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

May 30, 1997

Air Date: May 30, 1997


The Silent Epidemic - Part One / Deirdre Kennedy

Even tiny amounts of lead can have devastating effects on the brains of young children, and there is evidence that millions of American children have been poisoned. While there are no obvious physical symptoms of low-level lead poisoning, research shows these youngsters have much higher rates of learning disabilities, are far more likely to drop out of school, and are more prone to get into trouble with the law. In the first of our series, Deirdre Kennedy reports on some of the latest research and how parents can help protect their children. (09:08)

Kids & Trees / Amy Benedict

Many of us long for ways to re-connect to the natural world, and commentator Amy Benedict says no one has a better feel for natural pleasures than children. She offers this story about her daughter, and an experience that happened close to home. (03:30)


In Britain, recent elections swept the Labor Party into power. The fate of environmental issues now rests with the new Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Deputy John Prescott. Joining us from London to discuss the new ruling party and their environmental agenda is BBC environment correspondent Margaret Gilmore. (05:17)

Listener Letters

Recent audience mail on whales, salmon, and semantics. (02:28)

The Living On Earth Almanac

Facts about... 120 years of the Fresh Air Fund. (01:15)


The fall of Zaire's leader Mobuto Sese Seko has seen the creation of a new government and a new name: the Democratic Republic of Congo. But what will the future hold for the vast ecology of the Congo? This African nation has the largest expanse of tropical forest of any country in the world apart from Brazil, along with vast mineral reserves and many unique animal species. John Hart, a scientist at New York’s Wildlife Conservation Society has worked in Congo’s Ituri Forest for over twenty years where he helped establish the Center for Forest Conservation and Research. He tells host Steve Curwood the change of government offers both promise and peril for this extraordinary country. (06:07)


The U-S Forest Service has released its management plan for the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska; the 17 million acre temperate rainforest that is home to two identified rare species. Environmental activists have sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to have the species listed as endangered, and plaintiffs in the case say logging destroys this hawk and wolf habitat. The judge gave a June 3rd deadline for response from Fish and Wildlife. Meanwhile, the Forest Service has gone ahead with a Plan which angers conservationists and loggers alike. Lisa Nurnberger reports. (04:31)


Sitting on a windswept escarpment over Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the Petroglyphs National Monument where carvings were etched into giant boulders centuries ago by ancestors of today’s Pueblo people. Now local developers and city officials want to put a road through the Petroglyphs. The Department of Interior, which runs the site, says such a plan violates the laws protecting national parks. But the road may get a go-ahead from a special bill before Congress anyway. Richard Mahler reports from Albuquerque. (06:25)

World War over Toothfish?

Antarctica is ruled by consensus of the 23 nations who form the Antarctica Treaty. But tensions have been mounting over fishing boats that are illegally catching increasingly rare toothfish, also known in the U.S. as: Chilean Sea Bass. Beth Clark, Director of the Antarctica Project, says boats from treaty members Spain, Norway and possibly the U-S, are flying flags of convenience and pursuing the fish. France and Britain have deployed warships to Antarctic waters, and New Zealand has sent up surveillance planes to stop the poachers. Ms. Clark, a member of the U-S delegation to this year’s Antarctica Treaty meeting, spoke to us by phone from the site of this year’s convention, Christchurch, New Zealand, and she told Steve Curwood that the toothfish may now be endangered. (04:41)

The Pruner / Jane Brox

Since her father’s death a year and a half ago, writer Jane Brox has learned a lot about running her family’s farm in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. This spring it was pruning the apple trees. The task brought her face to face with the wounds of previous seasons, her place on the farm, and the passage of time. Commentator Jane Brox is author of Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and its Family. from Beacon Press. (02:50)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: James, Jones, Willy Albright, Neal Rauch, Deirdre Kennedy,
Lisa Nurnberger, Richard Mahler
GUESTS: Margaret Gilmore, John Hart, Beth Clark
COMMENTATORS: Amy Benedict, Jane Brox

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
The silent epidemic of lead poisoning continues among children, with research showing that lead is linked to learning disabilities and behavior problems.

NEEDLEMAN: Mothers have observed, I hear regularly in the clinic, their child was an angel, got lead poison and now she can't manage him.

CURWOOD: How you can protect your child. Also, the greening of Britain's new prime minister.

GILMORE: During the election campaign he was sitting at the breakfast table, and his young son was making some comments about how, you know, dull politics tended to be. Tony Blair said to his son, "Well, what would we have to do to perk things up a bit?" And he said, "Well, dad, why don't you do something about the environment?" And at that point Tony Blair thought, hey, are we missing a trick here?

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more, plus your letters, coming up this
week on Living on Earth. First news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. The Environmental Protection Agency has gone on the offensive against critics of its proposed clean air standards for ozone and particulate matter. The EPA's top official faced off with industry opponents at a recent debate. James Jones has more from Washington.

JONES: EPA Administrator Carol Browner hit back at a campaign she said is designed to scuttle her agency's proposal to tighten health-based smog and particulate matter standards. Industry groups and some in Congress have blasted studies supporting the tighter standards, and have argued that the costs of complying with the proposal would be unnecessarily high. But Browner said her opponents are simply engaging in scare tactics.

BROWNER: Some have literally put forth wild claims suggesting that I, Carol Browner, am interested in taking away your barbecue grill, your Fourth of July fireworks, your lawnmowers, you name it, we're out to ruin life as we know it in the United States. Absolutely, positively, not true.

JONES: Browner added that despite a huge amount of public comment on the standards, no new information has emerged that would lead her to question the scientific basis for the proposal. For Living on Earth, this is James Jones in Washington.

MULLINS: The Federal Government will make official its policy not to enforce the Endangered Species Act on lands that have habitat conservation plans. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service propose making this unofficial no surprises policy permanent. The measure encourages landowners to set aside land for conservation in exchange for security against future restrictions if endangered species are found on their land. Environmental groups have opposed the policy for years because they say it closes the door on increasing protection of species if new evidence of declines are found.

