Air Date: September 24, 1999
Floyd's Floods/ Jesse Wegman
In the aftermath of a damaging coastal hurricane, the federal government’s low-cost flood insurance program is coming under attack for encouraging wealthy homeowners and developers to build - and rebuild - in high-risk, environmentally sensitive areas along the shore. Living On Earth’s Jesse Wegman reports. (04:00)
Author David Carroll talks with host Steve Curwood about the cycles of wetlands which he chronicles in his new book Swampwalker's Journal. He discusses the revitalization brought to wetlands of the northeast by the recent spate of storms. (09:35)
Cruise Ship Tax
More cruise ships than ever are docking in Juneau, Alaska. They're starting to wear out their welcome. And they’re taking a toll on the environment as well. On October 5, Juneau citizens will vote on an initiative to charge a five dollar fee for each cruise passenger that enters their port. As Svend Holst, a reporter for Juneau's daily newspaper, the Empire, tells host Steve Curwood, the initiative is likely to pass. (04:15)
Second Thoughts on Pesticide Spraying/ Mark L. Wilson
Westchester county and some towns in Connecticut have begun large-scale spraying of the pesticide malathion to combat the spread of the mosquito-borne encephalitis which hit New York City earlier this month. Commentator Mark L. Wilson thinks there’s a better way. (02:40)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about...Sukkot (sooKOTE), the week-long Jewish festival commemorating the fall harvest and the Exodus from Egypt. (01:30)
Point of No Return, Part II: Salmon in the City/ Steve Curwood
Steve Curwood reports on Seattle’s battle over endangered salmon. For the first time in the history of the Endangered Species Act, entire urban areas have come under the aegis of the act as several salmon runs that pass through Seattle and neighboring Portland, Oregon have been added to the list of protected species. Some fear the outcome of an argument couched in terms of people vs. salmon. (12:25)
Point of No Return, Part II: Salmon in the City (continued)/ Steve Curwood
Host Steve Curwood's report continues. (05:10)
Green Art/ Lex Gillespie
Lex Gillespie reports on artists who are diving into garbage dumpsters to scavenge for materials they can turn into works of art with an environmental message. (07:05)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jesse Wegman, Steve Curwood, Lex Gillespie
GUESTS: David Carroll, Svend Holst
COMMENTATOR: Mark L. Winston
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
As many East Coast communities are still reeling from floods that came
with Hurricane Floyd, some say it is a waste of tax dollars to bail out people who built in floodplains.
PLATT: And no matter what you build there and how well you build it, it's going to fall in the water.
CURWOOD: But while heavy rains caused havoc with people, they are what Nature wants from time to time to recharge wetlands.
CARROLL: The dynamic of the water moving back and forth and then all the plants and animals that move with the water is much more a continuum than some people realize or that some people who do not want to give wetlands proper space are willing to acknowledge.
CURWOOD: Also, some Alaskans say cruise ship traffic along the gateway to their state is such a burden they want to vote in a head tax on every tourist. Juneau goes to the polls next month. That and more on Living on Earth, right after this news.
(NPR News follows)
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Many communities along the Atlantic seaboard are still struggling to recover from Hurricane Floyd. It may take months before life returns to normal in places like North Carolina, where the storms killed dozens of people, millions of farm animals, and caused billions of dollars of property damage. And as the rebuilding gets underway, so does a debate over Federal disaster assistance. Some critics say not everyone deserves the government's help. Living on Earth's Jesse Wegman reports.
(News broadcast. Dramatic music and voice-over: "Hurricane Watch: This season's most powerful storm moves up the East Coast. Stay with ...")
WEGMAN: Hurricane Floyd was coast to coast news, a national event as it pounded the Atlantic shore. President Clinton flew to storm-battered North Carolina to promise the nation would help local communities rebuild.
CLINTON: We know we have a responsibility as members of the American family to help you get back on your feet again. It's nothing to be ashamed of here; people who need it ought to take it.
(Cheers and applause)
WEGMAN: However, much of the aid will be provided by a controversial program that some contend is harming the environment and soaking the American taxpayer: The National Flood Insurance Program. Since 1968 the Federal government has gone where the insurance industry would not: beachfronts and river valleys. The program has a simple goal: offer low-cost insurance to people in high-risk areas, so long as property owners take steps to protect their homes and businesses from floods and hurricanes. Critics claim the program itself has been a disaster. They say it encourages people to build in places where stilts and levees and seawalls can't really protect them, like the coastal communities of North Carolina.
PLATT: And no matter what you build there and how well you build it, it's going to fall in the water.
WEGMAN: Geography professor Rutherford Platt of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is the author of Disasters and Democracy: The Politics of Extreme Natural Events.
PLATT: When we come to rebuilding roads, sewer lines, beaches, and other infrastructure for the benefit of extremely expensive rental properties, resort properties, convention centers, this is very questionable.
WEGMAN: And costly. Although the flood insurance program collects premiums, it does not charge enough to cover storm-related claims. Currently it's more than half a billion dollars in the red, a deficit covered by taxpayers. In addition, the program does not prevent people from rebuilding in precarious places. More than a third of all claims are so-called repetitive losses. The result, says critic Cornelia Dean, is an assault not only on the treasury but on the environment. Ms. Dean is science editor at The New York Times and the author of Against the Tide: The Battle for America's Beaches. She says that storm-proofing a building site can cause nearly as much damage as constructing the building itself.
