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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

June 12, 1998

Air Date: June 12, 1998
(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

The Thirst for Safe Water: Part 6 - Positive Developments / Peter Thomson

There are new technologies and new community based efforts that are helping clean up water at its source and keep it clean. In the final installment of our series, Living On Earth’s senior correspondent Peter Thomson looks at some of the positive developments in "The Thirst For Safe Water". (16:05)

Field of Greens / Amy Eddings

It's not every day that your typical New Yorker gets to plant a garden, never mind make a mark on major league baseball at the same time. But, thanks to a New York Mets groundskeeper, that's just what happened recently to W-N-Y-C reporter Amy Eddings. She sent us this reporters' notebook from the "Field of Greens". (4:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... 10 years ago this month, a series of firestorms ravaged Yellowstone National Park. (1:30)

On Patrol with Geese Police! / Terry FitzPatrick

At the turn of the century, Canada Geese were extremely rare. But today they're thriving, even in U.S. cities. In fact, geese are so common they're considered a nuisance. Some city officials are taking extraordinary steps to control the birds' population. As Living On Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports from Seattle, it all raises important questions about the value people place on urban wildlife. (11:00)

Animal Movie Stars: Not Always what They Seem / Sy Montgomery

The biggest animal ever, Godzilla, is stomping its way through the summer movie season. Computer magic helps brings such creatures to life on the screen. But when making films about real animals, directors sometimes rely on old- fashioned slight of hand. Living On Earth Commentator Sy Montgomery explains. Ms. Montgomery is author of "Nature's Everyday Mysteries." (3:50)

Girls Camp: Improving Self-Esteem / Laura Knoy

The Center for Ventures in Girls Education based in Wellesley, Massachusetts is a program designed to help teenage girls keep their self-esteem. And as guest host Laura Knoy discovered, its organizers believe one of the keys to self- reliance lies in the outdoors. About 30 girls from metropolitan Boston journeyed to Sandwich, New Hampshire for the first week of a two year long commitment in which they experience the challenges, fears, and pleasures of close contact with Mother Nature. (8:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Laura Knoy
REPORTERS: Peter Thomson, Amy Eddings, Terry FitzPatrick
COMMENTATOR: Sy Montgomery

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

KNOY: I'm Laura Knoy.

When it comes to getting a glass of clean water, some people reach for a bottle or filter their tap. But others say, "stop pollution at its source, and provide clean drinking water for all." Some of the methods work well for cities and are quite high tech.

DIXON: Between the combination of the ozone and the granular carbon, we feel we can deal with any threat that would be present.

KNOY: Others are using simpler remedies that work in rural regions.

SUMMERFORD: We split this in 3 different pastures...alternative shade and there'll be very little pollution then.

KNOY: The results may quench the nation's thirst for safe water. Our special series wraps up this week. Also, we take you out to your garden variety major league bullpen on Living on Earth. First news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

The Thirst for Safe Water: Part 6 - Positive Developments

KNOY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy, sitting in for Steve Curwood.
The days of catastrophic epidemics of water-borne diseases are long gone in the U.S. But, millions of Americans still get sick from microbes and chemicals in their water supply. Fear and uncertainty have led many to look for solutions in their own households; buying bottled water and filters. But not everyone can afford these amenities, and there's no guarantee they're absolutely pure. But, there may be a solution in broader community efforts. In the final installment of our series, Living on Earth’s senior correspondent Peter Thomson looks at some of the positive developments in "The Thirst for Safe Water"

(Sounds of a container being filled from a running tap)

THOMSON: In the kitchen of her modest Philadelphia home, Alice Ginsberg sticks a clear plastic container under her faucet and turns on the tap.

(Sound of running water)

GINSBERG: I use a water filter that we just put in the refrigerator and fill it up with tap water and change the filter every few months. We really hate the way Philadelphia water tastes without the filter, and also cause, ya know, we’ve heard a lot of stories about contaminants in the water. In fact, there was one time when there was so much in it, in the newspaper that we wouldn't even drink water in a restaurant.

THOMSON: What were the contaminants they were talking about?

GINSBERG: I haven't the faintest idea. I just know they’re bad and I don't want them in my body or my son’s body.

THOMSON: Do you know that this gets rid of them?

GINSBERG: I know its better than nothing.

THOMSON: Alice Ginsberg is able to pay for that extra measure of security. And she has good reason to worry. Recent research suggests a link between elevated levels of murkiness in Philadelphia’s water and the numbers of people who visit city hospitals for gastrointestinal problems. The city disputes that research. It says its water is as good as any in the country. But that may be faint praise, because nation-wide, microbes and chemicals in drinking water are making many people sick.

OLSON: We probably have something in the neighborhood of seven million people every year getting sick in the U.S. each year from drinking their tap water. But that’s just on the microbial side.

THOMSON: Erik Olson is a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C.

OLSON: For the chemicals, estimates have ranged in the neighborhood of nine, ten thousand cancers per year.

THOMSON: Mr. Olson says one of the main reasons for these illnesses is antiquated treatment systems. Most of the country’s large water systems, including Philadelphia’s, disinfect their water with chlorine, then filter it through sand and coal. It’s old technology, and Erik Olson says its not up to today’s challenges.

OLSON: What we now know is there are a lot of organisms, like cryptosporidium, other germs, that can get right through those treatment plants. And there are also many chemicals, like synthetic organic chemicals, industrial chemicals, pesticides, that can slip right past the existing treatment technology.