Solectria Corporation's electric car has set a world record by traveling 249 miles without recharging its battery. The car, a converted Geo Metro, won in its division the American Tour de Sol, a 5-day solar and electric vehicle race through New England. Toyota's entry, an electric sport utility vehicle, relied on a second electric car for maintenance and emergencies: the first electric chase car in the tour's history. The Charger electric bicycle took first place in its category, easily outpacing the competition in spite of a minor accident involving a bike chain.

The Supreme Court has opened the door to a wide range of lawsuits in private property cases. The Justices ruled that a California woman trying to build a home at Lake Tahoe should have her day in court. Willy Albright of member station KUNR in Reno reports.

ALBRIGHT: In 1989 Bernadette Suitum sought a permit to build a house on land she owned at Lake Tahoe. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency denied the permit because the lot is near an environmentally sensitive stream. Suitum sued, saying the Agency's denial constituted an unlawful taking of property. But lower courts threw out the case because Suitum hadn't yet tried to sell her development rights. The Supreme Court has ruled that Suitum should have her day in court after all. Suitum's attorney is claiming victory, but so is the planning agency because the court's ruling leaves in place its policy of trading development rights for environmentally sensitive land. For Living on Earth, I'm Willy Albright in Truckee, California.

MULLINS: Up to 100 endangered Mediterranean monk seals have died off the coast of Mauritania since mid-May, according to Spanish researchers. The death toll has claimed over a quarter of the world's population of Mediterranean monk seal. The scientists attribute the deaths to a proliferation of naturally occurring toxic algae off the West African coast. Only about 50 adult seals now remain in the monk seal colony off Mauritania. The researchers are considering capturing them and feeding them uncontaminated food until the toxic algae goes away.

Pornography is not the only kind of dirt that's leaving Times Square in New York City. A new green skyscraper being built will be the largest environmentally friendly structure in the world. Neal Rauch reports.

RAUCH: The Durst Organization is building a 48-story office building that will depend on natural gas-fired fuel cells to generate one third of its electricity. And less electricity will be needed to begin with, since the air conditioning will also use gas. On the roof, solar panels will produce enough energy for 9 suburban homes, though they will only provide 1-1/2% of the skyscraper's power needs. Special glass will let in more natural light but not more heat, and 2 recycling chutes will allow pre-sorting of waste materials. The architects say the additional costs of making the building environmentally sensitive will recovered through energy savings. For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.

MULLINS: And in Bristol, Vermont, a new trash man will be collecting rubbish -- with a horse and carriage. The town's selectmen picked Patrick Palmer and his 2 draft horses over 3 other bidders, 2 of them with trucks. Palmer charges more for his services, but the selectmen said he adds to the town's charm. It takes Palmer all day to cover the 8-mile route. He travels it twice, once to pick up the trash and once to pick up recycling.

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

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The Silent Epidemic - Part One

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
More than 20 years ago the United States banned the use of the metal lead in gasoline and household paint. While overall exposure to lead in this country does seem to be dropping, there is still plenty of lead dust on the ground from its previous use in fuels and paints. And many homes still have significant amounts of lead pipes and paint inside. Adults are relatively immune to small exposures. But even minute amounts of lead can have devastating effects on the brains of young children, and there is evidence that millions of American children have been poisoned. There are no obvious symptoms of low-level lead poisoning, but research shows exposed youngsters have much higher rates of learning disabilities, are far more likely to drop out of school, and are more prone to become delinquent. In the first of our series on the silent lead epidemic, Deirdre Kennedy reports on some of the latest research, and how parents can help protect their children.

(News music intro. News announcer: "A government report released today says the nation's playground equipment is too often covered in dangerous lead-based paint...")

KENNEDY: When the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported last year that it found high lead levels in playgrounds across the country, it made news headlines and alarmed many parents.
ANNOUNCER: Researchers came to that conclusion after testing 26 playgrounds. One of those playgrounds is in San Francisco. Rita Williams is in the city tonight with a live report for us.

WILLIAMS: Dennis, parents have so many things to worry about...

KENNEDY: Most people know that children can be exposed to lead paint when they live in dilapidated housing. But investigators found that playgrounds can be just as dangerous. They said even if a child is only exposed to a tiny amount of lead, if the exposure is repeated, it can lead to lead poisoning in a short period of time. Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesperson Ann Brown.

BROWN: A child could have high blood lead levels by ingesting a paint chip about the size of the top of a pencil eraser for 15 to 30 days.

(Traffic in the background. A nail scrapes on metal)

STOERMER: That comes off pretty easily with a fingertip there.

KENNEDY: In San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Hillary Stoermer chips flecks of paint off a jungle gym where hundreds of tiny little hands have rubbed away the surface paint. She's an industrial hygienist for San Francisco, one of the cities named as a hot spot for playground lead.

(Children laughing and whooping)

STOERMER: Here's where the classic kid picking the paint chip and putting it in their mouth comes into play.

(Playground noises in the background)

KENNEDY: Experts say very small children are more likely to get lead poisoned than older children because they put everything in their mouths.

(Child: "Hey!" Shouts more, unintelligible)

KENNEDY: Lead is sweet, so children tend to keep eating it once they discover it. But Hillary Stoermer says a child doesn't actually have to eat the lead to get it into his system.

STOERMER: The paint deteriorates. It chalks, it flakes off. And it ends up as dust. And they play on it, they get it on their clothes. So here, what you're mostly worried about is the kids actually touching it, getting it on their hands, and then boom, the hands go right in the mouth.