DEAN: When people build those kinds of things on the beach, when they build walls or revetments or what have you, they are, I think, making a choice between their building and the beach. And they are deciding that they would rather prevent their building from falling into the sea than save their beach.
WEGMAN: The Federal Insurance Administrator, Joanne Howard, defends her program. For one, she says, it does make people build safer homes.
HOWARD: And that has changed the face of America. And in fact, flying over, look at the areas in, say, the Outer Banks now. You see houses on stilts or not down on the sand. That does reduce the vulnerability to flood.
WEGMAN: And Ms. Howard says it's likely that some people would be building on the beach even without federal insurance. However, she acknowledges that politics and emotion do have some influence. With mega-disasters like Hurricane Floyd, it's hard for policy makers to say some victims deserve aid and others do not.
HOWARD: There is this constant pressure for a president or for a governor or members of Congress to go after people who have had some devastation and to say we're going to help you rebuild.
WEGMAN: Politicians may find themselves saying that more often. Coastal communities are continuing to grow, and scientists say global climate change may increase the frequency and intensity of hurricanes. For Living on Earth, I'm Jesse Wegman.
CURWOOD: Prior to the recent East Coast storms, many of the region's wetlands were suffering from a severe drought. Water had dropped below critical levels, stressing and sometimes killing the animals and plants which live in them. David Carroll has spent years observing the cycles and events which make wetlands so unique, and he writes about what he's seen and heard in a new book, Swampwalker's Journal. According to David Carroll, the recent onslaught of rain may have dislocated people, but for much of nature it was a gift from the heavens.
CARROLL: Primarily, the water has expanded its realm, and it has occupied more of the habitat. And as the water floods deeper in some areas and backs into backwaters, it suddenly enables a lot of the animals who have been really holed up, and these species, the frogs, the turtles, and so forth, and even the birds, the birds that wing in and out now, suddenly have had this wetland world given back to them. It's like they've been taken back to the spring flood levels, and the world is brim full again.
CURWOOD: What kind of difference have you seen in people's perceptions since these storms?
CARROLL: Well, I think they're certainly much more aware of the extent of the wetlands, and I think they're more, well hopefully more, aware of the dynamic interchange, really, between wetland and dry land or wetlands and the uplands. And I think it's a very, very potent point right now, because so much of the wetland delineation arguments and so forth continually try to draw a very specific line: here is where the wetland ends, here is where the upland begins. But it's such an inter-grade, really, between wetland and riparian zones, which are between wetlands and uplands, and then the uplands. And of course, the dynamic of the water moving back and forth among these, and then all the plants and animals that move with the water, is much more a continuum, I think, than some people realize or that some people who do not want to give wetlands proper space are willing to acknowledge.
CURWOOD: So this is fascinating. There are actually some creatures whose ecological niche is land that is sometimes wet, sometimes dry. They can't live in a place that's all wet and they can't live in a place that's all dry. Do I have that right?
CARROLL: That's right. And in particular, the amphibians and reptiles, certainly the turtles that I follow, require this kind of continuum of wet to dry. For example, the turtles must have dry land that doesn't flood at all in order to lay their eggs and to keep their species going.
CURWOOD: In your book you talk a lot about the cyclical changes in the various types of wetlands. What defines each season, say, for a swamp? Is there one event?
CARROLL: The water, really, and the temperature. The coming and going of the water and the coming and going of the warmer seasons shape the seasons and the cycles, really, of the wetlands. And it's these that the frogs -- the frogs are keyed in, they know just when to start to move and get into those vernal pools as quickly as they can to lay their eggs. Because evolutionarily speaking, they know, however that knowing works, that those pools are temporary. And in a year like this year, they're going to lose their young, and they just try to get everything going as fast as they can and take advantage of that seasonal water.
CURWOOD: You really like swamps (laughs).
CARROLL: I love them. I must say, I just do.
CURWOOD: You have a wonderful passage in your book about the swamp in autumn. I'm wondering if you could read to us from that right now.
CARROLL: Yes, I will. "At last light, the day-long heavy cloud cover suddenly disperses, and an afterglow imparts a faint, rosy light to the sienna, umber, and ochre of brush and sedges in the shrub swamp. Cold air drains down the hillsides like water. My fingertips grow numb as the air temperature drops ten degrees in half an hour to a single degree above freezing. Daylight is quickly fading. Some plants with persistent white-haired seed heads, purple-leaved willow herb, swamp aster, swamp goldenrod, and a few tufts of tawny grass, catch a silver light. Plants are hibernating in their buds, roots, and rhizomes. Future generations abide in seeds. The stunning silence here at twilight is as sharp as the cold air and the white moon just now rising."
CURWOOD: Well, tell me an experience, out walking in the wetlands, where just being by yourself and being quiet got some important results.
CARROLL: That's the wonderful thing about it. So many instances. I remember one time approaching a vernal pool in the spring, and I could just hear this cacophony, as I call it, of the wood frogs. Anyone who hears them is quite moved by them. Sometimes you think it's a bunch of ducks rucking and rucking away. But it's this frog chorus. And it suddenly went dead still; they can go silent in a heartbeat. All of them; it's like they have one mind or one eye and suddenly sense something is wrong. But I knew I was too far away, yet, to have been the cause of that. That would happen if any of them saw me. If one saw me, it seems like the whole gang shuts up. So I knew something had happened.
