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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

January 3, 1997

Air Date: January 3, 1997

SEGMENTS

Congressional Crystal Ball

Will the Hundred and Fifth turn over a new leaf on the environment, or kick up more dust? Which earth items are likely to move forward, and which will remain stuck in partisan mud? Allan Freeman of the Congressional Quarterly shares some projections with Steve on the session ahead. (05:00)

Oregon Hard Liner / Ley Garnett

Despite a softening of the party line on environmental issues, Oregon's returning Congressman, Bob Smith, is giving no ground. He's back from retirement and heading the House Agriculture Committee. Ley Garnett reports on what may be in store for the nation's forests under Smith. (07:00)

Consider the Cockroach

David George Gordon, author of the creepy new book, The Compleat Cockroach, joins Steve for a light-hearted look at the most despised and least understood creature on earth. (07:32)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about seafood & fruit consumption last year. (01:00)

Antarctic Dumping Grounds / Terry FitzPatrick

Researchers at the South Pole have been careless with their trash and sewage for decades. But a new international treaty is forcing the scientists to straighten up. Living on Earth's Terry Fitzpatrick visited the U.S. facilities in January of 1996 and this week we continue our encore presentation of his series of reports from the coldest continent. (15:45)

Home Reservoir

In our occassional series on listener lifestyles, Steve talks with Michael McElveen of Austin, Texas. Dr. McElveen has started a trend in his area of tapping rainwater for all of his household needs. (03:26)

Road Kill / Jane Fritz

Idaho-based producer Jane Fritz tells of a recent car accident in which she killed an adult female deer, and her subsequent findings of how common an occurence this unintentional form of "hunting" is. (04:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1997 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: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Steve Will, Jyl Hoyt, Ley Garnett, Terry FitzPatrick
GUESTS: Alan Freeman, David George Gordon, Dr. Michael McElveen

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

There's talk of compromise and consensus in the new Congress on environmental issues, but not from everyone. Some Republicans say protection of forests has gone too far.

SMITH: The Forest Service has been taken over by the biologist and the extremist environmentalist. I want to put the Forest Service back in the silviculturalist hand, in the forest hands who can manage it better than anybody else including Clinton and Gore. (Applause)

CURWOOD: Oregon's Bob Smith returns to Capitol Hill. Also, looking for a great pet? One writer says consider the cockroach.

GORDON: I'll be the first to admit that they won't go fetch your slippers or, you know, bring you your newspaper and wag their tail as you scratch them behind the ears. But they make pretty decent pets.

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, but first this news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. First it was fur, then fish, gold, and oil. Now Alaska is set to export its most abundant resource: water. By the end of the year raw water from the southeast Alaskan town of Sitka could be pouring from bottles in China. From KCAW in Sitka, Steve Will reports.

WILL: In a first-ever deal, the state of Alaska has granted Sitka export rights to billions of gallons of water. Sitka has a contract with Global Water Corporation of Canada, which plans to ship the water in bulk form to China, bottle it, and sell it on the Asian market. Global figures on using about 70 million gallons a year for starters, though it could take billions should the market demand. Local opposition to water sales has been slight. Most feel that enough has been reserved to protect fish resources and that water is truly a renewable resource in southeast Alaska. Sitka's annual rainfall averages 7 and-a-half feet. The first tanker of Alaskan water could sail for China as early as the end of the year. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Will in Sitka, Alaska.

MULLINS: Almost 300 factories near the Taj Mahal must switch from coal to natural gas by the end of the year, or shut down. The Supreme Court of India issued the ruling to protect a 17th century white marble monument from air pollution. Sulfur dioxide from factory emissions is causing the important archaeological resource to decay. The judge has also ordered that coal shipments to industries within 50 miles of the Taj Mahal be stopped. Last year the Indian government announced a plan to plant 100,000 trees to help clean the air around the famous mausoleum in northeastern India.

The Grand Canyon is quieter and cleaner today. New restrictions announced by the Interior Department ban scenic airplane and helicopter rides over more than 80% of the park. The rules also impose a curfew on all aircraft between 6PM and 8AM. It's the first step of a 15-year plan to reduce noise and air pollution at the Grand Canyon and other popular national parks. Buses and light rail trains are envisioned to replace automobile access. And if you are planning to visit a national park this summer, you'd better boost your trip budget a bit. Fees to enter some national parks and monuments will go up under a 3-year experimental plan to improve services. From member station KBSU in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports.

HOYT: Visitors entering Yellowstone and Teton National Parks now pay $20 a car load, double the fee that's been in place for 80 years. The annual Golden Eagle Pass, which allows unlimited entry to all parks, also doubles to $50. And a trip to Alcatraz in San Francisco, which used to be free, will soon cost $2. One hundred parks and monuments should have fee increases in place by May. It's all part of an effort to provide parks with revenue to meet demands for better services. Rangers predict most of the 270 million annual visitors won't mind the increases, as long as the money stays within park boundaries. Eighty percent of the fees are supposed to remain at the sites where they were collected, but some worry Congress might cut taxpayer spending on parks, which would dilute the purpose of the fee increases. For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.

MULLINS: The US Forest Service is also being criticized for low usage fees. A new General Accounting Office report says the prices charged for cabin sites, marinas, and guide services do not cover the costs of the permitting process. The Federal auditors say the Forest Service has little incentive to update its 30-year-old fee structure because it can't keep the extra money.

