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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

January 15, 1999

Air Date: January 15, 1999

SEGMENTS

Red Wolf Roams Again / Diane Toomey

Red wolves are being reintroduced to the wilds of North Carolina. The animal once ranged throughout the southeast and as far north as Pennsylvania. The effort is hailed as the first successful reintroduction of a predator that had been declared extinct in the wild. But the program has its critics. From Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Diane Toomey reports. (12:50)

Norway Bans Big Malls

In an effort to revitalize city centers, reduce sprawl and encourage use of public transportation, Norway's government has banned construction outside city centers of any new shopping mall larger than 3,000 square meters. Host Laura Knoy talks with the country's Deputy Minister for the Environment, Jasper Simonsen. (03:45)

A World Under the Ice / Sy Montgomery

Living On Earth commentator Sy Montgomery walks on the frozen ponds near her home in New Hampshire, following in Thoreau's footsteps to search for life through the "icy window." (03:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... the white Kermode bear of British Columbia. (01:30)

1999 State of the World Report

Each year, the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, DC, releases its State of the World report. In this year’s edition, population pressures are pegged as one of the most serious threats to the planet’s health. Host Laura Knoy speaks with Lester Brown, president of the Institute and a lead author of the report. (05:30)

The Ice Storm Revisited / Bob Carty

One year after the worst ice storm of the century, U-S and Canadian residents are still picking up the pieces and counting the economic, emotional and ecological costs. Producer Bob, who covered the storm last year for Living On Earth, went back last week to have a look at the forests. (08:15)

Whales vs. Gulls / Rachael Anne Goodman

In southern Argentina, one of the rarest whales in the world - the Right Whale - is under siege. Sea gulls have inexplicably begun to gouge out chunks of the whales' flesh when the mammal comes to rest on the surface. Rachael Anne Goodman visited Argentina's Penisula Valdes, the site where researchers first noted the gulls' strange behavior. (07:30)

Killer Radio / Tom Banse

There's a new radio station on the air in British Columbia, and it's like no other. ORCA-FM broadcasts live, round-the-clock sounds of killer whales. Correspondent Tom Banse (BAHN-see) reports. (03:15)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOUR HOST: Laura Knoy
REPORTERS: Diane Toomey, Bob Carty, Rachel Anne Goodman, Tom Banse
GUESTS: Jasper Simonsen, Lester Brown
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.

The red wolf roams again in the wilds of North Carolina. Some hunters and landowners object, but state officials say the reintroduction must succeed if regulations protecting the predator are ever to be lifted.

KELLY: We are recovering a critically endangered species. Now, I have no problem with having some sort of harvest on red wolves at some point in time, but we're not going to do that if we're fought every step of the way to accomplish that goal. We are so close to losing this animal.

KNOY: And Norwegians forbid the construction of new mega-malls as part of a larger battle against sprawl.

SIMONSEN: We don't think a ban in itself is the perfect means, but it's necessary to get the planning started.

KNOY: And a look at what lurks beneath the winter ice. Those stories this week on Living on Earth. First, news.

Back to top

(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Red Wolf Roams Again

KNOY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy, sitting in for Steve Curwood. The Endangered Species Act just turned 25, and in that quarter century the release of one animal into the wild has stirred perhaps more passion and debate than any of the others: the reintroduction of the wolf. Officials are turning the elusive creatures loose in various locales. There's the gray wolf project in Yellowstone. And recently, Mexican wolves were reintroduced into Arizona, although many of those animals have been shot. But there's a much less publicized wolf recovery program that predates both efforts: the release of red wolves in North Carolina. These animals once ranged throughout the southeast and as far north as Pennsylvania. The effort is hailed as the first success for reintroduction of a predator that had been declared extinct in the wild. But the program has its critics. From Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Diane Toomey reports.

(Truck on gravel road)

TOOMEY: Michael Morse grips the wheel of his flatbed truck as he rumbles down a bumpy gravel road. Today the Fish and Wildlife Service biologist is out to check trap lines.

MORSE: We're headed out into the middle of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the mainland of Deer County. Alligator River's got a real diverse selection of wildlife, going from rabbits and raccoon and white-tailed deer to black bear, American alligator, bobcat, red wolves. We'll be in the farm field section today. It's about 10,000 acres of co-oped farms, where 2 groups of wolves live.

TOOMEY: Michael Morse hopes to catch and radio-collar some of this year's crop of wolf pups, now about 7 months old. It has been more than 2 centuries since wolves roamed here. That's how long ago white settlers exterminated the last of the population in coastal North Carolina. The ones that make their home here now are all the descendants of red wolves born into a captive breeding program started in the 1980s. A decade before that, biologists realized the animals were in danger of being lost to interbreeding with coyotes. So they captured the very last pocket of wild red wolves roaming coastal Louisiana and Texas. Since 1987 the program has released 73 wolves onto 3 refuges here on North Carolina's sandy coastal plains. But many of those original animals got hit by cars or made one too many backyard appearances and had to be recaptured. But ultimately, pups born into the wild adjusted. Morse says an estimated 80 to 100 red wolves now roam close to a million acres in eastern North Carolina, and all but one were born out here.

