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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

September 3, 1999

Air Date: September 3, 1999
(stream/download) as an MP3 file

SEGMENTS

Europe and Bio-Tech Foods / Bob Carty

Bob Carty reports on opposition to genetically-altered foods in Europe. Bio-tech producers like Monsanto say protestors are using scare-tactics to urge grocers to pull products from shelves. But a new study from Scotland that suggests genetically-modified potatoes harmed the immune system of rats has added fuel to the debate. (12:00)

Toxins Website

The Environmental Defense Fund has established a Website with information collected from Toxic Release Inventory forms that most high-volume facilities use for reporting certain chemicals released into the environment. The site also includes information about health effects. Host Steve Curwood logs on to www.scorecard.org. with David Roe from the Environmental Defense Fund. (5:25)

Living With Big Cats / Chris Bolgiano

A mysterious cat, the eastern cougar, is making a comeback in the United States one hundred years after being hunted to near extinction. As commentator Chris Bolgiano (bowl-gee-AHN-o) explains, the big cats' return means some soul-searching for residents who must learn to live with the truly wild animal. (2:35)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... weather balloons. They are in widespread use today, but in Benjamin Franklin’s time weather balloons were regarded with skepticism, even fear. (1:30)

Hunting the Rare Ibex / Richard Galpin

In some developing nations a few good animals are being sacrificed for the many. It's part of a controversial plan by conservation groups to let big game hunters bag a few rare animals in order to save the species. Richard Galpin reports from northern Pakistan. (14:25)

City Trees

The century-old trees that grace many of our country's city centers are under assault from encroaching asphalt and other urban threats, like tail pipe exhaust, diverted water flows, and declining city budgets for tree maintenance. Steve Curwood talks with Boston Globe environmental correspondent Scott Allen. (6:20)

Night Flight / Sy Montgomery

It’s not only during the daytime that we can observe the seasonal migration of birds. Commentator Sy Montgomery listens to the voices of migratory birds that can be heard in the night. (3:20)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Bob Carty, Richard Galpin
GUESTS: David Roe, Scott Allen
COMMENTATORS: Chris Bolgiano, Sy Montgomery

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Many European consumers are rejecting genetically-modified crops, and cite a British study that suggests that bioengineered foods can adversely affect the immune systems of laboratory animals. Many want these foods banned until they're proven safe.

GOODWIN: The public has now been alerted to the dangers of this. And the questions that people are asking are: is it worth taking these risks with this technology?

CURWOOD: But others say concerns about genetically-altered foods are overblown, and that opponents are using scare tactics.

MONTAGUE: Ultimately, as people learn more about the real value of the technology, and learn more about the real safety margins of the technology, the technology is adopted.

CURWOOD: Also, define major industrial sources of pollution in your neighborhood. Just simply point and click. That's this week on Living on Earth; first the news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Europe and Bio-Tech Foods

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood, with an encore edition of Living on Earth. Just four years ago no one was commercially growing genetically-modified foods. But this year, farmers in the U.S. are harvesting more than 60 million acres of these novel foods. Most Americans seem unaware that there's a revolution underway at their dinner tables. But in Europe, major grocery chains have banned foods that contain genetically-engineered crops. The public rejection of them has caught the biotech industry and American farmers by surprise. Living on Earth contributor Bob Carty reports on the roots of the European resistance.

(A crowd shouts: "Say no to GMOs! Say no to GMOs!")

CARTY: It's hard to say what the turning point was, the moment when in their hearts and heads so many Europeans decided they didn't want to eat genetically-modified foods.

(The crowd continues to shout)

CARTY: It is clear that Europeans started to take their concerns to the streets about a year ago, June 1998. About the time when the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, decided that royal diplomacy notwithstanding, he had something to say. He didn't like biotech foods. He wouldn't consume them, and he wouldn't serve them to his family or guests.

(Chimes)

ANNOUNCER: BBC Radio Four.

NEWSCASTER: The big American biotechnological company Monsanto has been defending itself against a strong attack from Prince Charles. He criticized the practice of genetically modifying food, saying he believed that the use of the technology took mankind into the realms that belonged to God and God alone.

(Cheering crowd)

WOMAN ON MICROPHONE: We don't want to have genetically engineered foods. We don't want to have to genetically engineered foods.

CARTY: Just days after that declaration by Prince Charles, protest groups began uprooting test fields of biotech crops. On one foggy night in Ireland, something called the Gaelic Earth Liberation Front attacked a Monsanto test plot of genetically-engineered sugar beets, and ceremoniously beheaded the plants.

MONSANTO SPOKESMAN: This is pure scare mongering based on no facts, and of course farmers will still have the choice not to use these products if it's not economically of benefit to them to do so.

CARTY: It fell to officials of the Monsanto company, a leader in the industry, and certainly the most aggressive apostle of biotech foods, to try to dispel British fears. Monsanto launched a multi-million-dollar ad campaign extolling the benign benefits of genetic engineering. But the campaign backfired.

