50 years ago.

CURWOOD: Are some people saying you should just cut down all 200 of these trees that are infested and be done with these beetles?

STERN: There are about 4 potential strategies for dealing with this problem. One is insecticide, there's a chemical, a control called Foridan, either sprayed or injected into the tree. There's biological control. The woodpecker is a natural predator, he eats these beetles. But how are you going to get enough woodpeckers in the city streets? The other enemy of the beetle is entemo pathogenic nematodes, a very small unsegmented worm, but how do you get these nematodes to the scene. The third strategy is a trap tree. A trap tree is planted attracting beetles and drawing them away from the native population. In China this strategy is used to protect the poplar groves, and what they'll do is they'll plant the maple and let the beetles have it, thus protecting the poplars, and of course tree removal.

CURWOOD: Well, what could people do in their own back yards? I mean, if I have a maple tree and I want to protect it, what should I do?

STERN: We don't know. That's the problem because it's such a common-sense question. How, there's no vaccine as yet. It's very frustrating that you see this, and if you've been at the scene as I have, I've been to Greenpoint and saw trees that have been devastated by these beetles. And you see it start, you see it spread, like a plague. And you haven't yet worked out a solution and don't know if you can. It's sort of an Andromeda Strain applied to maple trees, and it's caused a great deal of concern.

CURWOOD: Henry Stern is New York City's Parks Commissioner. He spoke to us from member station WNYC.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: The magic and the mystery of the loon, coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Uncommon Loon Tunes

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

(Paddling in water. A loon calls.)

FRITZ: A loon surfaces, looks at me sideways. One red eye tilting distraction. It's trembling song warning me: danger in the changeling wind.

(Loon calls and water continue)

CURWOOD: There's nothing common about the cries of the common loon. The sound has inspired poetry and literature that attempts to evoke the spirit of this bird as a symbol of the wild north country. Producer Jane Fritz regularly canoes the loon's western habitat on Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho. The bird's tremolo call signals alarm, she says, and its unsettling cry, she reports, might have a broader message to convey.

(Paddling and loon calls continue)

FRITZ: I have come to know loons and their ways. Their varied songs echo in my memory until poems are born. I canoe their country as often as I can, taking care not to paddle too close. To catch a glimpse of their stunning black and white plumage, or their strange dance on the water's surface. I watch them vanish beneath the lake's stark surface to catch fish, only to marvel at the underwater distance they can cover before rising again. I have shared the loon's need for wildness. For expanses of clean, deep water. And I've shared their alarm at the pressures of human encroachment.

(Different loon call. Sounds of traffic.)

WELCH: It would be nice if they could just have that whole end of the lake or the bay cordoned off.

TAYLOR: Or buoyed off the way Sealy Lake is.

WELCH: Yeah.

FRITZ: It's Sunday in early August, and north Idaho skies are threatening rain. Jenny Taylor, a wildlife biologist for the Forest Service, and local Audubon member Jennifer Welch, are canoeing one of Lake Pend Oreille's narrow, swampy bays. The women are helping identify places that loons might nest. It's protected from the wind, but it's also next to a busy highway. Jennifer Welch fears that the human presence might deter the birds from nesting here.

WELCH: Loons are just really shy birds that are really sensitive to human activity, especially at nesting time. And on lakes like Pend Oreille, where there's a lot of recreational activity, they don't have very many places to go to get away from it.

(Water flows)

FRITZ: Loons have survived for 60 million years, but their populations have varied in north Idaho with human activity. Native people say loons were once plentiful. Then logging and mining and hydroelectric dams altered their habitat and nearly wiped them out. But loons still do migrate here, and a year ago a couple chicks were seen by birders. Yet shoreline development, boaters, jet skiers, and even campers continue to threaten the loons. And wildlife biologist Jenny Taylor says there are other problems.

TAYLOR: Idaho has only one documented location of nesting loons anywhere in the whole state for the last couple of decades, whereas Montana has dozens of locations where loons successfully breed. Part of it's the geology, part of it is the lake management. But there may be some other factors going on that we don't understand affecting the population and the breeding success.

FRITZ: The birds could thrive here again, she believes, with some help. But more scientific research is needed.

(Several people talking: "Adult go afterwards." "So you do actually get up a whole group." "Ideally we have the whole -- ""Oh.")

FRITZ: A hundred and fifty miles east, in the wee hours before dawn, under a star-studded summer sky, volunteers from the Montana Loon Society are helping researches Dave Evers and Pete Reaman capture loon families on Montana's Placid Lake. Their goal is to document migration patterns across the continent an measure the loons' exposure to pollutants like mercury. Capturing 4-week-old chicks as well as adults is by no means an easy task. It requires sensitivity to the stress the birds might endure for the half hour they're in human hands. Dave Evers.

EVERS: We've worked on around 1,100 loons our last 6 or 7 years. We try to minimize our impact on the birds. We try to get them back into the water as soon as we can. And these birds that we capture today will go about their business tomorrow morning like it was any other morning in their lives.

(A motor runs)

FRITZ: Their capture technique hinges on a combined use of light and pre-recorded loon calls, mimicking an intruding and potentially dangerous male bird suddenly entering the loon family's territory.

(A loon call)

EVERS: Some loons are very cooperative in sharing of the lake. But either way these birds that we're approaching, they have a chick, and they have to protect that chick at all costs. And so they've got to kind of investigate who is this big loon in front of them.

