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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

May 16, 1997

Air Date: May 16, 1997

SEGMENTS

RIO + 5: RIO EARTH SUMMIT FIVE YEARS LATER / John Rudolph

President Clinton recently told the world he will personally lead the U.S. delegation that will attend a special United Nations meeting on the environment next month. Conservation groups, members of Congress and administration officials are now debating which proposals the president should champion at the conference which will tackle issues such as global warming and sustainable development. The conference, to be held at the U.N. in New York, will mark the fifth anniversary of the 1992 Earth Sumit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As John Rudolph reports the international gathering offers Mr. Clinton a chance to make his mark as a world leader on environmental issues. (05:25)

MASSACHUSETTS Guard / Liz Lempert

In a move that could set a national precedent, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Northeast Administrator has ordered the National Guard to halt training exercises at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod, Massachusestts. The Guard’s artillery range sits on top of the Cape's sole drinking water supply, and contaminants from spent shells are showing up in the surrounding soil and groundwater. The National Guard has asked the federal EPA to rescind the order. Living On Earth’s Liz Lempert has more. (03:24)

Mexican Whales / Jana Schroeder

Each Autumn dozens of grey whales migrate along the Pacific coast from the Bering Sea to spend winters in warm southern waters. Some take refuge in a series of lagoons on Mexico's isolated Baja California peninsula to give birth. But, the whales aren't always able to raise their young in peace. Only one of the lagoons remains largely wild, and now even that could change. In a joint venture, the Mexican government and the Mitsubishi Corporation are planning a massive salt evaporation complex there in a bid to make Mexico the world's largest producer of salt. Scientists aren't sure about the impact of the salt works, but there are fears it could disrupt the breeding of the whales which have only recently rebounded after being nearly wiped out by hunting. From Mexico City, Jana Schroeder reports. (04:00)

Matt's Whale / Matt Binder

No one can say for certain what will happen to the whales of San Ignacio Lagoon if the saltworks is built. A simliar operation in a nearby lagoon has changed the behavior of local whales, but hasn't driven them away. Still, the plant would likely alter the lagoon in ways that are immeasureable by science or economics.Living on Earth contributor Matt Binder has visited San Ignacio several times and has this commentary. (07:20)

The Living On Earth Almanac

Facts about... Ten years of saving the California Condor. (01:15)

Coho Woes / Ley Garnett

The federal government is about to add another stock of Pacific salmon to the Endangered Species List. The National Marine Fisheries Service has determined that the coastal Coho is threatened from northern California through southern Oregon. The listing means land use restrictions will be imposed on millions of acres from the coast to interior mountain ranges. But the Coho listing could have been even broader. It could have included the entire Oregon coast and with it the nation's most productive timber lands. The federal government instead dedicded to let the state of Oregon try its own plan to recover Coho. If the state plans works it could write a new chapter in the history of the endangered species law. Ley Garnett reports. (07:00)

E-Bike

It’s spring and electric vehicle enthusiasts around the country are charging their motors for the 9th annual American Tour de Sol. The 350 mile race runs this year from Waterbury, Connecticut to Portland, Maine. Drivers will compete on distance per change, efficiency and consumer appeal. Their vehicles range from home built solar racers to mass produced minivans. One category of competition that’s surging this year, is the electric bike. The race has featured pedal assisted power before, but for the first time, 3 of the 5 competing bikes are actually available to the public. Steve Curwood decided to call Bill Webster, President of Charger Bikes, of Monrovia California, to talk about his entry while taking this new technology out for a spin. (08:32)

Mail Call

Recent letters from listeners on cars, prairie dogs, and Mars rocks. (02:10)

Lemur Experiment / Diane Toomey

Lemurs are some of the most endangered primates in the world. Found only in Madagascar and one group of neighboring islands, these creatures have lost fully 90 percent of their habitat since humans first landed on Madagascar two millennium ago. But, now researchers at Duke University's Primate Center hope to give lemus a chance at survival. This fall they plan to introduce some captive born lemurs into the wild, the first such experiment ever attempted. Diane Toomey has our report. (07:15)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Sharon Brody
REPORTERS: Cheryl Colopy, Stephanie O'Neill, Steve Jess, John Rudolph, Liz Lempert, Jana Schroeder, Ley Garnett, Diane Toomey
GUEST: Bill Webster
COMMENTATOR: Matt Binder

(Theme music intro)

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

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Five years after the first summit in Rio de Janeiro, the leaders of the world meet again to consider the environment, next month in New York. And the heat is on President Bill Clinton to take a strong leadership role.

SCHERR: I think there'll be a lot of, pressure on the President, a lot of pressure on the administration, to go to New York with some very understandable, concrete actions and initiatives.

CURWOOD: Also, Mexico plans a large salt plant in a crucial marine habitat, and an intrepid reporter braves the jaws of a giant creature to bring back a "whale of a story."

[Water sloshing]

BINDER: So I stuck my arm all the way in that whale's mouth-- and petted its tongue from throat to tip. It was soft, and warm, and pink, and smelled like milk.

[Whale breaths]

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

Environmental News

BRODY: From Living on Earth, I'm Sharon Brody.
Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt is spending $15 million from the Exxon Valdez oil spill settlement fund to acquire prime coastal lands and fjords in Alaska. About 32,000 acres purchased from the English Bay Corporation, a native Alaskan company, are being added to the Kenai Fjords National Park and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Babbitt says the acquisition will help to protect fish and wildlife species harmed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, including marbled merlet pink salmon, and sea otters.

California has moved one step closer to banning the gasoline additive MTBE. A bill in the state senate has been unanimously approved by two committees, which heard testimony about the additive's health hazards. MTBE is used throughout the country as part of an effort to meet federal air quality standards. Cheryl Colopy reports:

COLOPY: A ban of MTBE could take effect in California as early as March of 1998. The additive is in all the reformulated gasoline sold in California, and it's touted as a boon to the environment by the state Air Resources Board, and by oil companies. But Republican State Senator Dick Mountjoy believes the additive that's supposed to help clean up California's air, is just too toxic. He thinks it may be causing an increase in respiratory and other illnesses in areas where MTBE is used in gas. Mountjoy's bill funds new studies, and if those confirm doubts about MTBE's safety, the state would have to ban the additive. Oil companies won't be happy if the bill succeeds on the floor of the legislature this summer. They've spent billions on the reformulated gas. For Living on Earth, I'm Cheryl Colopy.