(Music: "Coming through now. We're changing you now! The Mother Nature terminators of food and health. 'Cause we're Monsanto! That's right, Monsanto!...")

CARTY: Across Europe, biotech foods became identified with Monsanto, and Monsanto with the specter of powerful American corporations disdainful of consumers and willing to risk human health for profits. Even members of Parliament were upset.

(Cheering crowds)

MAN: There's a hidden revolution going on in this country. This revolution's being driven by a small number of unelected, multinational companies largely based in America, at the expense of the environment, at the expense of farmers, and at the expense of consumers.

(Crowd cheers again)

CARTY: By the middle of last year, European shoppers were demanding labels on genetically-altered foods. School districts in England began banning them from cafeterias. Then a major grocery store announced it would not carry any, and its sales went up. In England, nine out of ten consumers said that given the choice, they would avoid biotech foods. In the United States, meanwhile, one poll revealed a mere three percent of Americans were even aware that they were already eating genetically-altered food. And few had any problems with it. That had Peter Montague scratching his head. Montague is the director of the Environmental Research Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland. As he watched the growing European rejection of biotech food, he tried to understand its cultural roots.

MONTAGUE: Europeans are very concerned about this. They have fresh in their memories, at least fresh in the memories of older people, the Nazi experiments with eugenics to produce a super race by genetic selection. So they're not, they don't think of this as a benign technology. They think of it as evil. The experience in England and France with Mad Cow Disease has undercut the credibility of government. And in general, I think Europeans are more concerned about the taste and the nutritional quality of what they eat.

CARTY: European opposition to biotech food was not merely cultural. For months the press reported on the latest scientific studies, suggesting that genetically-modified crops could increase resistance in insects, increase pesticide use, promote the development of super-weeds, and possibly damage beneficial insects and birds. But the pot really started to boil with news reports of a scientist who said biotech foods could be harmful to humans.

NEWSCASTER: Today, there's a bit more evidence of the possible risks, the first evidence that G-M food can actually damage our health. Researchers at the Rawat Institute in Aberdeen fed rats with a new strain of potatoes that had been genetically altered to make them resistant to disease. The rats suffered from damage to their immune systems.

CARTY: The scientist who was experimenting with genetically-altered potatoes and rats was Arpad Pusztai. Arpad Pusztai had escaped Hungary during the 1956 Communist crackdown. He came to Scotland, became a chemist, and for 35 years he worked as a research scientist at the Rawat Institute, publishing 275 research papers and three books. He was anything but a naysayer of biotechnology. In fact, he got a three-million-dollar research grant to explore genetic engineering. He thought it might even make him rich. He expected only positive results.

PUSZTAI: I expected the scientists working at Los Alamos during the Second World War were probably in the same situation. They were so heavily taken up and concentrating on the job at hand that they didn't have really much time to think about the implications. And I probably was in the same situation. Please don't think that I was hostile to this technology.

CARTY: But Arpad Pusztai came to the conclusion that people already eating genetically-modified foods were being used, without their consent, as guinea pigs in a mass experiment. And he said so in one brief television appearance. Well, that didn't go down well with the scientific establishment, and with politicians who had spent millions promoting biotech foods. Pusztai was forced into retirement. His scientific reputation was pilloried. But because of contract restrictions, he couldn't publish and he couldn't talk. Until now. In one of the few interviews he has given to the North American media, Pusztai explained that he was trying to find out if a certain kind of protein, called lectin, could be genetically added to crops to make them resistant to pests without harming an animal like a rat. So he fed one group of rats potatoes laced with lectin. Other rats ate potatoes genetically engineered to make the same amount of lectin themselves. He thought that neither group would show adverse effects to such low levels of lectin. The surprise came in the group of rats eating transgenic potatoes.

PUSZTAI: Young, rapidly-growing rats, which are developing their internal organs, they are preparing for life. And the liver was depressed. Some problem with the immune system, totally surprising. We still don't know what the explanation for it. But I would stake my professional reputation on it that we do see these changes. You can only reject them at your own peril.

CARTY: The peril, according to Arpad Pusztai, is not the foreign gene inserted into the potato, but perhaps the way it is inserted. Most genetic engineering processes not only add an extra gene, they also add marker genes and virus DNA to promote or enhance the working of the new gene. Pusztai suspects that those promoters, or vectors, may be what injured the rats. Most genetically-altered foods already on the market use those vectors. It is important to point out that Pusztai's research has not yet been peer reviewed and published, and it remains to be replicated by other scientists. And so the media shouldn't jump to conclusions about the findings, according to Brian Fristensky, a plant geneticist at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. Fristensky suspects Pusztai's research may in some way be flawed, and he says that even if it isn't, the results don't mean a lot for the biotech industry.