Humans are not the only hunters poaching endangered species in South Africa. Elephants have gored to death at least 10 and possibly 15 rare white rhinos in Polanesburg National Park, just north of Johannesburg. Researchers speculated in the New York Times that the rogue elephants are disaffected teenagers. In the early 1980s the delinquents were transplanted to the park as babies. There they grew without the family structure that teaches elephants to curb their violent behavior. Park officials are experimenting with a kind of Big Brother program to see if more mature elephants can control the younger ones.

Population growth in the West outpaced other regions of the US, according to the Federal Government's recently released 1996 Census figures. Nevada, led by a development boom around Las Vegas, took the top spot with an increase of 70,000 people. That's a 4-and-a-half percent jump which the US Census Bureau attributes largely to immigration. Arizona and Utah ran second and third. Overall, the nation's population grew by 2.3 million people. On January first of this year the Census Bureau estimated that there were 266, 499, 365 people living in the United States.

And that's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

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Congressional Crystal Ball

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The 105th Congress is about to get down to work after a swearing in ceremony on January 7th. The GOP is still in control of the House and Senate but a little swagger seems to have gone out of its step. It was just 2 years ago that the first Republican-controlled Congress in a generation charged into Washington demanding an overhaul of government according to their Contract With America. Some of the proposed measures would have gutted a number of environmental protections. When the Clinton Administration refused to capitulate, the Congressional Republicans cut off funding and shut down the government. In the end, compromise rather than confrontation moved most legislation through, and this time around, with the Republican majority trimmed at the ballot box, the rhetoric is echoing consensus and moderation. But there are still deep divisions between the parties, and we asked Congressional Quarterly's Allan Freeman to predict how Washington will handle the environment now.

FREEMAN: There are a number of issues that are coming up in the next Congress which will test those divisions. For example, the Clinton Administration has come out in the last month with new clean air rules, and how these issues play out in Congress will be a major test of that.

CURWOOD: Let's talk a little bit more about the air pollution question. The EPA has proposed new tougher rules on particulates and the ozone. Particulates are implicated in some 60,000 excess deaths a year. This is a big health issue. So how is the GOP, that would like to see less regulations, going to handle a -- you know, what looks like a pretty hot button health issue?

FREEMAN: The Republicans are going to have to be extremely careful in terms of getting into this debate, because there are big risks in terms of engaging the administration and clean air. First, the administration is pushing this as a cost versus health debate. They are pushing these regulations as improving public health for children, for asthmatic, for vulnerable populations, that has tended to be a winning message for the Administration. Industry, who does not want to deal with these regulations, is pushing the cost argument that these regulations are unnecessary and will cost too much. What's interesting is that if the debate is framed on those terms, public health versus cost, we've seen on past debates the Administration will probably have an advantage in the political arena. You add the fact that these regulations that will not probably bite consumers until well into the next, early part of the next century, that means that this will be kind of an abstract debate for many consumers. And given the choice between protecting public health and sort of accepting these kind of abstract costs, we've seen that voters will tend to embrace public health issues.

CURWOOD: Now, there's an issue that's not particularly health-related, and this involves wetlands. The Clinton Administration has also announced that people who want to develop small areas of wetlands are now going to have to go through a more extensive review process. The older standards were implemented during the Reagan Administration to allow fast track reviews of wetlands permits, and they've been long attacked as a green light to developers to fill and drain wetlands with little or no review. Now, how will Congress respond to this?

FREEMAN: This is a fascinating issue because when you talk to members about environmental issues, one of the issues that always comes up is the issue of wetlands. And it comes up in the context of Federal regulators being, sort of interpreting environmental laws in a kind of absurd way. You hear about puddles that people call wetlands. There is a real division within Congress about this issue. The Republicans are looking for flexibility in regulations. They're not looking for stringent regulations. They want to build as much flexibility into these regulations while also protecting the environment. So that tends to set up a natural philosophical clash with the Administration.

CLINTON: Is this wetlands decision in return for some support that enviro groups gave to President Clinton, the Democrats, during the past election?

FREEMAN: You know, I believe that it is. But I also believe that it's important to look at the overall arc of what the Clinton Administration has done over the last couple of months.

The Administration has taken a number of proactive environmental actions. They've really set up a conflict with Congress. Everything from the clean air rules to the wetlands rules to sort of shortening out the timber salvage provisions; in other words, ending that program really 15 days early, which angered timber lobbyists. To the Escalante Monument in Utah, which just absolutely outraged Utahns. In other words, you have a series of events that are very proactive and quite frankly in the sort of in your face actions in terms of the Republican Congress. Taken as a whole, these actions really point to a potential clash between Clinton and Congress. Or at the very least, they will test sort of where the center is in environmental policy.

CURWOOD: Well, thanks for taking this time with us. Alan Freeman is a reporter for Congressional Quarterly. He's talking to us on the line from Washington. Thanks, sir.

FREEMAN: Thank you.

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Oregon Hard Liner

CURWOOD: There are some members of Congress who are not talking compromise on environmental issues. Among them is Bob Smith. Mr. Smith is reclaiming his seat as Oregon's second district representative. He stepped down in 1994 after serving 6 terms, but he was coaxed out of retirement last year by a promise from the House Republican leadership. The lure is the chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee, which has charge over the nation's forests. And as Ley Garnett reports, Mr. Smith's return to Washington pleases many in the timber industry.