BRODY: The California Department of Fish and Game is proposing a drastic measure to kill off a non-native fish that officials say is wreaking havoc on native fish stocks. Stephanie O'Neill reports.

O'NEILL: State Fish and Game officials are planning to poison a Northern California lake in order to kill off the predatory northern pike, which officials say is threatening native species in the state's quarter-billion dollar salmon fishing industry. The northern pike devours just about anything, including other fish, frogs, crayfish, and even small mammals and birds. And because many of the pike in Lake Davis near Portola, California, are too small for nets, Fish and Game officials say poisoning is their only option. The proposal calls for the dumping of 25,000 gallons of a petroleum-based chemical into the lake, which also serves as the drinking water source for the surrounding community. The chemicals will kill the other fish in the lake, and then the lake will be re-stocked with native species, such as bass and trout. Lake Davis residents are fighting the poison plan, and are skeptical of official assurances that the poison will dissipate within 48 hours, leaving the lake waters safe again for drinking. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

BRODY: An Arizona power company has announced it will build the state's first commercial solar power plant. They say the $450,000 plant, large enough to supply electricity to up to 400 households, will be operating by August. The utility expects between 250 and 300 customers to sign up for the solar power. The electricity will cost up to $3 more than energy from conventional sources for each 100 watts. Similar solar projects are underway in Detroit, Michigan; and Austin, Texas.

Officials at a national laboratory in eastern Idaho are taking precautions to prevent flood waters from reaching one of the country's largest nuclear waste dumps. From BSU radio in Boise, Steve Jess reports.

JESS: The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory is home to much of the waste generated by military and scientific nuclear programs in the US, including tanks of chemical waste and barrels and boxes of plutonium-contaminated refuse. With the mountain snow pack in eastern Idaho at nearly twice the normal amount, officials at the lab are hoping that a quick spring thaw doesn't flood the waste storage area, which is near the Big Lost River. Energy Department spokesman Brad Bugger says the risk of flooding is slight.

BUGGER: If you had an absolute worst case scenario and you had a 100 year flood, and you didn't have a diversion dike in place, which we do have, and we have confidence in, then you could have some flooding of the Idaho chemical processing plant, but the chances of that happening are very remote.

JESS: Nevertheless, Bugger says laboratory officials are watching the river closely and preparing flood control equipment. The waste dump came close to being flooded in 1983, but dikes and diversion dams held, and they've been reinforced since then. Officials are now concerned because the US Geological Survey has increased its estimate of the possible flood damage from the river. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Jess in Boise.

BRODY: Southern Californians will soon be able to breathe a little easier, as long as they're willing to pay through the nose. Actor and environmentalist Woody Harrelson is opening up a chain, of oxygen bars, in Los Angeles. He plans to charge $16 for 20 minutes of pure breathing. That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Sharon Brody.

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RIO + 5: RIO EARTH SUMMIT FIVE YEARS LATER

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
It's official now: President Clinton will personally lead the US delegation to the United Nations during next month's special session in New York on the environment. The US positions on a variety of key issues that will be discussed have yet to be refined. So, the President's decision to go has set off a scramble among various groups, who hope to persuade Mr. Clinton to tilt towards their points of view. Major topics include global climate change, biological diversity, and international aid for sustainable development. The world's nations are expected at the conference, which comes on the fifth anniversary of the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As John Rudolph reports, this international gathering could be a turning point in the environmental part of Mr. Clinton's presidency.

RUDOLPH: As he's done a number of times when making important statements on the environment, President Clinton chose a dramatic backdrop to announce his plans to attend next month's United Nations conference. The setting was the Costa Rican rain forest, a stop on the President's recent tour of Latin America. A light tropical drizzle fell, as Mr. Clinton addressed the President of Costa Rica and a group of dignitaries.

CLINTON: I am pleased to be leading America's delegation to the UN. I hope many other world leaders will be there. Together we need to reaffirm the spirit of Rio, and lay out the concrete steps we're going to take, to move ahead, to make the preservation of the global environment, and sustainable development, the policy of every nation on Earth.

[Clapping]

RUDOLPH: Back in the US, many people also applauded the President's decision to attend the conference, which some are calling "Earth Summit II." By simply agreeing to show up, Mr. Clinton puts the event in the international spotlight.

REILLY: The willingness of an American President to lend the credibility and prestige of that office, to a conference like this, certainly if Rio is any guide, is enormously important.

RUDOLPH: William Reilly, headed the US Environmental Protection Agency during the Bush Administration. At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, it was Mr. Reilly who had the unenviable task of defending an American President, who seemed distant and aloof from environmental concerns. With Earth Summit II just around the corner, there's hope that this time, the US President will take a more active role. Jacob Scherr is with the National Resources Defence Council in Washington, DC.

SCHERR: We're at a point, now, where the public here and around the world are expecting more than just promises, plans. What people are looking for are concrete actions.

RUDOLPH: But which actions should Mr. Clinton announce? One central issue will be foreign aid for environmentally friendly projects in developing countries. Some argue the President ought to reaffirm a controversial aid formula, adopted in Rio in 1992. Under this plan, industrialized countries would dramatically increase their support for sustainable development projects overseas. The formula is supported by developing nations and some US environmental groups. But former EPA administrator Reilly says, Mr. Clinton would do the world a favor by admitting that the formula isn't working.

REILLY: I think there're 2 or 3 things that President Clinton could do that would be very useful in reframing the debate. One would be to acknowledge that we'd, perhaps, been going down a blind alley in focusing on traditional, foreign assistance, its adequacy or inadequacy, as a way to, essentially bribe developing countries to do what we think is in their own interest anyway, and to say, essentially, there's never going to be enough foreign assistance to do that.

RUDOLPH: President Clinton will likely take this approach on the funding question. Rather than offering new foreign aid, the Administration is said to favor greater incentives for private investment in sustainable development projects around the world.
That position probably won't win Mr. Clinton many friends at Earth Summit II. Nor will his stand on global warming. The US is under increasing pressure to take aggressive and immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Tim Wirth argues that cutting greenhouse gases is a complex economic and political problem that will take years to solve. Still, Mr. Wirth says President Clinton will offer some specific proposals to combat global warming, in New
York next month.

WIRTH: Well, I think the President's going to surprise a lot of people with the specificity of the, ah, statements and approaches that he would like to take, about how we have to engage the developing world in this area, how we have to, do this in such a way that it's realistic in the framework of our very, very large economy, how we have to have very innovative financial instruments to allow us to do this, how we have to have a binding treaty. These are leadership positions being taken by the United States, which are, you know, not welcomed by most nations around the world.

