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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

November 12, 1999

Air Date: November 12, 1999

SEGMENTS

Combating Bio-Invaders / Nathan Johnson

Many American harbors are polluted with invasive organisms, often transported in the ballast water of ships. The problem is particularly bad in California. But, scientists there are developing aggressive ways to combat invasive species. Nathan Johnson reports. (09:30)

Bonn Climate Change Talks / Jesse Wegman

Living On Earth’s Jesse Wegman wraps up his report from Bonn, Germany, at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Some delegates from the 170 nations represented were frustrated at the failure of the United States to commit to ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, and there was talk that perhaps the rest of the world could move ahead without the U.S. (06:00)

The Politics of Coal

Living On Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard (HURTS-guard) talks with host Steve Curwood about the EPA’s landmark suit against 32 of the oldest, and most polluting, coal-fired power plants. (05:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about meteor showers, which occur this time of year when the Earth passes through the dust trail of an ancient comet. (01:30)

Dark Sky / Bob Carty

Correspondent Bob Carty reports from Ontario, Canada on the creation of the world's first Dark Sky Reserve. It's an area where lights and development are prohibited so that sky watchers can get a clear view. (10:00)

To Catch a Tree Poacher / Olrando DeGuzman

Orlando DeGuzman (day-gooze- MOHN) reports from Canada on efforts to crack down on the growing problem of tree theft. Police have teamed up with scientists to develop techniques for matching DNA from suspected stolen wood with the stump left at the crime scene. (06:30)

Ultimate High

Goran (YUR-an) Kropp bicycled from his native Sweden to Mt. Everest in Nepal, climbed to the summit and now has chronicled his adventures in a new book, Ultimate High. He speaks with host Steve Curwood about the successes and tragedies of his journey. (08:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTER: Nathan Johnson, Jesse Wegman, Bob Carty, Orlando de Guzman
GUESTS: Mark Hertsgaard, Goran Kropp

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
From California, word of a remarkable turnaround on the exotic species front. For the first time, scientists evict a parasitic worm from the ecosystem it's invaded.

KURIS: My view is, we in fact can't learn to live with some of these things. They are serious pests. I am seeking to control or eradicate them.

CURWOOD: Also, at the climate change talks in Bonn, some nations prepare to leave the U.S. in the dust. And back home, the Clinton administration sues the operators of 32 coal-fired power plants in the Midwest and South, saying they have dodged the pollution limits of the Clean Air Act.

HERTSGAARD: According to the EPA, if they could have these plants brought up to current standards, it would be the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off of the highways.

CURWOOD: Those stories this week on Living on Earth; first the news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Combating Bio-Invaders

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The world is full of plants and animals that evolved in one place, but that people have transferred somewhere else. We take many of these non-native species for granted. The horse, for instance, or wheat, even honey bees. But for every transplanted species we find useful, there are thousands we consider pests. They crowd out native species and threaten crops and fisheries. The problem is especially acute along the coast of California. Now, scientists there are launching some unique counter-measures against marine bio-invaders. Nathan Johnson reports.

(Splashing water)

JOHNSON: San Francisco has long been one of the busiest harbors on the West Coast. Scores of ships arrive every month from exotic places, many of them carrying exotic species in the ballast water that ships take on for stability. Because this is such a busy crossroads, San Francisco Bay has become the most heavily-invaded aquatic ecosystem in North America. A new exotic species shows up every three months.

COHEN: It's completely altered, the Bay Area ecosystem. Across most of the habitats the impact is so large, it's almost hard to see it's so big. And so, as we spend time out in the bay, we find that virtually everywhere we look are exotic species, and they dominate the ecosystem.

(Splashes)

JOHNSON: Scientist Andy Cohen of the San Francisco Estuary Institute has been tracking the impact of bio-invaders on inter-tidal mud flats.

(Clanking)

JOHNSON: Wearing rugged wading boots, he's crouching over a sieve like an old prospector panning for gold, trying to get a look at what's living in the mud.

(Sound of panning, shuffling of shells)

COHEN: We've scooped up some mud into this sieve and we're shaking it down. (Shakes) Here's our clam life. One very colorful Japanese little-neck clam. A lot of them are the Atlantic gem clam; these are eastern soft-shell clams. These are longer and narrower ones.

JOHNSON: Nothing really native in that.

COHEN: Nothing native in that batch at all.

JOHNSON: Exotic species like these have robbed the bay of its unique biological identity. Foreign clams, for instance, have flourished so dramatically they're stripping the ecosystem of nutrients. Dr. Cohen says this is rippling up the food chain.

COHEN: Because of the filtering of water that this clam is doing, the entire food web relations, what we refer to as the trophic structure of the ecosystem, had been changed virtually overnight. It's just remarkable. And yet, that happens with invasions. Not all invasions, but it is not a rare phenomenon.