FRISTENSKY: Maybe the best way to put it into perspective is to say that if you have a disaster like the Exxon Valdez oil spill, you don't see everyone giving up their cars. We don't eliminate an industry simply because we see one thing that we might not like. What we do is we work to improve it. Most of the people working in our field don't feel that there's any real intrinsic safety problem with genetically-modified plants that would be any different than you would get with traditional breeding.

CARTY: Nonetheless, Arpad Pusztai does have his supporters. Brian Goodwin is a theoretical geneticist at Schumacker College in England.

GOODWIN: I think that Dr. Pusztai's results could well spell the death knoll of biotechnology in agriculture. Even if Pusztai's results turn out to be not as significant as we thought, the public has now been alerted to the dangers of this. And the questions that people are asking are: is it worth taking these risks with this technology? He showed that there weren't adequate tests done on the foods that were being produced by transgenic methods.

(Chimes)

NEWSCASTER: There are more signs that consumers are turning against genetically-modified food, with the move by three fast food outlets to ban them from their menus.

WOMAN: We don't want to have to have genetically engineered foods...

NEWSCASTER: The owners of restaurants, cafes, and take-aways, and other caterers are to be fined up to 5,000 pounds if they fail to inform customers that the food they're buying contains certain genetically-modified ingredients.

(Cheering crowd)

CARTY: Communications strategists call what is happening in Europe a public relations meltdown for biotech foods. The British Medical Association called for a moratorium on biotech food cultivation until more research determines if it could lead to allergies, antibiotic resistance, or other harm to humans. All of which is already affecting North Americans. U.S. corn farmers have seen their sales to Europe fall dramatically because the crop contains genetically- modified corn, which can't be separated from ordinary corn. Still, the biotech industry believes it can weather the storm. Mike Montague is the Director of Research Operations for the Monsanto Corporation in St. Louis.

MONTAGUE: The movement of genes from one organism to another certainly sounds scary even on the surface of it. It's interesting that virtually every new technology that has ever been introduced throughout the history of the world has met with resistance. Sometimes it comes from a perceived issue of safety. Ultimately, as people learn more about the real value of the technology, and learn more about the real safety margins of the technology, the technology is adopted.

CARTY: But others say the reverse is true: that the more people know about genetically-altered foods, the less they like them. Certainly in Europe, the acceptance of these products has been set back at least five years, maybe longer, according to some analysts. And slowly, in the U.S., farmers and food processors are beginning to debate the marketing merits, if not the scientific safety, of these new products. For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. Once again, LOE@NPR.ORG. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15.

Coming up: Using the World Wide Web to support your right to know about the range of industrial pollutants that may be near your home. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Toxins Website

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Do you know who the major polluters are in your community? Well, as a citizen, you're entitled to know. The government requires most large emitters to report how much of certain chemicals they're releasing into the environment, but these reports, called Toxic Release Inventory reports, can be difficult to track down and even more difficult to understand. A site on the Internet is changing all that.

(A modem logging on)

CURWOOD: The Environmental Defense Fund has collected all the Toxic Release Inventory forms from around the country, entered them into a computer database, and added information about health effects. With David Roe from the Environmental Defense Fund on the line I called up the site: www.scorecard.org.

ROE: Probably the easiest way into this is just to put in your zip code and click the box that says GO.

CURWOOD: All right. Maybe I'll put in the zip code here for Living on Earth: 02138, and then I'll hit the GO button.

ROE: You see where it says "Rankings: Major Chemical Releases in Middlesex County"?

CURWOOD: Yes.

ROE: Give a click on that.

CURWOOD: All right.

ROE: And immediately what you see, is this county ranked in the top 20 percent of all counties in terms of non-cancer hazards, air releases of recognized carcinogens, and a couple of other things.

CURWOOD: All right. Now here in Middlesex County, we have a number of important institutions of higher education. There's Brandeis University, there is Harvard University, there's MIT. So, let's look at neurotoxicants, see what's happening to the brains here in Middlesex County.

ROE: If you see there, there are one million, 600 thousand, 648 thousand etc. pounds.

CURWOOD: Whoa.

ROE: Click on that number.

CURWOOD: Okay.

ROE: And what you'll get is a listing of exactly which chemicals those are, in order. The top one is toluene. The next one is methyl ethyl ketone.

CURWOOD: Hmmm.

ROE: It says, "See a list of facilities."

CURWOOD: Mm hm.

ROE: If we were to click on that, you get the names of the companies, where they're located, and the amounts. The company at the top of the list of Polaroid. One thing I should point out, the information that's available and that we've put together here will tell you what's coming out of where, and it'll tell you what kind of health effects it might be causing. It can't tell you, are you safe or not? No database anywhere can tell you that. That depends on local information. Just because it's coming out of Polaroid doesn't mean it's necessarily getting to your nose, for example.