I approached the vernal pool, and as I got, sort of shrugged my way through the shrub margins of it and got near the edge of the open part of the pool, I saw this broad-winged hawk take off. I don't often -- at that time I wasn't familiar with the broad-winged hawk as a vernal pool creature; it's certainly not in most of the guidebooks. And I thought, what was a hawk doing down in this pool? And I waded to the site where I had seen the hawk lift from, and there was a wood frog who had just been killed by the hawk, who had dropped down. The scene was really quite evocative. The frog had been skinned; his skin was peeled away from him. And as I say in the book, it looked disturbingly like a flayed person.
So here I saw, wow, here's a hawk that's undressing a kill, almost as a human hunter might. And it just seemed that story upon story was happening, and I couldn't help but think, you know, here's a frog who got into the pool and was singing away and getting ready for the mating and all, but unfortunately he wasn't quite wary enough, and that's how the cycle goes. And he's picked off by a broad-winged hawk who's probably recently come back from over- wintering, maybe as far away as the mountains of Peru. And I make the point in my book that it's not that big a stretch, by virtue of this interaction between the frog of the vernal pool here in southern New Hampshire, and that broad-winged hawk, that that pool is linked with the high mountains of the Andes and Peru. Those things just continually excite me and just make me want to see more of what's going on and see what I can interpret from it.
CURWOOD: Turtles come out in autumn.
CURWOOD: And in fact, I think if there is a single species that is identified with you, it's probably turtles.
CURWOOD: You love to talk about turtles. How are the turtles doing? I was driving down a highway, in southern New Hampshire as a matter of fact, one morning, and there was a snapper with a carapace that had to have been, oh, two and a half feet long. And maybe a foot and a half wide, right in the middle of the road. In fact I thought it was a piece of luggage.
CARROLL: (Laughs) Oh, yeah, they do look like luggage. That is unfortunately one of the toughest, toughest things that turtles face. It is very difficult.
CURWOOD: So I stopped the car, and I tried to herd this turtle. They don't herd. They sort of herd like cats. (Carroll laughs) So then, the traffic is starting to pile up, because actually it's a major road. I mean, cars are doing, you know, 60 miles an hour on this thing.
CARROLL: Oh, yes.
CURWOOD: So I decided, I suppose quite foolishly, to pick this thing up, to carry her over to a place. And I figured that she couldn't get those jaws around. I got away with it; I actually was able to pick this turtle up. Quite heavy; it must have been, I don't know, 50 pounds of turtle or more.
CARROLL: Could well be. Could well be.
CURWOOD: And sort of fling the poor thing into what looked like the wetter side. I just didn't want to meet those jaws. So what did I risk? Was I going to lose a finger or more to this terrified --
CARROLL: No, no. You might have risked roadkill. That is the thing I always tell people who do stop. Bless you for stopping and helping the turtle, but we must be careful about not getting run over ourselves. It's a thankless job to help them across the road, but I thank you.
CURWOOD: It is indeed. I mean, she was not very happy to see me.
CURWOOD: I'm wondering, what is it that draws you to visit them again and again? In fact, there's a turtle that you've known over, what? The last 15 or 20 years? You even gave her a name, right?
CARROLL: Yes. Well, I did, and often when I give talks in schools and so forth, people ask me, well, do you name the turtles? And I always say no, and then I relent and say well, there are one or two that I've just known for a long time, and I just couldn't resist. There's one turtle, Ariadne, who actually I've now mentioned in all three of my books, whom I've known for 15 years now. I saw her again this year, a spotted turtle, which is my key species within that group, the turtles, that are my main focus. When I saw her and I got to see her year after year, I just thought this is such a particularly beautiful spotted turtle, I just gave her a name I thought was beautiful. I didn't have any particular significance other than that. So, I sort of have a theme of looking for Ariadne when I go out now at thaw each year. It'll be interesting to see, you know, who keeps swampwalking the longest, Ariadne or me, but I just hope I keep finding her when I can get out there.
CURWOOD: Well thank you very much, David Carroll.
CARROLL: Thank you, Steve.
CURWOOD: David Carroll's new book is titled Swampwalker's Journal. He joined us today from New Hampshire, home of his beloved wetlands.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Coming up: Juneau, Alaska, goes to the polls to levy a new tax
on tourists. The details next on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Bells, traffic, voices)
CURWOOD: Alaska is no longer a remote, untouched land. These days parts of the state are turning into tourist playgrounds, thanks to cruise ships.
(footsteps coming down gangway)
CURWOOD: More ships than ever cruised Alaskan waters this summer. And the ships are bigger and ritzier than ever. But no matter how much their decks may sparkle, some ships can have a dirty side. Last year the Holland American cruise line was caught illegally dumping oily bilge water along Alaska's southeast coast. And this summer, the Royal Caribbean Line paid an $18 million fine after pleading guilty to dumping pollutants and falsifying records to cover it up. Last month the president of Royal Caribbean toured Alaskan towns and offered this mea culpa.