KENNEDY: Children's health advocates say parents can do a lot to protect their children's health just by carrying wet wipes and washing their kids' hands often. They can also ask their local health department to test playgrounds and other public sites for lead. Hillary Stoermer says the flaking paint in this playground doesn't have lead in it. But, she says, just because paint is brand new, that doesn't mean it's lead free. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, there's no limit on the amount of lead used in the industrial paint used on most of the nation's roadways and bridges. And it's deteriorating and releasing a fine lead dust into the atmosphere every day.

(Children yelling, laughing, screaming)

KENNEDY: Playgrounds are just one of the many places where a child can come in contact with lead. The National Lead Task Force estimates that more than half of the homes built before 1978 contain some lead paint. Lead can also be hidden in soil, plumbing, and pottery, and even in some traditional home remedies. Over the past 30 years, standards for lead exposure have been made tougher. Today, a child is considered in danger at just a sixth of the blood lead level that would have prompted concern a generation ago. But nobody really knows at what level lead begins to interfere with children's ability to learn and to adapt t their surroundings.

(Blocks hitting a hard surface)

DIETRICH: Let's see how I made a train. Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch -- whoooo!

KENNEDY: Behavioral psychologist Ken Dietrich at the University of Cincinnati is testing a 2-year-old girl to see if she's developing normally.

DIETRICH: I like that train. I do.

KENNEDY: As she clumsily stacks blocks on top of each other, she looks like a normal shy toddler. But Dr. Dietrich says to a trained professional, she shows signs of severe lead poisoning.

DIETRICH: She showed very poor motor development. She had shown a decline in her cognitive development. And she also showed poor stability and balance on that day. Now, those sorts of changes in behavior aren't unique to lead. It could have been due to other factors. But her blood lead concentration was later found to be around 140 micrograms per deciliter when I tested her on that day, and we were dealing with a child that was neurobehaviorally symptomatic for lead poisoning.

KENNEDY: Such severe lead poisoning can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. This child was immediately hospitalized and treated with drugs to flush the lead out of her blood. But the effects of lead poisoning are irreversible. It can cause permanent damage to the brain and other organs, which becomes more severe depending on the length of exposure. Even in a rare severe case like this one, Dr. Dietrich says the only symptoms the girl's mother noticed were that she was walking into objects and complaining of a sore tummy. It turns out the child had been eating paint chips inside her home for several months.

BOY: Hysterical. Pedestrian, Mathe -- math --

KENNEDY: In Pittsburgh, a teenage boy reads a vocabulary list as part of a study by lead researcher Dr. Herbert Needleman.

BOY: Almanac --

KENNEDY: Dr. Needleman has been studying the long-term effects of less severe lead poisoning on learning and social skills.

BOY: Instigator --

KENNEDY: He's found that children with moderate blood lead levels are 7 times more likely to drop out of high school. Dr. Needleman is also studying a possible link between lead poisoning and delinquency in teenagers.

NEEDLEMAN: Mothers have observed, I hear regularly in the clinic, that her child was an angel, got lead poison, and now she can't manage him.

KENNEDY: To test his theory, Dr. Needleman x-rayed the bones of 301 12-year-old boys. Lead can be stored in the bones for decades, and can be an indicator of past exposure. Dr. Needleman found out that boys with high bone lead were more likely to have problems getting along in school and at home.

NEEDLEMAN: Children with higher lead in their bone had more attention disorders, had more aggressive behavior, and were more likely to be delinquent. So we think this means that our hunch was right. That lead is related to the amount of delinquency in our society.

KENNEDY: Dr. Needleman believes that once lead gets into the brain it can affect a child's ability to tell right from wrong.

NEEDLEMAN: One of the essential functions of the brain is to mediate between the stimulus and the response. In other words, you see something that you want and the response would be go get it. But the human brain says no, that's not allowed by law or by custom. So that we have to learn to slow down our responses and think about the consequences and lead appears to interfere with that very important function.

KENNEDY: Dr. Needleman's conclusions are still controversial among people who work in the field. And his results have yet to be replicated. Some lead experts say the group he tested was too small, and they question his definition of delinquency.

(Children shouting)

KENNEDY: But whether lead poisoning leads to delinquency or it just makes it harder for children to learn, childhood lead experts agree that it's one more factor that robs children of the opportunity to reach their full potential. Karen Cohen of San Francisco's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

COHEN: If you think back on your own school education, we have many people who failed school. But those were just children who failed school. We didn't have any names for it. We didn't have any learning disabilities defined. They just didn't do well in school. Now we're at the era where we have labels for things, and children get diagnosed with different types of learning disabilities. And we know that lead has to be one of the contributing factors to that.

KENNEDY: The only way parents can really know if their children are being exposed to lead is to have them tested. Health experts recommend testing at 12 months and then at 2 years. Many city and county health departments provide free or low-cost blood testing, and they can also help parents track down the source of the lead exposure. For Living on Earth, I'm Deirdre Kennedy in San Francisco.

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(Children continue shouting and laughing)

CURWOOD: Be sure to tune in next week as our series on lead poisoning continues.

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Kids & Trees

CURWOOD: With so many hazards to avoid in the human-made world, many of us long for ways to reconnect with the natural one. We hike or bike or sometimes take expensive trips to distant wild places. But commentator Amy Benedict says no one has a better feel for natural pleasures than children.

BENEDICT: When my 5-year-old Isabella discovered that a section of a large oak tree had fallen into our neighborhood park, she was immediately drawn to the dark sturdy limbs and catacomb branches. On that first day, she climbed. On the second day, when no friends would join her in her tree, she perched high in the center and sang at the top of her lungs into the wind. Later, she stretched out like a cat, her arms wrapped around the largest limb. I was moved by the intimate connection she seemed to be allowing herself. After several moments, I looked over and Isabella had disappeared. The wind paused, and I heard her crying. She had rolled off.