CURWOOD: What do you hope the people who visit your site will do with all this information?

ROE: Well, one thing is, which is built in, is a take-action feature. If you click on that you get a list of the companies responsible for the top-ranked pollution problems in Middlesex County.

CURWOOD: Okay.

ROE: And over in the right-hand column it says "Send a fax for free." And if let's just take the top one, which is Altron in Wilmington, click on the word SEND.

CURWOOD: Okay.

ROE: What you have here is a letter: "Dear Manager, I just reviewed a detailed on-line description of your environmental emissions." It tells you what they are, talks about, "I was surprised to learn that there are not government reporting levels for these, 100 percent of the chemicals released air by your facility in 1995 couldn't be assessed for safety." Again, information specific to the facility. If you give us your name and address, then your name and address go on the bottom of this letter, and you get a button that says, "Send." This letter will then go to the fax machine of the right person at that company. And our point here is to begin to open a dialogue between local citizens and local companies emitting these chemicals about the very issues that have to be resolved locally if we're going to get somewhere.

CURWOOD: But wait a second. If I type in my name and address there, it also asks me to join the Environmental Defense Fund.

ROE: No, you don't have to join. It says, "Do you want to?" And you do have to give us your e-mail, because that's our way of double-checking.

CURWOOD: This is a very well crafted site. There's a lot of information here from the Environmental Defense Fund, but there are a lot of people that don't have access to the Internet and many of them live in poor communities that tend to have a lot of these polluting facilities. I'm wondering, David Roe, is there any way for them to make use of these reports?

ROE: There are a couple of ways. One is that public libraries now tend to have Internet access, so that even if people don't own theirown computers they can go to the library. Another is we're working closely, of course, with local community groups. But of course, one of the audiences for this information is the companies themselves. If they're looking themselves up and don't like what they see, they may well be improving their practices and reducing their pollution. What we've learned in the past ten years from the information that's already been out is that that's a powerful factor. We're just hoping that a better mirror and a brighter set of lights around it will have more of the same effect.

CURWOOD: David Roe, senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, thanks for taking this time to show us around the site.

ROE: Thank you, Steve, a pleasure.

CURWOOD: And if you'd like to find out about pollution in your community, go to www.scorecard.org. Once again, that's www.scorecard -- all one word -- .org. And while you're on line, be sure to stop by the Living On Earth web site. We're at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org.

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(Music up and under)

Living With Big Cats

CURWOOD: Most people who live in the eastern United States spend their entire lives without ever seeing an eastern cougar in the wild. But as the forests have come back in the east, so have more and more of these magnificent and big cats. Commentator Chris Bolgiano says the recent resurgence of the elusive animal means a lot of soul searching for rural residents.

BOLGIANO: Sometimes it seems like I'm the only person in the Virginia mountains, where I live, who hasn't seen an eastern cougar. My neighbor Willie tells about the big, long-tailed cat that streaked across the road in front of him one night. My friend Lori saw one around dusk at the foot of Little North Mountain. Dave, the woodsman, heard yowling and saw eye shine around his campfire near Seneca Rocks. Stories like these have accumulated by the thousands at the end of the 20th century. Now that a few of them have been proven true, there's a question looming ahead for us easterners, especially rural mountain residents like Willie, Lori, Dave, and me. Having once nearly exterminated them, have we as a society matured into the greatness of heart needed to actually live with cougars?

Also known as mountain lions, pumas, or eastern panthers, cougars became legendary even among woods-wise Native Americans for their magical elusiveness, their ability to utterly vanish into the landscape. Unlike bears, which have been teddyfied for a century, and wolves, whose admirable family life is now well-known, cougars are stealthy and solitary, and offer little on which to hang a notion of kinship. They must be accepted on their own wild terms.

Cougars are still the rarest of all wild animals in the Appalachian Mountains. Nonetheless, as I walk through my woods, I stop to peer at whiskery arrangements of twigs and brush. Even though I haven't seen one, there is an image of cougar that haunts me. It comes from the true story of Patty Mountain, not far from my house, in 1850. In that snowy winter, local farmers tracked 2 of the last cougars in Virginia along the mountain crest. Boulders there stand tall and flat-faced as houses. The sibling pair of cougars took refuge in a deep den. The male was shot, but his sister escaped. She is my hope that the spirit of cougar has survived to give us a second chance. I see her, crouched in a rock den on Patty Mountain high above the valley, her muscles taut. I see her yellow eyes gleaming in the dimness of the cave. She is looking not at me, but beyond, maybe into the future.

CURWOOD: Chris Bolgiano is author of The Appalachian Forest: A Search for Roots and Removal. She comes to us from member station WMRA in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

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(Music up and under)

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

(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; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; and the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: When we return, big game hunting at a big price, and some say a big benefit for rare species. Stay tuned 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 Barrett Communications, delivering strategic marketing communications and design for business worldwide: www.barrett.com.