MORSE: In fact, the only captive-released animal in the program is living right here to our left. He's going on 11 years old now, and that's very, very old for a wolf. We expect him not to be around much longer.

TOOMEY: Despite his advanced years, that wolf is still fathering pups, including the one that will be trapped today.

(Footfalls through growth)

MORSE: See the bushes? There he is.

(Footfalls)

TOOMEY: In the bushes next to an open field a 30-pound pup is putting up a frantic struggle. Earlier this morning she stepped onto a rubber-padded trap buried in the sandy soil, and then ran into the safety of these bushes. Michael Morse has spotted the hiding place and stands on the metal weight attached to the trap to prevent the wolf from running. The animal steals a panicked glance back at him.

(Chains)

TOOMEY: Michael Morse fits a metal noose around her neck and drags her out of the bushes. The wolf lies motionless now. Her amber eyes stare vacantly beyond him.

MORSE: See how she's lying there. She's almost in a state of shock, I mean just mild shock, because she's just scared. I'm even holding her down.

TOOMEY: This animal will eventually weight up to 65 pounds and stand 2 feet at the shoulder. Smaller than the gray wolves of the American West. And although this is a red wolf, her coat is brown and black. If there is red to be seen it's just a tint on the back of her neck when the sun hits it.

MORSE: What I'm going to do is go ahead and drug her, and take her back to the truck and we'll work her up.

TOOMEY: As the wolf lies prone on the tailgate, he weighs, measures, and vaccinates her against rabies and other diseases. But by now, the anesthesia is wearing off and a bit of a struggle is beginning.

(Sounds of struggle in the truck)

MORSE: She's ready, I'm telling you.

TOOMEY: The wolves have access to well over a half million acres of public land. In addition, almost 20 landowners have given formal permission for the wolves to roam their property. Brian Kelly is the Fish and Wildlife Service's field coordinator for red wolf recovery. Speaking in the middle of a maple and pine forest on the Alligator River refuge, Kelly says these agreements have added hundreds of thousands of acres to the wolves' available range and are the linchpin of this program.

(Bird calls)

KELLY: It takes privately an owner cooperation, especially in the eastern United States where so much of the land is private. And despite what I would characterize as a vocal minority, the private landowners in North Carolina have been wonderful. So public land, complemented by private land, is something that is going to make red wolf restoration possible.

TOOMEY: The vocal minority Kelly refers to is in part made up of landowners who don't want wolves on their property. That's despite the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service has legally designated these animals as experimental and non-essential. This label means that anyone can kill a wolf if it's caught in the act of attacking people, pets, or livestock. And if a landowner requests it, the Fish and Wildlife Service must remove wolves from private property. While some landowners have problems with the reintroduction program, so do some hunters. Marco Gibbs has been hunting and trapping in this area since he was a boy.

GIBBS: Where the red wolves have moved in, and where you see a lot of red wolves on, the deer population may not drop immediately but it does start declining pretty soon thereafter. And within a few years the deer population is gone. Last year on a piece of land I hunt, we saw about 3 deer the whole season. Now I'm sure there was more than that, but for a big area like that, that's not any deer to be seen.

TOOMEY: But North Carolina hunting records show deer harvests have fluctuated only slightly since wolves were reintroduced here. Others say the Fish and Wildlife Service hasn't made a good faith attempt to remove wolves from their property, but the Agency says it does respond to all requests to remove a nuisance animal, even though removing wolves can mean breaking up a family pack and risking that those animals might never breed or successfully raise pups. Kelly says the sooner the program is deemed a success, the sooner the Federal regulations protecting these wolves will be lifted.

KELLY: We are recovering a critically endangered species. When we are successful, the management of this species will go back to the state of North Carolina. Now, I have no problem with having some sort of harvest on red wolves at some point in time, but we're not going to do that if we're fought every step of the way to accomplish that goal. We are so, so close to losing this animal that we can't even consider that until we get more numbers in the wild.

(Wolves howling)

TOOMEY: The moon on this night is 4 days shy of full. However, these captive wolves, part of the reintroduction of its breeding program, aren't howling at the night sky but at a couple of hunting dogs illegally left out on the refuge.

(Howling continues)

TOOMEY: About 100 people have gathered tonight on a road that cuts through the refuge, all in an attempt to hear what has not been heard in this region for over two centuries. This is senior citizen Janet Davis's first time at a howling, as the events are called.

DAVIS: I can hardly believe it, you know, that those were wolves out there, that close, and howling. And I was hearing them.

TOOMEY: Did you give it a howl?

DAVIS: Yes.

(Howls, laughs.)

TOOMEY: This public relations effort, sponsored by the Fish and Wildlife Service, is designed to teach people about the wolves. And this tourism may in part help defend the reintroduction program against the legal challenge it now faces. Two North Carolina counties, as well as 2 landowners, have filed suit in Federal Court, claiming the Federal Government has no authority to regulate wolves on private property. That's because, the plaintiffs say, the Federal Government derives its authority from the US Constitution's Commerce Clause, which allows the Federal Government to regulate matters having to do with interstate commerce. Supporters of the reintroduction say that people come from other states to see, listen to, or study these wolves. So their presence does involve commerce. Chris Graebe, an attorney for the plaintiffs, says that logic is flawed.