SMITH: There's been a war on the West. But if you elect me to Congress there's a warrior going to Congress.

(Applause and cheers)

GARNETT: Last August Bob Smith was breathing political fire as he addressed a special convention in Oregon's second Congressional district. The gathering of mostly conservative Republican political activists was called to nominate a new candidate after scandal-plagued Congressman Wes Cooley withdrew his bid for re-election. Outside the convention hall in Bend, Oregon, that day, several forest fires were raging on the horizon. They did not go unnoticed by Mr. Smith.

SMITH: Look at the smoke in the air this morning. That's the Clinton-Gore Forest Plan. Twenty percent of the timber in our forests are diseased. Twenty percent. We have 3 billion more feet of dead timber and we can't even salvage dead timber. That's their program. We've got to change it, and we will.

(Cheers and applause)

GARNETT: Bob Smith is a 65-year-old tall, stoop-shouldered political veteran. His views were shaped in Burns, an isolated town of 3,000, where ranching and logging provide most of the jobs. It is from this base that Mr. Smith is vowing to lead a revolution against the Clinton Administration's policies in the West.

SMITH: The Forest Service has been taken over by the biologist and the extremist environmentalist. I want to put the Forest Service back in the [?] hand, in the forest hands who can manage it better than anybody else including Clinton and Gore.

(Applause)

GARNETT: When Bob Smith talks about environmentalists, the adjectives such as extremist or even wacko are often attached. That brand of rhetoric will likely echo through the halls of Congress when Mr. Smith assumes control of the House Agriculture Committee. The Congressman will also sit on the House Resources Committee, and he says he hopes to have a hand in drafting legislation to amend the Endangered Species Act.

SMITH: The Endangered Species Act is making a mockery out of people. We ought to put people back in the Endangered Species Act, as well as the woolies and the short nose suckers and the rest. (Cheers and applause) And then we're going to put a priority on delisting endangered species, not listing -- they say whoa, there's not enough money for delisting studies. We got to have listing studies. Wrong, we're going to study delisting for a couple of years; how's that? (Cheers and applause)

MARLETTE: This guy is basically about 100 years behind the times. He still believes that we are operating under the laws of the open range and the wild West, and things just don't work that way any more.

GARNETT: Bill Marlette is the executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, a group dedicated to removing livestock from public lands. Mr. Marlett calls Mr. Smith a smart politician who's enjoyed outmaneuvering environmentalists on issues such as private use of public lands.

MARLETTE: The lobbyists that represent the industry, I'm sure they're all delighted that Bob Smith is back. But it's not going to be a good day for the American public, whose public lands he's going to have in part some control over.

GARNETT: Bob Smith maintains close ties with the Oregon Lands Coalition, a consortium of natural resource industries and their workers. Judy Wortman, who heads the coalition, owns a cattle ranch and a small logging operation.

WORTMAN: The message that Bob Smith is already hearing from his grassroots people is that we need to temper our requests and what we say out there.

GARNETT: Mrs. Wortman says her group learned a hard lesson during the last Congressional session: that extreme political language is often counterproductive.

WORTMAN: Basically, what we need to do is change the laws that guide policy. And that's the challenge for grassroots people, and that will be the partnership between our grassroots families and communities and Bob Smith, is to work to change the laws, like the Endangered Species Act. He's a rancher. He's a community person. He's a feet on the ground kind of person that's in a place of power, and Bob Smith won't forget those hurts. He just won't.

GARNETT: Wortman admits the legislative goals of western Republicans have not changed. She says Idaho Senator Larry Craig's sweeping public lands bill is priority number one. Senator Craig's proposal, which Bob Smith has endorsed, would set up a procedure to turn management of Federal lands over to the states. It would also allow timber sales to be drawn up without scrutiny of Federal fish protection agencies, and would limit the public's legal right to challenge timber sales.

LYONS: The wrong approach is an approach that repeats an attempt to cut the public out of the process.

GARNETT: That's Deputy Agriculture Secretary Jim Lyons, a key Clinton Administration official, who is likely to be called before Republican-controlled committees to defend White House policies on natural resources issues. Mr. Lyons, who oversees the US Forest Service, says the Administration will oppose efforts to limit citizen participation in timber management decisions.

LYONS: We certainly wouldn't support any attempt to erode the public's input into public land management. Quite to the contrary; I think we're going to look for ways to enhance it.

GARNETT: Undersecretary Lyons says he's wary of talk about changing the President's northwest forest plan. Instead, he wants to make the plan's ecosystem management approach a model for other national forests. Mr. Lyons also says the President would frown on legislation similar to the 1995 salvage logging rider. And this term, political scientist Russell Sadler from Ashland, Oregon, says President Clinton will be armed with a new weapon to prevent special interest amendments to legislation. Sadler says the line item veto will be bad news for Congressional committee chairs like Bob Smith.

SADLER: Bob Smith's power will be substantially diminished by something that did not exist when he served in Congress. Bill Clinton now has the line item veto, and it isn't restricted to financial items. Riders are a thing of the past. It's entirely possible that provisions that Bob Smith wants very badly will get vetoed in bills.