THOMSON: But there are alternatives.

(Sounds of waves lapping, birds, motor boat)

THOMSON: Ten miles north of Philadelphia, the Delaware River is a broad expanse of murky brown water. It carries effluent from upstream factories, runoff from farms, and treated sewage from scores of towns within its watershed. On the river’s west bank, sits one of Philadelphia’s stately old brick and stone pump houses. It draws Delaware River water into the city’s treatment system. On the other side of the river there’s a drab concrete and steel pump house. It also draws water from the Delaware, but its treatment system is far more advanced.

DIXON: We built the plant with an eye toward the future.

THOMSON: Kevin Dixon is responsible for water quality at the New Jersey-American Water Company. When three rural southern New Jersey counties began draining their underground aquifer a few years ago, Mr. Dixon says they had no choice but to turn to the polluted Delaware. But they did have a choice of treatment technology. Instead of the chlorine disinfectant used in conventional treatment, this plant uses ozone gas. and in place of sand and coal filters, it uses granular activated carbon; like the stuff you’d find in a fish tank.

DIXON: Between the combination of the ozone and the granular carbon, we feel we can deal with any threat that would be present on the water.

(Sounds of whoosh and whir of vacuum pump)

THOMSON: Inside the New Jersey-American plant, partially-treated water surges through a labyrinth of pumps, pipes and pools. One of its first stops is an ozone chamber .

DIXON: Ozone is the most powerful disinfectant in the world today. It's very effective at destroying bacteria and viruses, and it's also very useful in damaging the shell that protects organisms such as cryptosporidium.

THOMSON: The parasite cryptosporidium is a major new threat to drinking water. In 1993, it killed more than 70 people in Milwaukee and made hundreds of thousands sick. Cryptosporidium is one of the hardest microbes to get rid of. Even chlorine doesn’t work very well against it. But Kevin Dixon says the combination of ozone and granular activated carbon does.

DIXON: The ozone is able to soften that shell and actually crack it, so that the rest of our treatment process can really cause it to be destroyed and removed in the treatment plant.

THOMSON: He says the ozone and granular carbon also do a better job of removing chemical pollutants. Finally, Kevin Dixon says, the system reduces an additional problem known as disinfection byproducts, which many conventional treatment plants actually create.

DIXON: In a conventional plant, chlorine added to water causes the formation of organic chemicals, one group of which is the trihalomethanes.

THOMSON: These have been linked to cancer, and to miscarriages in humans.

DIXON: The level of compounds that we create through the treatment process is a mere fraction of the compounds that are created by a more conventional facility. If you can attribute health effects to those compounds, by virtue of fact that they’re not present in the supply that we produce, obviously then the water would be safer.

OLSON: This plant represents the next wave of how water is going to be treated in the United States and really in much of the industrialized world.

THOMSON: That’s Erik Olson again, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The environmental group usually plays the critic, not the booster. But Mr. Olson says the technology at the New Jersey-American plant is revolutionary. He calls it a third breakthrough in water delivery.

OLSON: The first was when the Romans started to pipe water into people's houses. The second was around World War One, when we started treating the water by filtering it through sand and using chlorine to treat it. And we are right now on the cusp of a shift to advanced water treatment technology.

THOMSON: Erik Olson says this kind of technology isn’t needed everywhere, but he says more and more water systems will have to switch to ozone, activated carbon, or both. as the federal government tightens rules for contaminants like cryptosporidium and disinfection byproducts. But new technology isn’t the whole answer. Just about everyone agrees these days that its just as important to clean up the sources of drinking water, and keep them from getting polluted in the first place. So dozens of watershed protection efforts are springing up around the country.

BOLE : This is a model of a watershed. It has houses, it has farms, it has industries, it has forest. Now, what that we're gonna call this Flint Creek? Do y’all know where Flint Creek is?

CHILD: Isn't it over there by the Tennessee River?

THOMSON: At the Austinville Elementary School in Decatur, Alabama, a group of fourth graders crowds around a brightly colored plastic model of a small town. They’re listening to Brad Bole, head of the Flint Creek Watershed Project.

BOLE: Why would we need Flint Creek? Why is Flint Creek important to us? What do we use water for?

STUDENT: To drink.

BOLE: To drink, that would be the main source wouldn't it?

THOMSON: Brad Bole finds out what the kids know about water quality in their community. Then he dusts his plastic model town with brown cinnamon and uses a plant sprayer to show how rain carries different substances from farms, factories and homes into the local river.

BOLE: What does he put on the grass to make it grow?

STUDENTS: Fertilizer!

BOLE: Fertilizer, yeah.

STUDENTS: Chemicals!

BOLE: Chemicals, that's right.

BOLE: The next night, a big rain comes.

(Sound of sprayer squirting)

BOLE: Uh, oh.

STUDENT Oh no!

BOLE: What happened to all his fertilizer and chemicals?

STUDENTS: Oh! Pollution!

BOLE: It's pollution isn't it? Where does it go?

STUDENTS: The creek!

BOLE: Which creek is that?

STUDENTS: Flint Creek!!

BOLE: Flint Creek! So, what can he do to prevent that from happening?

STUDENT: Measure it

BOLE All right, we can measure it. How do we know how much to put on there? And where do we find that information?