RUDOLPH: Mr. Clinton will arrive at Earth Summit II with some important achievements under his belt. During his administration, the US has for the first time accepted the principle of binding timetables and targets for reducing greenhouse gases. Mr. Clinton also signed the treaty on biodiversity, something that George Bush refused to do. But these treaties are only a start. It remains to be seen how far President Clinton is willing to go, to turn promises made in Rio 5 years ago into reality. For Living on Earth, this is John Rudolph.

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MASSACHUSETTS Guard

CURWOOD: The northeast regional administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency recently ordered the Massachusetts National Guard to halt most operations at Camp Edwards, its training base on Cape Cod. This artillery practice range sits on top of the Cape's major drinking water supply, and contaminants from spent shells are showing up in the surrounding soil and ground water. The National Guard is appealing the ban to the EPA in Washington. The case is being closely watched, as it could set a precedent for the military's ability to reject oversight of its environmental affairs. Living on Earth's Liz Lempert has our story.

LEMPERT: Just 35 feet of porous, sandy soil separates the toxic remnants of spent artillery from Cape Cod's water supply. Royal Dutch Explosive, an ingredient in rat poison and munitions, has already been found in spots at levels 10 times the EPA limit. Lead, and the possible carcinogen TNT, have also been found at elevated levels. John DeVillars, EPA's northeast administrator, issued the order to close down the firing range.

DEVILLARS: It's quite clear what the sources are, and it is the military activity in that area. That's why we're asking them, and, and now directing them, to suspend those activities until we can have a better understanding of what the public health risk is.

LEMPERT: The National Guard has already begun to sample ground water, and to switch to non-exploding rounds, which are less toxic. Dan Allen, a spokesman for the National Guard, says EPA's order goes too far. He argues it makes more sense to keep the firing range open until scientists can show the levels of contamination are unsafe, something the EPA has not done. But John DeVillars says the Cape's water supply is dwindling. Past military activities have already polluted part of the aquifer, so strong action is needed to protect the rest.

DEVILLARS: It would be hard to find a place, not just on Cape Cod, but in New England, ah, arguably in America, where this kind of activity, is more inappropriate, given the resource that is so close to this area and the fragility, of that resource.

LEMPERT: Without its firing range, Camp Edwards would shut down, and thousands of troops who train there would have to go elsewhere, a dreadful prospect, says Dan Allen.

ALLEN: These are citizen-soldiers who have jobs. They don't get off work till Friday at 5 o'clock, and to have them try and drive, potentially hundreds of miles to get to, a training site, and then, fit all that training into a weekend, that is a danger to the troops, and, ah, would definitely affect the training.

DEVILLARS: I've got to say that, while I'm sympathetic to the logistical difficulties that the military faces here, my sympathy really lies, in this case, with the logistical difficulties that, people are facing, trying to find alternative water supplies, or worrying about, whether their kids are going to, come down with cancer as a consequence of living in that area and swimming in the ponds.

LEMPERT: The military's biggest concern is the precedent the case would set. Neighbors of bases in Wisconsin and Michigan have also complained that munitions are polluting their water. Spokesman Dan Allen:

ALLEN: If it happens here, it could happen at any post across the United States, stating that each and every action that's being performed on that post, be proven safe before it can continue.

LEMPERT: Pressure on the EPA is mounting, with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee siding with the National Guard. Negotiations between the parties continue in Washington this week. For Living on Earth, I'm Liz Lempert.

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CURWOOD: An industrial salt plant may threaten the Mexican breeding grounds of the grey whales. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

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Mexican Whales

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Each autumn, dozens of grey whales migrate along the Pacific Coast from the Bering Sea, to spend winters breeding and raising their young in warm southern waters. Some take refuge in a series of lagoons on Mexico's isolated Baja California peninsula. But development has been altering Baja California, and today only one of the lagoons remains largely wild. Now, even that could change. In a joint venture, the Mexican government and the Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan, are planning a large sea water evaporation plant, which would make Mexico the world's largest producer of salt. Scientists aren't sure about the precise impact of the proposed salt works, but there is some concern that it could compromise reproduction of these great beasts, who until recently were hunted to the brink of extinction. From Mexico City, Jana Schroeder reports.

SHROEDER: More than 300 migrating grey whales find a temporary winter home, in the San Ignacio lagoon in Baja California each year. The pristine lagoon has just the right condition for female whales to bear and nurse their young. The shallow, warm waters keep calves from losing too much body heat, and the lagoon's high salinity gives them the buoyancy needed for nursing. The high salinity also makes the lagoon perfect for a $120 million salt evaporation plant, according to the Exportadora company, co-owned by the Mexican government and the Japanese Mitsubishi Corporation. The company's assistant technical director, Joaquin Ardura says the project would be a perfect example of sustainable development.

ARDURA: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: It won't exhaust any resources. Our raw material is sea water, not some non-renewable resource, and it doesn't generate any waste. It's a clean process.

SCHROEDER: Mr. Ardura says the project won't threaten the whales, or other endangered birds and sea turtles in the area. But environmentalists don't agree.

MITASTEIN: So it's going to change all the condition, for the lagoons. For the whales, and for the fisheries, there is a, there is a, there is a, a very, high productivity in the lagoon.

SCHROEDER: Monique Mitastein is the director of Greenpeace, Mexico. She fears the project would change the lagoon's salinity and water temperature, the very conditions making it suitable for the whales. Environmentalists are also worried that noisy cargo ships could spill fuel oil, disrupt the whales' sensitive acoustic environment, and cut across their migratory routes. An earlier proposal for the plant was rejected by Mexico's Environment Ministry, and last year authorities set out rigorous requirements for a new proposal. The proposed salt plant has pitted two branches of the Mexican government against each other. The Commerce Ministry is openly promoting it, as part of Mexico's drive for economic development. The Environment Ministry, meanwhile, is staking its integrity as a newly invigorated force in Mexican government, on an independent review of the project. In the past, the decision would almost certainly have been made in the President's office, and the environment would likely have lost out to the dollars the project would generate. But Guadalupe Benavides, a spokesperson for the Environment Ministry, says that's no longer the case.

BENEVIDES: [Speaks in Spanish]
TRANSLATOR: If we were going to leave it up to the President, we would not be carrying out this transparent process. We would not invite a committee of international experts to analyze the situation.