PRESIDENT: Those acts were inexcusable, and they should never have happened, and we accept full responsibility. And I'd also like to extend to everybody in this room my sincere apologies on behalf of all the employees that work at Royal Caribbean International and myself, for those incidents.
CURWOOD: The apology appears to have rung hollow in Alaskan cities like Juneau. On October 5, citizens there will vote on whether to charge a $5 head tax for every cruise ship passenger that steps foot in the town. Svend Holst has been covering the story for Juneau's daily paper, The Empire. He says that Juneau has seen a boom in tourism with more and more ships arriving every year.
HOLST: There are about 565 visits a year, bringing in close to 600,000 tourists.
CURWOOD: Six hundred thousand tourists.
HOLST: In a town of 30,000. So a little town becomes a big town within a few hours. They can hop on a bus and go see a glacier, hop on a boat and go catch a salmon, hop on a helicopter and (laughs) see a glacier up close. There have been a lot of little things to annoy people about tourism, and when Royal Caribbean admitted to felony pollution, to dumping chemicals into our channel, people had something to hang their frustrations on.
CURWOOD: Is this why Juneau is proposing a head tax on cruise passengers?
HOLST: A head tax of $7 was put in front of the voters back in '96. It failed 54 percent no, 45 percent yes. So this issue was around long before Royal Caribbean.
CURWOOD: Do you think it is more likely it'll pass this time?
HOLST: I think it's pretty much guaranteed that it will. When this news of Royal Caribbean's plea came out, the person who was campaigning for the head tax said, well we don't have to campaign any more, this is a done deal.
CURWOOD: I'm wondering what folks there consider to be the most important environmental impacts of all these cruise ships coming. Is there air pollution, and of course is there water pollution beyond this illegal dumping?
HOLST: I think the biggest pollution impact that more people in Juneau feel and are responding to is noise. How many helicopters do you have to hear? There are some issues with air, the cruise ships when they keep their generators going while they're on port, on some days there will be a little level of smog going right through downtown. And that certainly has irritated quite a few people, and there isn't a lot of controls on it. Nobody's up there testing it. And for example, the water pollution, nobody tests it. So that's -- it's hard to tell.
CURWOOD: So if Juneau does impose a head tax of $5 a passenger, you had about 600,000 passengers, a simple math says that's $3 million a year for Juneau. Would that tax be used to directly offset the environmental impact of the tourist industry?
HOLST: As I understand it, the wording of the initiative, it would go directly to the city's general fund, where it would be available to be spent on anything.
CURWOOD: When these tourists get off the cruise ship, they bring money in their pockets into Juneau. Isn't this a bit like putting the goose that lays a golden egg in a pot?
HOLST: Well, yes and no. They do leave money here, but they've also left -- well, some of that egg has gone bad.
CURWOOD: Svend Holst is a reporter for the Juneau Empire. Thanks for joining us.
HOLST: Oh, pleasure.
CURWOOD: The mosquito-borne encephalitis that hit New York City earlier this month has spread north to Westchester County and Connecticut. Officials there are responding to the outbreak the same way New York did, by large- scale spraying of the pesticide Malathion to kill the disease-carrying insects. Commentator Mark L. Winston says there must be a better approach.
WINSTON: I can understand why New York responded to its encephalitis outbreak by mass spraying of the pesticide malathion. It's too late to do anything else. But we can't continue to cover vast areas with a white mist every time an outbreak occurs. Worldwide, we use billions of pounds of pesticides each year to kill agricultural, urban, and forest pests. In the United States alone, four pounds of toxic chemicals are applied for every man, woman, and child.
The effects of this strong-arm approach can be severe. Chronic pesticide exposure has been linked to immune dysfunction and various forms of cancer and birth defects. And each year, pesticides kill tens of millions of birds and fish, while clean-up costs run into the billions of dollars.
But there is another overwhelming reason to begin reducing our dependence on chemical pesticides. They aren't working. Pests quickly develop resistance, and significant increases in crop loss and human health problems are directly linked to our inability to deal with pests chemically. We need a new paradigm for pest control, based on reducing pest populations rather than eradicating them. On co-existence, rather than domination. But first we need to change our attitudes about pests.
Most of us are concerned about pesticides in our food, air, and water. Yet we are quick to grab a can of insecticide to kill a harmless bug in our kitchen, or use herbicide to nuke a few dandelions in the yard. About half of pesticide use in the United States is unnecessary, because it is directed at cosmetic problems, such as weeds, or the superficial appearance of fruits and vegetables.
We also need alternatives that are specific to individual pest species and not toxic to our environment. The solutions are available from our scientific community, such as parasites or diseases that affect only pests, or synthetic versions of the odors insects use to find each other to mate and which can be used to confuse insects and disrupt their mating.
However, most of these alternatives have failed to reach the marketplace for a host of regulatory, economic, and political reasons. It's time to re-evaluate our approach to pest management and set a reachable goal of decreasing chemical pesticide use by 50 percent over the next ten years. In the end, long-term planning to reduce pesticide use will serve us better than the current philosophy of panic and spray.
CURWOOD: Mark L. Winston is a professor of biological sciences at Simon Frazier University in Burnabee, British Columbia, and the author of Nature Wars: People Versus Pests.