(Sounds of creek; birds, cicadas)

THOMSON: The Flint Creek Watershed spans three, thickly-forested Alabama counties on the south side of the Tennessee river. Much of its 150 miles of streams are a chalky, cocoa brown, so choked with nutrients from agricultural runoff and treated sewage that they support few fish. The small town of Hartselle used to get its drinking water from the creek, but a few years ago it had to shut down its pumps, it had just gotten too expensive to treat the water.

BOLE: When we first began, some people knew there was pollution going into the creek but didn't realize that what they were actually doing was contributing to that and what they don't know they cant fix.

THOMSON: It’s Brad Bole’s job to help people here understand their watershed, and help them get the information, the tools and money they need to start to fix it. He works in the watershed’s urban and rural areas, with everyone from school kids to developers to farmers.

(Sounds of bugs, birds)

SUMMERFORD: My name is Jack Summerford, I’ve lived on this farm all my life. I’m 55 years old. I raise cattle and chickens.

THOMSON: Jack Summerford’s pastures are exuberantly green. His oak and sweet gum trees a metropolis of songbirds and 13-year cicadas. But its not quite as idyllic as it seems.

SUMMERFORD: Ya know, I used to pollute as much as anybody, I guess. You know not intentionally, nobody else does it intentionally, they just do things the way they’ve always done, and they don't realize really what they are doing.

THOMSON: A few years ago, Jack Summerford had a revelation. He started hearing about what’s called non-point pollution: stuff that doesn’t come out of a factory pipe or a sewage treatment plant. It turned out that his simple, 150-acre farm was one of those non-point sources. Every day his hundred or so cows would wander down to the creek to drink and to cool off under big drooping trees. And they’d do what every creature does.

(Sound of cow manure plopping)

... they’d answer nature’s call... leaving their waste on the stream bank, or even in the stream itself. The manure coming off this farm and dozens of others here was overloading Flint Creek with nutrients and bacteria. Then, Mr. Summerford heard about Brad Bole’s watershed project. He got the know-how and the money he needed to keep the cattle away from the creek using what's called rotational grazing.

(Footfalls walking through grass)

SUMMERFORD: We’ll split this into 3 different pastures, and have water troughs. We’ll have alternative shade and there’ll be very little pollution then.

THOMSON: The new grazing system helps keep the manure on Jack Summerford’s fields, where its nutrients make the grass grow taller and fuller, and away from the creek. The watershed project also helps him and other farmers cut stream bank erosion, and learn how to manage chicken waste and other fertilizers they spread on their fields, so less of it runs off during rainstorms.

SUMMERFORD: Ya know everybody’s working for the future, to see what we need to do for the future ya know.

(sound of dog splashing in water, snorting and shaking)

THOMSON: Jack’s shaggy black dog Dixie wallows in the muddy creek. His neighbor John Tanner says he can already see a difference in the water.

TANNER: That creek, if you’d been on it two years ago you could see a difference from what it is today. It's not near as bad, I don't think. It don't look as bad anyway. The fellers that fish in it say the fish is better in it than it was two years ago, so evidently it's gonna be a long project but evidently we're gaining some ground.

THOMSON: And there are hard numbers to back up this casual observation. Project leader Brad Bole says a key indicator of water quality, known as dissolved oxygen, has improved substantially in the last year. And the project has brought other changes too. Concern over water quality was partly behind a decision to start regular trash pickup in one county, and to impose some of the area’s first zoning restrictions, around part of Flint Creek long known as the “nasty branch.” Jack Summerford says the locally-run watershed effort has helped change the way people here think about their environment in general.

SUMMERFORD: A lot of people are aware of it and not throwing their bottles out the windows and in the creeks and all that. I don't believe that God wanted us to destroy the Earth, we supposed to leave it like we found it. I believe that there's some scripture talking about the ones that pollute the earth will be destroyed.

(Sounds of water flowing)

THOMSON: The changes rippling through this small Alabama watershed are inspiring. But this small-scale effort also has its limitations. In five years, the Flint Creek project has drawn up conservation plans for only about 200 of the watershed’s 1000 farms. It’s partly a matter of money, and partly one of willingness to get involved. like most other watershed projects, this is a voluntary effort, and many people who are part of the problem just aren’t volunteering. Also, compared to the scale of the problem, voluntary watershed projects in general can only make a small dent. The federal government says non-point pollution and agricultural runoff in particular, is the biggest threat to the nation’s waterways. The E-P-A plans to start imposing mandatory changes on some of the worst offenders, but the problem is immense. Every square inch of land in the U.S. is part of a watershed or ground water system. And it involves just about every type of human activity. So change is coming only very slowly. But there are things that people concerned about pollution in their watersheds, and contaminants coming out of their taps, can do to try to speed things up.

OLSON: Citizens have an array of options under the law. First of all, they can demand a change from their water system and from their government to try to persuade their state representatives, their members of congress to fix the problem.

THOMSON: That’s Erik Olson again, of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

OLSON: If that doesn’t seem to be working, the law authorizes a lawsuit against the water utility that's violating the law.

THOMSON: In fact, federal water protection laws provide a number of powerful levers with which to pursue better water quality, such as citizen lawsuits against government agencies which they feel have been too lax. There are also little-known parts of the law that could have a big impact if they were more broadly enforced.