GRAEBE: Our position is that the Federal Government can't create interstate commerce by building a tourist attraction. It would be tantamount to the Federal Government setting up the Federal Center for Promotion of the American Family and then, having done that, regulating marriage and divorce in the states based on tourism. That kind of argument just won't fly.

TOOMEY: But advocates of the reintroduction say the degree of protection granted an endangered species does in fact impact commerce in a fundamental way. Derb Carter is a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

CARTER: We don't know at what point which species is going to cause the whole natural web of life and system to unravel, and certainly that would have tremendous impacts on commerce under anyone's analysis. And that is so closely tied with economic uses that there is a strong and legitimate Federal interest in providing this protection to protect biodiversity.

TOOMEY: The landowners recently lost their case in Federal District Court, but that's almost certainly just the first round in a longer legal battle. Their attorneys say the outcome of this case will affect other wolf reintroductions, but not those of other species. However, program supporters say if the landowners ultimately win, that outcome could seriously impair the ability of the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect any endangered species. In the meantime, the red wolf program has suffered a setback.

(Doors opening)

TOOMEY: The 4 pups that sit quietly in dog kennels in the back of this U-Haul have traveled from one end of North Carolina to the other. This is the only surviving litter from the red wolf reintroduction program at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, an effort that recently shut down because the wolves there weren't able to catch enough prey on that steep, heavily- forested land. After a couple of days on the road, the wolves are carried into one of the empty pens in the captive breeding area.

(Footfalls)

TOOMEY: Perhaps too traumatized to recognize an open door when they see one, the 7-month-old pups are encouraged to leave with some banging on their kennels, but finally have to be poured out of their carriers.

(Banging on metal)

TOOMEY: Doing the banging and pouring is Chris Lucash, the Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who oversaw the program in the Smokeys since its inception 7 years ago.

LUCASH: We didn't know what we didn't know back then. We didn't know how ignorant we were of these animals' needs. We had no idea what size of the piece of property we were going to need or how many wolves would fit on a particular size. And that's something that's always going to be changing, and the wolves are going to determine it. We thought heck, the wolves will make do.

TOOMEY: But armed with data from both a success and a disappointment, the Fish and Wildlife Service is now searching for a new reintroduction site within the red wolves' historic range. The Service says once the animals' numbers reach 220 strong in the wild, spread out over 3 locations, it will consider its program a success. Regardless of where those sites are, it's a safe bet that the wolves' presence will evoke both affection and fear.

(Howling)

TOOMEY: Perhaps one of the nation's first conservationists, Aldo Leopold, was correct when he wrote, "Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf." For Living on Earth, I'm Diane Toomey.

Back to top

(Howling continues; fade to music up and under)

KNOY: Coming up: no more malls for one Scandinavian country. Norwegians ban new mall construction for the sake of cities. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Norway Bans Big Malls

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. While politicians in the United States argue about the best way to limit suburban sprawl, Norwegians are doing something about it. Last week, by royal decree, Norway's government banned construction outside city centers of any new shopping mall larger than 3,000 square meters. Malls have been proliferating throughout Norway in recent years, in part because an increase in oil revenue has left many Norwegians with more disposable income. The country's Deputy Minister for the Environment, Jasper Simonsen, says most Norwegians agree the mall boom had to be halted to bring commerce back to city centers.

SIMONSEN: In some areas, big malls have reduced the shopping in the centers of the city by 30%. But I think it could have gone much further if we hadn't stopped it now.

KNOY: Mr. Simonsen, why this ban now? Why not 5 years ago or 10 years ago? Why now?

SIMONSEN: Yeah, we should probably have done it 5 years ago. But it takes some time to mature the population and to realize what situation you are in. And I think, well, it's now.

KNOY: (Laughs) How do local authorities feel about the national government saying you can't do this any more?

SIMONSEN: In fact, we made a proposition and we sent it around to all the local authorities. And among 450 local authorities in Norway it was only 7 who opposed it. So I think the local authorities think this is a good idea. But they couldn't take the first step. It had to be the national government who took it.

KNOY: One of the reasons businesses might have complained would be the higher cost of locating in a city center.

SIMONSEN: Yes, of course, but I think most of the business would agree that it's kind of equal ground, equal competition. Then if they have higher costs, then they can make their consumers pay for it. And all the time, when you make some regulations, some are better off and some are worse off. But we had to decide what's best for the totality, and I think we have found that.

KNOY: So you're saying that businesses concerned about the cost at least are all on an equal playing field. They're all going to have to pay higher costs to locate in the center city.

SIMONSEN: That's what I'm saying. And many businesses are already established in the city center, so they are of course very happy.

KNOY: Are there any loopholes in this new ban that you're concerned about?