(A motor runs)

FRITZ: The researchers work 2 boats slowly in either direction across the lake. The adult loons call out in response to the commotion as they approach the boat.

(Loons call)

FRITZ: With a sudden sweep Dave Evers nets a bird. He signals Pete Reaman to come in and take it to shore.

(Various sounds: calling loon, footfalls, objects being moved)

FRITZ: Back on shore, Montana Loon Society member Lynn Kelly, a 7th grade science teacher, helps Dave Evers by holding one of the captured birds: a chick. An adult is as big as a goose. This chick is a third that size.

KELLY (whispering): Well, we got the male first, and then we had to go find the chick. The chick was the hardest one to catch. (Laughs) Kept hiding. Then we finally caught it. Still at the right angle?

EVERS: No, it's up ending. I'm going to go up a little higher, actually. Can you hold that leg out a little bit? [Loon call] Make sure you've got it.

KELLY: Oh, there's a good one.

FRITZ: She helps Dave Evers place uniquely colored bands on each of the chick's legs. Then he takes blood and feather samples for toxicology studies. A decade ago, Montana loons were facing some of the same problems the Idaho loons now face. Lynn Kelly observed how human disturbance affected the birds' nesting on Montana's Sealy Lake. She started a floating sign campaign that warns boaters from early May to mid-June of loons nesting nearby. Today the loon population is growing.

KELLY: It's always exciting to see a loon on the lake but maybe more exciting now to say oh yeah, that's the chick that came back, you know, that was a chick that we banded 3 years ago. It gives us, you know, an idea of where they return to.

(Sloshing water)

FRITZ: With banding completed and blood and feather samples collected, Dave Evers gently places the birds on the water again. Mysteriously, rather than fleeing, they turn and look at us, and call out.

(Loon calls)

FRITZ: Dave Evers and Pete Reaman's research in Montana and across the country is helping state and Federal agencies better understand the loon's plight. Their shared knowledge will aid in future management of the birds. The researchers plan to return again next summer to band loons in Montana, Washington, and also on Idaho's Lake Pend Oreille, if loon families can be found.

(Whispered discussion among the researches, sloshing water)

FRITZ: Back in Idaho, the seasons are changing and the loons are preparing for their long winter migration out to sea. They are gathering in the larger bays and their black and white summer dress is changing into a drab winter gray. On the ocean, the juvenile birds will float and fish for 3 years before they return to their natal territories ready to breed and give life to new generations of loons, if the habitat is still there. Their amazing journey is similar to the northwest salmon in their cycles, entirely dependent on water and perhaps as vulnerable to the ways of modern man. Like the salmon, common loons are an environmental barometer for how well we're caring for the Earth. Loon activist Jennifer Welch.

WELCH: They can teach us a lot about what we're doing to the planet. If there's a loon that's living on a lake then you must be doing something right or leaving something alone enough in that area that if they can be there then it is enough of a wilderness for a loon to make it home.

(Loon calls)

FRITZ: For Living on Earth I'm Jane Fritz.

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(Loon calls; music up and under: Paul Winter)

First Frost

CURWOOD: The constant of life, of course, is change. But in our busy lives away from the natural world, many of us don't notice the subtle manner in which the seasons turn. But the natural world transforms itself whether we notice or not. Luckily, commentator Susan Carol Hauser was paying attention one recent morning.

HAUSER: Here in northern Minnesota, on the day of the first heavy frost, I walked out into the yard of our country home. The microscopic ice crystals acted as ball bearings under my shoes, but it was the scent of the air that stopped me mid-path. I breathed deeply many times, still could not breathe deeply enough and yet had to stop for the dizzying effect. Letting my lungs regulate themselves I stood a moment more and scanned the view from south to north. The maples on the hillside were scarlet, the oaks beginning to burnish. Aspens across the way stood tall and slender, their bare branches forked into the sky.

It was then I realized that the season had turned, although the willows closer down to the swamp were still green. In the distance on the peninsula that reaches out into our bay, I could see more tree silhouettes, and on the far shore a long, ethereal stretch of gray winter trees. Yesterday it tried to snow and last night it froze hard. Twenty-five degrees when I got up this morning, too cold even for frost on the grass.

I stepped outside. Just above the treeline to the west last night's full moon faced off with the sun that was rising behind me. As I watched the moon yielded and entered the baring branches of the trees. The sun pushed at my back but I did not move. I had become aware of the sound of rain though it was not raining, and then I saw it in the nearby trees. Leaves were falling by handfuls. Made brittle by the cold they clinked against twigs and other leaves, and clinked again when they landed on the ground.

I held my breath. The moon descending, the sun ascending, leaves falling like rain around me, I closed my eyes and listened. Then opened them and yielded my lungs to the robust air of winter.

CURWOOD: Commentator Susan Carol Hauser lives in Puposky, Minnesota. She comes to us via Minnesota Public Radio's KNBJ in Bemidji.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Liz Lempert, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Susan Shepherd, Julia Madeson, and Peter Shaw. We also had help from Michael Giammusso, Kim Chainey, and Jason Kral. Thanks to KPLU in Seattle. Our engineers are Frank DeAngelis and Karen Given at WBUR, Jeff Martini at Harvard University, and Jane Pipik at WGBH. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Our editor this week is Dan Grossman. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, and thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

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