(Theme music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Twice a day, hundreds of weather balloons are released around the world at exactly the same time. They rise several miles into the atmosphere, carrying devices which measure air pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind speed. It was on September third in 1872 that the U.S. Weather Bureau sent up its first balloon to take atmospheric measurements. Weather balloons had long been in Europe but, until then, Americans preferred kites for their atmospheric investigations. The American anti-balloon, pro-kite sentiment likely stems from none other than Benjamin Franklin, famous for tempting lightning with a kite-flown key in a thunderstorm. Mr. Franklin was America's witness to the first hydrogen balloon launch in Paris. At first, he was quite impressed by the balloon and at the possible scientific applications. But after it drifted several miles outside of Paris, the balloon burst and landed in a small village. Mr. Franklin's recollections of the event reveal how little understood these new flying contraptions were. In his words: "The country people who saw it fall were frightened, and attacked it with stones and knives. So it was much mangled." And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Hunting the Rare Ibex

CURWOOD: It sounds like a page from a Hemingway novel: wealthy hunter treks to exotic locale to bag rare prey and bring home the trophy. Some hope this is passe, but big game hunting for rare species is making something of a comeback. In fact, in some developing nations, conservation groups are experimenting with a controversial scheme that they hope will protect many rare animals by letting big game hunters shoot some of them. Richard Galpin has our report from Pakistan, where he traveled with trophy hunters stalking the rare Himalayan Ibex.

(Sitar music)

GALPIN: The dramatic landscape of northern Pakistan, where the world's great mountain ranges, the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush, and Karakoram, all meet.

(Sitar music continues)

GALPIN: These huge mountains are home to many extremely rare animals, from the snow leopard to the exotic blue sheep. Over the years many of these species have been hunted almost to extinction, both by the local population in search of food, and by sport hunters from Pakistan and abroad.

(Traffic)

GALPIN: And yet, after being banned from this area for many years, foreign big game hunters are now once again being encouraged to travel up the legendary Karakoram Highway, from the Pakistani capitol Islamabad to the mountains of the north.

GARSTANG: The incidence of major landslides and land slips --

GALPIN: And those promoting and organizing the hunting expeditions here are none other than the Worldwide Fund for Nature, WWF, and the World Conservation Union.

GARSTANG: -- flash floods, dams are damaged downstream. The water, instead of oozing out slowly in the dry period and providing people with good water, all comes in the form of a flash flood that is destructive.

GALPIN: This is Richard Garstang, conservation advisor to WWF in Pakistan. His talk on the fragility of the environment in this part of the country is to a group of big game hunters from the United States and Argentina. They've spent thousands of dollars for the privilege of coming on this expedition to hunt the Himalayan Ibex, a rare wild mountain goat only found in this region of the world. The hunters have been on many such trips around the world, and have shot all kinds of big game, including even polar bears. But one of the party, Ron Pitts, has no doubts about the significance of this particular expedition.

PITTS: This will be probably one of the highlights of your hunting career, in that this is a very important trophy and everything, that very few people can claim to have come to this country to hunt. Years ago it was pretty big on the international scene, with a lot of the kings and people of wealth used to hunt here quite a bit. Now, it's opening it up to the average hunter.

(Shotgun blast, twice)

GALPIN: Soon after arriving in northern Pakistan, Ron Pitts and the other hunters are out with their high-velocity rifles for a little target practice. They want to be sure their rifles are properly sited before the hunt begins.

(Applause)

GALPIN: Once this is done they move up to the villages of the Hunza Valley, deep in the Karakoram Mountains, where they'll be based during the hunt.

(More applause, voices calling)

GALPIN: Here in Ba Village, they are given a reception worthy of kings and princes.

MAN: I [inaudible] because especially cheering for our honorable guest...

GALPIN: But there's good reason for this particularly warm welcome. The foreign hunters represent a new and substantial source of income for this area, which is still extremely poor with most people surviving through subsistence farming. Under the scheme developed by the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the World Conservation Union, the hunters have each paid $3,500 for the permit to shoot just one Himalayan Ibex. And most of this money is given directly to the villages where the hunt takes place. In return the local people have agreed to maintain a ban on hunting Ibex themselves for food. Richard Garstang of WWF says this subsistence hunting was so widespread it was threatening to wipe out the species.

GARSTANG: WWF has been monitoring this Ibex population for around nine years. Initially, what we saw happening was a dramatic decrease. This was occurring because the villagers here were using these animals as a source of food. They were taking a random number, anything from 15 to 20 animals per annum, to feed themselves. We've persuaded them to stop that, to exchange those 20 animals for the life of just one animal, which would be taken by a trophy hunter.

GALPIN: For the hunters who have been brought in under this scheme, it's the perfect justification for their controversial sport. Howard Pollack is a former U.S. Congressman from Alaska, and former president of the National Rifle Association.