SIMONSEN: Yeah, there will always be some loopholes. Therefore, we have said that this ban is only going to be in effect for 5 years, and that it should be after that replaced by good planning on the regional level. So we don't think a ban in itself is the perfect means, but it's necessary to get the planning started.

KNOY: Do you think that other European countries are looking at Norway's ban on malls and saying, "Hmm, that's a good idea"?

SIMONSEN: I know that in Sweden they look at the Norwegian example. But I also know that some other countries already have started to regulate their development of the shopping structure. I know that in Denmark they have strict rules, and I know that even in Margaret Thatcher's time in the United Kingdom, they had some regulations on whether they could build shopping malls outside the city. They had to find out whether there were alternative places inside the cities first.

KNOY: Jasper Simonsen is Norway's Deputy Minister for the Environment. Mr. Simonsen, thanks a lot for talking with us.

SIMONSEN: Thank you.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

A World Under the Ice

KNOY: Henry David Thoreau took axe and pail and went to draw drinking water from the pond each winter morning while he lived at Walden. Cutting through a foot of snow, then a foot of ice, he would, as he put in his journal, "open a window under my feet, where I looked down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass." Commentator Sy Montgomery walks on the frozen ponds near her home in New Hampshire, following in the author's footsteps to search for life through the icy window.

MONTGOMERY: It seems we oughtn't be able to do this: to walk on water. But as I walk out onto the surface of the ponds I canoe and swim in each summer, I, too, experience a miracle. The ice serves as a window into lives both above and below it, now vastly different than in warmer seasons. Some pond creatures spend the winter hovering, coma-like, between life and death. A carp can survive embedded in a block of ice. A natural antifreeze keeps its cells from freezing and bursting. On the soft mud of pond bottoms, frogs, toads, and salamanders overwinter in a sort of suspended animation, living without drawing a breath or eating a meal. The mud is always a few degrees warmer than water, so these animals don't freeze. Like the carp, they subsist on oxygen dissolved in the water, absorbed directly through the skin. But not all is still beneath the ice. Sometimes, when a slow freeze creates ice that's clear and free of bubbles, I can see down through the ice as clear as looking through a glass-bottomed boat. I've seen fish swimming under my feet. A friend once looked down and saw muskrats swimming beneath him, holding his front feet under his chin and trailing a stream of pea-sized bubbles. If you're lucky, you might get to see a mink swimming down there, too. He's probably looking for the muskrat. Even when the ice is thick and clouded, you can still use it as a window into other lives. Look at the surface. Especially after a light snow, tracks show up brilliantly on the ice of a pond. You might see the webbed prints of beavers. They leave their warm stick and mud lodges to harvest more trees and then drag them back under the ice to their underwater passageway into the lodge. You might see the neat tracks of foxes by February, often in pairs as they find mates, who can now take the shortcut across the pond instead of around it. You'll notice the absence of hoof tracks here. A slick surface is no good if you have feet permanently encased in high heels. Predators know this and sometimes try to drive deer across frozen ponds. If this has happened, you can read the whole story in the snow over the ice. The ice at Walden Pond inspired one of Thoreau's most moving realizations. "Heaven," he wrote, "is under our feet as well as over our heads." Or, as Paul Simon put it, "One man's ceiling is another man's floor."

(Music up and under)

KNOY: Commentator Sy Montgomery writes to us from her home in Hancock, New Hampshire, and comes to us from New Hampshire Public Radio.

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(Music up and under: "One man's ceiling is another man's floor. One man's ceiling is another man's floor...")

KNOY: You're listening to 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 coverage of science in the environment; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; 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: Just ahead: retracing the path of one of the century's worst ice storms. Forests struggle to recover one year later. 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)

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

KNOY: More than 200 years ago this week, scientists in Boston exhibited a bear cub to astounded observers. It was the first time the United States public had a chance to glimpse a polar bear. Most of the spectator left the exhibit assuming polar bears were the world's only white bears. But in 1905, Dr. William Hornaday described a creature he discovered off the coast of British Columbia. It was a bear with white fur that was the offspring of bears with a black coat. He named the bear Americanus Kermode, or Kermode for short. The creature is a member of the black bear family, but a rare recessive gene enables 2 Kermode bears with black fur to give birth to a white cub. Only about 100 of the Kermode remain. Forty years ago the northern American temperate rainforest stretched from northern California through most of Alaska. Today the only Kermode habitat left is on remote islands off British Columbia. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

1999 State of the World Report

KNOY: Each year the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, DC, releases its State of the World Report. It assesses current environmental trends around the world and looks to possible alternatives for the future. In the past century, it says, world population has quadrupled and the world economy has grown seventeen-fold, putting it on a collision course with the Earth's ecosystems. Lester Brown is president of the Institute and a lead author of the report. He says while there are signs of a new sustainable economy developing, there's a larger problem, and that's the sheer number of people on the planet.