SCHROEDER: Ms. Benavides says things are changing in Mexico. She says government decisions are being opened up to public scrutiny, and she insists the ultimate decision will be based on the scientific recommendation of the international committee. But Monique Mitastein of Greenpeace isn't convinced that things have changed. She says there are still just too many cases where environment authorities give in to business interests.

MITASTEIN: It's a very clever, ah, strategy that they are going to use, going to use this committee, to say the committee says that there are no, problems.

SCHROEDER: Environmental groups in Mexico and the US say there's a lot riding on the decision on the proposed salt plant: the fate of one of the last undisturbed calving grounds of a creature only just back from the edge of extinction, and Mexico's newly stated commitment to environmental protection, and honest government. For Living on Earth, I'm Jana Schroeder.

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Matt's Whale

CURWOOD: It's difficult to predict would happen to the whales of San Ignacio lagoon if the salt works is built. A similar operation in a nearby lagoon has changed the behavior of local whales, but it hasn't driven them away. Still, a salt plant would likely have some impact. Living on Earth contributor Matt Binder has visited San Ignacio several times, and has these impressions.

[Boat deck sounds. Engine starts.]

BINDER: I went to San Ignacio lagoon with a friend 5 years ago, in my old Volkswagen bus. It's one of the most out-of-the-way places I've ever been, 600 miles through the desert down the Baja peninsula, then 40 miles on a narrow, dirt road that we had to drive almost entirely in first gear. At the end of the road, a pristine bay, about the size of San Francisco Bay, where I live, but with a population of about 600 people instead of 6 million.

[Sea bird cries]

BINDER: I'd already been to Baja's 2 other, more accessible whale breeding grounds, in Magdalena Bay, further south, near a big shipping port.

[Boat engine revs up]

BINDER: Aggressive whale-watching boats zoom through the whales' favorite lounging spots at 30 miles an hour. I saw one come within inches of smashing right into a whale, that had come up for a quick breath of air. The whale went into an emergency dive, and the last I saw of it was its tail fin, leading its whole pod back out to the safety of the open ocean.

[Boat engine fades]

BINDER: The third lagoon, at Guerrero Negro, to the north, is near a city of 6,000, dominated by another huge Mitsubishi salt operation. And there, too, high speed whale watching is common.

[Boat engine running]

BINDER: Each time I've gone back, there've been fewer whales to watch. So this time, my friend Carlos and I chose San Ignacio lagoon.

CARLOS: Here we are.

[Car doors close]

BINDER: We stopped at the first house we came to, in a tiny fishing village at the edge of the bay.

[Man speaking Spanish]

BINDER: The man who lived there, Chema, [name?] told us he was a whale guide, and would take us the following morning at high
tide.

[Man speaking Spanish]

[Boat puttering, docking]

BINDER: The next day, the 3 of us piled into his fishing boat and eased out a narrow channel, then drove 15 miles to the whale calving and mating area.

[Boat pulling out]

BINDER: Chema found his favorite spot, and began calling to the whales.

[Whistles, water sloshing against boat]

BINDER: But Chema never turned the motor completely off. When we asked him why, he said the whales wouldn't come if the motor wasn't running. So there we sat. But Chema, knew what he was doing.

[Heavier slaps of water against boat]

BINDER: Within a couple of minutes, a mother grey whale, about 50 feet long, and her 15-foot-long month-old baby approached, and swam right under our boat, gliding like two submarines, just a couple of feet below us. A few minutes later, another pair swam toward us, or it could have been the same two, but this time, the mother turned on her back, stopped directly under our boat, and surfaced.

["Whoa, jeez, we're half out of the water! The whale just lifted us up!" and water sloshing sounds]

BINDER: She repeated her trick another couple of times, balancing the boat on her stomach, and then moved away a bit to let her baby play with us. The baby came up near the side of the boat and spy-hopped, slowly surfacing until the tip of its snout was 5 feet in the air, and its huge eyes were just above the water's surface.

["Look at its eye."]

BINDER: Its left eye was looking straight at me from 4 feet away.

[Whale blowing, water sloshes]

BINDER: The baby edged closer, and closer to the boat, and I reached out and patted its head.

[Whale blowing, patting sound]

[Woman murmurs to baby whale, "And you, do you want to jump into the boat?"]

BINDER: Then it opened its mouth and seemed to be inviting me to touch its tongue. I thought it, might be a trap--you know how kids are--

[Sound of whale surfacing, spouting, bellowing]

BINDER:--but I knew I'd never forgive myself if I didn't stick my hand in that whale's mouth. So I poked my hand in as quickly as I could, and just brushed its tongue with my fingertips. It didn't bite my arm off. In fact, the baby whale shuddered with pleasure, I thought, like I had tickled it, and kept its mouth wide open.

[Whale spouts, bellows]

BINDER: So I reached my hand in, and laid it on the tip of its huge tongue for a second, and slowly pulled it back out.

[Whale breath]

BINDER: Another shudder, and still the mouth was wide open. So I stuck my arm all the way in that whale's mouth and petted its tongue from throat to tip.

[Water slapping against boat]

BINDER: It was soft, and warm, and pink, and smelled like milk. I longed to hold it in my lap and read it a bedtime story.

[Oh, no, does he want to come in? You want to jump in the boat?]

[Low laughter]

BINDER: Before I could regain my composure, maybe the baby got bored, or its mother just wanted to move on, but the baby whale closed its mouth, slipped underwater, and disappeared. We stayed out there another hour or so, and a few curious whales came by, but none offered a peep down its throat.

[Boat moves away]

BINDER: The next day at high tide, I hitched a ride from some fishermen, to a small island where Chema told me osprey live.

[High-pitched bird cries and cheeps]

BINDER: It happened to be peak breeding season, and since there were no trees, only cactus on the island, the 50 or so osprey nests were on the ground. I later learned how unique this site is, too.

[Chirps and cheeps]

BINDER: I crouched down near a nest to record the baby's squawking, but this didn't go over very well with the parents, who started to dive bomb me, talons extended.

[Bird cries, and "Oh, one just tried grab my hand, I guess I'm too close! Ok, ok!"]

BINDER: I moved away, and everyone settled down.

[To bird, "Sorry," and bird cries, further off]

BINDER: As I sat on the beach, waiting to be picked up, I thought about how few places there are like this lagoon, where humans and wild animals can interact so intimately. Obviously, it's because of the way the local people, like Chema, have grown to understand and treat those animals, and I think that's what's most at risk in this plan for the huge salt operation, even in the unlikely event that they could avoid oil spills, collisions between whales and salt tankers, and other direct risks to the wild life. The hard-won trust between animals and humans at San Ignacio lagoon will probably be lost.