On the third day, Isabella had a friend over who shares a similar passion for pretend in the out of doors. They packed a picnic basket and set up house in the tree. They rode its wild horse branches. They came and went from the tree like a true friend that would always be there. On the fourth day, disaster. Oh dear Bella, I said, they've come and cut up the tree. She bolted up the hill to see for herself, and as I feared, she was devastated. Sobbing, she sat amidst the rubble of logs and piled branches, head down, in deep mourning. This is awful, she cried.

She did not want to be consoled. She wanted to be left alone. She ran away. I let her go.

A bit later, Isabella asked me, why did they have to cut up the tree? And I explained how this park is different from the woods that we visit. How the nature here is kept tidy. The trees go here, the grass goes there, I explained. She got it. But still, she was sad.

Other children and friends arrived, and Isabella was able to be among them as they milled around, talking about the tree and the park workers who cut it up. Many echoed the sentiment that it was so awful, so sad.

Inspired by their energy and spirit, I pulled the logs into ring and suggested they have a ceremony to say goodbye to the tree. Immediately their eyes flashed, and several children rushed up the hill together and sat in the circle. Isabella spoke in a clear voice about the tree. Tree songs were sung. Tree stories were told. A little bag of cookies was brought out, broken, and shared 'round the circle. We acted out the story of that great fallen branch, from sapling to woodcutters.

Those wise children had found reverence, levity, and a simple healing. And my daughter Isabella? She looked euphoric.

CURWOOD: Writer Amy Benedict lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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CURWOOD: As Britain's Labor Party settles down to governing, we get an environmental assessment. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. One of the loudest voices criticizing US environmental policies, particularly on energy and global climate change issues, has been the British government. Under Conservative Prime Minister John Major, Britain was a leader in calling for curbs on greenhouse gas emissions. But the Conservatives are gone now, replaced by Labor, and Britain's policy on the environment is now being made by its new Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his deputy John Prescott. Joining us from London now to discuss the new ruling party and its environmental agenda is BBC Environment Correspondent Margaret Gilmore. Margaret, thanks for joining us.

GILMORE: My pleasure.

CURWOOD: Now, the first thing I like to ask, what is there in Tony Blair's record as a politician that gives us an indication of how he feels about the environment?

GILMORE: There's a story I have on the best authority that during the election campaign, he was sitting at the breakfast table, and his young son was making some comments about how, you know, dull politics tended to be. Tony Blair said to his son, "Well, what would we have to do to perk things up a bit?" And he said, "Well, dad, why don't you do something about the environment?" And at that point Tony Blair thought, hey, are we missing a trick here? As for his record, well, old Labor, you know, we have visions of them 15 years ago fueling, in a way, the battles to save the old coal mines. They've come right 'round now. We now realize that there was an environmental issue there that wasn't tackled by Labor at that time, and I think they've probably again swung away from that and realized that they are going to have to do something about fossil fuels, about emissions, about fumes. But they do have a problem, you see, because one of the things that the Labor Party has promised is to stimulate jobs and growth. In order to do that, they will probably need to push new developments, build new houses, you know, push limits out into the countryside. Do all the sorts of things that are going to fight all their environmental aspirations.

CURWOOD: Margaret, tell us about the series of pollution taxes that Labor has proposed.

GILMORE: The things they're thinking about are first of all a pollution tax, which is like -- at the moment we all get taxed for using our cars, and we all get taxed to fix them, whether we have a Rolls Royce or a tiny little Mini Minor. But what they're going to do is instead grade that system, so the smaller your car the less you pay. On top of that, though, the more efficient your car is, so if you have a very big old car you'll be paying more than a very big new car, and much more than an efficient little car. Do you see what I mean?


GILMORE: So all sorts of different ways of grading. On top of that there will be what they call sort of congestion taxes. Whereby companies building new offices will, if they're going to be bringing cars into the area, they'll have to pay more to do that. They will instead be encouraged to have a company bus bringing workers in. They will also only be permitted a small number of car parking spaces underneath their office block. And the other thing they're looking at, and this is something that the conservative government was also testing, it's quite a controversial thing and it's the idea of the road tax. Our big problem is the city centers. What you're going to have is like a smart card in your car, and you will actually be paying as you go into the city. An amount will be deducted from your little smart card.

CURWOOD: In terms of greenhouses gas emissions, Britain has been particularly aggressive on this issue in the past. Do you think this momentum will continue?

GILMORE: I think that it probably will not continue at such a rate. The Conservative government was very keen to be seen as a world leader in reducing greenhouse gases, and certainly Britain has a very good record. It's ahead of all its targets at the moment. It's met fairly or comparatively low targets in order to try and bring out the countries in Europe. And ultimately, also, to bring the great polluter, the greatest polluter in the world, which is the USA at the moment, to bring them on board, too. It was felt that -- the conservatives felt that if they said 10% reductions over the next 20 years, that was something that the USA might, might just come on board with. The Labor government, on the other hand, is saying no, we'll go it alone if we have to, but we're going to reduce these emissions in the next 20 years by 20%. That's a pretty strong target to go for. And environmental groups, even environmental groups, are asking well, is that really achievable?

CURWOOD: Here in the United States, the previous conservative president, Republican George Bush, came in saying he'd be the environmental president. Clinton came in making pledges that he would be very environmental. But many analysts look at the records of the two presidencies side by side and see that Bush pushed through far more environmental legislation than Clinton has managed to so far. I'm wondering, if we look back in history, will we likely say that oh, the Conservatives were in fact stronger on the environment than Labor?

GILMORE: I think in the last 5 years we've seen a Conservative government that has been strong on global environment issues. But you know, it's very difficult to tell. If Labor do, and they certainly have shown that they have a will to change the law. But you know, changing one or two laws in the very beginning is one thing. Let's see whether, as the year goes on and we go into next year, whether they're actually going to fulfill those promises. A lot of which were quite wishy-washy.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us.