BROWN: We're seeing the emergence of something we've come to describe here at the Institute as demographic fatigue. In countries that have had several decades of rapid population growth, the challenge of trying to educate all the children coming of school age, or trying to provide jobs for young people coming in the market, or trying to deal with the environmental consequences of population growth such as deforestation, these governments are simply being overwhelmed. And when a new problem emerges, such as the HIV virus, countries don't have the energy or the fiscal resources to deal adequately.

KNOY: Given the high rate of AIDS infection in Africa, as you mention in the report, and given the food shortages and water shortages that you also predict, does that mean the population might actually level off in the coming century?

BROWN: Well, one of the biggest surprises of the last few years is that some countries that were projected to double or triple their populations over the next half century or so may now actually reach population stability within a few years because of rising death rates. For example, in countries where the HIV infection rate in the adult population is now 20% or 25%, these countries, barring some miracle, are going to lose a fifth or a quarter of their adult population within the next decade. And this was not supposed to be the way population stability would come. It was supposed to come because countries moved toward smaller families.

KNOY: Describe the sustainable economy that you think we need to move to.

BROWN: Well, the new economy, instead of fossil fuel-based, is a solar hydrogen-based economy, and by solar I mean all the sources of energy that derive directly from the sun, including solar cells, wind, in some cases biomass as well. With transportation, it's becoming clearer that there's a conflict between the automobile and the city. In London, for example, the average speed of an automobile moving through the city today is roughly the same as that of a horse-drawn carriage of a century ago. Or, in a developing country city like Bangkok, the average motorist last year spent the equivalent of 44 working days sitting in traffic jams. So, we're going to have to rethink transportation systems for cities. And what we see emerging is a combination of rail and bicycle as being the key to providing mobility in urban areas.

KNOY: You say in the report, Mr. Brown, that if we don't change our ways, the economy will crumble because it will no longer have the ecological base, the food and the water and the air and the resources, to keep it going. And you give some examples from the past of other civilizations that have also depleted their ecological bases and have crumbled.

BROWN: Well, there are a number of examples of this. One would be the societies in North Africa, which was once the granary of the Roman Empire. Today that land is almost all desert and the tier of countries across the north of Africa import typically half of their total grain supply. Another example would be the Mesopotamian civilizations that emerged in what is now southern Iraq, and developed a rather advanced civilization for the time based on irrigated agriculture. But those irrigation systems began to become waterlogged and salty, and eventually the populations declined. We see example after example around the world. Indeed, many of the archaeological sites that we now study are the sites of societies that somehow moved on to an environmentally unsustainable economic path and were not able to make the needed course corrections, either because they didn't understand what was happening or they couldn't summon the political will needed to make the adjustments.

KNOY: In the 1999 State of the World Report, you say that while the 20th century focused on human rights, the 21st century should focus on human responsibilities.

BROWN: We are now responsible for the habitability of the planet, because of the scale of human activity, because of our numbers. No generation before us has had this responsibility, and we have to begin assuming responsibility for that or future generations will inherit a biologically impoverished planet.

KNOY: Lester Brown is President of the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, DC. Mr. Brown, thanks a lot for joining us.

BROWN: My pleasure.

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(Music up and under)

The Ice Storm Revisited

KNOY: One year ago this month, the worst ice storm of the century swept across parts of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, and the southern portions of Ontario and Quebec in Canada. Meteorologists now believe the freezing rainstorm was part of the El Nino phenomenon. Eighty hours of rain over the course of 6 days left 5 million people without power as giant transmission lines collapsed under the weight of 7 inches of ice. Fifty people died, millions of trees came crashing down. A year later US and Canadian residents are still counting the economic, emotional, and ecological costs. Bob Carty covered the storm last year from Ontario. Last week he went back to the forests.

(Footfalls and ambient voices.)

MAN: Let me get my gloves on.

CARTY: In the woods an hour south of Ottawa, the temperature is minus 4, though with the wind chill it feels more like minus 20. The snow crunches underfoot. And I'm setting out for a little walk with Diana Berresford-Kroeger and her husband Chris. Diana is a botanist and an expert in the native plants of North America. She and Chris operate the largest organic garden in Canada, and the trees on their property still bear the scars of last year's ice storm. The white spruce trees near the house seem untouched, the result of their strong triangular structure. But the poplars are still stripped of almost every branch. Tall birches and sugar maples remain completely bent over, like McDonald arches in the forest. We wade through the snow and the underbrush into an eastern white cedar stand that's no longer standing.

(Footfalls)

D. B.-KROEGER: These cedars are called arbor vitae. This is the tree of life. And indeed, the cedars are the tree of life of this area. They feed every single thing that you can imagine. Birds, squirrels, fungi... The eastern white cedar has been the most severely affected because the crowns are down, the trunks are shattered. I mean, nothing is standing around us, Bob; it's unbelievable. We're looking at a dead forest here. Right above your head is probably one of the oldest of the cedars and that one is standing, and you'll notice right through here all of the older species, the 100-year-old ones, are all standing. But the younger trees are all down.

C. KROEGER: You'll notice a really old oak tree here, and you see that although it's lost quite a few branches, it's relatively healthy looking compared to its compatriots. The older oaks certainly survive much better than the others.