[Bird cries, whale breaths]

BINDER: Right now, almost all the locals earn most of their living from tourism, but I don't think that the people immigrate there, to work in the salt factory, will have much respect for the local ways. This lagoon, I'm afraid, will become just like the other two in Baja. The whales may still come, but they'll be constantly trying to avoid humans, rather than using us as tongue scratchers.

[Wave sound, whale breaths, whale "moos"]

BINDER: For Living on Earth, I'm Matt Binder.

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[Whale pants, bird cries, bird whistles, wave sounds]

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CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure, all-natural organic yoghurts and ice cream. 1-800-PRO-COWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: The Coho salmon heads for the endangered species list, but not everywhere in its habitat. Find out why, next on Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

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

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The Living On Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Ten years ago this month, one of our most endangered species began a most remarkable comeback. The California condor is the biggest bird in North America. It can weigh up to 25 pounds, and boasts a wingspan of nearly 10 feet. It is so sturdy it can fly at altitudes of 18,000 feet, and cruise for hours at a time without flapping its wings. The condor used to enjoy free range across North America, but that was back in the Pleistocene Age. In more recent times, hunters, poison, and power lines have been the bird's greatest enemies. By 1987, the condor's numbers had dwindled to just 14, all living in California's San Joaquin Valley. The US Fish and Wildlife Service wanted to bring all surviving condors in from the wild, and breed them in captivity. Many environmental groups, including the Audubon Society, opposed the move, arguing that it would be impossible to reintroduce the birds. But the plan went ahead, and soon biologists had the birds reproducing at 6 times their natural rate. Today, there are 132 California condors. Thirty-three live in the wild. Fifteen more birds are scheduled for release by next winter. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Coho Woes

CURWOOD: Yet another stock of Pacific salmon is expected to be added in the near future to the US Endangered Species List. The National Marine Fisheries Service has determined that the coastal Coho is threatened, from northern California through southern Oregon. The listing means land use restrictions will be imposed on millions of acres from the coast to interior mountain ranges. But, the Coho listing could have been even broader. It could have included the entire Oregon coast, and with it the nation's most productive timberlands. The federal government, instead, decided to let the state of Oregon try its own plan to recover the Coho. If the state plan works, it could write a new chapter in the history of the Endangered Species law. Ley Garnett reports:

GARNETT: Coho salmon were once a staple of the nation's Pacific Coast fishery. In Oregon alone, historically, more than a million Coho returned to the state's coastal streams to spawn. Last year, the run had dwindled to just 80,000. Even so, that was an improvement from 5 years ago, when only 20,000 fish were counted. That slight rebound is one reason the federal government decided not to list the Coho in most of Oregon. Will Stelle, of the National Marine Fisheries Service, says the other reason is Oregon's $30 million state recovery plan.

STELLE: This is probably the most comprehensive conservation effort that, that I'm aware of, ah, under the Endangered Species Act, undertaken by a state, in one fell swoop. This is not unprecedented in type; but in scale, absolutely.

GARNETT: The Oregon plan focuses on improving the health of the state's coastal streambeds.

KITZHABER: I tell you, there's nothing like a pair of rubber boots in the mud.

[Splashes, background talking]

GARNETT: On this typically rainy early spring day, Oregon governor John Kitzhaber splashes through a media tour, of a streambed restoration site. Governor Kitzhaber listens as Walt Weber of the state Fish and Wildlife Department, explains how the waterway is being repaired.

WEBER: This project consists of 8, big trees placed across the, stream channel, both, above the culvert here, and downstream, throughout this reach, and, it's designed to trap a bunch more wood coming down here. And in this case, it's actually formed a dam, and it's trapped a bunch of spawning gravel above the dam; you can't see that; and it raises the water so that now--

GARNETT: Fish biologists say logging is the main reason that Coho salmon runs have faded. Erosion, from logging roads, and denuded hillsides, have destroyed fish spawning areas by smothering them with mud. In this project, logs placed in the streams, help restore the deep water pools, that newly hatched fish need, to rest and grow, before swimming to the ocean. Like most of the coastal Coho's habitat, this stream is on private land, and the restoration project is an inexpensive voluntary effort, financed through a state grant. Governor Kitzhaber says this kind of voluntary partnership, between timberland owners and the state, is a lot more effective, than a federal endangered or threatened listing. He says while a listing would prevent land owners from causing any more harm, it couldn't force them to make improvements.

KITZHABER: The record, ah, that the National Fisheries Service has, of actually compelling private land owners to do things under listings, is not very stellar. My experience, from representing a rural, ah, actually a southern Oregon constituency, is, you get people to do a lot more, when they feel, that they have some ownership in it, and that they're doing it because they want to do it, not because they're being told to do it.

GARNETT: It took Governor Kitzhaber 18 months to negotiate the Coho plan with environmentalists and the timber industry. The industry agreed to pay almost half of the cost, but only if Oregon could convince the federal government not to list the fish. Jim Hunt is a forest engineer for Willamette Industries, the largest timber company in the Coho's northern range. He says there's good reason for his company to work with the state.

HUNT: Willamette is very interested in the overall health of the forests. They want to be able to produce trees forever. And so, it's only in their best interests, to, to keep the forests healthy.

GARNETT: Mr. Hunt says the timber industry wants to avoid the kind of restrictions which could come with federal intervention.

HUNT: If the Coho was listed as threatened, under the Endangered Species Act, I believe that, the federal government would try to increase the amount of stream buffers that are required on the streams, and that would take away some of the production, of timber that, that we would have.

GARNETT: Mr. Hunt says his company fears federally mandated buffers could be up to 6 times wider than the 50 feet the state now requires. The National Marine Fisheries Service says part of its decision not to list the Coho here, is based on an expectation that Oregon will toughen its state forestry regulations, especially when it comes to stream buffers. But Jeff Dose says that without federal requirements, the plan just won't work. Mr. Dose is a fisheries biologist for the US Forest Service in Oregon, but says he's speaking out as a private citizen, and a concerned scientist.

DOSE: It's the lack of any mandatory change, would lead me to believe, that any changes would, necessarily be voluntary. And those are going to be probably driven more by, economic conditions and market conditions than by, ecological considerations.