GILMORE: My pleasure. Really interesting to talk to you.

CURWOOD: Margaret Gilmore is the environmental reporter for the BBC. She spoke to us from London.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now it's time to dig into our mail bag and hear from you, our listeners.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our recent report on a proposed salt plan for San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, California, focused on possible effects on the whales that winter there. Listener Amy Siedel spent 2 winters at the lagoon observing sea birds and says humans live there, too. She writes, "The people are by and large fishermen. They live simply and feel graced by the whales' presence. We must do anything we can to prevent the lagoon from being developed. Not only for the wild animals that depend on it for sanctuary, but for the people whose lives would undoubtedly lose their simplicity."

Mark Buckley, who listens to KMXT in Kodiak, Alaska, says he wishes our report on the designation of the Coho salmon as threatened in northern California and southern Oregon had mentioned that the fish's habitat ranges north to the Bering Sea in Alaska.

BUCKLEY: We in Alaska have a very productive Coho or silver salmon fishery here. Many of the fishermen who fish for these salmon are themselves greenies or environmentalists, because we recognize that if the habitat is shot, if the environment is shot, then our livelihoods go down, too. We're small boat fishermen. If you want the people, the stakeholders involved in Alaska, to keep making the necessary work to hold our habitat back from development and back from exploitation here, you need to recognize that we are here and our business is important, too. Thank you.

CURWOOD: Finally, Julie Levi-Weston, who listens to WMFE in Orlando, Florida, wrote us about our use of language. "Most people, including the media, seem to use the phrase "the environment" when talking about this biosphere we all share. Perhaps if you would use the words 'our environment' more often, people would realize that our environment is not just those pretty parks and mountains, but our home."

If you want to drop us a line, here's where you can send your comments and suggestions. Write to Living on Earth, 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. That's 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And our listener line is 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Check out our web site at www.loe.org. Transcripts and tapes are $12.

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

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream.
1-800-PROCOWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter; and Jennifer and Ted Stanley.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Ancient people made their mark in the deserts of New Mexico by inscribing rocks with sacred drawings. Now the people of Albuquerque want to make their own mark in the desert, with a road through the Petroglyph National Monument. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

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(Theme music up and under)

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

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The Living On Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: This summer over 10,000 New York City children can look forward to some fresh air, thanks to the Fresh Air Fund, which turns 120 this year. It was in 1877 that the Reverend Willard Parsons, a minister in the small town of Sherman, Pennsylvania, thought to give poor children from the city a chance to experience the beauty and serenity of fertile, unspoiled land. The reverend asked his congregation to host poor children living in New York City tenements. That year, 9 children left the city for country vacations. They learned to farm and they caught fish from the Delaware River. One young girl, Charlotte Buchanan, had such a good time she moved to Sherman permanently. Since then, over 1.6 million disadvantaged children have participated in the program. Each summer about 3,000 kids attend Fresh Air Fund camps in upstate New York. Another 7,000 youngsters live with host families in 13 states and provinces of the eastern US and Canada. And yes, some still go to Sherman to take care of the farm animals and fish in the Delaware. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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CURWOOD: The fall of Zaire strong man Mobuto Sese Seko has seen the creation of a new government and a new name: the Democratic Republic of Congo. But what will the government of Laurent Kabila mean for the vast ecology of the Congo? This african nation, which is about as big as the eastern half of the United States, has the largest expanse of tropical forest of any country in the world apart from Brazil, vast mineral reserves, and many species of animals found nowhere else. John Hart, a scientist at New York's Wildlife Conservation Society, has been working in Congo's Ituri Forest for over 20 years. He helped establish the Center for Forest Conservation and Research there. And he says the change in governments offers both promise and peril for this extraordinary country.

HART: What's extraordinary about it is in a continent which is generally quite dry, the Congo really has water. It contains most of the watershed of the Zaire River, second only to the Amazon in what comes out, in volume, out of its mouth. And it contains over a million square kilometers of tropical, moist forest, which is exceptional in a continent where much of the area is covered with scrub land, much drier types of habitats.

CURWOOD: How much of that forest is left after all these years under Mobutu?

HART: Well, actually, the -- in addition to the forest, it has tremendous mineral wealth. And during the Colonial period, much of the interest in exploitation of Zaire's resource base was focused on the minerals.

CURWOOD: And when you say minerals you're talking about gold and diamonds.

HART: Gold and diamonds are among the most prominent, but cobalt is also there, and copper, tin, uranium.

CURWOOD: Now, under the Mobutu regime, he concentrated much of his effort in making his wealth from the gold and the diamonds and the cobalt and the copper, and didn't take too much out of the forests, is that right?

HART: That's correct. Basically, so much -- well, there was quite an extensive infrastructure left in the mining area in Shaba, which is in southeastern Zaire, where the cobalt was come. Other minerals, such as gold and diamonds, could be acquired with a minimum of infrastructure. In fact, basically panned right out of the streams or dug out of the gravels, in the case of diamonds. And Mobutu simply arranged to have the traders that were exporting these leave him a certain cut. So as a result, there was no interest in the part of his regime in developing any infrastructure for the mining sector. It was simply --

CURWOOD: By that you mean roads and that sort of thing.

HART: That's right. That's right. They were simply interested in taking what they could. Now, forest exploitation in contrast demands infrastructure. You have to -- the logs can't be carried out in people's pockets like the gold and the diamonds. And so you have to have roads. You have to have the machines to build the roads come in. You have to have people who can repair and maintain these machines. And since the distances into these forest areas, and the forests that were being exploited, were so remote from the coast and from the markets, that tended to diminish any real interest in opening up these large, these forest areas, especially those that were remote. And this served in large measure to protect them.

CURWOOD: So in other words, Mobutu had enough swag from the diamonds and the gold and the minerals. He didn't need to make roads so he could cash in on his logs.