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 W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Coming up: Seattle deals with the blessings and burdens of restoring wild salmon that traverse the city's waterways. Part Two of our series Point of No Return: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest continues in just a minute. 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.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
CURWOOD: At this time of year, Jews celebrate Sukkot. The week-long festival commemorates two major events in Jewish life: the fall harvest, and the exodus from Egypt. To recall the 40-year wandering through the desert, Jews build a sukkah, a dwelling with at least three sides that's filled with harvest foods and covered with a roof of branches.
Through the roof, the night stars must be clearly visible. Jews eat in the sukkah and sometimes sleep in the sukkah. Surrounded by the harvest, the branches and the stars, they are reminded of the permanence of the natural world, in contrast with the temporary structure around them. To honor the harvest, participants shake a lulav: palm, myrtle and willow branches bound together, along with a yellow citrus fruit called an etrog. The sweet smell of the etrog and the colors and crackle of the lulav highlight the centrality of the season, and serve as a remembrance of a time when lives were more obviously tied intimately to nature's cycles. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
(Klezmer music up and under, fade to tumultuous waters)
TOUR GUIDE: There they are!
CHILD: (Gasps) Fish!
TOUR GUIDE: There, there's a whole school of them right there. See them?
CHILD 3: A baby fish!
CHILD 4: A big fish!
(A baby gurgles)
CURWOOD: Here, through special underwater windows at a public park in Seattle, people gaze, spellbound, at the annual migration of salmon. Every year more than a million tourists make their way to an ocean inlet at the Ballard Locks to witness this wonder of nature.
CHILD 5: Look at that little guy!
TOUR GUIDE: And then, from right out here, they smell that freshwater...
CURWOOD: Tour guides tell the stories of how adolescent salmon, born in the mountains that surround Seattle, depart for the ocean past these locks. While salmon near the end of their lives return from the sea on their way to spawn at the very spot where they were hatched.
TOUR GUIDE: They can actually smell from right here the nutrients of the river stream where they were born. So they have an incredible sense of smell. and out of a thousand eggs only one makes it back this far. So, these are really the tough ones that have made it so far.
CURWOOD: This spectacle is one of Seattle's biggest attractions. When you visit New York, you go to Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. Here, you visit the fish.
CHILD: Look there’s some.
CURWOOD: So what's the fascination with the fish?
WOMAN 1: They're very beautiful to watch, and it's very difficult for them to swim against that current. It's very impressive.
CURWOOD: We're right in the middle of the city. Strikes me as unusual to have fish in the middle of the city. How about you?
WOMAN 2: Well, I just hope that we're doing all the right things to take care of them. They were here first, so I hope they stick around, and that we learn to live together.
CURWOOD: But many of the wild salmon runs that pass through urban areas of the Pacific Northwest have drastically declined. So recently, the Federal government put these wild salmon on the Endangered Species List.
ANNOUNCER: Only five minutes left before the next one-hour harbor tour is departing here at Pier 55...
CURWOOD: If you take a stroll down Seattle's waterfront, you'll be impressed with the crowds and the obvious financial success of many of the enterprises here.
CURWOOD: You'll also see why wild salmon are in trouble. Every inch of
the shore seems to have been put to work for humans. Environmental activist Tom Geiger of the Washington Environmental Council recently gave us a tour.
GEIGER: Well, it is a beautiful waterfront, but as you look west you'll see a marina that's built, there's a whole jetty going out into the water that's built with all these stones that destroyed shoreline areas. And as you come closer, you see a hotel that's literally built out over the water, with pilings coming up. And then a concrete face running along the entire shoreline of the city of Seattle.
CURWOOD: Like many northwest cities, Seattle has plenty of spectacular wildlife habitat outside the city limits. But salmon require livable conditions along every part of their migratory route. And, says Mr. Geiger, the way the city has developed its oceanfront and rivers is highly hazardous to salmon.
GEIGER: You know, it's just threat after threat after threat that they have to swim through before they even get up to their spawning beds. It is really kind of a gauntlet, if you will, that the salmon have to run through to even get upstream.
CURWOOD: This gauntlet is presenting one of the biggest challenges ever for wildlife officials, and for residents of the Pacific Northwest. The recent listing of Chum, Chinook, and Sockeye salmon has brought entire metropolitan areas under the scrutiny of the Endangered Species Act.
It's the first time that's happened. Previous endangered species battles have mostly been rural affairs involving a single industry. Loggers versus owls, for example, or ranchers versus wolves. But this time the fight includes Portland and Seattle, one of the nation's fastest-growing cities and home to three million people and corporate giants including Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boeing. Bob Turner is in charge of enforcing the Act for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
TURNER: We've had endangered species in urban environments before, but they've always been terrestrial wildlife, like butterflies or something where you can be confident that if you have an acre of land protected for that species, you're pretty sure it's going to survive within that habitat. Salmon are so different because their life cycle is so complex.
CURWOOD: Every river and stream is currently under evaluation for its impact on salmon. Soon, every construction project will come under strict review, too. Efforts to protect wild salmon may eventually involve any aspect of urban life that affects water quality- down to the fertilizers and pesticides people use on their lawns. But is it realistic to expect that salmon can live side- by- side with people in areas dramatically transformed by a century and a half of human settlement? Mr. Turner says yes.