GARNETT: Not only has the Oregon Coho plan split scientists, it has also driven a wedge through the state's environmental and fishing communities. Some groups are endorsing the plan. Others have filed notice of intent to sue to force federal protection. Mark Hubbard, of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, calls the state plan a sellout to the timber industry that's too narrowly focussed.

HUBBARD: What the latest and best science is telling us, is that, a program that's based on in-stream restoration projects is simply not enough. We need to look at the up-slope activities of road-building and clear-cutting. The Oregon Coho plan does not do that.

GARNETT: But Governor Kitzhaber remains undaunted. He believes his plan is a breakthrough for the region, that will hold up in court.

KITZHABER: And I think people throughout the West are looking for wins. They're looking for ways that we can get past the us versus them conflict, to how we, move on and have our natural resource industry and also have a healthy ecosystem, and I think this is one of the, concepts that can take us there.

GARNETT: The National Marine Fisheries Service has promised an annual review of Oregon's efforts, and says it won't hesitate to step in, if the Coho aren't making enough progress. Meanwhile the federal agency is already taking a heavier hand in managing the recovery of the Coho in California, which has no comprehensive plan to deal with its dwindling runs. The Fisheries Service has declared California Coho threatened, so unlike their northern neighbors, coastal landowners south to Santa Cruz will be barred from disturbing their watersheds where Coho live. That means restrictions on livestock and logging in coastal areas, including some already hotly contested redwood forests. The Fisheries Service is urging California and other states, to follow Oregon's lead, and develop their own salmon conservation plans. The agency is already reviewing a plan from Maine, designed to avoid listings, of Atlantic salmon. For Living on Earth, I'm Ley Garnett, in Portland, Oregon.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: How would you like to pedal a bike like an Olympic athlete? It's easy, with electricity. Find out how in just a moment, right here on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

E-Bike

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.
It's spring, and electric vehicle enthusiasts around the country are tuning their solar electric systems for the 9th annual American Tour de Sol. The 350 mile race runs this year from Waterbury, Connecticut, to Portland, Maine. Drivers will compete on distance per charge, efficiency, and consumer appeal. Their vehicles range from home-built solar racers, to mass-produced minivans. One category of competition that's surging this year, is the electric bike. The race has featured pedal-assisted power before, but for the first time, 3 of the 5 competing bikes are actually available to the public, although the versions for sale don't come with solar chargers. We decided to call Bill Webster, president of Charger Bikes, of Monrovia, California, to talk about his entry while we gave this new technology a try.

[Tone call sounds]

CURWOOD: Hi, Bill, this is Steve Curwood, from Living on Earth, in Boston. How are you doing?

WEBSTER: Hi, Steve. I'm doing great, thanks.

CURWOOD: I'm looking at your machine, here, has "Charger" in big letters on the side, and this kind of big mystery box, on it, in the middle. What what am I looking at here?

WEBSTER: Well, basically, what we've done is, we've taken a basic mountain bike, but what we've done, is we've buried a small 1/2- horsepower electric motor, down in between the pedal cranks. And if you peek at the back wheel, you'll see that there's actually two chains that are going to the rear wheel.

CURWOOD: Oh, I see. Oh, yeah. Two chains back here.

WEBSTER: Right. One chain is going to the pedals, like you normally have.

CURWOOD: Yeah.

WEBSTER: The other chain is going to this motor.

CURWOOD: Uh, hum.

WEBSTER: And, and what makes the bike neat, is the big box, that's down in the, the 'V' of the, of the bike, has a, onboard computer on, there, and the batteries, and everything to run the bike. The computer on board is determining how much effort you're putting into the pedals--

CURWOOD: Uh, huh.

WEBSTER:--and then it will, match or multiply your effort, with the motor, in real time.

CURWOOD: Listen, I told my wife Liza I was going to look at this bike today, and she said, "Great! It's an electric moped!" And I said, well, I don't know. What is it, Bill?

WEBSTER: It's actually not a moped. Ah, the way this thing works, is because you're pedalling, and the bike is assisting you, or, or multiplying your effort, the Department of Transportation has said this is not a motor vehicle; it's a bicycle.

CURWOOD: Hey, I'm looking on the back wheel, and it's got this funny doohickey, ah, attached to one of the spokes. I should take this thing off?

WEBSTER: No. That's a little magnet, and, and there's a little speed sensor on the chainstay back there, and that's what measures, the, top speed of the bike. In, in some state, ah, here in California, in particular, the top speed allowable by law is 20 miles an hour, under assist. So, what, ah, what that, ah, speed sensor is doing, is it's checking to see how fast the bike is going, and as you go past 20 miles an hour, it'll actually, turn the motor off, and as you slow back down, it'll kick the motor back in. And no, if you take the speed sensor off, you can't fake out the system.

CURWOOD: No?! What, what if I want to go faster? What about-- aren't you going to run this thing in the Tour de Sol?

WEBSTER: We sure are. Now, we're going to go to the Tour de Sol, and, which is the, electric vehicle race, and obviously, there, ah what we've done is, we've, we've got a special chip that we've, put in, that doesn't have the, ah, the governor on it. And, we're getting assist, up to about 32 miles an hour.

CURWOOD: Ok, you know what I'm going to do, Bill? Ahm, technology is great, but it's not really, safe or appropriate for me to talk to you while I ride on this bike, so I think what I'm going to do, is to go take it for a ride, try it out, and then give you a call right back, huh?

WEBSTER: Well, that's fantastic. Do you know how to turn the bike on?

CURWOOD: Well, tell me what I should do here.

WEBSTER: There's a little keyboard on the top of the bike. If you press the "1" button--

CURWOOD: Uh, huh.

WEBSTER:--the "2," the "3," or the "4," you're selecting the level of assist. Basically, match my pedalling 1 to 1, 2 to 1, 3 to 1, or 4 to 1. Now, you also have, a 7-speed gear shift, up on the right-hand handlebar, you've got a little grip-shift--

[Clicks of shifting]

WEBSTER:--and it'll all you to shift into any one of 7 gears. So you should have some fun. Be sure to shift gears, and try different levels of assist, and, and ride!

CURWOOD: I will, but now, my, my mountain bike at home has got 21 gears. This has only got 7, am I going to miss them?

WEBSTER: You'll miss a few, but the nice thing is, is you basically have the equivalent of, Greg LeMond riding on your bike with you, at a 30-pound weight premium.

CURWOOD: [Laughs, astonished.]