CARTY: There's a lesson to be learned in the survival of the oldest of some species. In this part of Canada, the logging industry continues to covet old growth forests. But those are the very trees that can produce genetically strong seeds, which forests need to recover from natural disasters like the ice storm. Diana, Chris, and I head down the half-mile-long farm roadway.

(Footfalls in snow)

D.B. KROEGER: You could walk up this roadway and it was like walking in a tunnel. This road was totally canopied over more than a year ago, and the canopy is gone.

CARTY: What did the forest look like during the past summer?

D. B.-KROEGER: The leaves were enormous in all of the trees. The diameter of the leaves were maybe 3 times, 4 times the normal size. And what the tree was trying to do is to manufacture chlorophyll. But unfortunately, even the branches were so weak, the leaves were too big for the branches, believe it or not, when it rained on them, and the branches came down because the leaves were too big. The forest is trying to find a way to survive, and it's really desperate to do it.

(Footfalls)

C. KROEGER: We'll go off the lane here, cross the fence, and we'll walk over toward the planted forest. Watch out for all the branches and broken limbs and things that you're going to cross through here, and don't fall into the ditch.

(Footfalls)

CARTY: Watch your eyes.

(Footfalls)

CARTY: Ouch!

(Footfalls)

C. KROEGER: Now we'll be going into the red pine stand here.

CARTY: Tell me the first time you came in here after the ice storm.

C. KROEGER: Well, we were driving down our lane, and we can see the edge of the forest. And I was patting myself on the back saying, "Gosh, you know, we were really lucky. It doesn't look too bad from the road here." Went into the forest, I couldn't believe my eyes. Just 6 rows of trees in, the whole lot was down on its face. So we lost 2,700 trees.

CARTY: All these trees are planted in rows.

C. KROEGER: Yes. This was all reforested, and this is the way that all conifer forests are planted all over, everywhere. They grow straight and they're protected from the wind, so they don't build the real strong fibers. So as a consequence, when we do have a storm, they come down.

D. B.-KROEGER: With the native species you have all the whole mixture together. You have trees that have this umbrella shape and the pyramidal shape all mixed together, and they all hold one another up. I mean, Bob, these are packs of cards that are down on the ground. This is not a forest. This is a monoculture of trees.

CARTY: The dead trees here are the cause of another concern. Last summer, after the ice storm, the fallen trees were still green and the weather was a bit wet in these parts. But now, millions of dead trees have dried out. The pine needles have turned red. The forest is a tinderbox. In the coming months, a lightning storm could spark an inferno, and it would burn very hot and very high. Diana Barrisford Kroeger points out, however, that not all is negative, not even those bent-over birch trees.

D. B.-KROEGER: Those trees, they'll just live in a bent fashion.

CARTY: Really.

D. B.-KROEGER: Yep. That's where you get your crooked furniture from, isn't it?

(Laughs)

We always have to see the balance in things. The butterflies, there will be an explosion of butterflies again this year. The overwintering birds are doing very, very well, because they're drinking the sap. Their winter habitat has really been improved for them. The four-legged creatures like the fishers and the deer have lots of browse, loads and loads of browse, so they're doing extremely well. And another thing that I think is very cheerful for me, anyway, to think about, is that a finger has been pointed at the forests. People are now aware of forests. And I think they're looking at trees a little differently. And that's I think a very, very good thing, because trees are the lungs of the planet, you know.

(Footfalls)

CARTY: As I was driving around, I was struck by how much damage remains out there. I guess I had a hope that Nature could recover, fast.

D. B.-KROEGER: Yeah. All of us have that hope. I said it myself, you know, Nature has got this wonderful way of recouping itself. But it's like everything else. When you get hit too much, you can't get up again, and I think the forest can't get up again.

(Footfalls)

CARTY: So how did you folks feel when you heard news this past weekend of a big storm coming in again?

C. KROEGER: We certainly thought about the last big storm; the feeling of foreboding returned. Little things tend to trigger one more quickly.

D. B.-KROEGER: I really do feel that I haven't got over the ice storm. Actually, Bob, we feel as though we're living on the edge all the time.

CARTY: The forest is also living on the edge. Parts of it are clearly dying. But thousands of young suckers are shooting up in the clearings formed by fallen trees. And the positive mixes with the negative in other ways. The storm cost insurance companies more than a billion dollars, but those same companies are now more convinced of the need to curb greenhouse gases. And while psychologists say that people still feel some trauma from the storm, they also report a greater sense of community, of confidence in facing adversity and a greater sense of awe, even reverence, for the forces of nature. For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty, near Merritville, Ontario.

Back to top

(Footfalls and wind; fade to music up and under)

KNOY: Coming up: in a bizarre display of winged aggression, sea gulls strike out at the rare right whale. And tune in to the tunes of killer whales. A British Columbia station broadcasts all whales, all the time. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Whales vs. Gulls

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. In southern Argentina, one of the rarest whales in the world, the right whale, is under siege. Its enemy is a species of sea gull. The birds have inexplicably begun to gouge out chunks of the whales' flesh. These gull attacks have increased so sharply that scientists fear right whales will abandon these breeding grounds altogether. Rachel Anne Goodman visited Argentina's Peninsula Valdes, the site where researchers first noticed the gulls' strange behavior.

