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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

August 28, 1998

Air Date: August 28, 1998

SEGMENTS

Old Colony Rail Line Restored

The southeastern corner of Massachusetts is known as the Old Colony and its towns, including Plymouth, are some of the earliest settlements in the nation. The restoration of passenger rail service connecting the area to Boston has sparked a lively discussion about future development in this region, which is known for its pine barrens, farm land, and cranberry bogs. Some applaud the rail line as a smart way to reduce pollution and congestion from cars. But others say the new train service could promote sprawl and unwanted growth. Jeb Sharpe has our report. ()

One Round River

Gold expresses itself wherever water wells up out of the earth, and that occurs where there are mountains and rivers. The Blackfoot River in western Montana is one of these rivers. Made famous by the book and movie “A River Runs Through It," the river that people saw in the movie was actually the Gallatin, since logging and mining have ruined much of the Blackfoot. Now the river faces what may be its biggest threat. Despite some opposition, a giant gold mine is rising along its banks. Steve Curwood spoke with Richard Manning, who lived near the Blackfoot for many years, and has written a book called “One Round River: The Curse of Gold and the Fight for the Big Blackfoot.” (06:46)

Stanley Basin Blues / Jane Fritz

Producer Jane Fritz revisits a wild river she knew in her youth: central Idaho's Stanley Basin. In the old days, the river was filled with thousands of salmon and steelhead trout. From her home in Clark Fork, Idaho, Jane Fritz sent us this reporters' notebook. (06:35)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about...winemaking. (01:47)

Gentler Farming in Wine Country / Peter Thomson

The heart of California's wine country is actually 75 miles southeast of the well known Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Down in the vast Central Valley, they grow grapes, and lots of them. In fact the area around the town of Lodi (LOW-dye) produces the largest share of premium varieties in the entire state. It is here in these vineyards that growers are mounting one of the largest efforts in the nation to move beyond the age of intensive chemicals into an era of more natural farming combining old-time wisdom and the latest technology. Living on Earth's Peter Thomson and host Steve Curwood visited the valley and made this report. (17:47)

"Living Machine" at Swamp Sanctuary / Alexis Muellner

In southwest Florida, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has become one of the state's hottest tourists destinations. This ancient cypress swamp is a favorite with birdwatchers who flock there year round to see rare birds. A sharp increase in tourists has demanded changes at the Sanctuary, including a need for more toilets at the Visitor's Center. But, instead of constructing a traditional wastewater treatment facility, Corkscrew staff decided to try something new. They built what's called a "Living Machine" to deal with the wastewater. Alexis Muellner explains. (05:52)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jeb Sharpe, Jane Fritz, Steve Curwood, Alexis Muellner
GUESTS: Richard Manning

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Commuter rail lines are often a welcomed alternative to auto traffic and pollution. But, in the small towns along the tracks, they can also stimulate sprawl development.

PRIMACK: You've got volunteer boards who are going to be dealing with large developers, with lawyers, and I think that we're going to see towns just get bowled over and then 10 years from now they're going to wake up and they're going to say, "What happened?

CURWOOD: And when it comes to protecting rivers--one man asks us to think a bit differently...

MANNING: What if rivers where round? That is, what if the mouth of the river, the end of it dumped into its headwaters? So everything that we dumped in the river came right back around to haunt us again. How would we behave differently as humans? I think that's a vital question.

CURWOOD: That's this week on Living on Earth. Right after this news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Old Colony Rail Line Restored

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood with an encore edition of Living on Earth.
The southeastern corner of Massachusetts is known as the Old Colony and its towns, including Plymouth, are some of the earliest settlements in the nation. The restoration of passenger rail service connecting the area to Boston has sparked a lively discussion about future development in the region, which is known for its pine barrens, farm land and cranberry bogs. Some applaud the rail line it as a smart way to reduce pollution and congestion from cars. But others say the new train service could promote sprawl and unwanted growth. Jeb Sharpe has our report.

(Train bells clanking)

WOMAN: Good morning. Thank you for riding Commuter Rail Old Colony. Good morning.

(Bells continue; ambient conversation)

SHARPE: When the Old Colony Railroad chugged to life again after more than 30 years of silence, no one was happier than commuter Dan Olbrook, who until then had driven to work.

OLBROOK: Driving into Boston's almost indescribable. (Laughs) It's totally frustrating, time-consuming, and very unpredictable. There's really, on a day to day basis you don't really know when you're gong to get to work, you know, how aggravating the commute's going to be. So this is much nicer.

(Echoes, trains moving)

SHARPE: The appeal to commuters of the gleaming new trains is undeniable. The big question is whether the region is ready to handle the growth and development they could trigger. The Old Colony region, between Boston and Cape Cod, is already among the fastest-growing areas in the northeastern United States. Planners predict even more newcomers will be attracted by the new rail line and an influx of state dollars to improve the region's roads. That growth spurt could alter the landscape forever, warns Mark Primack, director of the Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts.

PRIMACK: If we don't take care, we will not just see suburban sprawl, but I think we will see the worst kind of suburban sprawl, because many of the towns are small, they don't have paid planners. They don't have paid conservation agents. You've got volunteer boards who are going to be dealing with large developers, with lawyers, with engineers, and their own surveyors. And I think that we're going to see towns just get bowled over and then 10 years from now they're going to wake up and they're going to say, "What happened?"