GARNETT: Line item vetoes aside, Bob Smith appears poised as a grizzled old gunfighter aiming a 6-shooter at the President's forest and environmental policies.

SMITH: I have the passion to win and I have the passion to serve. And I have the passion to take on the Clinton Administration for these many, many problems we have in eastern and southern Oregon.

GARNETT: Recent appointments announced by Congressman Smith appear to support his intentions. He selected an executive with Oregon's timber industry as policy advisor to the Agriculture Committee. And Mr. Smith's Congressional office will be managed by a former legislative assistant for the National Cattlemen's Association. Both groups have been harshly critical of Administration policies for managing natural resources on the Federal Government's vast land holdings in the West. For Living on Earth, I'm Ley Garnett in Portland, Oregon.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: So, they prefer to come out at night. They still make great pets. That's according to the author of The Compleat Cockroach, who is just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Consider the Cockroach

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. There are bugs, and then there are BUGS. Some have been the subject of profound scientific study, including E.O. Wilson's exhaustive look at ants. Others elicit fear and loathing. Consider the cockroach. Many of us shudder at the very thought of these small critters climbing around our homes. And then there are people like the man who joins us now, writer David George Gordon. Is it true, Mr. Gordon, that you like cockroaches so much you keep them as pets?

GORDON: That's right. I have a tankful of them in my office.

CURWOOD: And you write about them. Your book is called -- your newest book is called The Compleat Cockroach, I see.

GORDON: That's right.

CURWOOD: Now, we must tell our listeners that your previous book was called The Field Guide to the Slug.

GORDON: I've always had the predisposition for the underdog, I guess.

CURWOOD: Now tell me, David, about these roaches. I mean, you've got them as pets. Do they make affectionate pets? I mean, when you come home at night, can you play with them?

GORDON: You know, you can play with them. I'll be the first to admit that they won't go fetch your slippers or, you know, bring you your newspaper and wag their tail as you scratch them behind the ears. But if you like animals as pets to watch, for example, tropical fish or a turtle or something like that, they make pretty decent pets.

CURWOOD: And I suppose if you're sort of sloppy about your snack when you come home from work, they'll just sort of scarf it up for you, right?

GORDON: Well, you know, I have about 30 of these guys living in a 15-gallon aquarium with a tight-fitting top in my office. So if I throw an apple core in there, it disappears in about 3 days. (Curwood laughs) It's a good trick.

CURWOOD: David, what is it you like about roaches?

GORDON: I like cockroaches as, they're adaptive survivors. They provide a lot of useful purposes on our planet. They're a great food supply for everybody but people, I'm happy to report.

CURWOOD: Useful purposes on the planet?

GORDON: Well, you know, they're -- they're the little sanitary engineers. They're recyclers of everything from dead leaves to dead animals in the forest. And it's been estimated that they can actually recycle about 6% of the leaf fall in the Amazon rainforest, for example.

CURWOOD: And food?

GORDON: Yeah, of ripe fruits, another dead animal that's laying on the path. If it weren't for cockroaches in those productive jungle habitats, people -- well, the other creatures in those environments -- would kind of be up to their elbows in dead stuff.

CURWOOD: Uh huh. And who is it that enjoys a diet of cockroaches?

GORDON: Well, you know, just about every animal you can name. Everything from other insects -- different kinds of parasitoid wasps, for example, or in the desert scorpions will eat them. Reptiles, snakes and lizards and frogs of course, amphibians. Birds, fish, and even large mammals, like the ocelot has been known to go out and hunt cockroaches.

CURWOOD: People?

GORDON: Some people. There's reports of the hill tribes in northern Thailand collecting cockroaches. And in my book I cite this guy writing from about 1910 where he says, "What do cockroaches taste like? Why shrimp."

CURWOOD: (Pause) I see. (Laughs) David, are you married?

GORDON: I am, and I have 2 children.

CURWOOD: Uh huh. And so -- when did you tell your -- your wife that you were going to move in roaches for pets?

GORDON: You know, these guys kind of arrived unannounced. They were actually mailed to me by Federal Express from a person I'd met in Minnesota. And a little note attached to them that said, "Know -- live with these cockroaches and know their ways."

CURWOOD: Oh, great.

GORDON: My wife, I'm happy to report, is pretty understanding about these things. You know, keep in mind that we also have a tankful of 8-inch-long banana slugs in my office.

CURWOOD: I see.

GORDON: So, we have a commitment to those invertebrate wonders.

CURWOOD: Roaches are dangerous, though, aren't they? I mean, yeah they're scavengers and yeah they're food sources, but haven't they been linked to asthma and don't they spread disease?

GORDON: Well, you know, yes and no. They have been linked to asthma in situations where there are large numbers of cockroaches crammed together in a small space with large numbers of people. For example, low-income housing. People can have an allergic reaction to what the cockroaches are leaving behind, which is mostly their own shed, you know, exoskeletons, your molts if you will, or lost limbs, or their feces, or even the pheromones, those chemicals that they send out into the air to communicate with each other. If that really builds up, people start having allergic, asthmatic reactions to them. As far as actually spreading diseases, they found all sorts of germs, bacteria and viruses on cockroaches, and some fairly serious ones. For example, polio. But there's no one who's really been able to prove unequivocally that those germs are transmitted to human beings.