TURNER: I don't have any doubt that they can coexist. I think we can certainly protect streams and water in urban environments in a way that can allow fish to survive. The question is, do we have the political will to do so?
MAN AT PODIUM: So please welcome His Excellency, the honorable Governor Gary Locke.
CURWOOD: Even before the endangered species designation, officials like Washington Governor Gary Locke recognized how much of the challenge lay ahead, and how high the stakes were.
LOCKE: Thank you. Salmon recovery is about much more than fish. It's about respect for the natural world that sustains us. And if we fail to do what's necessary for salmon, we will fail at something far larger than saving fish. We will fail at saving the very quality of life that makes living in the Pacific Northwest unique and distinctive. In addition to...
CURWOOD: In his 1999 State of the State Address, Governor Locke warned local officials that if they don't act, the Northwest could come under the environmental equivalent of martial law.
LOCKE: If we fail to protect our wild salmon, the federal government will do it for us, and even to us. We will lose control over our land, our water, our farms, and our forests. We will not let that happen without a fight.
(housing construction site-excavation sounds- walking on gravel-)
CURWOOD: This prospect of Federal control has some people fighting mad, and one battleground is a familiar setting for environmental conflict: construction sites in the suburbs.
(Engines and earthmoving)
NYKREIM: Well, we're going to build three single-family homes. They're going to be about 2,600 square feet each, each with anywhere from a two- to a three-car garage...
CURWOOD: Homebuilder Mike Nykreim is a fourth-generation Seattle resident who develops vacant lots inside existing neighborhoods. Tall and trim, he's an outdoorsman and a mountain climber, who feels his projects don't harm the environment.
NYKREIM: We're not tearing down old growth trees by any stretch of the imagination. This is what's called infill development.
CURWOOD: And what's it going to cost? If I wanted to buy one of these when your done, I'd have to part with how much money?
NYKREIM: I'd be happy to sell it to you for $460,000. (Curwood whistles)
CURWOOD: Part of that cost is an elaborate drainage system Mr. Nykreim is required to build. It captures rainwater running off roofs and driveways and slowly releases it into the ground. This prevents many flash floods from scouring sensitive habitat in nearby streams.
CURWOOD: With a long metal crowbar, Mr. Nykreim pries the cover off a freshly-installed manhole.
CURWOOD: (Echoing) Hello!
NYKREIM: It's 24 feet deep. There's this monstrous tank down there that's supposed to retain the stormwater from just three homes.
CURWOOD: This stormwater detention system is just one of a growing number of environmental precautions that developers have been forced to take by local regulators. But Mr. Nykreim feels builders are being pushed too far. He says environmental safeguards are making single-family homes too expensive. For example, this stormwater system will add about $20,000 to the price of each house it serves. And when you talk to him about doing more to save wild salmon passing through the city, Mr. Nykreim begins to bristle.
NYKREIM: I see this as some kind of ecotopia that somebody in Washington, D.C., would like to see the Pacific Northwest have to experiment around with. They've come up with a nice little plan that we're going to do everything in the world, everything regardless of economics, to control the environment.
CURWOOD: This perception is based on the painful history of the Pacific Northwest with endangered species protection. The listing of the spotted owl years back decimated small logging towns. It even created its own mythology, of an inflexible Federal government concerned more about animals than people. So people like Mike Nykreim worry what will happen now, with the listing of wild salmon runs that include metropolitan areas. He's so concerned, he says he's getting out of the homebuilding business.
NYKREIM: Now, I'm nobody's fool here. I've watched ESA come into a community and devastate the community. And it's going to happen here. If ESA is implemented here like it has been in other communities, it's going to crush this economy.
CURWOOD: This fear recently prompted builders to go to court to challenge the listing of salmon as endangered species. They filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service, saying they're being unfairly targeted. Indeed, the salmon controversy is putting a number of lawyers to work. Environmental activists sued in the first place to get salmon listed, and they could go back to court in an attempt to speed up the response of the Fisheries Service. So far NMFS as the agency is known here, has stepped back and let local officials take the lead on salmon recovery. This wait- and- see approach has frustrated environmental activists, including Tom Geiger.
GEIGER: Some well-intentioned officials are trying to come up with a recovery plan to submit to NMFS for consideration, but NMFS is not being very clear as far as what they think the criteria for that recovery plan should be. So it's kind of like playing darts in the dark.
TURNER: Yes, everyone wants us to tell them what we want. If we do tell them what we want, the next thing that happens is that they charge that this is a top-down, big foot of the federal government coming down on the locals.
CURWOOD: Bob Turner of the Fisheries Service says that if environmentalists get what they want, a quick decision, it could spark a backlash against salmon and the effort to save them.
TURNER: We are not going to immediately answer the question: what needs to be done here? Because we find that when we do that, we lose the opportunity to gain local authorship, and we lose the opportunity to have a custom- made conservation plan that fits the community. Now, there are some saying that's just not enough, you should be pushing hard. The problem with that is, when you push hard you end up with a nice three-ring binder full of plans that never get implemented.
CURWOOD: This battle over local or federal control has some people wondering if the listing of salmon could push the Endangered Species Act itself into extinction.
SMITCH: This is really a fundamental, if not the fundamental test of the Endangered Species Act. I think it's huge stakes. I think this is probably a test case for the long-term survival of the Act.