OLSON: States are supposed to issue rules called total maximum daily loads. They say how much of a particular pollutant is allowed to be dumped into a large stream or river. And the states have not been very good about issuing these controls. What's resulted from this is very recently citizens groups have started suing states all over the country trying to force these total maximum daily loads to be issued. And I do think that over the long term, this is going to yield real benefits for drinking water protection.

THOMSON: Ultimately, we’ll only get the quality of water that we’re willing to fight for and to pay for. Better safeguards will cost more money. And we’ll all have to decide whether to make an investment for the benefit of everyone, or to try to quench our thirst for safe water one tap at a time.

(Kitchen tap being turned on )

Back in her kitchen in Philadelphia, Alice Ginsberg says she’d gladly pay more than she already spends on water filters to get better water straight out of her tap.

GINSBERG: I would much rather just think that anytime we drank a glass of water it was better. Actually, one year I went Christmas shopping with a friend of mine and she just went to Macys and bought like 20 Britas. I said "why are you giving everyone a Brita?" and she said "I'm tired of going to everyones house and not being able to drink their water. So I’m just giving everyone a Brita and then I know I’ll be able to drink the water wherever I go." So, I think I’d much rather just have a cleaner water supply.

For Living on Earth, I’m Peter Thomson.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Field of Greens

KNOY: It's not every day that your typical New Yorker gets to plant a garden, never mind make a mark on major league baseball at the same time. But thanks to a New York Mets groundskeeper, that's just what happened recently to WNYC reporter Amy Eddings. She sent us this reporter's notebook from the field of greens.

(Leaf and trash blowers blowing)

EDDINGS: Leaf and trash blowers echo through the empty stands of Shea Stadium, as groundskeeper Chris Murphy and I plot our starting lineup behind the right field wall.

MURPHY: Where do you want to put the watermelons?

EDDINGS: I think they should go in this right here.

MURPHY: So, like, in the front part here?

EDDINGS: Right.

MURPHY: So we'll put the watermelons there. And we'll put the pumpkins in the back?

EDDINGS: Uh huh.

MURPHY: And put the cantaloupes in between. All right, we'll start the pumpkins then, along the fence.

EDDINGS: Along the fence?

MURPHY: Yeah.

EDDINGS: Okay.
I'm helping Mr. Murphy carry on a tradition at Shea. We're planting a vegetable garden in the Mets bullpen. It's an 18 by 20-foot patch of earth several yards away from where the relief pitchers warm up. Mr. Murphy's been a groundskeeper with the Mets for 16 years. Usually he's patching up cleat marks in the infield grass, or painting base lines in the dirt. But last year, when the garden's former caretaker left the ball club, Mr. Murphy stepped up to the plate and hit a horticultural home run.

MURPHY: And people threw me some seeds and I just thought to throw them onto the ground and I was really amazed at how big everything got. I really had no idea that was going to happen.

EDDINGS: And how big did everything get?

MURPHY (laughs): So far it was about 8 feet tall, and the corn was at least 6 feet high. The flowers were actually over, higher than the fence.

(A crowd cheers)

EDDINGS: High enough to be seen on television when cameras would chart the course of a fly ball to right field.

(Crowds continue; a bat cracks and the crowd roars)

EDDINGS: And high enough to block the visiting team's view into the Mets' bullpen. Some opponents suspected foul play. Mark Leider, a relief pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, says some people thought the Mets had a more than garden variety home field advantage.

(Piped music in the background)

LEIDER: The visiting dugout cannot see whether there's a left-handed pitcher or a right-handed pitcher warming up, so in the dugout you don't know who to get loose, your right-handed swinger or your left-handed swinger. Because you're not sure who's throwing.

EDDINGS: So the Mets ripped out a few corn stalks. Opponents' line of sight was restored, and controversy averted. The towering flowers and waving corn brought the garden into the public eye last year, but it's been a Mets tradition for a while. Joe Pignatano, a former Mets bullpen coach, created the garden in 1969. That was the year of the Miracle Mets, when the team unexpectedly defeated the Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series.

PIGNATANO: In the bullpen that year, a tomato plant was growing. I nurtured it, and naturally winning the whole ball of wax I figured it was a good omen.

EDDINGS: And he grew more tomato plants in the bullpen the following year. Mr. Pignatano says friends of his on the coaching staff of 2 other teams, the Atlanta Braves and the Detroit Tigers, started growing tomatoes in their ballparks, too, and they'd compare them. Mr. Pignatano later added radishes, string beans, and zucchini. Small, bushy, unobtrusive plants, not showoffs like corn and sunflowers.

(A hose is turned on)

MURPHY: Gonna give it a good soaking.

(Water spray continues)

EDDINGS: But Chris Murphy thinks the high-rising vegetables bring some life to the right-field wall and give fans something to talk about.

MURPHY: As the season goes on and these things get really big, they'll be sitting in the pub somewhere and somebody will hit a home run and you'll be watching, you'll say, "Hey, those are my sunflowers! I planted those!" (Laughs) And your friends will say, "Aw, you're full of it." "No, no, I really did! Those are mine!" (Laughs)

EDDINGS: Hopefully at the end of the summer, I'll have a basket full of proof. Sunflower seeds, cantaloupes, carrots, sweet corn. That is, if the ball players don't get to them first. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.

(Water spray continues)

MURPHY: We got pumpkins. We got some tomatoes. Cantaloupes.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

KNOY: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for reporting on science in the environment; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

KNOY: On patrol with the geese police. The story is just ahead. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm yogurt, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream, 800-PROCOWS.