JOHNSON: Besides disturbing millions of years of evolution, exotic invasions are inflicting costly damage. Commercial shell fisheries along the entire Pacific coast are currently under assault by European green crabs, which love to eat clams and oysters. Invasive species are such a problem that some California scientists have begun to launch an aggressive counter-attack.

(Echoes, running water, door opening)

KURIS: So this is the quarantine area where we keep the non-native crabs. They have to remain in this room at all times.

JOHNSON: Armand Kuris is a professor of marine science. From his lab at the University of California in Santa Barbara, he is leading an effort to fight back.

KURIS: My view is we, in fact, can't learn to live with some of these things. They are serious pests. I am seeking to control or eradicate them.

JOHNSON: People have tried all sorts of ways to stop the spread of non-native plants and animals, from poisoning lakes to get rid of unwanted fish, to using insects to control weeds. The ocean, though, is a more complicated ecosystem, and many scientists feel that marine invaders are nearly impossible to effectively control. But not Professor Kuris.

KURIS: Our lab, and a few other labs, an important lab in France, an important lab in Australia, have started ending the fatalism, ending the defeatism, and saying can we take a proactive stance? Can we actually go after these things and reduce or completely alleviate the impact, the negative impact of them?

JOHNSON: Dr. Kuris is the first to actually eradicate an exotic marine pest: a tiny South African sea worm called the sabellid , which was infecting a California abalone farm. To do this in 1997, he sent a small army of volunteers to the shallow waters surrounding the farm, to remove all the snails and clams that the worms were using as hosts. It was a scorched-earth tactic that worked.

KURIS: Against this sabellid worm that infested abalone and other snail shells, we were able to eradicate a population that was two-and-a-half million worms out, established in California. That means that you can manage a pest. We have the ability.

JOHNSON: Now Dr. Kuris is looking to combat the European green crab in San Francisco Bay and the west coast, with an equally aggressive approach. He wants to introduce a European parasite that will prevent the crabs from reproducing. The technique is known as biological control.

KURIS: The kinds of parasites that have biological control potential are firstly a very strange group of organisms called parasitic castrators. Strange creatures, parasitic barnacles that invade the tissues of the crab, come to weigh 20 to 30 percent of the weight of the crab, and completely block reproduction.

(Glass aquarium lids sliding open)

JOHNSON: Dr. Kuris and his research assistant are currently testing the parasitic larvae, called cyprid, in their special quarantine lab. The biggest question is whether the cyprid parasite will target only the European green crabs, or will it infect other, native crab species in California?

KURIS: So in this container, we have the native test crab. What we're doing is exposing these to the cyprid larvae, the infective stage, and we'll dissect them to determine if these crabs are infected.

JOHNSON: So far there is no proof the parasite will attack only the exotic crabs that Dr. Kuris wants to kill, which leaves some researchers extremely wary of his project.

(Sounds of San Francisco Bay)

JOHNSON: Back in San Francisco Bay, scientist Andy Cohen fears a disaster could result if European parasites are brought in to combat European crabs.

COHEN: Fundamentally, what we're talking about is introducing yet another exotic species into the ecosystem. It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict exactly how an organism will behave, how it will respond in a novel environment, and so with every introduction into an ecosystem we are taking a certain risk.

JOHNSON: In fact, early attempts at biological control were catastrophes. The mongoose was released in Hawaii to control rats in the late 1800s. And in the 1930s, the cane toad was introduced in Australia to control beetles. Both species began to devour native animals instead. Dr. Kuris says scientists have learned from these mistakes. However, he'll likely face stiff opposition to introducing exotic parasites in San Francisco to control invasive crabs. Meantime, as his research continues, other people are taking steps to ensure the invasive species problem won't get any worse.

(Ship horn, bell, radio and loud noise from Port of Oakland)

JOHNSON: At the Port of Oakland, crews are busy using cranes to load container ships with cargo.

(Voice of radio communication among crane operator and crew)

JOHNSON: As they're loaded, these ships dump tens of thousands of gallons of ballast water into the port. In the past this water was brimming with exotic marine organisms from Europe or Asia or wherever the ship came from. But now, Oakland requires ships to clean up their ballast before entering the harbor.

(Horns)

ZAITLIN: The port has instituted its own ballast water regulation, which requires ships that call here from foreign ports to exchange their ballast water at sea.

JOHNSON: Jody Zaitlin is the port's environmental planner. She says when a ship exchanges its ballast water on the high seas, the most dangerous biological stowaways are flushed away.

ZAITLIN: What they're picking up and using as ballast is open ocean water, which has a much lower density of organisms, and the organisms that are in the open ocean are much less likely to survive once they're discharged in near-shore environments like the bay.