CURWOOD: Kurt Smitch is the top salmon advisor to Washington Governor Gary Locke, and coordinates the current jockeying among Federal, state, and local officials. Dr. Smitch is worried the entire process could become a stalemate. That, he says, would provide ammunition to those who feel the Endangered Species Act is inflexible and in need of major reform. Even so, Dr. Smitch feels there's still time to find a compromise that could rescue salmon from extinction. And surprisingly, he welcomes the federal pressure on state and local authorities.
SMITCH: We need the federal government once in a while to come in when local political will simply can't take the pressure to do the right thing on behalf of public resources. We have had these problems before us for the last 20 years. We know we don't have enough clean water. We know we don't have enough water in this state for fish and people at the same time. However, if it weren't for the Endangered Species Act, we would not be addressing these issues. And that's the only reason we have a chance. If it weren't for that law, we would all sit here continuing to quack about the problems with salmon, and they would wink out.
CURWOOD: Despite this optimism about the politics of salmon recovery, one of the biggest questions remains unanswered. Can a sprawling metropolis really be made safe for wild salmon? To get some clues, we'll take a boat ride up Seattle's biggest river when our story about salmon in the city continues after this short break. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(A boat engine starts)
CURWOOD: To see how salmon really might survive in a highly industrialized environment, I strap on mud boots for a boat trip up Seattle's biggest river, the Duwamish. My guide is a youthful, energetic biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Curtis Tanner.
TANNER: Off to our right, there's this one hill slope, and then about a mile, a mile- and- a- half over to the east there, you can see the other hill slope. That is the boundaries of what was once the river valley. So you can imagine that we were once in a large river valley, that there was once a meandering channel, a lazy little river if you will, kind of going back and forth from valley wall to valley wall. About twelve miles in the lower stretch of the river here of meandering channel.
CURWOOD: How has it been shrunk, it's been straightened out like --
TURNER: It's been straightened out, so we basically took all the kinks out of the twelve miles of channel, took it down to about five miles of what they now call a navigable waterway. They deepened it, and they filled in the wetland to create industrial land.
CURWOOD: And not just any industrial land. This is the heart of Seattle's heavy industry. There are cement factories, a steel mill, ship yards, one of the West Coast's busiest ports, and the world's largest airplane manufacturer: Boeing. All of them generating billions of dollars in economic activity, in the wetlands where millions of salmon once thrived. The lower Duwamish isn't just any stretch of river, either. It's a vital salmon estuary, where the juveniles are supposed to fatten up before heading to sea. This is also where they make the critical transformation from a freshwater to a saltwater fish. That's why Curtis Tanner is here. The Duwamish uplands are still productive salmon habitat, but the estuary? It's a mess.
TANNER: To write off the estuary, in this case, is to write off an entire watershed. I don't think that we have the moral authority, if you will, to write off an entire watershed, much less the legal ability. The Endangered Species Act doesn't allow us to say well, we're going to write off that system and go save fish someplace else. We have a responsibility to save fish everywhere.
CURWOOD: Some say it's hopeless to spend limited resources on salmon in an industrialized river like this, but Mr. Tanner hopes to prove them wrong. He's pioneering an effort to restore these estuaries. Right now the project is focusing on reclaiming tiny scraps of abandoned industrial land.
(An engine slows down)
CURWOOD: Our boat begins to slow as we reach one of the pilot projects, a tiny patch of green beside a small tributary. (To Tanner) This is like night and day. I mean, we're looking at something that looks reasonably natural. That could be someplace far, far away from the city.
TANNER: Yeah, you can. It's a little bit of an oasis here on the river. (Slapping water)
CURWOOD: Instead of concrete, the river bank here is a natural mud flat. Instead of junked cars and abandoned boats, the shore is lush with tidal saltmarsh vegetation.
TANNER: This sedge that we're looking at here is, jeez, what would you say? Three, maybe four feet high?
TURNER: Looking pretty good. This is really the fuel of these kinds of habitats. It's this plant material that breaks down and becomes small little bits and pieces of detritus or decaying vegetation that really fuels the food web here in this system.
CURWOOD: In other words, this is salmon food.
TANNER: This is next year's crop of salmon food.
CURWOOD: It's taken four years and $300,000 of public money to restore this single acre of shoreline. But already, hundreds of salmon are using the site, one of more than a dozen postage stamp-sized projects created by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and local volunteers.
(Engine starts up)
CURWOOD: It's too early to tell how many salmon might be saved through projects like this, but biologist Curtis Tanner feels they're worth the effort. They demonstrate that urban restoration is possible, and they've fostered support for even bigger projects on streams in Seattle neighborhoods that flow into the Duwamish. Headed back down the river, Mr. Tanner explains that there is an intangible benefit from his work as well. Like Washington Governor Gary Locke, he feels that wildlife habitat can make the city livable.
TANNER: People do live and work down here. And I think it's important to provide green space in people's back yards. Just having some green in an otherwise urbanized area is very important.
CURWOOD: So the salmon might save people?
TANNER: Let's hope so.