WEBSTER: So, I don't think you're going to miss them that badly.

CURWOOD: Ah, hah. All right, look out, here comes Greg Lemond! I'll talk to you later. I'll call you back.

[Cars passing]

CURWOOD: A little test, that I thought I'd do today, is, in Belmont, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, along Concord Avenue, it's a nice, flat area, and then it goes up a very steep hill, to a conservation area called Habitat.

[Bike gear whirring]

CURWOOD: One of my favorite spots here in the Boston area, and as usual in Boston, there are plenty of cars and traffic here.

[Cars pass by. Click of bike gear change]

CURWOOD: I've got like one level of assist, in the top gear, and I can't say I really notice that big a difference here. Ok, well, we're starting to head down a little hill before we go up the big one.

[Louder whirring]

CURWOOD: Ah, now I'm getting to a pretty steep part of the hill here--

[Bike gear change clicks]

CURWOOD:--have to downshift. Oh. Well, this is a big difference. I'm not going all that fast, but boy, is it sure easy to pedal. Um, but the steepest part of the hill is yet to come. Whup, here we go!

[More whirring]

CURWOOD: Now I am going up the steepest part of the hill.

[Whirring, whirring]

CURWOOD: This is a hill that would challenge anybody on a bike. And I'm having to put some effort into it, but

[Laughs]

CURWOOD:--this is easy! This is amazing! Just for kicks, let me try it without the assist.

[Low buzz saw thrumming]

CURWOOD: Oh, boy, huh, huh, boy, I feel like the, chain saw. Let me to kick it in again.

[Whirring again]

CURWOOD: Ooh, much better. The thing that's cool about this is that you just pedal--

[Pants]

CURWOOD:--and, it's like somebody's, giant hand is gently pushing, pushing you along.

[Car passes, bike whirs and fades]

CURWOOD: Hello? Hey, Bill, this is Steve.

WEBSTER: Hey, welcome back. How was your ride?

CURWOOD: Ah, hey, listen, I have a future ahead of me as a superathlete.

WEBSTER: [Laughs.]

CURWOOD: So, ahm, who's buying this bike?

WEBSTER: Who's our market? Well, the main market right now are baby boomers. Ahm--

CURWOOD: Baby boomers? You know, folks like me, huh?

WEBSTER: Yeah, ah, or me. It's folks that want to, go farther, faster, re-experience cycling, get out and stay active, but riding a mile or two around the park with the kids is getting boring, but the, the big hill, or the the tough ride that's, facing you to go further is, is kind of dissuading you from using cycling as one of your, exercise activities. The other market is, is commuters. There, there is a growing, bicycle commuter market, where people are riding in to work. You know, and the electric bike allows you to live a little further away from the office than you might think about using a bike.

CURWOOD: Or up a hill from the office, anyway.

WEBSTER: Exactly. So that's kind of fun. We have another market, that we're discovering, and that's that, lots of couple ride, and, it turns out that one of the spouses usually ends up being a better cyclist than the other.

CURWOOD: Mm, hm.

WEBSTER: And so they don't ride on weekends anymore together, because the one, cyclist can't keep up.

CURWOOD: Right.

WEBSTER: So this is a, this is a bike for the keeping-up rider.

CURWOOD: So how many of these have you sold?

WEBSTER: Well, actually we just, ah, we just started production here. I've got a couple thousand that have been sold already. And that's just in the US. And the United States is probably the smallest market in the world for electric bicycles. The huge markets are going to be overseas, where, commuting is the primary application. Over 150,000 electric bikes were sold in Japan last year, as second cars, basically.

CURWOOD: So, is the idea to get people, out of their cars? Do you think you can sell, the electric bike, the "Charger," as you call it, to, people as a, instead of a second car, or a third car?

WEBSTER: In the US, probably not. I think, in the United States, it's a, it's a recreational vehicle primarily, and it's a, it's a fair-weather commuter, maybe. You know,
unfortunately, just the, the mind-set of commuter isn't, isn't to bike commuting yet.

CURWOOD: Well, Bill, I want to thank you for taking all this time with us, and letting us ride your bike for a while.

WEBSTER: Well, thanks, Steve. I'm glad you had fun. Let all your people have a good time on it, and we'll look forward to seeing you at the, at the Tour de Sol race.

CURWOOD: Bill Webster is president of Charger Bicycles in Monrovia, California. Thank you, sir.

WEBSTER: Thanks a lot!

Back to top

(Music up an under)

Mail Call

CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners. "There's no question that the automobile has drastically changed our lives and landscapes," writes a listener to WDET in Detroit, after our interview with Jane Holtz Kay. She's the author of "Asphalt Nation, How the Automobile Took Over America and How We Can Take It Back." "But the problems," the listener goes on to say, "routinely laid at the doorstep of the auto industry, will not be solved by simply removing the car from our lives. Your report did not take into consideration the economic impact on the vast number of American auto workers, if Ms. Kay got her wish and cars just went away." An historical footnote to our report on efforts to control prairie dogs, out in the West, Janie Pulcifer, a listener to KUOW in Seattle, says, "Animosity towards the little critters goes way back." She writes that, "In a time when horses were the only means of transportation, a horse stepping into a prairie dog hole could bring serious tragedy." And a listener to our story about protecting the Earth from potentially contaminated samples that NASA plans to bring back from Mars, chided us for having a narrow perspective.

KENYON: My name is Kathleen Kenyon. I live in Chapel Hill. I just finished listening to, your piece this morning on, the fear that people have about bringing Martian rocks, here to Earth, that they may contaminate us. And my basic feeing is, maybe we are contaminating whatever life forms are out there. And, sometimes I laugh when I hear some of these things, because I think, "Wow, are we the most presumptuous civilization on the face of all civilizations?

CURWOOD: This may or may not console Ms. Kenyon, and others who share her concern, but, in 1967, Earth nations did sign an outer space treaty, urging scientists to avoid contaminating other planets.

Let us know what is happening in your corner of the world. Our address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. Our listener line number is 1-800-218-9988. And our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. The address of the Living on Earth web site is www.loe.org. Transcripts and tapes are $12.

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(Pipe, wind instrument, drum music up an under)

Lemur Experiment

CURWOOD: Lemurs are some of the most endangered primates in the world. Found only in Madagascar, and one group of neighboring islands, these creatures have lost fully 90% of their habitat, since humans first landed on Madagascar, 2 millennia ago. But now researchers at Duke University's Primate Center hope to give lemurs a chance at survival. This fall, they plan to introduce some captive-born lemurs into the wild. Diane Toomey has our report.