(Bells ring)

JOHNSON: Next year, ships entering all California ports will be required to exchange their ballast at sea. And the Coast Guard has asked ships nationwide to voluntarily follow California's example. Still, environmentalists say ballast exchange is not 100 percent effective. They say the best solution is to treat ballast water on shore, at a processing plant, the same way sewage is treated. The shipping industry is resisting that step, saying it's too costly. Instead, Ms. Zaitlin says technicians are investigating ways of disinfecting ballast water inside the ship itself.

ZAITLIN: There are a couple methods under investigation for on-board treatment, such as chlorination, UV light, UV light plus filtration, heat treatment, ozonation, a number of other water quality techniques.

JOHNSON: So far, though, none of these technologies are currently available. Maritime commerce is expected to double in the U.S. in the next 20 years, and this explosive growth in global trade has many environmentalists worried the invasive species problem will grow as well. They say the ballast exchange program is a good first step, but they vow to continue their fight for more effective ballast treatment.

(Horns)

JOHNSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Nathan Johnson in Oakland.

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CURWOOD: Just ahead: the politics of coal, clean air, and the Clinton administration. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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Bonn Climate Change Talks

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Two years ago the world agreed in Kyoto, Japan, to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases from industrial nations by the year 2012. Greenhouse gases help regulate the Earth's climate, and humans are rapidly increasing the amounts of these gases by burning fossil fuels including coal and oil, and by cutting down trees. But the Kyoto Protocol has run into a political brick wall in the U.S., already the largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, our roaring economy is consuming more fossil fuels rather than less. As talks continue on how to meet the Kyoto targets, there are signs that the rest of the world may not wait for the U.S. to act. Living on Earth's Jesse Wegman attended the latest round of climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany, and has this report.

(A stick beats out time. A man speaks in German)

WEGMAN: While delegates from around the world sat inside the conference hall hammering out the details of the protocol, a coalition of environmental groups was outside, trying to set the earth on fire.

(Shoveling briquettes)

WEGMAN: Beneath a globe made of hay and chicken wire, demonstrators had scattered charcoal briquettes, and were attempting to light them to symbolize the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet's atmosphere.

(Metallic scraping)

WEGMAN: But the charcoal never caught, and a man with a blowtorch finally had to set fire to the globe himself.

(Blowtorch flames)

WEGMAN: Frustration reigned among many here. The negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continued to just inch along, and it created a desire to kick-start the process with a change of tactics.

(Milling voices)

WEGMAN: Delegates here did feel that they had taken small but important steps toward finalizing the rules by which they'll start cutting their emissions. Perhaps the biggest advance was a push, led by the European Union, to start implementing the Kyoto Protocol by 2002. The EU has largely embraced the need to move more quickly on climate change, and its initiative got the support of most other industrialized countries. Oil-producing nations objected strongly, almost every step of the way.

SAUDI ARABIAN DELEGATE: We cannot accept the idea of having any facilitator. We cannot accept to have anything other...

WEGMAN: Delegates from Saudi Arabia were especially vocal in their opposition, afraid that if the world shifts away from fossil fuels their economy will be devastated. But the frustration among most delegates here was more the result of positions taken by the United States. The Clinton administration helped negotiate the Kyoto deal, but under heavy pressure from the Senate, it now says the U.S. won't ratify it without certain conditions. For instance, the U.S. insists on broad use of so-called "market mechanisms" to help it meet emissions reduction targets, and greater steps by developing countries to cut their emissions. Both are hotly-debated issues. Neither was resolved here, and Roger Ballentine, the White House climate change coordinator, said the U.S. would not commit to a deadline for implementation of the deal until they are. But he said a specific date was not the point of the negotiations.

BALLENTINE: The more important focus is on committing to do the work that everyone agrees needs to be done. If that's in 2002, fantastic. If it's in 2003, or 2001, we don't think we need to sit here now and prejudice the year it will be ratified. Let's focus on the work we need to get done, and get it done as soon as possible.

WEGMAN: Critics say the U.S.’s less aggressive stance is influenced by its powerful domestic energy industry, which has spent millions of dollars arguing that climate change isn’t a problem. That position is starting to soften. Dale Heydlauff, vice president of environmental affairs with American Electric Power, a midwest utility, doesn't dispute the need to reduce greenhouse gases. But he does argue against a short timetable. The U.S. agreed in Kyoto to cut its emissions to seven percent below 1990 levels by 2010. But Mr. Heydlauff points out that U.S. emissions have already risen 11 percent since 1990, and are expected to be up 30 percent by the end of the next decade.

HEYDLAUFF: And with the seven percent reduction below that, you're looking at a 37 percent emissions reduction requirement that will take Herculean efforts that I don't think can be accomplished in that time frame.

WEGMAN: But environmentalists say it's just a matter of mustering the will in Washington to pressure industry to take quick action. John Passacantando is the director of Ozone Action.

PASSACANTANDO: I think the U.S. administration could get what it would call being out on a limb, do something bold on global warming. The American public would back it up. And we'd ultimately persuade the Senate.