SHARPE: But according to Bob Yaro, who teaches at Harvard's Graduate School of Design, this development nightmare need not take place. He suggests the region take a lesson from the past.

YARO: We could use these commuter rail lines, for example, as the impetus for a whole new approach to development that in fact is very much like the approach to development that was the norm before World War II in this country.

SHARPE: More village-scale development with a mix of shops and offices and residences, close enough for kids to walk to schools and commuters to train stations. Bob Yaro says local officials should act now, while the majority of the region is still undeveloped.

YARO: What they need to do is to adopt new zoning and subdivision controls that essentially revert to the traditional patterns of growth in this region. And again, this is the oldest settled region in the country and the traditions are right there. So it's going back to much smaller lot sizes. It's certainly higher densities, although they don't need to be urban densities. They can still be densities that are very consistent with the patterns that used to be the norm in these places.

SHARPE: Dense development around commuter rail stations and town centers allows communities to preserve open space. But according to planner Peter Calthorpe, saving green space is only one reason to create tighter, more walkable communities. Mr. Calthorpe is an influential proponent of New Urbanism, an approach to development that advocates such clustered layouts.

CALTHORPE: People I think are quite hungry for a stronger sense of community and connectedness. I mean, the isolation of moving from one parking lot to the next is deeply frustrating to lots of people, and clearly takes a huge toll on kids and the elderly. A lot of people say that's nostalgic. I think it's terribly healthy. A longing to kind of re-establish a more diverse and more interesting sense of community than we get through our TV sets.

YANKOPOLOUS: There are urban planners who have this, "This is the way things ought to be if I were God" syndrome.

SHARPE: Gus Yankopolous is development director for the town of Wareham, one of the Old Colony region's poorer communities.

YANKOPOLOUS: And unfortunately, the grand scheme guys really don't understand how the market works. What do you do with a person who happens to be, own a lot of land in the middle of that best zone, doesn't want to sell the developers land, but someone on the outskirts of it does?

SHARPE: Planners admit there are plenty of obstacles to managing growth. City officials have trouble coordinating regional plans. They're generally more preoccupied with competing with their neighbors for precious development dollars. And developers and banks aren't used to building the kind of mixed use centers New Urbanists advocate. Harvard's Bob Yaro says southeastern Massachusetts is as good a place as any to tackle the problem.

YARO: We're facing these same development pressures, the same very damaging patterns of suburban sprawl. And this, you know, changed the landscape a little bit. And the same images could have been portrayed for suburban Phoenix or suburban Dallas or suburban Seattle, from the people who brought you Plymouth Rock and the American Revolution. Let's hope that, you know, we'll have another shot heard 'round the world here.

SHARPE: Nothing explosive is happening yet. But state officials have acknowledged the region needs serious attention. They've started with $125,000 in grant money for local planning agencies and $30 million to buy and protect open space, both in the Old Colony region and on nearby Cape Cod. Some grumble it's too little, too late. Others say there's time to save the character of the land the Pilgrims settled. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeb Sharpe in Boston.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: For a tape or transcript of our program, please call, anytime,
1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-99-88 for tapes and transcripts.
Coming up: a journey down the river of no return. Stay tuned to Living On Earth.

(Music up and under)

One Round River

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Gold expresses itself wherever water wells up out of the earth, and that happens wherever there are mountains and rivers. The Blackfoot River in western Montana is one of these rivers. The Blackfoot was made famous by the book and movie "A River Runs Through It," but the river that people saw in the movie was actually the Gallatin. Logging and mining destroyed much of the Blackfoot, and now the river faces what may be its biggest threat. Despite some protests, a giant gold mine is rising along its banks. Richard Manning lived near the Blackfoot for many years, and he's written a book called One Round River: The Curse of Gold and the Fight for the Big Blackfoot. He joined us recently to talk about his book, and he started out by confessing how he got its title.

MANNING: I stole it.

CURWOOD: Stole it?

MANNING: (Laughs) That's where people tend to get titles. But I tend to steal from the best, and I stole from Aldo Leopold. Aldo Leopold some time ago wrote a wonderful essay called "One Round River," and he just came up with the idea that now wait a minute, what if our rivers were round? That is to say, what if the mouth of the river, the end of it dumped into its headwaters? So everything that we dumped in the river came right back around to haunt us again. How would we behave differently as humans? I think that's a vital question. And what I try to make or argue in the book is that they really are round, and the joke here is on us, that those things do come back to haunt us.

CURWOOD: This proposed mine, they've got a lot of earth to move to get to the gold, don't they?

MANNING: They'll dig a hole that's visible from space, which is true of almost all of the gold mines being built in the United States right now.

CURWOOD: Visible from space? What do you mean? How big is this thing?

MANNING: It would be about a mile across, and about three quarters of a mile wide, and about 1,800 feet deep. It's a very large hole.

CURWOOD: Now, you write that image lies at the root of the problem. What do you mean by that?