(A whale blows)

WOMAN: Hello.

(Many admiring voices)

GOODMAN: In the shallow gulf waters off Peninsula Valdes, 600 miles south of Buenos Aires, whale watchers get a close-up view of one of the largest creatures on Earth. A 60-ton right whale mother and her calf circle the boat.

CHILD: Oh, man.

GOODMAN: These tourists are witnessing a rare sight. There are only 2,300 southern right whales left, about 1% of their original population.

(A whale blows)

GOODMAN: Their slow, gentle demeanor and thick blubber made them the right whale to hunt. Now, those same qualities have attracted a new tormentor.

WOMAN: Do you see his eyes?

(Children ooh and aah)

GOODMAN: Just over a decade ago, scientists began noticing large, concave lesions on the whales' backs. They think they're caused by kelp gulls who land on the resting whales and peck out pieces of blubber and skin. Now researchers from Boston's Whale Conservation Institute have set up a research project to find out what's going on.

WOMAN: Try and maneuver yourself. Do you want the small chair?

WOMAN 2: No, there's enough room; I just didn't see a whale over there.

GOODMAN: In a rickety tin shack perched 100 feet above the Bay of Gulfo Nuevo, biologist Kim Marshall-Tilas and her assistants set up three spotting scopes. They move gingerly in the cramped quarters, but they have a panoramic view of the whales' domain.

WOMAN: And then they're going that way...

GOODMAN: Soon they each have a whale in their sights.

TILAS: The main thing for them to do is to keep their eyes on the same whale, not change. And then, if gull attacks happen, record that they happened during that interval.

(Beeping sounds)

GOODMAN: For the first hour the whales do little more than sleep, floating on the surface like giant hippos, only their backs exposed.

WOMAN: Aah! Gull attack.

GOODMAN: Finally patience pays off. The whale Kim's assistant is watching flinches as a gull pecks its smooth underside.

(To assistant) The gull attacked the belly?

ASSISTANT: Yes.

GOODMAN: Have you seen them attack the bellies a lot?

ASSISTANT: Yes.

GOODMAN: Really?

ASSISTANT: Yes.

TILAS: So you know, when we did this intensive study three years ago, they didn't attack the bellies. The whales were using belly-up behavior as an avoidance.

GOODMAN: It seems as fast as the whales learn to avoid them, the gulls learn a new trick.

TILAS: What our studies showed was that the whales are spending 20% of their day fleeing gull attacks, when they should be spending 100% of their day, you know, resting and working with their babies and playing and feeding.

HARRIS: Eventually they could drive whales out of areas if the attacks become too frequent.

GOODMAN: Graham Harris once spent five years living at this whale camp. Now he's executive director of the Patagonian Nature Foundation, a nonprofit wildlife conservation group. Because southern right whales fast while in their calving grounds at Peninsula Valdez, survival depends on conserving energy and blubber reserves for the long journey back to their feeding grounds near Antarctica. Scientists worry these reserves will be depleted and calves will be underweight if the whales spend their energy avoiding gulls.

(A boat motor. A woman yells, "Come on!")

GOODMAN: Hoping to get a closer view, Kim, her husband Tom, and I head out on the bay in search of whales. Two hundred feet from shore, Tom cuts the motor and the light chop of waves jostles our tiny craft. We soon realize we're not alone at here.

(A whale blows)

TILAS: We're seeing a mother and calf.

GOODMAN: Swimming up to greet us, the mother's broad shiny back looks like a Navy submarine surfacing, our boat a mere bath toy in comparison. Her calf seems equally curious, circling our boat.

(Blow sounds)

GOODMAN: Then the kelp gulls appear.

T. TILAS: There's an attack. He's landed right on the back of the animal and he's pecking, and the animal is reacting by arching his back and rolling.

GOODMAN: Suddenly a small black and white bird lands on the mother's back and rips a piece of skin out with its beak. In minutes, mother and calf are gone beneath the waves.

K. TILAS: It's got to be like a horse fly, where you don't really notice it, you don't notice it lands on you, and then all of a sudden it's, Ouch!

GOODMAN: Like some Alfred Hitchcock horror movie, the birds have turned bloodthirsty. And the rate of attacks is climbing steadily. So, why the change in behavior? Scientists think it could be a learned behavior that is being spread by word of mouth or beak through a gull population that's more than doubled in size in the past decade. And they think there's a human link in this new food chain.

(Gull calls)

GOODMAN: At the nearby Puerto Madryn City Dump, clouds of kelp gulls swarm around uncovered gravel pits full of rotting fish waste. The powerful stench attracts birds like flies to a carcass.