POLLACK: I'm very, very interested in wildlife. I'm interested in bringing back species that have become depleted by improper management. And so, if you're very selective in the trophy hunting, normally you're taking animals that really are past their breeding stage and oftentimes they've been run out of the herds by the younger males.

GALPIN: Not surprisingly, though, there are many critics of this controversial scheme. And these are not just people who are opposed to blood sports in principle. Take, for example, Vaqar Zakaria of the Himalayan Wildlife Project in Pakistan. He believes the assumptions on which this scheme is based are wrong. He says it won't stop many local people from hunting, and it's not the only solution to the problem.

ZAKARIA: In the very short term, it will bring in some revenues. That is all it's going to do. But in the long run, there's no guarantee what will happen. To look at more sustainable alternatives, for example, wildlife viewing and eco- tourism, would be much softer and gentler on the nature and would involve communities in a much better way, and would probably distribute the income in a much better way within the communities, as well, and contribute more to the broader objectives of wildlife preservation.

MUHAMMED: [Speaks in Pakistani]

GALPIN: Guda Muhammed used to be one of the most famous hunters in Hunza Valley. Now he says he's put his gun away and become a guide for the foreigners who have taken over his sport. He says he's happy to do this, as he and the other men in his village have learned from the conservation organizations about the need to nurture natural resources in the area. Richard Garstang of the Worldwide Fund for Nature argues the trophy hunting scheme, which has been running for many years in Africa and southern America, is the only realistic way of saving rare species in the developing world.

GARSTANG: What we have to find is a way to make conservation work in the context of an environment that has none of the support mechanisms that conventional wildlife conservation has in the West. There is no government infrastructure here that can support this to any great degree. There's no large sums of money available. So we have to build a program that is self- sustaining.

(Footfalls and voices)

GALPIN: With the welcome ceremony now over, the hunters split into 2 groups. I joined Ron Pitts in a village in the far north of the Hunza Valley, close to the border with China.

(Footfalls, voices)

GALPIN: (Breathing hard) Well, we've now left Khyber Village. We're about two hours from it, heading up a steep snow slope towards our camp for the night. And we'll staying there about 10,000, 11,000 feet. And then up early tomorrow morning. Already we've spotted the Ibex quite close to where the camp will be. And the hope is that the hunt will take place first thing tomorrow morning and be successful.Our base camp that night is at 11,000 feet in the heart of the Karakoram Mountains. It's bitterly cold, and next morning Ron Pitts is not feeling well. But he pushes on up to where he thinks the Ibex are.

(Footfalls, voices)

GALPIN: As we walk up, suddenly animals appear on the ridge above us.

PITTS: Ah. There's the Ibex.

GALPIN: The Ibex herd have been disturbed by a snow leopard and have run straight into our path. But Ron Pitts, already suffering from the altitude, the cold, and a bad stomach, is caught unprepared. He has little time to load his rifle and take aim.

(Loading, shot blast)

GALPIN: The shot is not good. Even though it was less than 200 meters away, Ron Pitts has hit the Ibex in the stomach and it's been able to escape further up the mountain.

PITTS: Are they going to go up there and tell me if there's blood, or if I missed?

GALPIN: Ron Pitts, who all along was clearly not fit enough to cope with this harsh mountain environment, has to leave the local guides to climb further up the mountain to try and track down the wounded Ibex.

PITTS: I feel real bad about this. I mean, this is not what I came for. I haven't done this in ten years.

GALPIN: You've not missed before.

PITTS: Well, I haven't wounded an animal ten years. So.

(Local music)

GALPIN: It's two days before he can finally march in triumph through the local village with his Ibex trophy. The animal was eventually killed by the local guides more than 24 hours after it was first wounded. Even then, ropes had to be fetched from the village so it could be retrieved from the cliffs where it had died.

(Clapping and shouting accompanies music)

GALPIN: The curved horns are measured and found to be even bigger than first thought. Ron Pitts may even get a place in the record books. He pledges an extra $2,000 as a gift to the village conservation committee.

(A motor runs)

GALPIN: And it seems the money is generally well-spent. This women's training center is being run with money paid by one of the international hunters. Dozens of women have been trained here to make handicrafts, which are sold in Pakistan and abroad. Elsewhere in the Hunza Valley, the money's been spent on infrastructure projects, including even building bridges. WWF and IUCN want to expand the scheme now, especially as they believe surveys are already showing a marked increase in the size of the Ibex herds. But Vaqar Zakaria of the Himalayan Wildlife Project believes this is extremely dangerous.

ZAKARIA: One or two trophy hunts, it's very easy to regulate or watch what's going on, and it's under the careful eyes of, say, representatives of some organizations like WWF and IUCN. But the moment you spread something like this to the whole northern areas, there's just no way that the regulatory agencies will be able to watch and see if malpractices don't take place. In the remote areas there's just really no control in place, and anything can happen.