MANNING: In the specific case of gold, our idea is really what causes us to pursue it. If we think about it, gold really has no value. Its primary use in this country and worldwide for that matter is in jewelry, which is an idea. It's an idea of status, and it's an idea of what makes us look good. But beyond that, I'm more concerned with the idea of the West, and the mythology of the West, and the idea that the real landscape is being forced to conform to now by being remade into somebody's vision of the way cowboys lived 100 years ago, or the way mountain bikers ought to live today.

CURWOOD: In your book you make a rather interesting distinction between logging on one hand and mining on the other. Both of these clearly damage the environment if they're not done properly. So what's the difference?

MANNING: We have this buzzword in the environmental movement and in general these days: sustainability. And everybody is kind of searching for the Holy Grail of sustainability. How we conduct our lives in a way that can go on forever. And while there are all sorts of problems with logging and ranching and we know about those and we've dealt with them, we have to come back to a fundamental fact that both of those enterprises rest on the continued health of the environment in some way. In other words, you can't be a logger or your son or daughter can't be loggers unless trees grow in the future. That's not true of mining. Mining is inherently unsustainable. It does not deal in the life cycle. Its announced purpose is to go and dig up something that is dead and move on to the next place. And so, it belongs in a completely different category than logging and ranching.

CURWOOD: You write at one point that you have no interest in providing balance to this story. Hey, I thought you're a journalist here.

MANNING: Yeah, I am a journalist. I still am a journalist. And I don't think it's a journalist's job to provide balance. It's very much like a crime reporter trying to write about a mugging in which he was the victim. My body is made up of water and air, and when those things are fouled by the people in industries around me, then I'm personally threatened by that. And to not admit that I'm personally threatened by that is simply not being in possession of all the facts.

CURWOOD: You bring up the question of action against the mine. And you write, "I would kill someone in a heartbeat if I thought it could stop that mine." That's a pretty tough statement. Do you mean it?

MANNING: Yeah, I'm afraid I do. I don't mean that statement in isolation, though. Because and I thought long and hard before I wrote that, and it just came out of my keyboard one day. And then I had the decision, do I leave it there or do I take that out? Because I know it's going to cause controversy, and I know it'll cause people to misread the book, or to misinterpret it as a call for violence. And I'm not doing that at all. What I mean to say there, and why I said it that way, is and I go on to say, if it would make a difference, and I know that it wouldn't. And I phrase it that way because I want people to understand that the strongest possible action that anyone could imagine would be to kill someone to stop that mine. And if I took that strongest possible action, nothing would happen. There would be no scenario that I could imagine that would lead my killing someone to stopping that mine. That's how inexorable these forces are. That's why we can't stop these mines, or really can't think through the degradation we're causing the environment. Because these forces are set in motion by things that can't even be stopped or started by murder.

CURWOOD: What's the legacy of mining in the United States?

MANNING: The best way to answer that, I think, is to go up another fork of the Clark Fort River, of which the Blackfoot is one. And that flows 130 miles upstream to Butte. Butte's a mining town, and Butte is where our history of mining is written in a big way. And you remember, I described the size of the pit that this gold mine would be. There's almost exactly the same size pit at Butte. But that stems from mining that goes back about 100 years. It's a Federal Superfund site, as is most of the Clark Fort River. One of the most polluted places in the United States. That mining has existed for 100 years and still, still there are no solutions. There's nothing, even on paper, to say this is how we're going to deal with this issue, this is how we're going to clean this up. There are hundreds of such sites around the Western United States. The legacy of mining is one of severe problems and of problems that we simply haven't dealt with, despite the fact they've been on our plate for generations.

CURWOOD: Richard Manning's latest book is called One Round River: The Curse of Gold and the Fight for the Big Blackfoot. Thanks, Richard, for joining us.

MANNING: Thank you, Steve.

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(Music up and under)

Stanley Basin Blues

CURWOOD: As a teenager, producer Jane Fritz visited a wild river in central Idaho's Stanley Basin for the first time. It ran through a sparsely-populated valley rimmed by miles-high jagged mountains. And it was filled with thousands of salmon and steelhead trout. The fish would journey 900 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean back to their birth waters to spawn and die. This river became her favorite wild place. But her visits there now have become melancholy. From her home in Clark Fork, Idaho, Jane Fritz sent us this reporter's notebook.

(A car engine runs)

FRITZ: I first saw this wild river as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school. My best friend, her sister, and I drove cross-country looking for adventure. The sign in our car window read Idaho Or Bust, puzzling most folks along the way. But I knew better. I grew up with my father's amazing stories about fishing Idaho's spectacular Salmon River.

(Rushing water)

FRITZ: It's known as the River of No Return.

(Rushing water continues)

FRITZ: The headwaters of the Salmon River are here in this valley, surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Sawtooths. From a tiny, shallow stream grows a wild river, flowing fast and flamboyant over colorful rocks, curving around mountains, and dancing past boulders.

(Mozart plays)

FRITZ: Mozart, I think, must have written his piano concertos for this place.

(Mozart and rushing water continue)

FRITZ: Downstream, the Salmon River deepens and widens, its unbridled wildness challenging river rafters and boaters. But here in the Stanley Basin, it's still a youthful river, and its tributaries are narrow and shallow. That June long ago, my friends and I saw chinook salmon swimming up a feeder stream to spawn in the gravel bed where it was born. We'd never seen such big fish. We didn't comprehend at the time their long journey from the ocean, nor the danger they faced in survival. But we returned home with our own fish stories to tell. A decade later I moved to Idaho, the memory of mountains and rivers with big fish luring me west.