(Theme music up and under)

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

KNOY: Ten years ago this month, a series of firestorms ravaged Yellowstone National Park. They began in June and kept going until mid-September. By the end, nearly a million acres had been scorched. Most of the fires were started by lightning, so in keeping with the National Park Service's natural burn policy, they were allowed to spread. Some fires went out by themselves, but due to dry weather and winds up to 100 miles per hour, other fires burned out of control and park managers decided to intervene. At the peak point more than 9,500 firefighters were on the scene, but even they weren't able to squelch the flames. Only when a light rain fell in September, were the fires extinguished. The Yellowstone fire of 1988 sparked a controversy that is still smouldering. Some people say firefighters should have been sent in earlier. Others say they shouldn't have been dispatched at all, since fires are a natural process necessary for regenerating the ecosystem and preventing even larger blazes in the future. Despite the damage, native grasses grew back so quickly, that by the following summer most visitors to Yellowstone couldn't tell that the meadows had been burned at all. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

On Patrol with Geese Police!

KNOY: At the turn of the century, Canada geese were extremely rare, but today they're thriving even in US cities. In fact, geese are so common they're considered a nuisance. Some city officials are taking extraordinary steps to control the bird's population. As Living On Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports from Seattle, it all raises important questions about the value people place on urban wildlife.

(A golf club hits a ball)

FITZPATRICK: It's a sunny afternoon at Seattle's Broadmoor Country Club. As golfers practice their tee shots, a pair of geese is looking to land.

(Golf clubs hitting balls backdropped by honking geese)

FITZPATRICK: It's time for the Geese Police.

(Clanking sounds)

KALNOSKI: Okay, boys, you ready? (A dog grunts) Yeah...

FITZPATRICK: Lynn Kalnoski unloads 2 sheep-herding dogs, whose mission in life is to scare geese away. Ms. Kalnoski says the dogs are trained to act like wolves, with one exception. They never bite.

KALNOSKI: The geese have no idea they're perfectly safe but they think my dogs are going to put them on the barbecue. In the goose's mind I make an area a high predation area. (Whistles to dogs)

FITZPATRICK: Dog patrols are becoming more common as the number of urban geese continues to rise. With large grassy fields and open waterfront parks, cities provide a perfect environment for the birds. There are no natural predators or hunters to keep them in check. Harassment doesn't control the population, but causes the birds to shy away from areas where people don't want them.

(Footfalls; Kalnoski whistles)

FITZPATRICK: Up by the 17th green Ms. Kalnoski spots the pair of geese and orders her dogs into action.

KALNOSKI: Look, look. Get.

FITZPATRICK: The dogs dart away with incredible speed. (Kalnoski whistles)
And through special whistle commands, Ms. Kalnoski instructs them to attack in a sweeping, circular pattern. (More whistles; honking geese) Just as the dogs reach the geese, the birds scramble into the air. It's over in seconds and the dogs are recalled.

(More honking, more whistles; panting dogs return.)

KALNOSKI: Yeah, boy. There ya go, guys. There ya go.

FITZPATRICK: The Geese Police patrol golf courses, private estates, and suburban lakefront parks because of the damage geese inflict on landscaping.

(Honking geese and splashing water)

FITZPATRICK: Mark Johnston is Parks Manager in Kirkland, Washington.

JOHNSTON: The geese will come down and they love manicured lawns. They eat the lawns and they will continue eating the lawns all the way down to dirt. They destroy lawns.

FITZPATRICK: Before dogs began patrolling, Mr. Johnston says his lakefront was overrun by geese. Their droppings transformed the beach into a minefield of manure.

JOHNSTON: Last year there were times where there was 150 to 175 birds here at this park. Each bird can produce 3 pounds of material a day. That's a tremendous quantity of material left. It wasn't fun to be at the beach. There's also problems with the possibility of health hazards in the water.

(Splashing)

FITZPATRICK: The health risks include parasites that cause swimmers to get itchy skin, and a nutrient-rich aquatic environment where dangerous bacteria can blossom.

(Splashing)

FITZPATRICK: There are safety concerns as well. Aggressive geese have attacked children and at airports geese get in the way of planes. In 1995 a military jet crashed in Alaska after hitting a flock during takeoff. (Honking geese) Twenty-four people were killed.

(Honking continues)

FITZPATRICK: Ironically, this seeming plague of geese was created by well- intentioned wildlife agencies. In the 1940s they began to reintroduce geese in rural areas to bring them back from the brink of extinction and provide opportunities for hunters.

(Honking continues)

FITZPATRICK: While they were at it, biologists placed geese in cities to grace the parks of urban America. Jim Cooper is a waterfowl biologist at the University of Minnesota.

COOPER: What folks in those days, and I'm one of them, didn't realize, because we had so few Canada geese around anyway, was that they were beautifully suited to the cities. It's far more adaptable and far more able to survive in situations that we couldn't imagine.

FITZPATRICK: In many American cities, the geese have become year-round residents, distinct from the flocks who next in Canada each summer and fly to the United States for the winter. Dr. Cooper says that's because a goose migrates only if it has to.

COOPER: If the water that it uses for roosting at night and the food that it forages on in late fall and winter is unavailable, either through snow cover and ice and snow, the birds will migrate. But as long as their food and roosting needs are met, they will stay as close to their breeding site as possible.