GALPIN: Of course the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the World Conservation Union deny this. They say there are sufficient safeguards to prevent the system being corrupted, and to prevent illegal hunting. And there's already took of including other rare species in the trophy hunting scheme in the northern areas of Pakistan. Most surprising were the serious discussions between some of the conservationists and foreign hunters about the possibility of getting special permission from CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to shoot a snow leopard. Some conservationists believe there are sufficient snow leopards in the area to justify hunting them. Even though they are an endangered species. It's estimated a snow leopard hunting permit could sell for $150,000. Vaqar Zakaria of the Himalayan Wildlife Project is horrified that this could even be a topic for discussion with the international big game hunters. And he's highly critical of the assumption that because snow leopards are attacking farm animals in the area, this means there are sufficient of them to hunt.

ZAKARIA: If they are coming down to kill sheep and goat, is that because they are not getting, they're running out of the conventional or natural food supply? Or is that because there are just too many of those leopards around? My guess is right now, they come down to hunt when they don't get food where they're supposed to get food. I think we need to do, think a lot more steady, a lot more, before we even start touching things like a snow leopard.

(Music up and under)

GALPIN: The high mountains of northern Pakistan are now the focus of a critical debate on how best to conserve rare species found in the developing world. The trophy hunting scheme is clearly one answer. It does seem to work, and bring benefits to the people of the area. The question is whether it's the only answer, and whether there are too many inherent risks to make it acceptable. Conclusions need to be drawn, as already many other countries in the region, particularly in central Asia, may soon start their own hunting schemes.

(Music up and under)

GALPIN: For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Galpin in the Hunza Valley, northern Pakistan.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: Trees do indeed grow in Brooklyn. But in today's urban jungle, it's not so easy being green. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

City Trees

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The century-old trees that grace many of our urban centers are under assault. Development, with its encroaching asphalt, is an obvious danger. But so are more urban threats, like tailpipe exhaust, diverted water flows, and declining city budgets for tree maintenance. Scott Allen covers the environment for the Boston Globe. He says city trees didn't always have it so tough.

ALLEN: There was a huge explosion of tree planting, especially in the eastern United States and in the Midwest, in the late 19th century. It was the golden age of park building. We had very ugly cities back then, and landscape architects just went to town in our cities. And we here in New England, we benefit from it today in, you know, the Emerald Necklace of parks around Boston, like the Boston Common. But 100 years is a long time for a city tree to live, period. And during that last 100 years the life that they have has really deteriorated a lot. These trees were planted at a time when we had cobblestone streets and now it's all paved. And horses were the way of transportation; now it's cars. They live with just astronomical stress compared to the years when they were first planted.

CURWOOD: So our older cities, then, in the East have this problem. What
about the rest of the country, with some newer cities?

ALLEN: Well, newer cities, their problems tend to be a little bit different. They tend to have the problem of development. Newer cities are still developing. Washington and Baltimore are not new per se, but look at the sprawl and development down there. And in the past 25 years, their tree cover has dropped from 55 percent of the land area to just 38 percent. That's a loss of two million acres of urban forest due to development and urban sprawl.

CURWOOD: Now, Scott, I like to see trees in the city. But are they more important than me just enjoying them aesthetically?

ALLEN: Well, I don't want to underestimate aesthetic enjoyment, but I think that there's a lot of quantitative information that lets us know trees are even better than we used to think they were. It's not just a beauty question. Trees are marvelous at reducing temperatures. They call it the heat island effect. You go from a rural area to a city and you can feel the temperature rising. And that's the heat bouncing off buildings and asphalt. You put trees in there and you can knock temperatures down three to five degrees. That translates directly into energy savings in the summer time, and we all like it better. Trees are also terrific at preventing floods. They suck up the water that would otherwise be in people's basements. So trees do a terrific job in that regard. They also swallow carbon dioxide, our great emerging enemy of the 21st century. So trees are giving us all these benefits, and they look great doing it.

CURWOOD: Okay. So, what's happened, then, to the commitment to trees? You say Boston, cities like Boston in the East 100 years ago, they were running around planting trees. Why not today?

ALLEN: Well, I think there's been an awful lot of resting on our laurels. Today, it's popular to buy new pieces of land, it's popular to preserve historic buildings. But the whole issue of trees getting into their old age is not getting very much attention. The maintenance of a tree is not a sexy thing. It's a man with the pruning shears, it's fertilizer, it's water. And we are not investing in those in the way that we used to.

CURWOOD: Now, if you look around the United States, which U.S. cities do you think are doing better investing in trees than others?

ALLEN: Well, Milwaukee stands out from everybody else, and arborists around the country will point to Milwaukee as the best example, at least in terms of how much money they spend on keeping their trees. Milwaukee spends about $30 per resident to take care of their trees. By comparison, the city of Boston spends $2.23, and that does not buy you proper pruning, proper watering, fertilization, and other things. It's just, the tree's on its own for all intents and purposes.