HART: That's it. And there was the other -- there was another twist, a more cynical one, which is actually one that many Zairians adhere to. And that is that he also preferred to have the roads and the transportation, all the transportation infrastructure and communication infrastructure, deteriorate. As it was easier to maintain control over a disorganized, unconnected population.

CURWOOD: With this new regime, will you expect to see more roads being built, and therefore the rate of logging to pick up?

HART: Indeed we will. And in fact, even before the administration was firmly in place in the eastern part of the country, road building was moving ahead, in some cases organized by local chambers of commerce in some of the towns. And among the first things that will come out of those, along those roads, especially into the forest, will be logs cut by small hand-operators, but paving the way certainly for larger operations. So, while the new regime has certainly expressed an interest in sustainable use of its resources and its forest resources, there still will be a very vulnerable period of time before which the legislation, the knowledge, and the management can be put into place, during which these forests remain very much at risk.

CURWOOD: Now, John, you founded the Center for Forest Conservation and Research, where people learn how to protect and study the forest plants and animals in Zaire, in the Congo. Has the new government of Laurent Kabila said anything about whether you can continue your work?

HART: Actually, we've just begun negotiations with them, so it will be quite interesting to see what their priorities will be. My hunch is that they're going to be more interested in crash courses in training foresters and park guards, and less interested in the esoteric study of chimpanzees and honey eating. However, the fact that they're making conservation an important issue, or an issue even of concern at this point, where so much is tenuous in that country, indicates in our minds something of a favorable commitment. And we'll advance -- we'll see how things go, but we're ready to engage.

CURWOOD: Well, thank you very much for sharing your views and opinions gathered during what -- more than 20 years in the Congo in Zaire. John Hart is a scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. Thank you,sir.

HART: Thank you very much.

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CURWOOD: The art of pruning from commentator Jane Brox. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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CURWOOD: After many delays, the US Forest Service has released its management plan for the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. The nation's largest temperate rainforest spans 17 million acres, and is home to at least 2 rare species, the Alexander Archipelago wolf, and the Queen Charlotte goshawk. Several environmental activists have sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to have the 2 rare species listed as endangered. The plaintiffs in the case say logging is destroying the habitat of the hawk and wolf, and the Federal judge involved set a June 3rd hearing for a response from Fish and Wildlife. In the meantime, in an attempt to avoid being ensnared by the lawsuit as it was during the spotted owl litigation in Oregon and Washington, the Forest Service has gone ahead with a land management plan that is drawing fire from conservationists and loggers alike. Lisa Nurnberger reports.

NURNBERGER: The biggest issue facing the Forest Service was how much logging to allow in the Tongass. The new management plan sets an annual logging limit of between 220 and 267 million board feet. That's about half of what was allowed under the old plan, issued in 1979, when the Forest Service admits it knew a lot less about wildlife conservation. But environmental activists say it's still too much. Brian McNitt is the spokesperson for the Sitka Conservation Society, which has lobbied for the Queen Charlotte Goshawk and Alexander Archipelago Wolf to be listed as endangered. Mr. McNitt says the new harvest level is about twice what it should be.

McNITT: It just continues business as usual, and that means that timber and the timber industry are the main focus of management on the forest.

NURNBERGER: But the timber industry calls the revised plan inadequate, saying it's not enough timber to keep open the few small sawmills that remain and draw in new businesses that would replace pulp mills, which have closed in Ketchikan and Rangel. The mills were the largest employers in those towns. Ketchikan Borough Mayor Jack Shea says his borough, the city of Rangel, and the Alaska Forest Association, will appeal the plan. Mayor Shea says its limited logging would damage the town's efforts to salvage its waning timber industry.

SHEA: Ketchikan Pulp Company is interested in putting up a veneer plant, but of course the success of that would depend upon the level of timber harvest that would be afforded. We also have had several more bids of interest in making ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, for the Anchorage market, and we were looking forward to using some of the pulp grade logs for doing this.

NURNBERGER: Ketchikan Pulp closed its doors in March. Mayor Shea says generous severance packages, unemployment, and retraining programs are keeping displaced workers afloat for now. But he predicts the effects of the closure will soon kick in hard. The Forest Service acknowledges the significance of the timber industry in southeast Alaska, but jobs are not its only mandate. It must also show that it's protecting wildlife habitat, especially for the goshawk and wolf, or risk the consequences of endangered species listings. A listing of one or both animals could mean the Forest Service would face continuing challenge to its timber sales in the Tongass, like those that plagued the northwest timber industry when the northern spotted owl was listed. US Fish and Wildlife Service is due to decide whether to list the animals as endangered. But Phil Janick, the Tongass regional forester, believes the Agency won't need to make the designations, because his new land management plan balances commercial and environmental values.

JANICK: I am confident it will sustain all forest resources over the long haul. We have been very attentive to the needs of the wolf in the strategy that you see here. We believe that the habitat strategy we have provided here in this plan does meet and exceed the needs of those two species.

NURNBERGER: Those needs include old growth forest, and Mr. Janick says the 10-year plan preserves 92% of all old growth. He says more than a million acres of old growth will be set aside as habitat conservation areas, which will be connected by other undisturbed areas. And the forester says 1,000-foot no-cut zones along beaches and river mouths will protect wildlife habitat as well. But the Sitka Conservation Society still isn't convinced. Brian McNitt is sure Fish and Wildlife won't buy the plan.

McNITT: It's devastating for both those species if the fish and wildlife service had any hope at all of avoiding listing before the new plan came out. I think that's gone now. I think this new plan assures that the listing of the wolf and the goshawk are going to have to go forward.

NURNBERGER: The Forest Service plan is scheduled to go into effect in mid-July. It's likely to face a number of obstacles along the way, however, including appeals and Congressional intervention. For Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Nurnberger.