FITZPATRICK: The artificial introduction of geese has created large populations of resident birds in the US. There's at least 2 million of them right now, and their numbers are growing fast. In areas where it's feasible, special hunting seasons have been established to control the resident birds. More than 300,000 are shot every year. The quandary is what to do in cities where you can shoo the geese away but can't shoot them.

(A boat engine starts)

YOUNG: Jerry, I think we have one to use last time...

FITZPATRICK: That's where Jeff Young and Jerry May come in.

(Boat engine)

FITZPATRICK: They're the grim reapers of the wildlife world, employed by a special unit of the US Department of Agriculture.

YOUNG: This a new one, Jerry?

FITZPATRICK: They spend every spring in a small motorboat raiding goose nests.

(Geese honking; crunching through foliage)

FITZPATRICK: Urban geese will nest just about anywhere, under bridges or piers or in clusters of cattails along shore.

(Honking, crunching continue)

FITZPATRICK: Disturbing the birds can be dangerous. They're very large and unafraid of people.

(Honking, crunching continue)

FITZPATRICK: As Mr. Young nudges this female off her nest, the male beats his wings in a furious, diving attack.

(Attacking, honking)

YOUNG: Hold on. This guy's not happy.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Young wards off the attack and uncovers the nest. About 2 feet wide, made of broken reeds and downy feathers.

YOUNG: So here's 4 eggs. They're warm and white, about the size of my palm.

FITZPATRICK: Mr. Young does not destroy the eggs. Instead he uses a garden sprayer to cover the eggs with corn oil.

(Pumping sounds)

YOUNG: It imposes a nonpenetrable layer to the oxygen molecules that are required by an embryo for development. By coating the eggs we are inducing that layer and the embryo cannot reach full development.

(Honking continues)

FITZPATRICK: Oiling the eggs is a more effective birth control technique than destroying them. Mr. May says the geese will spend their entire breeding season trying to hatch the coated eggs.

YOUNG: If you do any physical damage, you break them, remove them, they will re-nest. This way they just keep on sitting on the nest. They don't know any different. I've had them sitting on the same nest 40 days past the time they were supposed to hatch, and they're still sitting there.

(Pumping spray)

FITZPATRICK: This team oils more than 1,000 eggs a year. It prevents the urban population from growing but does not reduce the number of birds already here. For that, officials have resorted to trapping and relocating tens of thousands of geese. In some regions they've simply slaughtered the birds and sent the meat to food kitchens; about 5,000 have been butchered nationwide in the past 3 years.

(Honking continues)

FITZPATRICK: Surprisingly, animal rights activists have endorsed the use of dog patrols and the poisoning of eggs. However, they say its wrong to kill living birds. The activists suggest cities try harder to prevent the geese from congregating in places where they'll pose a problem.

(A drill sounds)

FITZPATRICK: In Seattle, activists are addressing another factor that puts the geese in harm's way: handouts of food from bird lovers.

(Drilling continues)

FITZPATRICK: The Progressive Animal Welfare Society is posting startling signs depicting a dead goose with its tongue hanging out.

BELL: It says if you're going to feed me, you may as well shoot me. So thanks for the bread, but I'd rather live.

FITZPATRICK: Stephanie Bell and Mitchell Fox have put dozens of these warnings in Seattle-area parks.

BELL: What we need to impart is that the animals end up paying with their lives for this seemingly innocuous activity. I think it's just kind of unfair to whack off a bunch of geese because we've trained them to be our pets.

(Honking continues)

FITZPATRICK: The conflict over geese is likely to intensify as wildlife managers move forward with plans to kill large numbers of birds in several cities. Animal activists are fighting in Federal court, contending the law allows only limited kills of specific problem birds. Both sides acknowledge geese can become a nuisance, but they stress it's illegal for the public to kill them or disturb their nests. That, they say, is a job best left to the Geese Police.

(Honking continues)

FITZPATRICK: For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick in Seattle.

Back to top

(Honking, fade to music up and under)

Animal Movie Stars: Not Always what They Seem

KNOY: The biggest, meanest animal ever, Godzilla, is stomping its way through the summer movie season. Computer magic helps bring such creatures to life on the screen. But when making films about real animals, directors sometimes rely on old-fashioned sleight of hand. Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery explains.

(Jungle bird calls)

MONTGOMERY: Everyone knows that call. It's the call of the jungle. We may not recognize the song of a chickadee, but when it comes to remote rainforests that call we know. Except for one thing. This is no jungle monkey. It's the voice of a kookaburra, an Australian kingfisher. A bird of the arid outback exiled on a continent an ocean away from the jungles he's come to symbolize. In Australia, they say the kookaburra's laughing, probably at us. Because so much of what we've learned about wildlife, especially from TV and movies, is wrong.

Take Paramount Pictures' film Andre, based, we're assured, on a true story. Andre the orphaned harbor seal, was rescued by good New England folks who raised him almost like a member of the family.

(Singing: "For he's a jolly good fellow, which nobody can deny." A dog barks. Man: "Happy birthday, Andre." Andre barks.)

WOMAN, narrating: After a year we still couldn't convince Andre that he was a seal.