(Mozart and rushing water continue)

FRITZ: There's this great picture of you here. What is this?

COLE: That's the first fish I ever caught (laughs).

FRITZ: That's no little fish. That's about 4 feet long.

COLE: Twenty-six and three quarter pounds (laughs).

FRITZ: My friend Kathy Cole owns the Sawtooth Hotel in Stanley, Idaho. The many photos on the hotel wall show dozens of huge salmon half as long as the fishermen straining to hold them up. I marvel at the number and size of the fish. Kathy says before 1960, the fishing was even better.

(Splashing water)

FRITZ: Kathy's husband Steve grew up in the valley. He recalls as a young boy some spawning streams being so thickly crammed with frenzied fish, their tails splashing, their bodies lurching half out of the water, that he could imagine walking across the stream on the backs of the big fish.

(Splashing continues, intensifies, decreases)

FRITZ: But the salmon and steelhead populations began to dwindle in the 60s and 70s. Four hydroelectric dams built on the lower Snake River downstream blocked their way. The last fishing season for wild salmon in the Stanley Basin was in 1976.

COLE: This year, they actually had what they considered a considerable number of salmon return, and that was in the range of 200 fish. Two hundred fish is as good as extinct in my mind, because it just is nothing in comparison to what was here in the past.

FRITZ: These spring and fall chinook, sockeye salmon, steelhead trout, were the strongest, most powerful swimmers in the Columbia River system. Kathy Cole believes that their loss is a wound that might never heal, despite heroic attempts to finally begin recovering the fish, through hatchery breeding and small release programs. The losses to the ecological integrity of the area and the genetic diversity of wild salmon are bad enough, Kathy says. But it's the cultural losses that really bother her. Lemhi-Shoshone and Shoshone-Bannock Indians have traditionally fished these waters for millennia. She imagines for them, losing the salmon would be like losing a member of the family. And then there's the others who now live in the valley.

COLE: It means that my children, who were born in the Stanley Basin, will never be able to fish for a native fish here. And I feel that that's their heritage. To lose something that magnificent to our culture and to our native waters here is a loss that I just can't put words to.

FRITZ: Kathy Cole doesn't want the photographs on the wall to be the only evidence of the abundant fishery once found here. She's encouraged by discussions underway to breach the four Snake River dams, to help the salmon in the Stanley Basin survive and perhaps even thrive again.

(Rushing water)

FRITZ: I still come here to the Salmon River, 400 miles from my home, when I need time alone. It's where I come to make decisions. To mull over the cycles of life and death. To connect with the memory of my father, who first told me about it. It's still the most beautiful and peaceful place I know. But every visit is a bittersweet one. The river's name has become almost a mockery of what it once was.

(Mozart plays; water rushes)

FRITZ: Years ago, my father told me that the Salmon got its nickname, "The River of No Return," because it was one incredibly wild river. I only hope that someday I don't have to tell my daughter that it was because the fish for which it was named never made it back. For Living on Earth, I'm Jane Fritz along the Salmon River near Stanley, Idaho.

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(Mozart and rushing water continue; fade to Mozart 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 coverage of science and the environment; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the David and Lucille Packard Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, suporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity, www.wajones.org; the Bullit Foundation; and Church and Dwight: a tradition of environmental responsibility; the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.

ANNOUNCER: This is NPR: National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: Producing better tasting wine by working more closely with Mother Nature in the vineyards. 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: profits for the planet, supporting initiatives that protect the earth.

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: 200 years ago this week, the nation's first successful commercial vineyard was established near Lexington, Kentucky. The 630-acre plot was owned by Jacques Dufour, a Swiss man who had been General LaFayette's personal winemaker. Wine has been cultivated for more than 5,000 years. Vitis vinifera (VEE-tus vihn-IHF-uruh) -- the grape plant -- probably originated from the region that is now Iraq and Iran. It was developed by ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks. Roman armies carried large supplies of wine to disinfect their water supplies, dress their battle wounds, and, of course, to drink. Giving advice on growing wine grapes, Virgil wrote: "Vines love an open hill." They're not so picky about the soil, though. Grape vines can grow in poor soils, since they can send their roots far below the surface to tap nutrients. But soil type does effect the taste -- as can weather conditions, topography, harvesting dates, as well as fermentation and aging methods. All of these determine which compounds the wine will produce. Some lend a black pepper aroma to California zinfandels. Others give sauvignons their hint of bell pepper flavor.

Back to top

We're about to find out how technology and tradition are yielding better tasting, naturally farmed grapes in California's wine country. Come with us.

(Music up and under)

Gentler Farming in Wine Country

MAN: There are many differences in the wine, and within that sort of red, white categories, there's a big range of flavors and styles.

(Children shouting)

CURWOOD: Fine wine. It speaks of elegance, gentle fields, and ancestry. And it draws tourists by the thousands to the intimate vineyards of California's Napa and Sonoma valleys just north of San Francisco. To many people, these narrow valleys of brilliant green leaves, rich brown soil, and pure blue sky, are wine country.

MAN: Spring time you get bud bursts. Eight of these shoots will get 2 potential punches going.