WEGMAN: For now, the Senate has made it clear it will not be persuaded to go along with the other global economic powers. And that left many at the Bonn conference talking about trying to avoid U.S. politicians altogether. To go into effect, the Protocol needs to be ratified by countries representing 55 percent of industrial greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. emits more than one third of all greenhouse gases, so it's always been assumed that the treaty will fail without U.S. participation. But a new German study found that if the European Union, Japan, Russia, and the former Eastern Bloc countries all ratified the Protocol, the treaty could enter into force. Hermann Ott, who co-wrote the report for a German think tank, says that the feeling that ratification is possible without the U.S. is growing daily.

OTT: The official line is still that we must have the United States on board. However, if you read between the lines, you'll see official statements, for instance, that say "We can do without OPEC," which can also be read "We can do it without the U.S."

WEGMAN: If this happens, it could turn up the heat on U.S. industry. Many in Bonn felt that if the rest of the world began developing new, cleaner technologies, U.S. companies would feel pressure to get into the game as well. And whether the impetus is new climate science or economic pressure, there are signs that U.S. industry is already starting to respond. The buzz in Bonn was over DuPont's recent pledge to cut its emissions nearly ten times the Kyoto target by 2010. For Living on Earth, I'm Jesse Wegman.

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The Politics of Coal

CURWOOD: While the Clinton administration's efforts to combat climate change appear stalled in the international arena, back at home the White House is taking steps aimed at cleaning up the air. Joining us now to take a look at the latest developments on this and other related stories is Living on Earth's political observer, Mark Hertsgaard. Hi, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Hey, Steve.

CURWOOD: Mark, the federal government recently announced it is suing the owners of some thirty-two coal-fired power plants for violating the Clean Air Act. Is this an important move?

HERTSGAARD: A very big deal, Steve. This would be certainly one of the single largest clean-air enforcement actions by the federal government in history. Thirty-two power plants, as you mentioned, responsible for an enormous amount of pollution, but also for an enormous amount of the industry's profits. These are some of the oldest power plants in the country, and therein lies the problem. They were exempted from the original Clean Air Act in 1970, precisely because they were so old, and it was assumed they would be going offline soon and therefore no need to force them to do costly upgrades in the air pollution technologies. Well here it is, 29 years later, and these plants are not out of service and, according to the EPA, in the papers for their lawsuit, they're saying look, these companies have not only kept these plants moving and generating electricity, but they've upgraded them and in the process they were legally bound to add the modern air pollution technologies. They haven't done that. And after talks with the EPA, they couldn't come to a settlement on this, so EPA's had to sue.

CURWOOD: How dirty are these plants?

HERTSGAARD: Extremely dirty, Steve. They are, according to the EPA, if they could have these plants brought up to current standards, it would be the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off of the highways. That's a lot of pollution, a lot of smog, also a lot of greenhouse gases.

CURWOOD: Now, at the same time the Democratic administration in Washington is pushing this lawsuit, the Republican administration in New York is announcing that they want to set their car pollution standards the same as California, very tough. Governor Pataki of New York wants to do this. What are the long-term implications of this move?

HERTSGAARD: This could be very significant if Pataki carries through with it. Right now, as you know, California has tougher vehicle emission standards than any other state in the country. That matters because California is responsible for such a large portion of the automobile market that the manufacturers have to provide cars that meet that standard. So they provide one car for California, one car for the rest of the United States. If New York joins in, and we're told that Massachusetts is not going to be far behind, those three states together account for one quarter of all the automobiles purchased in the United States. At that point you begin to get enough leverage on the market where a super green car, so to speak, that was produced for New York and California would probably become the overall national standard.

CURWOOD: At the same time that we have these executives going after polluting industries, we've got legislators, I'm thinking of Capitol Hill, that is -- well, perhaps bucking the trend. What, Senators Byrd and Lott, Senator Robert Byrd and Trent Lott are pushing some riders. Can you talk to me about those?

HERTSGAARD: Sure. Riders, they are the legislative attempt now to overturn these actions by other parts of the government. In the case of Senator Lott, for example, this EPA lawsuit against the midwestern utilities, Senator Lott this week was shopping around a rider that would essentially negate the EPA lawsuit. And this rider, reportedly, was drafted by the American Electric Power Company itself, one of the big utilities facing the EPA action. And on the other front, we've got Senator Byrd, Democrat from West Virginia, the ranking minority member on the Appropriations Committee. Senator Byrd has put forward a rider that would overturn another recent judicial ruling. In the District Court, a judge has held that it is no longer permissible for coal miners in West Virginia to continue blowing the tops off of mountains in the mining process. That's been a very common procedure used in mining. The problem is, of course, that all that debris ends up down in the streams of the state. Seven hundred and fifty miles of waterways have been covered up with debris, and this violates the Clean Water Act, according to the judge. Senator Byrd has ridden to the rescue on this and has tried to attach a rider that would essentially overturn the judge's decision.