MONTGOMERY: That's because he wasn't a seal. The real Andre was, but the creature playing Andre is twice as big as a harbor seal, has ear flaps instead of ear holes, and has huge front flippers to help him gallop over land, something no harbor seal would ever do. In this movie, Andre the seal is played by a sea lion. Casting a sea lion in the role of Andre, one marine mammologist told me, was like a remake of Moby Dick using a sheep for the whale; it just made no sense to him.

But it made sense to the producers. As it turns out, Hollywood's convenience and not factual accuracy often dictates the way Americans come to understand, or misunderstand, how wildlife looks, sounds, and behaves. Here's why the species switch in Andre: those seals are just as smart as sea lions. Sea lions spend more time out of water. When seals are on land they just flop around on their bellies. And since the film crew and the human actors and the audience were all terrestrial, a real seal's real water tricks just wouldn't cut it.

Similar logistics explain why a South American capuchin monkey manages to bring a deadly African virus in the film Outbreak.

(Man 1: "Look at her. You asked for a monkey, I got you the monkey."
Man 2: "What do you mean look at her?"
Man 1: What do you mean, what do I mean?"
Man 2: "I told you a male." Loud sounds in the background.
Man 1: "You said -- "
Man 2: "I said male."
Man 1: "She -- "
Man 2:
"Customer's already got a female, he wants to breed them." Screams,
monkey chitters.
Man 1: "It's okay, it's okay...")

MONTGOMERY: Capuchin monkeys are readily available and easily trained. Availability and trainability, not authenticity, explain many casting choices for Hollywood pictures. Alligators, domestic and docile, usually play crocodiles. Iguanas play most lizards. Tigers, native to Asia, often play the big cat role in films set in Africa. That's because adult male lions are very difficult to train. One animal trainer tells me there are only 2 reliable lions at the moment in the business. Though there are plenty of good lionesses, and even more good tigers, he adds.

Such practical matters even affect filmmakers who work hard to stay true to the animals' real stories. But there are ways around leaving viewers with the wrong idea. Consider Universal/Warner Brothers' quandary in their 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist.

(Film music. Weaver/Fossey: "Just try. Just try, a little, just a little bit. No? Got lots of vitamins in it...")

MONTGOMERY: In this sequence, Sigourney Weaver, playing primatologist Diane Fossey, holds an orphaned baby gorilla in her arms. The film was shot in Rwanda among real, wild mountain gorillas. But the problem was wild mountain gorilla mothers take a dim view of people holding their babies, and there are no captive gorillas with Hollywood experience. The solution: Central Casting found a young chimp with acting credits and dressed him up in a gorilla suit. Leave it to Hollywood to swing the truth from branch to branch to make us fall in love with an illusion.

KNOY: Commentator Sy Montgomery is author of Nature's Everyday Mysteries.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

KNOY: Coming up: how the wonders of the great outdoors can do wonders for a teenage girl's self-esteem. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Girls Camp: Improving Self-Esteem

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.
In recent years a number of studies have found that when girls hit their teens they often lose some self- confidence. They start to downplay their opinions, speak up less in class. A number of new programs are designed to help teenage girls keep their self- esteem. One is the Center for Ventures in Girls Education, based in Wellesley, Massachusetts. As I discovered over the course of this past year, its organizers believe one of the keys to self-reliance lies in the great outdoors.

(Splashing, gurgling water)

KNOY: About 30 girls from metropolitan Boston have journeyed to Sandwich, New Hampshire. It's week one of a 2-year-long commitment in which they'll experience the challenges, fears, and pleasures of nose-to-nose contact with Mother Nature.

(Water sounds continue; canoeing)

KNOY: Okay, which way are we going?

WOMAN: We're going to go left, see the...around the park there?

KNOY: Ah.

We're paddling toward an island in the middle of Squam Lake, surrounded by thick pine forests and gentle mountains. Thirteen-year-olds Chevan and Latitia say the water was choppy yesterday. It was a little scary for 2 city girls who'd never even been in a canoe before, much less paddled one across a rough lake. But they got to shore safely, and Latitia says they learned something in the process.

LATITIA: At first I was really afraid of the canoeing, because I was like, "I'm gonna fall!" But then I got used to it. And I can go home and say Ma, look, I did this. And I got over this fear. Because when I left I was, like, I can't believe I'm doing this! And I cried because I miss my sister. But now I can actually say I've done it, and that if anyone needs help I can help them.

KNOY: The idea behind the New Hampshire camp is that challenges like the rough canoe ride build confidence and courage. Later this week Latitia and the others will learn to rock climb. Sharon Hainsforth is a camp instructor.

HAINSFORTH: So they get up on the rock climb, and get really nervous and scared and say, "Oh, I want to come down." But instead of coming down right away what we encourage them to do is just take a moment and take one more step to see how that feels. And in that way, bit by bit, through the opportunities in the program, they do begin to grow the size of their comfort zone. And I think it's just the way that people generally learn and grow anyway. We don't know we're doing it that way, we don't call it that, but we're expanding the size of what we're comfortable with and what is in the realm of possibility for us.

KNOY: It's not a new idea. The Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Outward Bound have all promoted the character-building benefits of the outdoors. But Joanne Stemmerman, director of the Center for Ventures in Girls Education, says preteen girls need special attention. She says her program tries to combat the sexist messages girls start to receive at about age 12.