CURWOOD: So, why do you think cockroaches have such a hold on the human psyche? I mean, we write about them, they're in movies, they're in music, there's that song La Cucaracha, and you write in your book that if you hear that song one more time you yourself may turn into a cucaracha.

GORDON: (Laughs) Cockroaches, you know, they are ubiquitous and they're a way of urban life. You know, any big city that you go in, just about around the world, you'll find cockroaches occupying a significant place in our society. So I think a lot of people have this if you can't lick 'em, join 'em, and are actually into celebrating cockroaches in literature and in some, as you say. A lot of blues songs have lyrics about cockroaches in them. I found paintings about cockroaches, still lives, pogs, those little kids' playthings. Skateboards, you name it; they appear all over the place.

CURWOOD: What am I supposed to do about these roaches? I mean, is there a safe way, aside from poisoning everybody around us, to get rid of these roaches?

GORDON: You know, in my book I go through a whole escalating arsenal starting with the most environmentally friendly alternatives, and those include things -- the Victorian English, for example, used to keep hedgehogs in their kitchen to keep their cockroach population down.

CURWOOD: Hedgehogs? Hedgehogs?

GORDON: Yeah, they were little pets. They lived in little baskets in the kitchen. You know, New Yorkers, there was a whole craze in the 70s where everyone was keeping lizards, geckos they're called, in their homes as a way of -- they'd be on patrol, munching cockroaches all day long. Then there are lots of these tried and true remedies, like boric acid powder, which actually works quite effectively and is fairly benign as far as a poison goes. Also pyrethrum, which is a powder made from chrysanthemums so that's, you know, all natural pesticide. But in my book I work my way all the way up the chain, and the last essay in my book is whether cockroaches would survive a nuclear attack.

CURWOOD: And?

GORDON: Well, my answer is they could survive a small attack, which I think is where the great rumor that they'll outlive us all came from. That's kind of a '50s view of the world. But I believe we now have nuclear capabilities of wiping everything out on our planet.

CURWOOD: Even the roaches.

GORDON: So the reality is, yeah, we could finish off the roaches. If not by the blast itself, then certainly things like nuclear winter, you know, and do 'em in. Of course I go on to point out that if life did survive, even in the forms of algae or bacteria, and over millions of years evolved into another life form, it probably would be a cockroach. We'd start all over again.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Oh, God. David George Gordon is a roachophile. His new book is called The Compleat Cockroach. Thanks for joining me.

GORDON: Thanks for having me.

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(Music up and under: "Well, the cockroach! He just layin' there, lookin' up at me...")

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

(Music up and under: "He's a big brown fella. I tell ya he just layin' here lookin' up at me, yeah...")

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major funding provided by the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation for reporting on western issues; all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; 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.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Taking out the garbage at the bottom of the world. The effort to clean up Antarctica is next on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

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

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: With the new year just begun, let's think about some of the things we consumed last year. We don't know if it's just because people like seafood or if it's just the pleasure of chewing on something that some day might be chewing on you, but in 1996 the worldwide catch of sharks hit an all-time high of nearly 100 million tons. Nearly a quarter of the animals were thrown away dead as bycatch. A bit lower on the food chain, Americans ate more than half a billion pounds of shrimp last year. That's about 2 and a half pounds per person. Some of the shrimp was farmed and some was caught, and as many as 10 pounds of other fish were discarded as bycatch for each pound of wild-caught shrimp. The average American also ate 277 pounds of fruit last year, consuming fewer apples and peaches but more grapes and oranges. About 36% of it was fresh, compared to 32% 2 decades ago. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Antarctic Dumping Grounds

CURWOOD: Antarctica is often described as the most pristine place on earth. But near many of the continent's research stations, Antarctica has become a garbage dump. For decades scientists have discarded tons of trash without regard for the fragile polar environment. Millions of gallons of raw sewage have been pumped into once pure waters near scientific bases. A new international treaty is now forcing researchers to clean up their mess, and the US Antarctica program, long considered one of the worst polluters, is gaining a new reputation as one of the cleanest. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick visited the US facilities in January of 1996. This week we continue our encore presentation of his series of reports.

(Sound of shoveling and digging)

FITZ PATRICK: Steve Zebrowski is digging into Antarctica's past. With hand drills and shovels he's excavating a site in the MacGregor Valley, a region of immense glaciers and towering peaks.

(Digging continues)

FITZ PATRICK: Mr. Zebrowski is not conducting scientific research. He's cleaning up a research camp abandoned by scientists nearly 20 years ago.

ZEBROWSKI: The last great unexplored open spot in the world, and it's just garbage.

(Digging continues)

FITZ PATRICK: Uncovering this camp is a bit like an archaeological dig. Beneath 6 feet of snow, workers find canvas tents and wooden sleds, even an old kitchen with a jar of mustard frozen hard as a rock.

ZEBROWSKI: Basically, everything was left here: the sleeping gear, some clothing, everything they used to live here, except all they took out was their rock samples and their personal bags. Everything else was left.

FITZ PATRICK: In all, 30 tons of survival gear was abandoned, along with (raps on a drum) 10,000 gallons of fuel.

MAN: A barrel!