(Traffic sounds)

CURWOOD: But the heart of California's wine country is an hour or 2 by car southeast from Napa and Sonoma, down in the vast central valley. It's grittier territory, with more truck stops than genteel inns. But they grow good grapes here, and a lot of them. In fact, the area around the town of Lodi produces the largest share of premium varieties in the entire state. And here in these vineyards, growers are mounting one of the largest efforts in the nation to move beyond the age of intensive chemicals into an era of more natural farming, combining old time wisdom and the latest technology.

(A radio bleeps)

LANGE: Okay, hey Jose, are you out there. (Jose answers)

CURWOOD: Brad Lange needs a high-tech digital pocket radio to keep in touch with workers spread out over 4,000 acres of vineyards that his family owns and manages in Lodi. He's standing in a flat grid of vine rows that stretches out in every direction to the horizon.

WORKER: ... inside the Cabernet by the north...

CURWOOD: Brad Lange's family business, Lange Twins Farms, is a big modern operation that grosses somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million a year. But instead of relying heavily on chemicals and machines to manage the health of their vineyards, the Lange Twins are relying more and more on what's called IPM: Integrated Pest Management, using other plants, animals, and insects. They're leapfrogging backwards.

LANGE: If we're looking at how our fathers farmed and then go back one more generation, our grandfathers really farmed in a more natural way. Because they simply didn't have the chemical inputs that go into their vineyards. In many ways we're going back to our roots.

(Leaves shushing)

CURWOOD: Brad pulls back a few broad spiky leaves to reveal tiny green Cabernet Sauvignon grapes just starting to emerge. The vines march in lockstep across the gently rolling ground. This is one of the Lange Twins' premiere tracks. But instead of bare open soil between the rows, Brad is up to his shins in silver-green grass.

LANGE: This is not the traditional vineyard that would be grown here in the Lodi area. As we're walking through this, we have grasses from vine to vine.

(Footfalls)

CURWOOD: Many farmers would call these grasses weeds. But for Brad and his brother Randy, these are cover crops, which help with the work of caring for the vines.

LANGE: We actually encourage these types of grasses. This is a California native mix that we're walking through. These grasses are very non-competitive with the vine for soil nutrients and soil moisture.

CURWOOD: Why have grass in your vineyard?

LANGE: Well, it gives us many advantages really. One and foremost is the root system of the grasses that are established keep the soil open, and so we get better water penetration. The other advantages to us is that it does provide a host for the spiders and for predators that will feed on our pests that we have in vineyards, namely mites and grape leaf hoppers.

CURWOOD: I'm looking at what I would call a ladybug, being an easterner.

LANGE: Oh yeah.

CURWOOD: Is that good news for you or bad news?

LANGE: That's good news.

CURWOOD: Yeah.

LANGE: Yeah. They are predators and they will eat other eggs and insects that will feed on our leaves. In fact, there are companies that will sell ladybugs. But they're very expensive to introduce. What we're trying to do is not have to introduce them artificially. We're going to grow them on our own.

CURWOOD: The Langes have also planted French prune trees to provide a home for a tiny wasp which preys on the grape leaf hopper. But none of these changes would make any difference on the Lange's farm if they didn't do every day what Brad is doing now: walking the fields, checking the vines, watching for what pests are out there and at what levels. Experts say monitoring your fields is the key to integrated pest management, and deciding if and when to resort to chemical controls.

LANGE: I think what's different between us today and like my father, is that we're more reluctant to pull the trigger. We will stand more economic loss -- there's a snake, right there, going across.

CURWOOD: What kind of snake?

LANGE: It's just a common king snake type.

CURWOOD: It's got a big yellow stripe down it...

LANGE: Yeah. Everything comes full circle. If you have a healthier soil, you have organisms and insects and snakes and so on and so forth living in that environment. And that's what we're really trying to encourage.

(Footfalls. Fade to a motor turning over)

CURWOOD: Brad's gleaming new pickup sounds and feels more like a luxury car. He and his brother have clearly done well with the land handed down to them by their father and grandfather. Other farmers might be content to leave well enough alone, but the Lange twins grew up here. And they know that well enough really isn't well enough.

LANGE: We live in and amongst our vineyards. And most farmers do, particularly in this district. And we are also consumers. So we're very concerned about what we're doing to our environment. Not only to the air, to the land and to the water, but also what we're imparting onto the product itself. So that's been really the thrust. We consider ourselves natural farmers as opposed to organic. We like to view ourselves having all the tool box full of tools.

CURWOOD: The integrated pest management toolbox does include chemicals. Brad doesn't like to spray, but sometimes a certain bug gets out of hand or a fungus can't be controlled any other way. And when they have to go the chemical route, they use a lot less than they used to, and choose softer, more targeted compounds. In fact, reducing chemicals is so important to them that they've invented their own high-tech spraying system. It's so stingy that Brad says it's helped the vineyard cut its spray applications by more than half. He's eager to show it off.

LANGE: Okay, we're here, we'll go take a look.

(Door shuts, a rat-tat-tat sound. Hammering)

LANGE: This Acampo Machine Works, and he's a local blacksmith basically. The new blacksmith type.

CURWOOD: Funny looking horse.