CURWOOD: Think the President will go along?

HERTSGAARD: Apparently, at first Clinton told Byrd yes, I'm with you. Then he started to wobble a little bit when enviros criticized him. But enviros are very suspicious that they suspect that Clinton will go along with it.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth's Mark Hertsgaard speaking to us from San Francisco. Thanks, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.

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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 letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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, promoting new ways to provide energy for the world economy without harm to the environment: www.wajones.org; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: You can see for billions of miles, if it's dark enough. The crusade to keep the night skies light-free is next on Living on Earth.

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SECOND HALF HOUR

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

(Music up and under: "When You Wish Upon A Star")

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: On November 30, 1954, Elizabeth Hodges was napping on her couch in Sylacauga, Alabama, when an eight-and-a-half pound rock crashed through her roof, hit her arm, and left a nasty bruise. The rock, it turns out, had come straight from outer space, and it was probably part of the annual Leonids meteor showers, which occur about this time each year. This year's shower is already underway with the peak on Wednesday and Thursday. Meteor showers are caused when the earth passes through the dust trail of an ancient comet. The so-called shooting stars are particles of rock burning up in the atmosphere. When a meteor makes it all the way down to Earth it's called a meteorite. They usually land unnoticed, but every now and then they do catch people's attention. In 1992, for instance, a meteorite sliced through the trunk of a car in Peekskill, New York. But Elizabeth Hodges has suffered the only reported falling star injury. By the way, Mrs. Hodges' landlord sued her to claim ownership of the meteorite, but Mrs. Hodges prevailed. She turned down offers to sell the specimen and donated it to the University of Alabama, where it's now on display at the Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Dark Sky

CURWOOD: If you live near a city, you probably won't be able to see much of the Leonids meteor showers. Lights from homes and offices and shopping malls will bounce off the sky and obscure the view. But now there is a place to go for those who want to recapture the wonders of the night sky. In the Canadian province of Ontario, star lovers have won government support to create the world's first dark sky reserve. Bob Carty has this report.

(Music up and under: "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star")

CARTY: Our family's summer reunion is sometimes held at a lakeside cottage, and this year, while the adults chatted after dinner, I wandered down the lake, where a gaggle of nieces and nephews sat on a sandy beach under a night canopy.

CHILD 1: There's the Big Dipper.

CHILD 2: I see a triangle.

CHILD 3: Like, if you look for a while you can see, like, shooting stars, and they're really cool. And you can see satellites moving, and you can have like a little contest to see who can spot more satellites in one hour.

CHILD 4: You can see Mars. It's straight ahead. It's sort of a big ball. It's one of the brightest things in the sky. And to me it looks sort of an orange-red. I'm sure that's Mars.

CHILD 5: Looks like a big flood of stars.

CARTY: These young people are lucky. When they come here they get to see something they can never see in the city: a clear, dark night sky.

CHILD 6: I live in the city, and at night it’s, like, so much pollution.

CHILD 7: You can't see a lot of the stars because of all the lights.

CHILD 8: It's like a reddish, purplish pink, because I don't know, at the night, yeah, it's like purplish with pollution and clouds and gray.

(Sirens)

DICKENSON: Astronomers call it light pollution. It's civilization. We have lots of artificial light at night. And virtually all astronomers say you switch on a light and you switch off a star.

CARTY: Terry Dickenson is the editor of Sky News Magazine, and the author of many books on astronomy. His life has paralleled the growth of large cities, and the disappearance of starry, starry nights.

DICKENSON: In the 1950s, as a youngster, I lived on the edge of a very large city. And I was able to see the Milky Way from my back yard. I know this because I kept a little notebook when I got my first telescope. Now when I go back to the very spot where I made those observations, I can see maybe five or six stars. And this is not an isolated incident. Many people, for the first time in history, have never seen the natural beauty of a pristine night sky.

(Sirens)

CARTY: And Terry Dickenson says we're not even aware that we've lost what our ancestors took for granted. Though sometimes there is an epiphany. Like in Los Angeles, in 1994. A nighttime earthquake cut off power in most of the Los Angeles basin. People scurried outside onto the streets in fear of aftershocks. And then, they looked up.

DICKENSON: And people were standing out, and they noticed this strange cloud, what was later described as a cloud, dividing the sky in half. It looked completely bizarre and alien to so many people, that the next day and for subsequent days on radio talk shows, police and emergency services were receiving calls about this strange cloud, and the strange appearance of the night sky. Many people were suggesting that the cloud was caused by the earthquake. It was the Milky Way, of course.

(Music up and under: "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star")

CARTY: What do you do when a wonder of nature disappears? At first you drive several hours out of the city to get a clear view. But then the lights follow you, even to rural towns and back roads. That's what happened to Peter Goering. And when Peter Goering saw the stars disappearing from his night skies, he decided to do something about it.