ZEBROWSKI: Yeah, it's full. (Raps on drum)

FITZ PATRICK: Antarctica is littered with hundreds of sites like this: relics of an era when protecting the environment was not a priority. In many places, international expeditions have left a heavy footprint. The French, for instance, destroyed several bird colonies in the 1980s while building an aircraft landing strip. Argentina let sled dogs run wild through penguin rookeries, killing thousands of birds. And the US irradiated thousands of tons of soil in the 1960s while testing a nuclear power reactor. The most visible problem, though, is garbage. To clean-up worker David Zastrow, it's evidence of a short-sighted attitude researchers had about Antarctica.

ZASTROW: The place is so huge it can just absorb it all, and it just doesn't matter, but after a while it does. And it's what's starting to happen now. There's so much junk down there it's at least -- the way we feel, it's getting to be a little too much.

(Hauling and trucking sounds)

FITZ PATRICK: Antarctic exploration generates staggering amounts of waste. Nowhere is that more evident than McMurdo Station, the sprawling US logistics base on the shores of the Ross Sea.

(Truck engines)

FITZ PATRICK: McMurdo is a bustling facility with the gritty feel of the old Wild West.

(A door slams, creaks)

FITZ PATRICK: Five million pounds of waste is generated here every year. More than a ton of trash per person.

(Slamming continues)

FITZ PATRICK: For decades, says Rick Kavitec of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, garbage here was dumped on hills and beaches, or on the ice pack that covers the sea each winter.

KAVITEC: They had a policy for many years of just putting the season's garbage out on the sea ice with the expectation and hope that when the sea ice broke out it would carry it away. And as often as not the sea ice would just melt in place and the stuff would just go to the bottom.

FITZ PATRICK: The ocean floor is now strewn with debris.

(Water bubbling, possibly through scuba gear)

FITZ PATRICK: Underwater videos shot by Dr. Kavitec depict an astonishing scene.

KAVITEC: There's hundreds of 55-gallon drums on the bottom and there's tractors and there's jeeps and there's track vehicles and there's airplanes all over the sea floor. It's a dump underwater in some places.

(Water bubbling continues)

FITZ PATRICK: No one's sure what's inside the submerged chemical barrels. But the level of hydrocarbons and PCBs in sediment here is comparable to big city harbors inside the United States. Scientists are debating whether they should conduct a clean-up. The pollution seems to be contained to the harbor at McMurdo Base. Disturbing the rusty barrels might cause it to spread.

(Trucks driving)

FITZ PATRICK: When it comes to managing the waste dumped on land, however, the US has undertaken a major clean-up. Mountains of debris have been shipped to Seattle for proper disposal, and newly-created trash is immediately packaged for transport back to the US.

(Horns blare)

FITZ PATRICK: This initiative began 5 years ago, funded by a $43 million appropriation from Congress. Eric Jergens directs the effort.

JERGENS: The US program, several years ago I think, pretty much had the reputation of being pretty slovenly, where a huge operation, you've seen through town that we look to be somewhat of a crude industrial complex. And in the past we behaved that way. Now I think, if you talk to the international community that has Antarc programs, they'll all tell you that the US has really set the tone for how to do things properly. Our reputation has changed significantly.

(Breaking brick or glass sounds)

FITZ PATRICK: The environmental initiative includes aggressive recycling. Buildings have a dozen different bins for people to segregate their trash; more than 60% of it is recycled.

TOMASI: My name's Paul Tomasi and I'm with Waste Management...

FITZ PATRICK: To ensure people obey the rules, everyone must attend a 30-minute waste management lecture when they arrive on the continent.

TOMASI: We do recycle glass here on Antarctica. We recycle unbroken, clear, green and brown jars and glasses. We ask that...

FITZ PATRICK: To Eric Jergens, this new emphasis is a natural step in the evolution of Antarctic exploration.

JERGENS: Early on it was sort of an expeditionary mentality, and survival was number one. Then we went to a phase where we weren't sure how long we would be here, sort of a colonial type of a mentality, if you will, and that's where McMurdo grew up. It was only until we decided that we were going to have a permanent presence here in Antarctica, where we've got to the community sense, and lived up to our stewardship of Antarctica.

FITZ PATRICK: However, this stewardship came as a result of pressure from environmental groups. In the 1980s, as international negotiators were discussing whether mining should be allowed in Antarctica, Greenpeace launched several investigative expeditions. The result: shocking photographs of garbage burning in huge open pits. According to Paul Bogart who directed the campaign, these photos demonstrated the need for strict environmental oversight of scientists.

BOGART: You can't hold these folks, take these folks necessarily at their word when they're talking about having the environment's best interests at heart. And so bringing that home to people really increased the pressure on countries to do something.

FITZ PATRICK: What the 26 nations that conduct Antarctic research did was approve a sweeping set of environmental guidelines in 1991. The Madrid Protocol bans mining for 50 years and requires a pack it in, pack it out approach for trash. The protocol was ratified by Congress last year. Environmentalists say it's weak in many areas and they wanted Congress to augment the treaty by extending US environmental laws to American activities in Antarctica. But they supported the protocol because the agency in charge of research, the National Science Foundation or the NSF, is showing a commitment to environmental protection. Beth Marks heads a coalition called the Antarctica Project.

MARKS: In getting the US to finally agree on a bill, we all had to concede that NSF has done a much better job recently in cleaning up the bases and in setting good environmental policy. And we have to just hope that these policies will continue even with a bill that is not as strident as we would have preferred.