LANGE: (Laughs) Yeah, right. And we got together, my brother and Craig got together, and actually figured out how they were going to engineer this and build this sprayer.

EDWARDS: We were sulfuring this morning. (Laughs) You know how that goes!

(Sounds of machinery)

CURWOOD: Craig Edwards built the one-of-a-kind rig, which Brad calls an electrostatic sprayer. It cost the Langes $75,000.

(Motor revs up)

CURWOOD: The electrostatic sprayer is hitched up to a massive yellow French tractor, almost 10 feet high. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie. It can straddle 3 vine rows at a time. The rig has special nozzles, which give whatever's being sprayed -- insecticides, fungicides, sulfur -- a small negative charge of static electricity that's the opposite of the natural charge on vegetation. So, instead of most of the spray just wafting off into the atmosphere and onto the ground, Craig says the spray from this rig is drawn to the vines, almost like a magnet.

EDWARDS: It's kind of like when you used to rub a balloon on your head and stick it to the TV and everybody went "wow!". It's the same kind of effect, that spray is attracted to the vine.

LANGE: The advantage to this machine is that instead of spraying 60 to 100 gallons of water with material mixed in it to the acre, we are going around 20 gallons of water. These chemicals are extremely expensive --

CURWOOD: How expensive are these chemicals?

LANGE: We buy them by the ounce, and some are very expensive, $20 to $40 an ounce on down.

CURWOOD: That's the price of perfume.

LANGE: Yeah. And that's kind of how we look at it, too, is that when we're putting it into a tank we're putting material by the ounce into the tank. With this sprayer, we're reducing the amount of chemical that we typically put out there. And by practicing some of our other IPM methods, we've actually gotten fields where we're not spraying them at all.

CURWOOD: There are obvious immediate benefits to the environment, and for the health and safety of Brad Lange's workers from this. Brad is also convinced that in time it will save money as well. The world is changing, he says, and farmers have to respond.

LANGE: But to change a practice, to make a radical change, even if it is 2 generations removed, it's really not unlike going to an edge of a cliff and taking a look out and taking a jump off that thing. And hope that you're going to land okay. Because every year you get one shot a year on raising good quality wine grapes. So we take a long view, and if we have to jump off that cliff we will.

CURWOOD: But they won't be jumping alone Brad Lange and his brother are sharing what they're learning about natural farming with any other growers who want to hear it. The lessons learned about cover crops and beneficial insects, about using compost instead of chemical fertilizer. They even want others to copy their electrostatic sprayer technology. In many ways, theirs is an experimental farm. There are no subsidies, but then they don't need them.

LANGE: We're not the largest grower, but we're one of the larger growers in this district. And because of that, we have the resources available to us to be able to take some of these chances. We try to take as much of a leadership role as we can, along with a whole lot of other folks in this area, to give us a network of growers that are willing to help each other.

(Traffic sounds)

OHMART: The purpose of this meeting literally is to get comfortable with the concept of IPM.

CURWOOD: In the shade of a mulberry tree, entymologist Cliff Ohmart leads a discussion of integrated pest management over a lunch of pizza and wine. The meeting is sponsored by the Lodi Woodbridge Wine Grape Commission, the organization through which Brad Lange and other local growers share information on integrated pest management. We're in the back yard of the old white farm house of the Pierano Estate Vineyards. Beyond the house, trucks speed along Highway 99. To the other side, the thick gnarled stalks of 100-year-old zinfandel vines.

OHMART: Any questions, any comments? It doesn't have to be a question.

FARMER: Did you say earlier that you consider vertebrate control in an IPM program, too?

OHMART: Yes.

FARMER: I never thought of it until I sat here as IPM. But one morning in our vineyard, which is up in the lower foothills, I drove up there early and counted 14 deer nipping, you know, on a recently new planted vineyard. And the first, you know, your first thought is get a depredation permit. Then you've got to explain to your wife who's going to divorce you...

(laughter from the others)

FARMER: And fortunately before we could do that, a lion moved into the area and the problem was solved.

CURWOOD: More than 400 growers have come to meetings like this. Some have a lot of experience with integrated pest management. Others, like Nancy Frank, are just starting out. She's planted 5 acres of zinfandel vines and is worried that if she doesn't spray when she sees pests, things will get out of hand.

FRANK: If the original aspects that you try to alleviate a problem don't work, what's the next step to go to, and how far do you let it go? And how do you make that distinction that's not going to take a toll on your vineyard? We're small time and we don't have a lot of money to lose. And so the less we lose the better off we're going to be.

CURWOOD: Nancy Frank and the other growers at the meeting go home with thick booklets on grapevine pests and natural controls. And an invitation to call any time for advice. The Wine Grape Commission is a state-sanctioned nonprofit group funded through mandatory assessments on the region's more than 600 growers. Director Mark Chandler says within a year after it began in 1991, it started an aggressive program to move its members toward more natural farming.

CHANDLER: We knew that regulations regarding agricultural chemicals were only going to get more burdensome, so we felt that it would serve the interests of our growers to prepare them for changes in ag chem use on a transitional basis, rather than just being surprised that the EPA took some certain chemical away. We believe firmly that this is the responsible way to farm. We are concerned that at some point in the future it may be the only way to farm.