STEMMERMAN: So girls start to become conscious of the way they look, the way they eat, and all those things are potentially harmful to girls and psychologically damaging as well as potentially physically damaging. And we talk about how to get girls to resist those stereotypes, and the girls that can resist those stereotypes are the girls that can potentially be both psychologically and physically the most healthy.

KNOY: Hanging high above the ground, 13-year-old Colleen found herself with a lot more to worry about than her looks. Colleen was strapped into a harness, clutching a rock face. She leaned back too far. Her foot slipped. She lost her grip, and for a split second Colleen was terrified. But her climbing partner on the rope below caught her. She started again, and finished the climb. Now Colleen is exhilarated by the mental and physical challenge.

COLLEEN: Looking at a rock, if it was any other day I'd say I'm not going to climb that. But just when everyone else is doing it and they're saying it's so fun and you get the lesson, you really, you know you can do it.

KNOY: But it might be too much to expect every teenager will gain in confidence so quickly. Thirteen-year-old Latoya was also part of the climbing group, but she didn't even get close to the rock.

LATOYA: Because I had, I didn't wear the right shoes. And, like, I was tired, so I didn't -- I don't know why.

(Footfalls through foliage.)

WOMAN: Any questions about hiking?

GIRL: No.

WOMAN: The leaves...

KNOY: It's September now. The air is cool and wet. Slippery leaves cover the ground. The girls are gathered in western Massachusetts for a weekend of hiking and getting reacquainted. Some things haven't changed since July. For one, Latoya is still not a lover of the great outdoors.

LATOYA: I'm just pooped. My legs hurt. I don't have muscles for this. This stinks.

WOMAN: ... look around, you can't see anything higher...

KNOY: And Colleen, the enthusiastic rock climber from this summer, is just as enthusiastic about hiking. So much so that she annoys Latoya and a few others.

COLLEEN: If you go slow, just telling you that. No faster.

LATOYA: Who's going fast. Who's that?

GIRL 1: Speedy.

GIRL 2: Colleen. Speedy.

GIRL 1: Speedy, yeah, we're just gonna call her Speedy from now.

KNOY: Let's face it; when you put a dozen 13-year-olds together for a weekend, it's not going to be all friendship, love, and singing Kumbaya. The girls argue over chores, sleeping arrangements, and the day's activities. But camp counselors say that's okay. In fact, it's important. They say normally girls are taught to avoid conflict and place a higher value on being nice and getting along. Counselors say part of the program is encouraging girls to say what makes them mad and work it out.

GIRL 1: We're doing pretty good now, you guys.

KNOY: All these lessons are valuable, but they can be forgotten after the experience is over. And that's where another piece of the Center's program comes in: mentoring. Each girl is paired with a woman volunteer for at least a year. The mentors and girls get together once a week, talking, going out, hopefully learning from each other. This weekend everyone is gathered to brush up their outdoors skills. Chevan and Latitia think all teenagers should have a mentor.

CHEVAN: Some kids don't go to school, you know, so they need somebody to build them up to go to school, help them out. Like girls having babies at a young age, it teaches you that you're still too young to have a baby. And it also, like say you're having problems with your family, you just, like, you skip school instead of, just because of the problems with your family. It teaches, like, you always have someone to talk to so you won't take it out on your school or your family. You could just, like, talk to that person, figure out how to solve it. So that you won't always end up on the street.

KNOY: Program organizers say the mentors also remind the girls of what they accomplished over the summer. And hopefully, they can help the teens carry the power of those lessons to other parts of their lives. Sherri Chapin is Chevan's mentor.

CHAPIN: Education is very important to me, and I really want to be sure that she takes advantage of all the educational opportunities that are available to her. And that she wants to take advantage of them. She told me today she wants to go to medical school, so we need to start working on that now.

KNOY: The Center will keep track of Chevan's dream of becoming a doctor, and the dreams of the other girls. The organization hopes the outcome will prove that a combination of outdoor adventures and mentoring can help teenage girls keep their self-confidence and help them grow into strong, courageous women.

GIRL: We did the Lion King song. We were singing that a lot.

KNOY: Can you sing it?

TWO GIRLS TOGETHER (singing): In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight. In the jungle, the mighty jungle...

KNOY: The girls will head back to the New Hampshire jungle this summer. Meanwhile, they meet as a group and with their mentors regularly. Two teenagers have dropped out of the program. The Center for Ventures in Girls Education is recruiting about 10 more girls to fill those slots and add new members, who will begin with the summer program. And that July week could be even more challenging this time. In addition to climbing and camping, the girls may also do a solo event, going out into the woods alone.

GIRL, singing: Wheeee, ah wheee ah wheeee bom bom bom-a-way...

BOTH GIRLS, singing: Hush, my darling, don't cry my darling, the lion sleeps tonight. Hush, my darling, don't cry my darling, the lion sleeps tonight...

Back to top

(Music up and under)

KNOY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production is George Homsy, Jesse Wegman, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, and Miriam Landman, along with Peter Christianson, Roberta DeAvila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. We had help from Jim Frey, Elsa Heidorn, and Rebecca Sladek-Knowlis. Thanks to KPLU in Seattle and New Hampshire Public Radio. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Our series The Thirst for Safe Water was edited and produced by Peter Thomson, Daniel Grossman, Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, and Steve Curwood. Joyce Hackel is our senior editor. I'm Laura Knoy. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W.A. Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to eliminate environmental threats to children's health: www.wajones.org; the Surdna Foundation; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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