(Crickets)

GOERING: This is what we call the heart of cottage country, about a two-hour drive north of an area where you've got about four million people in the greater Toronto area. And actually, we're heading really towards the world's first dark sky preserve.

(A car door opens, closes)

CARTY: It is just after sunset and Peter Goering is driving me down a little-used country road, heading away from the lakes of Muskoka. Peter Goering is a retired architect. All his life he's put up buildings. But the greatest creation in his career may be something without cement and mortar. Peter Goering is the architect of the world's first dark park.

GOERING: Now, I just want to point out, as we're coming along now, we're beginning to rise a little bit. And you'll notice now that the trees are much shorter, much further apart, and you have a lot of bushes and things. So it's getting quite open.

CARTY: So this is part of the Canadian shield, pre-Cambrian shield rock.

GOERING: Yes.

CARTY: And very, very little soil here?

GOERING: Yeah, it's very little soil cover, and that's of course the reason that you have such sparse growth. Ah, now we've just reached the point where we turn off. There is a sign here which was erected last summer, and here it says, "The Torrance Barrens Conservation Reserve."

CARTY: There are many reasons this piece of pre-Cambrian rock is ideal for a dark sky reserve. It's within two hours of a mega-city, so it's far enough away from city lights, but close enough to be accessible. And it's on 5,000 acres of government-owned land that's largely undeveloped and unpopulated.

(Footfalls, crickets)

CARTY: A flashlight guides us down a narrow trail. We walk on pink and gray granite, through ferns and dwarf pines. But other than this trail and a single sign, there's nothing here. And that may be one of the reasons Peter Goering got his idea through the political hoops and red tape of several levels of government. Most politicians and bureaucrats were enchanted with the idea, and smitten, frankly, with the lack of a price tag.

GOERING: One of the wonderful things about it is that there's no money involved, because there will be no buildings or support structures or other things, put roads in, or anything like that. Nothing is going to be obvious. It's all going to be very quiet, and totally unstructured. And I think that's one of the wonderful things about it: no batteries required.

(Footfalls)

CARTY: A ten-minute walk brings us up to one of the viewing locations, a 60-foot slab of granite that rises above the tree line. Up here, there's almost a prairie kind of feeling. The forest is a flat plain, and the sky a huge dome.

(Crickets)

GOERING: And directly up above, you notice three very bright stars, part of what's called the Summer Triangle. To the south there is the constellation of Scorpio, and also one constellation, which looks like a teapot. The teapot which is tilted to the right, and the steam which is coming out of the spout itself, forms the Milky Way, which then rises up overhead. I mean (laughs) there are so many, you just can't possibly count the number of stars. And the other thing, of course, is if there are any bright planets, like Venus or Jupiter, they can be so bright that they can actually cast a shadow. And that's quite astonishing to see.

(Music up and under: "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star")

CARTY: Peter Goering says the dark sky reserve is now starting to attract amateur astronomers. In the future he hopes tourists will come, and that is part of the attraction for the local government. In return, officials will prohibit development that would bring lights into the reserve. Still, supporters of the dark park will have to work with nearby towns to prevent the encroachment of new light pollution in the future. Terry Dickenson says the international dark sky movement is not against night lighting, but there's a lot that is simply not needed. It doesn't help us see in the dark, but just splashes off into space. And Dickenson says the worst offender is the common street lamp.

DICKENSON: You can see those lights when you fly over a city in an airplane. You can see the street lights. You shouldn't be able to; it's just bad design. Parking lots illuminated all night clearly are a waste, and it would be nice to see timers on those kinds of lights. It's also not necessary to illuminate billboards from the bottom up, because a lot of the light spills into the sky. That's pure waste, estimated by the International Dark Sky Association to be in the region, in North America, of one to two billion dollars a year.

(Footfalls)

CARTY: This dark sky reserve has made news around the world, and it's already encouraging others to lobby and pressure for a dark park of their own. Peter Goering hopes it will conserve something he wants his grandchildren and their children to experience. Something that is about more than just stars and science. An experience that kindles a reflection about who we are and what we are doing.

GOERING: In the more recent past, we were able to step out in our back yards and look up at the sky. And feast on what we could see up there. But that's become more and more blurred as we've developed further, as technology has begun to overpower us in many ways. So, the idea of creating a reserve, in effect, is a sign of failure, and perhaps that's why people are interested.

(Children sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star")

CHILD 1: When you look up in the sky and you see there's so much stuff, like, it makes you feel so small, because it looks so big.

CHILD 2: Just the prospect, I think, of what's out there, there's just so many things beyond our planet. And when you look up at all the stars, you really realize that. It just makes you realize that you're not, the Earth is not the center of the universe. It's just, there's so much more.