CURWOOD: Biologist Curtis Tanner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of several agencies working to restore wild salmon runs in urban areas of the Pacific Northwest.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Our report on wild salmon in the city was produced by Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick. Our series Point of No Return: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest, continues next month as we examine the impact of commercial fishing on salmon populations. You can hear other installments in the series on our website: www.loe.org.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Dumpster diving may not seem like an activity that would inspire artists. But then again, the art world has never hesitated to show us our trashy side. So today, we celebrate those intrepid bands of visual artists who take discarded objects and turn them into artworks with a green message. From Washington, D.C., Lex Gillespie has this report on this twist of recycling: Environmental Art.
(A milling crowd)
GILLESPIE: A garbage can sits in the corner of a gallery at the student center at the University of Maryland. But don't toss anything in it. This trash pail is a work of art. It's called "Garbage in Bloom." Out of it grows a silver plant made of metal, with some dazzling flowers.
BRANDOFF: The stem is out of a metal trash can, which is about three feet tall, which I actually found in the trash.
GILLESPIE: Artist Rachel Brandoff is the object's creator.
BRANDOFF: And then I assembled all sorts of scraps of wood and wire, and I made the flowers out of soda cans. And I used champagne corks as the center, the pistil in the flowers, and painted them just a little bit. And everybody thought I was crazy for wanting to save all these soda cans and scraps of wood and metal and what everybody else thought was just trash. And I kept saying: Trash can be art! It can be, one day it will be art!
GILLESPIE: Turning trash into art is precisely the idea of the Art of Recycling, a recent exhibit sponsored by the Citizens Concerned for a Cleaner County, a group in Prince George's County, Maryland. The 27 artworks on display are made of recycled materials by local high school and college students. On one wall hangs an old pink toilet seat that frames a painting of the deep blue sea. Nearby is a square human figure whose torso is empty boxes of Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs. And towering over visitors at the exhibit's entrance is a nine-foot giraffe made of coffee tins, rags, beads, bottles, and cans. These works are all examples of a popular trend: environmental art, which is distinguished by both its message and materials. Some of this art explores ecological themes, while other objects are fashioned from recycled elements. Recycling has even inspired rap musicians.
MAN: The workers first take out the things that were tossed in by mistake in the recycling bins. For material, keep on streaming in, a powerful magnet gets the steel and tin...
GILLESPIE: This recycling rap was included in a video called "Good Garbage."
MAN: "... of one thing we are now most certain. The heavier glass falls off to one side.Plastic and aluminum take a separate ride..."
GILLESPIE: The song and video were co-produced by Leila Cabib. Three years ago she organized a show of fellow enviro-artists in Glen Echo, Maryland. On display were masks made from computer circuit boards, and paper woven from tattered blue jeans.
CABIB: What I think was successful about the show was that the work was primarily art. The environmental part of it came in, in the sense that these artists are resourceful and inventive people who are always looking for ways to save money on the materials that they use. And that's why they go to scrap yards and try to find things that are cheap or free. So perhaps their environmental purposes are secondary to their economic purposes (laughs).
GILLESPIE: The use of recycled materials by artists is really nothing new. Neither is art inspired by the environment. The crafts of Native Americans have always embodied their respect for nature. Quilters of course rely upon discarded fabric for their colorful mosaics. And the found art movement turned animal skulls and rusty bike parts into abstract sculptures. But what's different about the current environmental art movement is that artists want their work to be educational.
GILLESPIE: Soledat Salome, a mixed media artist, sands a display case at her studio in Baltimore, Maryland. Salome creates large installation pieces that mix gardening with painting. She has a green thumb in addition to an artist's eye. One of her works, called The Living Painting, is a huge container overflowing with plants set against a canvas filled with abstract shapes.
SALOME: Why do we always walk into a beautiful space and we see a little pot with a plant and a painting separate? I wanted to make both work together.
GILLESPIE: A native of Chile, Salome draws upon her experiences growing up in Latin America to design her pieces. Her subtle, abstract works aren't an in-your-face kind of political art. But Salome says they were influenced by the environmental destruction she's witnessed firsthand throughout Latin America.
SALOME: I have been pretty sad to see, when I went to the rainforest a couple of years ago, I found that people were burning right and left like these beautiful cathedrals of bamboo that they have, what? Two hundred, 300 years. And it's just being burned out for the hell of it, just burned. So, I mean I think people should really think what they're doing and have more respect for their surroundings. These were the two elements: function, and at the same time nature integrated with my work.
GILLESPIE: To create one piece, Salome went exploring deep into an abandoned copper mine outside Caracas, Venezuela, with a group of sculptors.
SALOME: And we were like in these mines for ten days, and all the artists had to take all the waste materials from the mines and surroundings and create something. So you can find really incredible pieces. And so, a lot of artists used beautiful metal pieces that were there, and everyone created something different.
GILLESPIE: With the mine's debris, Salome built an abstract sundial. Her distinctive mix of materials and themes has won critical acclaim, and her works have been displayed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
(A woman sings)
GILLESPIE: And they've served as backdrops for the Baltimore Opera.
GILLESPIE: So far, however, there has been only a handful of major shows featuring environmental art, like that of Soledat Salome. Most of the art produced remains at the community level.
GILLESPIE: For Living on Earth, I'm Lex Gillespie in Washington.
(Singing continues, up and under; in the background a dog barks.)
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 Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Brent Runyan, Russel Wiedeman, and Tom Banse. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Terry FitzPatrick is the acting senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. 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 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 Surdna Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
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