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CURWOOD: Sitting on a windswept escarpment looming over Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the Petroglyphs National Monument. Thousands of ancient, sacred carvings were etched into rock faces there. Stick figures of deer, bear, rabbit, and the humpbacked flute player Kokopelli drawn centuries ago by ancestors of today's Pueblo people. The monument is located in an urban area. Homes are built right up to its eastern boundary. And one of the city's busiest streets, Paseo del Norte, dead-ends at the park. Local developers and city officials want a road built through the Petroglyphs to serve new homes under construction on the other side of the park. The Department of Interior says such a road would violate the laws protecting national monuments. But the road may get the go-ahead anyway, if a special bill before Congress passes. Richard Mahler reports.


WANAHKEE: Some of these are very, very old. And this, maybe a thousand, two thousand years old. Now once they're destroyed, once they're removed, defaced, that's it. That's one of a kind gone.

MAHLER: Bill Wanahkee walks among the black volcanic boulders of Petroglyph National Monument with a sad look in his eyes. The Native American activist feels sorrow for his ancestors, whose spirits and traditions are as much a part of these hills as the prickly pear and rabbit brush.

WANAHKEE: Our churches look like this. They're not enclosed, a lot of them are not enclosed. They're on top of mountains, in valleys, and just because we're not enclosed in a box the powers that be can't understand that once you start digging through here you're digging through sacred ground. If I asked you to build a road through your church, would you do it? I mean, is it okay with you? And then how come you do it with ours?

MAHLER: A few miles from where Wanahkee strolls, Bill Fuller is talking about roads and churches, too.

FULLER: This major Catholic church would disappear, and that church has over 5,000 members in it.

MAHLER: The President of the Paradise Hills Civic Association worries that if a shortcut is not built through the Petroglyphs, suburban growth will force expansion of his neighborhood's main street into a 6-lane thoroughfare.

FULLER: The Loews shopping centers and the Texaco station and it all stops at the end of the street there. That entire area would go. You'd end up with about 140 homes being removed. So you take that much damage to a community and, you know, that's why everybody's opposed to it out here.

(Sounds of hammering, a drill)

MAHLER: The problem is that Albuquerque is growing. Seven years ago, when it was created, Petroglyph National Monument was on the western fringe of the city, a place where suburbia and wilderness did not yet meet. Now, a 15,000- home subdivision called Black Ranch is planned for the other side of the Petroglyphs. Unless a short cut is built through the monument, commuters will have to snake through quiet, established communities like Paradise Hills. Larry Weaver is President of the West Side Coalition of Neighborhood Associations. He says local residents are being squeezed by forces beyond their control, with quality of life hanging in the balance.

WEAVER: We have set up a situation where there is a significant conflict of interest.
I think it sort of points out, you know, the lack of foresight given to planning, where we locate monuments, okay? It's -- I don't know that any one person or any one group can be found at fault, but there is a considerable amount of tension over this. The debate here, in my opinion, has turned very ugly. And once we had consensus on this. I just don't understand how it's broken down, but it has broken down.

MAHLER: For the moment, plans to build the shortcut are on hold, because Federal laws prohibit construction of new roads in national parks that do not serve park purposes. But New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici has introduced a bill in Congress that would allow the project to move forward.

(Trucks, construction sounds)

MAHLER: Critics say the shortcut is a perfect example of how uncontrolled growth is spoiling the landscape across the West. They say it is time to put the brakes on urban sprawl. Albuquerque's congestion can be eased, opponents argue, by improving existing roads and saying no to developers who want to create subdivisions in the desert west of the Petroglyphs. Ike Eastvold is a spokesman for the Community Coalition fighting the Paseo del Norte extension.

EASTVOLD: We're losing our air quality. We're having carnage on the highways from traffic fatalities and crippling accidents, and people are locked in their cars and they have no good alternatives besides driving one person per vehicle, and it's turning the urban fabric into a real nightmare. Something like Paseo del Norte, a 6-lane freeway to nowhere that does not serve the real growth needs of the West Side, much less the city, would promote leapfrog development.

MAHLER: Those in favor of the extension insist that growth beyond the Petroglyphs is inevitable, because the city is hemmed in on its 3 other sides by Indian reservations and national forests. Albuquerque's mayor says the project is the only way to avoid future gridlock on the city streets. But local Sierra Club official Julie Hicks points out that a primary reason Western cities are growing is because of the region's unique history and fragile beauty. The Petroglyph Park is a place many people treasure, not only Native Americans.

HICKS: As a resident of Albuquerque, I care very much for this particular monument. It, to me and to many others, makes up what New Mexico is all about. The Petroglyph National Monument hosts the largest number of petroglyphs near any urban area. It's very unique. It's a museum, per se, that we have right next to our city, right within our city as the city grows around it.

MAHLER: Senator Domenici would not make himself available for this story, but in a written statement supporting the shortcut he said, quote, "Hiding our heads in the sand is not an acceptable alternative. The monument does not exist in a vacuum." Senator Domenici says he has the votes needed to pass the measure, and that Congressional action could come soon. Construction of a road through Petroglyph National Monument could begin later this year. For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Mahler in Albuquerque.

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World War over Toothfish?

CURWOOD: Antarctica has been a model for world peace. It is ruled by consensus by the 23 nations who have joined together under the Antarctica Convention, but recently tensions have been heating up over fishing boats that are illegally catching the increasingly rare toothfish, known in the US as Chilean sea bass. France and Britain have deployed warships to the Antarctic to stop the poachers, and New Zealand has sent up surveillance planes to aid in the effort. The Antarctica nations have agreed to strict controls on fishing in the region, but Beth Clark, a member of the US delegation to the convention, says these days boats from Spain, Norway, and the US, all members of the convention, are suspected of hunting the fish. Speaking to us from a phone from Christchurch, New Zealand, Ms. Clark said toothfish may now be in danger.