(Singing continues; fade to piano music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our feature on the dark sky preserve was produced by Bob Carty.

Back to top

CURWOOD: Just ahead: from Sweden to the top of Mount Everest and back again, by bicycle and backpack. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

To Catch a Tree Poacher

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In Canada, police are joining scientists to crack down on a growing problem: tree thefts. Thousands of huge old-growth trees are illegally cut and sold each year to a thriving black market for this precious wood. Investigators are developing a way to match DNA taken from stolen wood to the stump left at the crime scene. And officials hope that this new technique will deter thieves and speed up prosecutions. From member station KUOW in Seattle, Orlando de Guzman reports.

(Surf)

DE GUZMAN: The western coast of Vancouver Island is one of the most remote corners of British Columbia. Giant trees rise above the surf, their branches sopping up droplets from the dense fog funneling through the Strait of Juan DeFuca.

(Surf)

DE GUZMAN: This isolated coast is a prime target for tree rustlers. They fell the trees with special chainsaws outfitted with silencers, and float the huge logs to nearby mills.

(Footfalls)

DE GUZMAN: Half a mile from the coast, the sweet scent of freshly-split cedar permeates the air. Hal Zech of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police inspects a crime scene he discovered recently. He's dwarfed by a massive cedar stump 12 feet in diameter, wider than a city sidewalk.

ZECH: You'll see beside you, there are some four-foot-long blocks. They were cut specifically for music wood. It is only good from old-growth wood because the growth rings are so close together that it's very tight-grained without any imperfections in it.

DE GUZMAN: Hal Zech was able to catch up with the thieves before their lot was shipped off to cello and violin makers in Austria. He says the growing underground market for rare wood has fueled a rash of tree theft cases across the province. Hal Zech says they've grown into semi-organized crime rings.

ZECH: And cedar, it's easily movable. All you need is a pickup truck, a chainsaw, and an axe. They'd go in and cut up a bunch of their stuff one night, and then the next night they would go back to the site with a five-ton cube van and enough bodies to fill it within an hour, and it's out of there, gone in an hour.

DE GUZMAN: The problem has gotten so bad that Hal Zech spends all of his time on patrol playing cat and mouse with these thieves. Recently he was involved in a high-speed chase, through switchbacks and abandoned logging roads.

ZECH: During the process of chasing them, one of the passengers that was in the vehicle began throwing out these cedar blocks at the police car that was chasing them, you know, which I was driving. And it's quite an unnerving experience, this constant matter of dodging these blocks as you're trying to stay behind and trying to get road blocks set up. So we gave up.

DE GUZMAN: More often than not the suspects get away. Last year, in British Columbia, tree rustlers made off with about $20 million of the province's timber revenue. It's also a huge problem in the U.S. In Washington State alone, officials estimate that poachers steal about a million dollars a month. Jerry Hunter with the BC Ministry of Forests says he's investigating at least 100 cases at any given time.

HUNTER: We've got over 100,000 miles of forest roads that we need to patrol. We are responsible for almost a quarter billion acres of forested land. So, we've got a small work force. We also have one of the longest coastlines in the world. All of those make it a very big challenge for us.

DE GUZMAN: And unless the poachers are caught in the act, it can take police months to gather evidence. But a scientific breakthrough is about to change that. In a lab at the provincial capital Victoria, researcher Eleanor White is extracting DNA from a piece of wood.

(Clicking sounds)

WHITE: There's lots of DNA in the foliage. There's also lots of DNA right into the wood. We've been able to extract DNA from growth rings in heartwood laid down 210 to 250 years ago. The farther in the tree you go, the more degraded it is, and the less you're able to get out. But nevertheless, it's still there.

DE GUZMAN: Dr. White got involved in the war against tree thieves one day, when she got a call from a frustrated parks ranger. The ranger found that a bunch of thieves made off with his favorite cedar tree.

WHITE: He was just really, really mad. And he said, it was at the time of the O.J. trials, you know. He said, "What we need is DNA fingerprinting like they use in the courts." He said, "If we could DNA-match them, we'd be in business." So I sort of thought that's pretty wild, and then maybe, you know, why not?

DE GUZMAN: After Dr. White extracts the tree's DNA, the next step is to find genetic patterns that set apart different populations of cedars, hemlocks, and firs. This information would be used to map British Columbia's forests into different genetic regions so they can trace where the trees came from.

WHITE: The evidence that you take to court is that this tree's genotype is very rare. We found this tree genotype in the back of the truck. We found exactly the same one on the stump. It's rare, you would only expect to see it at one in five billion in the population.

DE GUZMAN: Genetic matching is now aimed at individual thieves with chainsaws. But officials hope to use the technology to audit entire timber companies suspected of cutting beyond their private holdings: so-called white-collar timber thefts. Little is known about how much is lost to this type of crime. Jerry Hunter with the BC Ministry of Forests says DNA matching could also be used to stem the global trade of illegally cut logs.