(Gull calls)

GOODMAN: This bonanza of free food is the leftovers of a booming fish-processing industry. The huge waste piles have caused an overpopulation of gulls, which is affecting not only whales but also other birds, such as terns and cormorants. Gulls prey on their chicks and compete for nesting sites. Flavio Quintana is a wildlife biologist with the Central Patagonia Research Center, a government-funded science institute.

QUINTANA: Unfortunately, we don't have a regulation for dump management. We don't really understand why the government doesn't take measures to control this dump.

GOODMAN: Dr. Quintana says he and his colleagues have written letters, but local officials have shown little interest in taking action. He says if the fish dumps were covered, the gull population would naturally balance itself out. Short of that, there's talk of shooting gulls as a last resort, but researchers don't even know if population control is the answer. It could be the perpetrators are only a few crafty individuals.

TILAS: What we're hoping to do, we've been trying to do for the last 2 years, is use an explosive net to go over the gull roosting areas so we can actually entrap 150 gulls at a time, and color them, mark them with different colors. And the study would proceed where at each roost area, scientists would watch what gulls were doing what. And if the red gull keeps going back to the whale and the other ones don't, we'll know that it's a learned behavior and we can deal with it from another angle.

GOODMAN: But so far, the money for that research hasn't been found.

(More voices at whale watch. Woman: "There's the tail!")

GOODMAN: Back on the tourist boat, groups of school children are ecstatic to be a few feet from a southern right whale. Right whales are making a slow recovery from the brink of extinction at the hands of whalers, but they're still in trouble from the indirect effects of human activity on the sea. Peninsula Valdes is one of only 2 places on Earth where these whales still come to give birth. And scientists working here fear that if something isn't done about the fish waste and the gulls it attracts, the whales could abandon Peninsula Valdes altogether. That could jeopardize their recovery and make scenes like this a thing of the past.

(Voices at whale watch)

GOODMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Rachel Anne Goodman in Peninsula Valdez, Argentina.

Back to top

(A whale blows)

Killer Radio

KNOY: There's a new radio station on the air in British Columbia, and it's like no other. ORCA-FM broadcasts live, twenty-four hours a day, the sounds of whales. The station airs the songs of Pacific Northwest killer whales as they communicate within their pods, cruising off the coast of Vancouver Island, a well-known whale watching spot. Correspondent Tom Banse reports.

(Different radio stations fading up and out as the dial is turned)

BANSE: Some people like rock, some like country, and some prefer news talk. But how many will listen to this?

(Whale songs. Man: "This is ORCA-FM, station CJKW, 88.5 megahertz, broadcasting live from Johnson Strait, British Columbia.")

BANSE: That's right, ORCA-FM. Orca as in killer whale.

(Whale songs continue)

BANSE: Robson Bight, off British Columbia's Vancouver Island, is a popular gathering spot for whales. Earlier this year, scientists from the Vancouver Aquarium set up a microphone in the bight to monitor passing orcas.

(A whale calls)

BANSE: They'd originally planned to relay the signal to whale researchers over a special frequency, but aquarium research director John Ford said he soon realized the general public might enjoy eavesdropping on the whales, too.

FORD: By choosing an FM transmitter, we could basically provide the opportunity for whale watchers who have come in from all over to tune in as well from their kayaks or from on shore when they're hiking, perhaps, in the area.

BANSE: The signal from ORCA-FM carries about 10 miles from the transmitter, and anyone with a standard radio can pick it up. About 1,000 people live within range of the signal, and many more travel through. The station transmits round the clock, but it's not exactly all whales, all the time. John Ford anticipates the underwater microphone will actually pick up whales only a few hours per day. He says first-time listeners may be surprised by how much other noise there is the rest of the time.

(Underwater noise)

FORD: Boats of all manner create a lot of underwater noise. And Robson Bight is a very narrow channel that forms part of the inside passage, like, you know, the inside highway, the marine highway. There's an incredible amount of noise at times.

BANSE: The deafening sounds of passing boats probably won't light up the ratings. But Mr. Ford says among those who do listen, he hopes to raise awareness that this noise could be a potential problem for the whales. Marine storms won't help listenership either. On days with high surf, ORCA-FM sounds like it's broadcasting live from inside a washing machine.

(Whale songs and other sounds)

BANSE: But on a calm, quiet evening, a pod of orcas can rival Mozart.

(Whale song chorus)

BANSE: This symphony occurred when 2 killer whale pods met and swam together for a while. John Ford says listeners beyond the range of the remote, low-power radio transmitter, can tune in, too. The signal is piped into a gallery of the popular Vancouver Aquarium. And if all goes well in spring, the aquarium intends to retransmit the station over its Internet Web site at vanaqua.org. For Living on Earth, I'm Tom Banse in Vancouver, Canada.

Back to top

(Whale songs continue; fade to music up and under)

KNOY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production staff includes Jesse Wegman, George Homsy, Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta deAvila, Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, and Bree Horwitz. Our interns are Alexandra Davidson, Stephanie Pindyck, and Aly Constine. We say thanks and goodbye to David Winickoff and Laura Colbert. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director, Peter Thomson heads the Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel, 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 Laura Knoy. Steve Curwood returns next week. 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 Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture.

ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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