CURWOOD: Mark Chandler says there's more demand for help in converting to integrated pest management than the Commission can meet. Still, the pace of change is slower than some here would like. Entymologist Cliff Ohmart says integrated pest management faces some strong institutional barriers.

OHMART: A very large portion of the growers get their pest management advice from people who sell chemicals. And that fact alone creates problems. If you sell a certain chemical, it might be easy to recommend that chemical. It's a system that definitely is part of the problem.

CURWOOD: But there's strong pressure the other way, too.

(Clanking bottles)

CURWOOD: At the Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Winery just outside of Lodi, thousands of pale green bottles clank onto a conveyor belt. Out the other end flow case after case of chardonnay. There are acres of wine in this bottling plant stacked to the ceiling. Mondavi's a big player in the US wine industry, accounting for 10% of the total business. And Woodbridge produces most of the company's wine. Like some other California wineries, Robert Mondavi has been working with its growers here to reduce chemical inputs. Marilyn Wolf is Woodbridge's manager of grower relations.

WOLF: The Mondavis were willing to take a risk. They were willing to go out and say let's wait a little bit longer, let's watch this and see what happens. We'll work with you. If this vineyard gets into trouble we'll pick it early or we'll find some way of working around it, so that, you know, your crop is not totally at risk out there.

CURWOOD: It can cost more to farm with integrated pest management, at least at the start. And Mondavi doesn't pay more for grapes grown this way. But Marilyn Wolf says that because using fewer chemicals also means producing better grapes, it's in the interests of their growers to do it.

WOLF: One way of looking at it is that we keep every vineyard lot separate through the wine making process and taste it every year. And then we rank all the wines. So I think that's the incentive for a grower to keep improving his quality. He'll have a home.

(Clanking sounds)

LANGE: Hello, Felipe

FELIPE: Hello, Salvador.

LANGE: Are you glad to get off the sulfur rig?

FELIPE: It's better.

LANGE: Yeah, a lot better.

FELIPE: Yeah.

CURWOOD: These grapes are cabernet sauvignon?

LANGE: Yes.

CURWOOD: And you sell these to?

LANGE: Robert Mondavi.

CURWOOD: So if I go to the store and buy it, it would be called?

LANGE: Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon.

CURWOOD: Okay, what's the best year? You can tell us.

LANGE: Every year.

(They both laugh)

CURWOOD: Brad Lange says he's growing better grapes since he and his brother have cut back on chemicals. He says he's also seen his vineyards spring to life with crickets, birds, spiders, and deer.

(A motor turns over)

CURWOOD: As we drive back to the Lange Twins office, Brad points out owl boxes they've put up. Their cover crops attract gophers, so they use owls and hawks to keep them in check. We pass vineyards dotted by oak trees, unlike the treeless terrain of many other nearby vineyards.

LANGE: In the overall scheme of things of how we would like to live here, it's just not a monoculture, it's many things. It's the cows and the cattle to the right of us, the vineyard to the left of us, and the trees that are scattered throughout. And that is a decision really more of a quality of life decision as opposed to hard economics. And we feel that the indigenous oak trees and this, the valley oaks in this valley, some of these trees are 150 to 300 years old. That they need to be here, because they truly are a part of our heritage.

(A car door opens)

CURWOOD: Back at the Lange Twins office, the thermometers are already pushing 90. It's Saturday morning and Brad's still got most of the day in the fields ahead of him. When you live on your farm, it's hard to get away from work, and moving from chemical-intensive farming to integrated pest management means even more work for his family. In a business that's always demanding, Brad says not everyone is ready for this kind of challenge.

LANGE: We have growers that may always calendar spray. They may never plant a cover crop or a French prune tree, or actually more closely monitor their vineyards to establish a higher economic threshold to spray. What we think we're doing here, and what all agriculture is evolving to, is to raise the curve. We'll always have the ones that won't, and we'll always have the ones that are going to be at the leading edge.

CURWOOD: Brad Lange is comfortable at that leading edge. He's got the temperament, the imagination, and the capital to be an innovator. But here in Lodi, in the conservative central valley, he's also got support. An enlightened growers association. Strong backing from the wineries that buy his crops. And a similar commitment from a lot of his fellow farmers. It's easier to stand out from the crowd, when a lot of the crowd is coming right behind you.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our report on integrated pest management was produced by Living on Earth's Peter Thomson.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: You can help us by taking a bit of time to join the Living on Earth survey. Please go to our web page at www dot livingonearth dot org, and click on the survey form. It'll give us valuable information to help us bring you better programming in the future. Again, the place to fill out the Living on Earth survey is: www.livingonearth.org. And thanks.
Coming up: A living machine at a nature preserve. Stay tuned to Living On Earth.

(Music up and under)

"Living Machine" at Swamp Sanctuary

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
In southwest Florida, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has become one of the state's hottest tourist destinations. The Audubon Society site features a boardwalk through miles of an ancient cypress swamp. The spot is favored by birders, who flock there year-round to search for blue heron, red-shouldered hawks, wood storks, and barred owls. The growth in tourism put pressure on the sanitary facilities, but instead of constructing a traditional sewage treatment system, the Corkscrew staff decided to try something different. Taking a page from the pioneering work of John Todd and others, they built what's called a Living Machine to deal with the wastewater. Alexis Muellner explains.