CLARK: Over the past 6 months, there has been an explosion in the number of illegal boats catching this fish, and from reports that I have heard they are now targeting the juveniles, which means the adults have been fished out.

CURWOOD: Now, how long does it take to become an adult toothfish?

CLARK: Like all animals in the Antarctic, toothfish are very slow growing. They can live up to 80 years, and they can grow up to about 5 feet. They don't mature until they're between 10 and 12 years old. The fish that are being targeted, I couldn't tell you the age but the size is about 6 inches. So that's way before they become an adult.

CURWOOD: So in other words, they're not able to reproduce if the babies are being caught.

CLARK: Exactly.

CURWOOD: Where are these illegally caught or at least endangered toothfish being sold?

CLARK: Japan is a very big market. And also, we've heard rumors that they're coming into the US. In the US this toothfish is known as Chilean sea bass, but just because you see Chilean sea bass on a menu doesn't mean it's caught illegally. There are a lot of legal fisheries surrounding Argentina and Chile. And also, there are some illegal fisheries in the CAMLR, the convention region, so there's no way of ascertaining at this point if you're eating legally or illegally caught toothfish.

CURWOOD: Does it make sense to eat any toothfish, or so-called Chilean sea bass, if the fish is endangered, no matter where it was caught?

CLARK: There is, you know, probably a good reason to be wary of eating it.

CURWOOD: Now, France, Britain, New Zealand, Norway, are cracking down on these poachers with surveillance planes, and even warships I gather --

CLARK: Yes --

CURWOOD: -- to protect their territorial waters. Do you think it's a good idea to see environmental agreements being enforced like this?

CLARK: No. It's actually, to me, very discouraging, and it's the first time there's been a crack in the Antarctic treaty system.

CURWOOD: So, what's to be done here, then?

CLARK: Well, nations have to agree, first and foremost, that they go after their nationals that are fishing down there illegally. They've got to agree collectively to some sort of enforcement mechanism that is a collective mechanism. My concern is not so much enforcement, even though I wish that everybody would follow the rules, but we know that's not real. My concern is that one boat, one warship, is going down from one country. And not that I think they shouldn't be there because you need to do something to stop this. It's going completely out of control. But I would like to see a treaty-wide mechanism to stop it, because at least that would mean the treaty is working, that nations are working together.

CURWOOD: The decline of fisheries is something that we see over and over and over again.

CLARK: Yeah.

CURWOOD: Is there anything from your work in the Antarctic that suggests to you a way that this trend can be stopped?

CLARK: Well, the CAMLR model is a very good model. It has always been looked to. Instead of looking at a single fish, it looks at the entire food chain, and it says okay, there might be 10,000 tons of fish. But the predators, the animals that eat this fish require 6,000 tons. So there's really only 4,000 tons available. And when the system is working, and when they only allow the fish to be caught that are excess, then the system works and then it's okay to fish. But what's happening is that for some reason, the fishers are very short-sighted around the world, and they plunge right in, they take everything out, then they go on to the next fishery. And they must realize that they're just shooting themselves in the foot. But for some reason it doesn't sink in. Maybe it's, they figure they'll just get rich now and then quit. So there is a way of fishing sustainably, but there has been very little evidence of it occurring in reality.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us.

CLARK: Thank you.

CURWOOD: Beth Clark is director of the Antarctica Project. Thanks for joining us.

CLARK: Thank you, Steve.

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The Pruner

CURWOOD: Since her father's death a year and a half ago, writer Jane Brox has learned a lot about running her family's farm in the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts. This spring it was pruning the apple trees. And the task brought her face to face with the wounds of previous seasons, her place on the farm, and the passage of time.

BROX: To prune an apple tree is to see through time. You work with an eye toward how best to shape the branches, not only for this season's growth but the next and the next. Over the years I've seen my father, my brother, and hired men work up and down the rows, making their deliberate cuts, their decisions always a mystery and always daunting to me, since pruning requires not only a sense of the future, but also how to heal over the past with all the wind damage and branches broken under the weight of too many apples. It requires fitting your own ideal with those who've gone before, who've left crazed and crooked shapes behind.

But there's logic and strength in such shapes. That's obvious when high winds come through and the apple branches hardly move, while the oaks clatter and the white pines beyond toss and sway. Now that the care of this farm is a good part my responsibility, I've had no choice but to learn how to take care of the orchard. The knowledge I need isn't in manuals, which only illustrate how to prune a perfectly shaped specimen, one that's met with no accidents or misfortunes. On our farm, each tree presents its own hard-earned problem. So I stand before one after another and try to see into an airy dimension as I make my first tentative cuts.

I'm probably far too hesitant. There are so many trees still to go. At times the rows look endless. Yet for all the repetitive work, this feels like the beginning of a real journey. It's taken me years to come to this place, and I've often been more than a little reluctant to shoulder the responsibilities of a small parcel of rolling coastal plain with all its attendant negotiations and compromises, fragmented ownership, family divisions, and my own dreams of other choices in life.

But if I hadn't taken on such responsibility, would I know those rare moments at all? The ones that step out of time, when my saw falls to my side as I stand underneath the crown of an old Macintosh and I look through the branches of the limb I'm working on, into the clear blue of a lingering afternoon. A moment when it can feel as if there's no past, only belief and possibility amid all this turned grace. Knowing the tough old branches will sprout green, then blossom, after which a long cascade of petals drifts down in the freshening wind, for a moment floating free.

CURWOOD: Commentator Jane Brox is author of Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and Its Family.

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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 production team includes Dan Grossman, Liz Lempert, Peter Shaw, George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Julia Madeson, Peter Christenson, Jesse Wegman, Susan Shepherd, and Jill Hecht. Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Peter Thomson heads our western bureau. Our engineers are Dan Donovan at WBUR and Jeff Martini at Harvard. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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