[Cage opening]

BREWER: All right, you guys. What you waited all winter for.

TOOMEY: Dave Brewer is about to make some Black-and-White Ruffed lemurs very happy. The Primate Center technician is releasing 5 of these bushy-tailed creatures from their indoor winter cage into a 10-acre forest habitat.

BREWER: Ok, here goes.

[Technician clucks encouragement. Bird sounds]

TOOMEY: Once outside, these 8-pound primates, with fox-like black snouts and Bozo-the-Clown hairstyles, mark their territory. They eagerly rub their bellies on fallen tree branches, the ground, and even on a couple of relatives, who've been wintering in another cage.

[Trills and booming calls. Bird cries.]

TOOMEY: But soon it's off to the place that they love the best: the tree tops.

BREWER: There they go up. That's where you'd find them in Madagascar. They stay on the ground a lot here just because here they have no fear. They spend most of their time up in the tops of the trees in the wild.

TOOMEY: And to the wild is where at least 3 of them will go in a few months, back to a homeland off the east coast of Africa, where they have never been, to a place where most lemurs are regarded more like squirrels than primates. So this forest is actually a pre-release boot camp. Ken Glander is the director of the Primate Center.

GLANDER: They're learning how to live under natural conditions, because there are natural predators here. We have great horned owls here. We have foxes here. We don't, know that they've ever taken a lemur, but they could, potentially, so they, the lemurs are still responding to them as they would a, a natural predator.

[Cackling calls and crying roars]

TOOMEY: Responding to predators and finding food, will be critical to the black-and-whites' survival, as the dismal record of captive-born primate reintroduction shows. For instance, several years ago, a set of orangutangs in Borneo had to be recaptured, because they were in danger of starving. But Dr. Glander thinks his primates will do better. Here in this fenced-off section of the forest, lemurs are quickly becoming expert foragers, choosing berries, flowers, and leaves as they should. Ken Glander:

GLANDER: In most cases, they have all of these behaviors, hard-wired, or instinctive. They don't have to learn them. So we are, yes, we are training them, but we're really just allowing them to develop their natural instincts. I'm much more confident that, we will be successful with the, black-and-white ruffed lemurs than other people have been with monkeys.

TOOMEY: The lemurs' new home will be the Betampon Reserve, in eastern Madagascar. Until a couple of years ago, poaching was a serious problem in the reserve, and the lemur population plummeted.

[Lemur cries and laughing sounds]

TOOMEY: But then government control of the area was transferred from a natural resource development agency, to one more inclined and better equipped to protect wildlife. And the scientists themselves plan to hire their own guards as well. Dr. Glander hopes this reintroduction attempt will be a model for future efforts, so there's a lot riding on it.

GLANDER: If our project is successful, the reintroduction is successful, that means that we can take, animals, from captivity, with their different genetic diversity, and reintroduce them into the wild and re-establish populations or rebuild populations of these animals, that are only found in Madagascar. And once they're extinct in Madagascar, and they're not in captivity, they're gone from the world.

TOOMEY: It will take a lot of hard work, luck, and education to avoid this fate. The biggest hurdle of all is the loss of the lemurs' rain forest habitat. Andrea Katzand Charlie Welch have been the Primate Center's husband and wife science team in Madagascar for the last decade. As a bunch of curious--

[mewing lemur cry]

TOOMEY:--and vocal ring-tail lemurs gathered around them, they say that loss of habitat is a problem the children of Madagascar will have to address, because today's adults just don't understand.

WELCH: They see an area that's, that's forested, that still has wildlife in it, you know, much as, much as we, used to see forest here in the United States. We can't be too self-righteous about, about it at all. But they see the forest as something for them to use. And once it's used up, it's used up.

KATZ: They'll say, "Why, why don't you study lemurs in your own country?" Well, we don't have lemurs native in our own country."

[Sputtering lemur call, then mewing lemur cry]

TOOMEY: Madagascar is also one of the poorest countries in the world. Although some species of lemurs are regarded as sacred, the grandfathers of the forest, local people are usually more concerned with their next meal than the future of lemurs

[Mewing lemur cry]

KATZ: The Malagasy, especially rurally, are very, very poor. They don't have money to buy food, and so they will hunt lemurs in certain areas. Often it's opportunistic. If they're in the forest anyway, to cut wood, or to get materials for their houses, or charcoal, they might set a lemur trap. The black-and-white ruffed lemur is also known to be one of the, the lemurs with the best meat.

TOOMEY: There's even one lemur species whose Malagasy name means,
"It takes two days to eat."

[Bicycle horn honking, lemur cry]

BREWER: You know what this is. Come on, you guys.

[Bicycle horn honks]

TOOMEY: A honking horn signals "tree time" at the Primate Center. As technician Dave Brewer doles out grapes, lemurs climb down from trees and bounce through the forest, looking like furry sprites. The grape trick lures the lemurs back to their cages for things like medical checkups.

[Grape-munching sounds]

TOOMEY: In Madagascar, researcher will track the released lemurs with radio collars for at least 3 years, longer if they can raise
the money.

[Mewing lemur cry]

TOOMEY: While the lemurs learn to forage in their new home, they'll get some food handouts to help them along. But scientists say they'd be naive to believe all the animals they reintroduce will flourish. Researchers Katz and Welch say the reintroduction effort is a race against extinction for the black-and-whites--and what the lemurs really need is probably lost forever: large expanses of primary forest, on Madagascar, like the one French naturalist Philipp du Commerso wrote of, in 1771.

[Lemur calls, lemur whoops]

TOOMEY: Nature seems to have retreated there into a private sanctuary, where she could work on different models from any she had used elsewhere. There you meet bizarre and marvelous forms at every step. What an admirable country, this Madagascar. For Living on Earth, I'm Diane Toomey.

Back to top

[Lemur brays, laughs, cries, mews]

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production team includes Dan Grossman, Liz Lempert, Peter Shaw, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Julia Madeson, Peter Christianson, Jesse Wegman, and Susan Shepherd. We had help this week from Jill Hecht and Carlos Davidson. Peter Thomson heads our western bureau. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. Our program is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. Our engineers are Walter Dixon at WBUR, and Jeff Martini at Harvard. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

[Lemur calls, cries, mews]

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund, and the George Gund Foundation, for Great Lakes reporting; and the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues.

(Lemur calls and music up and under)

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