(Children's voices)

MUELLNER: A group of 25 youngsters from a Fort Myers nature camp has just arrived at Corkscrew Swamp. They're here to explore the sanctuary's 2-mile boardwalk and scout birds, gators, and snakes. But first things first.

MAN: Anybody need to use the restroom?

CHILDREN: Me!

WOMAN: Everybody head on in there.

MAN: Let's go, we're all heading there.

MUELLNER: The kids are led through a 70-foot-long greenhouse lined with large plastic tanks. They think that they're going to the bathroom, but they soon learn that their tour has just begun. Corkscrew's environmental educator is Brooke Langston.

LANGSTON: Well, good morning, and welcome to Corkscrew Swamp. So what's going on in this building? Why do we have what looks like a greenhouse attached to the restrooms, and why do we have fish outside the restrooms? Tell me what's going on here. Start us off.

MUELLNER: This lesson is taking place in what's called a Living Machine, a system that tries to mimic nature. In this case by cleaning and recycling wastewater without mechanical filtration and with few if any chemicals. Ms. Langston tells her young audience that waste from the building's toilets is being sent to 2 underground septic tanks. It's then channeled into 5 huge tubs bulging with plant life and other swamp critters.

LANGSTON: Also in those holding tanks are something called microbes, or microbiotic animals. Anybody want to take a guess on what those are in those tanks for?

CHILD: Eating bacteria?

LANGSTON: You are so exactly right. Those microbiotic animals that are in there are not only eating bacteria but they're eating everything that you've just flushed. How's that for a fun thought?

CHILD: Oh, yucko! (Others echo.)

MUELLNER: From the tanks the children follow the wastewater as it flows into 2 artificial marshes filled with wetland plants. Like alligator flag, swamp lily, and pickerel weed. The roots of those plants remove nitrogen from the water before it's fed into 3 tall fish tanks containing a black bass and some mosquito-eating gambusia.

(Running water; ambient children's voices)

LANGSTON: Well that's a good question. Is that water or is that pee?

CHILD: Both.

(Running water continues)

LANGSTON: It's water. There may be slight tiny minute traces of biotic matter in it, but is it killing the fish?

CHILDREN: No.

LANGSTON: No. Does it smell? Kennedy, stick your nose up on top of that tank and take a deep breath.

(Running water continues)

MUELLNER: From here, the treated water is sent back to the restrooms where it's used again for flushing.

(Running water; fade to footfalls)

MUELLNER: This Living Machine is more than a sophisticated teaching tool. It's a model for the way entire cities might treat and recycle their wastewater in the future. That's why Florida environmental compliance officer Tom Jackson is here today, testing the waters, so to speak.

(A door opens.)

JACKSON: At the very back end of the system, whoo, you can smell the chlorine. And what I'm doing here is just taking a chlorine measurement to make sure that the level is what's required by their permit.

MUELLNER: State officials are intrigued by the Living Machine, but they worry the system doesn't meet health codes. So they require that the water be treated with chlorine before it's sent to the toilets. They also say the Living Machine needs a stronger test. They want to send more sewage directly to the system, bypassing the septic tanks.

(Swirling water)

JACKSON: You can see the clarity of that water. The suspended material and the BOD removal is just excellent, and a lot of that's being done in the pretreatment, in the septic tanks. And what we hope we see them do as their flow increases is to put less of that through the septic tank system and more of it into the Living Machine to actually kind of stress it, get out on the highway and open the throttle up and see how it does.

MUELLNER: For the Audubon Society, that means retrofitting the Living Machine with costly additional equipment. But Neil Harden says it should easily pass all tests. He's a wastewater specialist hired by Audubon to monitor the system.

HARDEN: This was cheaper to build than a conventional plant of the same capacity. It does at least as good a job in treating the water if not better. It requires less electricity. It generates less sludge. It does all this without the nasty side effects of a conventional wastewater plant, that of being loud, smelly, and unsightly.

MUELLNER: Corkscrew's waste treatment machine was built by the Burlington, Vermont, company Living Technologies. There are 18 similar facilities around the country. One treats the waste of 2,000 people in a Vermont community. There's another at a chocolate plant in Nevada. Most recently, a brewery in Sonoma, California, installed one.

(Children's voices and footfalls)

MUELLNER: At Corkscrew, the Living Machine fits the Audubon Society's mission and its pocketbook. And for educator Brooke Langston, it's been a lesson in how much interest can generate from a newfangled toilet using old- fashioned principles.

LANGSTON: You can teach environmental education everywhere you go. You can teach it inside a dirty subway station or out on the most beautiful mountain.

MUELLNER: Or even in a bathroom. For Living on Earth, I'm Alexis Muellner at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, east of Naples, Florida.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Our production team is: George Homsy, Jesse Wegman, Terry Fitzpatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman and Miriam Landman -- along with Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw and Julia Madeson. We had help from Jim Frey, Rebecca Sladeck-Nowlis, Anne Perry and David Winickoff. Our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky. Peter Thomson heads our western bureau. Joyce Hackel is our senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm executive producer Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

(Music up and under)

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 Hewlitt Foundation, for reporting on Western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts, for reporting on threats to the world's marine environmrnt, www.pewtrusts.com; Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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