(More trucking sounds)

FITZ PATRICK: Although there's been progress in managing waste, several environmental problems remains. One of the most serious is oil.

(A motor revs up)

FITZ PATRICK: Nearly 200,000 gallons of aircraft fuel, known as JP8, has been spilled at McMurdo Station over the years.

(Motor sounds continue)

FITZ PATRICK: Research teams are now drilling holes to evaluate the extent of soil contamination.

(Motor sounds continue)

FITZ PATRICK: John Holbrook is from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

(A shovel digs)

HOLBROOK: One way to test the presence of JP8 is just to stick your nose close by and smell it. I don't detect very much at all, maybe a little bit.

FITZ PATRICK: I smell a little something.

HOLBROOK: Yeah, there's a little something there. But that is by no means strong. We've dug up soil samples and taken a whiff and it -- it almost reeks of the stuff in certain places.

(A high, whining sound)

FITZ PATRICK: The samples are analyzed in the McMurdo labs by Mark Tumio from the University of Alaska.

(High, whining sound continues)

FITZ PATRICK: The tests reveal several hot spots around the station. There's good news, though: the contamination hasn't spread very far.

TUMIO: It's not like they threw fuel on the ground. Fuel's a commodity here and you don't waste it, so, you know, spills were always accidental and they were controlled quickly. There's not much soil here, so there's not much depth to the soil. So that means what was spilled soaked up relatively, in a very small area, and tends to stay there. We don't get lots of rain to push stuff around; you don't have a lot of migration. So where it's spilled it's dirty, and not too far away it's still clean.

FITZ PATRICK: Still, more than 700 drums of soil await decontamination. Dr. Tumio is experimenting with oil eating bacteria to see if there's a natural way to conduct the clean-up. As those tests continue, researchers are also evaluating Antarctica's biggest ongoing source of pollution.

(A toilet flushes)

FITZ PATRICK: McMurdo Station discharges 66,000 gallons of raw sewage into the ocean every day. The prospect of building a $3 million sewage treatment plant is sparking debate. Some officials contend the sewage is quickly diluted in the ocean and treatment is unnecessary. But others point out that sewage is altering the natural mix of marine life. Clams and starfish have disappeared near the sewage outfall, replaced instead by worms and other organisms that tolerate human waste. In a small beachfront laboratory, Cathy Conlin from the Canadian Museum of Nature is examining tissue samples to see if sewage affects organisms beyond the McMurdo vicinity. It's a high tech procedure based on a simple truth: we are what we eat.

CONLIN: We all contain different isotopes of carbon and nitrogen and sulfur. And these proportions will differ according to what we eat. So if we eat all vegetables we'll have a certain proportion; if we eat all meat it will be a different proportion. Sewage has been demonstrated to have a certain, what you call, signature, a certain proportion. And if an organism is eating sewage, it will take up that proportion so it will register that signal.

FITZ PATRICK: Dr. Conlin hasn't collected enough samples to reach a conclusion yet. In fact, officials would not allow her to dive for specimens last year near the sewage outfall, because of dangerous levels of bacteria. In effect, it was Antarctica's first beach closure.

(Water lapping on shore)

FITZ PATRICK: The situation illustrates the choices officials must make when weighing the costs and benefits of working in a sensitive ecosystem. Eric Jergens, the environmental manager for McMurdo, maintains that some degree of ecological disruption is unavoidable.

JERGENS: I have my doubts that man can go anywhere without leaving some impact. that being true, then, what you've got to do is try to consciously decide what impact you're going to leave, and try to measure that impact and determine whether the impact is worth what you're doing there.

FITZ PATRICK: Scientists and environmentalists agree on one thing: researchers here are learning how the Earth works. And that is worth some measure of environmental impact. And even though a few researchers complain the environmental protections go too far, overall there's been a major change in attitude. Cornelius Sullivan is Director of
Polar Programs for the National Science Foundation.

SULLIVAN: We've changed human behavior in Antarctica to comply with good environmental practice, almost to the point that McMurdo, which otherwise looks like a mining town, is a place you'd have a hard time finding a cigarette butt or a scrap of paper. Kind of like going to Disneyland and seeing people sweep things up. Here they don't have to sweep them up; they never put them on the ground and if they find one they pick it up. That's remarkable to me: human behavior being changed because the people believe in what we're doing here in an environmental sense is remarkable.

(Wind whipping)

FITZ PATRICK: When you travel just a few minutes away from even the biggest of Antarctic bases now, you're hard pressed to detect any trace that people are nearby. The goal is to keep it that way. For Living on Earth this is Terry FitzPatrick reporting.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our series from Antarctica continues next week with a look at whether global warming could cause polar ice to melt. Travel for our reports was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Getting off the hydro grid. A self-sufficient water system for the home is coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Home Reservoir

CURWOOD: This past summer, drought devastated much of the southwestern United States. Hardest hit were farmers and ranchers but other homeowners were forced to cut back as well. Most of them, anyway. My next guest has his own water supply. Michael McElveen is an emergency room physician living near Austin, Texas, who has put together his own backyard reservoir. Dr. McElveen, welcome to Living on Earth.

MCELVEEN: Hello.

CURWOOD: Now tell me, where do you get your water from?

MCELVEEN: Where we all get our water: from rain.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Okay. But how do you store it?