CURWOOD: So, how are we doing about planning for trees in cities?

ALLEN: Well, there is, I guess you'd say a tree movement that has picked up in the last few years. Maybe now that we've gotten so prosperous in this country, we can now start turning our attention a little bit to these other sort of less life-threatening issues. But there are people all across the country that are starting to take more responsibilities for the trees themselves. You're seeing people taking a greater interest and willing to actually pay, you know, $200, $300, $400 to get a tree put in front of their house by the Public Works Department and then maintained so that it safely reaches its maturity. And there's also an increasing amount of research going into, how can we grow trees under the harsh conditions of city living and not have them die in 12 years?

CURWOOD: So if anyone who's listening to us now has some new trees that were planted outside their house, any quick advice for them?

ALLEN: Well, unfortunately, once you've put the tree in the ground, you've sort of made the commitment. You really, the first priority is, is there enough room for the roots to spread out? And a lot of arborists would say in an urban setting, don't bother with those sidewalk trees. Get your tree back into more of an open space where the roots can spread and it can get proper water and it can grow appropriately. Once you've put the tree in the ground, I guess the best thing I can say is, stick with your tree. Go out there, water it -- it really does need water, it can't get too much in those early years, and hope for the best.

CURWOOD: What's the hope for the future of our city trees?

ALLEN: I think that the thing that made me most encouraged when I was reporting this story is that over the last four or five years citizens have begun to feel like you can't just take trees for granted and expect those men with their pruning trucks to come around and save the day. And people are beginning to take responsibility, beginning to form organizations like Trees Atlanta, or here in Boston it's called The Boston Tree Party. People are basically banding together and they're coming to their city councils and saying our trees look bad, we need to invest in them and we need to do it now for future generations. And interestingly, trees, once they're made into a political issue, they become very much like mom and apple pie. So I think the fact that people are starting to care and identify it as an issue and not just part of the landscape may be the thing that makes me most hopeful.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today, Scott.

ALLEN: Thanks for having me.

CURWOOD: Scott Allen reports for the Boston Globe.

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(Geese honking)

Night Flight

CURWOOD: Migration time has begun, And we mostly notice it during the day. The afternoon sky can carry the V-shaped formations of Canada geese, And it's possible to spot hawks passing over mountaintops at dawn and dusk. Most birds, though, pass by more subtly, And sometimes we don't see them at all. But they don't get by commentator Sy Montgomery. She lies awake and listens for their voices in the night.

MONTGOMERY: Half an hour after sunset, they begin moving in waves. Protected by the darkness, guided by the stars, millions of tiny song birds pass over our roof tops, flying invisibly through the night. The dark hides these fragile creatures from predators like hawks, who migrate by day. The evening's cool, stable air smooths their flyways. But to bird-watchers' frustration, night also shrouds the miracle of these songbirds' migration. But they can be clearly heard. Each species' call is as distinctive as its plumage. If you like awake on fall nights, and listen, you can hear their voices.

(Song birds call)

MONTGOMERY: Five thousand birds may fly through a one-mile cross-section in a single night. Flying in loose flocks, each bird spaced hundreds of feet from the next, they call to one another to stay in contact. Perhaps the calls serve as air traffic control, to keep birds who can't see one another from colliding. Or perhaps they call as we might whistle in the dark, to bolster their confidence during a dangerous and distant journey. Bill Evans, a researcher at Cornell's Laboratory at Ornithology, has been listening to these calls for the past 12 years. He knows the voices, And which belong to whom. He told me, you can live the journeys these birds are making, the miraculousness of it. You can visualize all those birds going over without seeing a thing.

These nocturnal calls are often quite different from the territorial songs birds sing in the spring. After more than a decade of careful listening, Evans has amassed a personal aural field guide. A series of mellow whistles tells him a flood of rose-breasted grosbeaks are passing through. Wood thrush migration calls sound somewhat like the chime of a bed spring. Swainson's thrushes sound like spring peepers. In this way, Evans has pioneered a major new technique to measure for the first time which species are migrating where and when. Using his technique, for the first time ornithologists may be able to map precise migratory times and routes for individual species, as well as monitor dips and rises in population.

I can't see in the dark with my ears as well as Evans can. But as I lie awake on fall nights, these soft voices speak to me still. They speak of timeless journeys. They speak of the unknown that lies ahead. They speak of tiny creatures with the faith to undertake great ventures. These are the voices of courage in the dark.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire. She comes to us from New Hampshire Public Radio.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our staff includes Terry FitzPatrick, Liz Lempert, Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, James Curwood, and Barbara Cone. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. Our senior editor is Joyce Hackel, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W.A. Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to eliminate environmental threats to children's health; www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R.Dodge Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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