MCELVEEN: The process is really quite simple, and the technology is really quite ancient. Basically, it is rain falling on a tin or galvanized roof. That water runs into a gutter. That gutter runs in turn to a downspout and into a sealed fiberglass tank or cistern. It then flows downhill. There is a pump that will pressurize it up to a level of 30 pounds per square inch so that it can run all of our household appliances.

CURWOOD: And so how many gallons do you keep on hand?

MCELVEEN: For our in-house use we have 17,000 gallons, which will last us approximately 10 months of absolutely no rainfall at all.

CURWOOD: And you use it for everything. You drink it, it goes for your showers, it goes in your toilets.

MCELVEEN: It goes for absolutely everything in-house as well as outside, which includes a swimming pool, garden, orchard, water garden, washing cars, bathing dogs.

CURWOOD: Does it taste any better than city water?

MCELVEEN: Oh, we think so. The quality is gold standard.

CURWOOD: Wow.

MCELVEEN: If municipalities had their choice, they would all be on straight rainwater, since it has no hardness and no total dissolve solvents or solids in it. It is the finest water you can have.

CURWOOD: And have you set off a trend in your neighborhood?

MCELVEEN: I think that could be quite readily said. When we first started doing this in 1983, we were the only people we knew around doing it. As of 1996, there are now probably 6 or 7 contractors who make a living putting in these systems. There's architects who specialize in designing them. There's quite an infrastructure of suppliers of tanks and ultraviolet lights and plumbing equipment. And there's probably 300 homes in our area now that are on rainwater.

CURWOOD: How well did you and your other water comrades fare during this most recent drought?

MCELVEEN: What initially made this a popular alternative was at the time of our last drought from 1988 to 1990, there were a number of stories in the media all the time about wells in our area going dry. At that time I had lots of water and I made it known to several of the people whose wells were dry. Subsequent to that, the experience has been extremely positive. We've had many neighbors whose wells again are dry this year, and we still have plenty of water. At no point have we been less than 55% of capacity in spite of it being the driest year in over 40 years here.

CURWOOD: Dr. Michael McElveen, thanks for joining us.

MCELVEEN: It was my pleasure.

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CURWOOD: And if you'd like to tell us what you or your neighbors are doing to improve your corner of the planet, give us a call right now at our listener line. That's 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or send us an e-mail at LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And while you're on line don't forget to check out our web page; the address is www.loe.org.

(Music up and under)

Road Kill

FRITZ: On a night not long ago, under a full moon, I spooked 2 deer eating fallen apples in my yard. Their hooves beat escape into the frozen earth and my heart pounded as they leaped over the fence into the hay meadow, waving goodbyes with their white tails. Perhaps this pleasant encounter was some kind of -- reprieve.

CURWOOD: Jane Fritz is a producer who lives in northern Idaho. She wrote recently to tell us of some contacts she's had with the local deer population in and around her rural home. Some of the meetings have been happy ones; others less so.

FRITZ: A few weeks earlier, I killed my first deer. I wasn't hunting. I was driving my car a little too fast. Normally I'd be scanning the woodland banks and ditches for highway crossing deer. But on that evening, a doe appeared suddenly, and I hit her broadside. As I braked to a stop she spun, hit the car again, and came to rest motionless in the middle of the highway.

Approaching her, I could see she had been nursing this year's fawns. Her moonlit belly lay like a soft pearl on the blood-stained pavement. Her death devastated me. I can still see her dark eye open to the sky as she lay there. It begged for some human sensitivity to the ways of nature.

By the time the local conservation officer arrived it was too late. Burst blood vessels left not enough untainted meat to donate to some worthy cause. Instead, cougar, coyote, and raven would scavenge the remains. Talking with friends about the incident revealed that nearly every driver I know in rural north Idaho has maimed or killed a deer, and I began to wonder how many deer lose their lives each year to our highly mobile lifestyle. Idaho is a wilderness state. But what about places like Pennsylvania or Michigan that have more highways and more people?

Someone predicted their roadkill deer probably exceeded Idaho's legal hunting season take. I thought no way. But he was right. I did some research, and found that more than 46,000 deer were killed on Pennsylvania highways last year. In Michigan the figure was even higher. Drivers collide with deer 170 times a day. In 1995, 62,000 deer and 8 humans lost their lives.

I also learned that back east, dead deer are usually buried in mass graves or dumped in landfills. Here in Idaho, they are often given to food banks, church missions, or poor families. Even so, it seems like such a waste of life.

Since the accident, I've been more sensitive to the ways of deer. I religiously scan the roadsides, especially right after dawn and dusk, the times that deer are most active. If a single deer crosses my path, I expect others to follow, as they often travel in groups. I slow down at deer crossing signs. They signal migration routes, or places where the road kill is particularly high. And I find myself switching down to low beams, to give the animals a chance to escape, since bright headlights can blind and confuse them.

And I watch for their eyes. Since the accident, several deer already have gained an edge toward surviving me and my car. And last night driving home, I braked for an elk. Maybe there are just too many of us in our sleek, fast cars on the roads these days. Then again, maybe we simply need to open our eyes.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Producer Jane Fritz lives in the Idaho panhandle town of Clark Fork. She comes to us courtesy of member station KPBX in Spokane, Washington.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

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

(Music up an 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 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; 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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