HUNTER: The use of the DNA isn't restricted just to coniferous trees. And in many cases where there is timber poaching or tree theft, it can be used to show whether or not the timber is legitimate. If it said it came from Thailand, that it did in fact come from Thailand and not out of the virgin forests of Borneo.

DE GUZMAN: DNA matching is in its final trials. And Jerry Hunter says it should be ready for use to catch thieves by early next year. He also expects the courts to readily accept the technology, because it's very similar to human DNA matching. For Living on Earth, I'm Orlando de Guzman.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Ultimate High

CURWOOD: Scaling Mount Everest is a quest few people attempt. For those who have, it can mean triumph, and for some, great tragedy. In May 1996, nine climbers lost their lives in a ferocious storm that made a descent near-impossible. Goran Kropp was on Everest that fateful day. In his new book Ultimate High, he writes about that experience and the trip which brought him to Everest, a journey that began in his native Sweden on a bicycle, which carried all the gear he would need to reach the top of the world.

KROPP: Everything which I put on my bike was really considered in detail. So I had totally 129 kilograms with me. That's around 280 pounds. And everything I thought about twice. For example, my underwear. When I started from Sweden I thought, two pairs of underwear? No way, Goran. Should you be away for two years? Or, no you should just be away for one year. So, you know, it's an easy way of counting. One year, one pair of underwear. Two years, two pairs of underwear.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) And you put all this on what? A trailer behind your bike?

KROPP: Yeah. I had a trailer behind. A one-wheeled trailer. Then I also had some load on actually the bike.

CURWOOD: Now, once you got to Nepal, when did you stop biking?

KROPP: I stopped biking in a small village called Gidi. So, that's about two weeks walking to the base camp. So I carried everything by myself, and that was 170 pounds.

CURWOOD: I've never been to Everest. Can you describe for me what it looks like? Take me there with your description.

KROPP: (Laughs) You stay in a glacier, or at the glacier. The base camp is situated at 16,000 feet, in very hostile surroundings. It's jagged stones, ice all over, and in the nighttime it's maybe around minus 25, 30 degrees Celsius. And in the daytime in the base camp it can be around 20 degrees plus. And every hour you hear an avalanche, avalanches going off the neighboring mountains. So, it's always sounds and movement in the base camp. And then you have these all other expeditions, which have arrived there from all over the world, with other cultures and other different way of thinking. It's a nice feeling, you know. Small village out in nowhere.

CURWOOD: Tell me how you went up Everest, starting at the base camp. What was the route that you picked?

KROPP: I picked another route compared with the normal route. Through the icefall, which is the first part of your Everest climb, you have to pass around 150 aluminum ladders which the Sherpa people, the porters which work on Everest, have put up. And also, around almost 10,000 feet of fixed rope they have put up in the icefall.

CURWOOD: No help at all for this. You would do it all yourself.

KROPP: Yeah, I tried to, but, you know, I couldn't do it all the time. Actually, I went down through the icefall all the times, by the normal route.

CURWOOD: Now, you tried to climb how many times before you actually did it?

KROPP: Two times before. The first time, I went back only 270 feet short from the main summit, because the time was going too fast. I reached the South Summit at 1:30. And the latest time you should be on top of Everest, that's 2 o'clock. If you reach the summit after 2 o'clock, then you have to do the descent in complete darkness. You'll not find the way down, and you're out on real thin ice then.

CURWOOD: What was it like to be there when the tragedy happened on May 10?

KROPP: It was so hard, of course. You got it in your face that a climb actually can end like that. This was not my first experience of tragical events on the high peaks. But I thought it over, and half the expeditions back in the base camp, they decided to go back to their home countries. But the rest just stayed there. And I did the same because I felt that I hadn't had a serious go on Everest. So I wanted to do a third attempt. I know that I could do it if everything was perfect. So I decided to stay, and that was a hard decision to make, because a lot of my friends were still up there.

CURWOOD: Can you see them as you go by?

KROPP: Yeah. They're up there. So, that's also a bad feeling when you pass them. I mean, you get a warning when you pass them, and that, you know, says to you take care up there. Don't push it too much.

CURWOOD: So tell me what happened that last time that you attempted. You set out earlier, you were at 8,000 meters instead of 7,800 meters. And tell me what happens from there.

KROPP: When you start, you do it in complete darkness. It's a special feeling. You don't see so much, but you see a lot of people move up towards the summit, you know. It's like a long queue, and you see all the head torches flickering in the snow. When I reached The Balcony, that is at an altitude of 8,600 meter, the sunrise started, and it was magnificent, you know. All the Himalayan peaks, they were bobbing in different kinds of colors: pink, yellow, orange, red, you know. I almost started crying. So, when I finally reached the summit, I spent four minutes up there. I felt I reached a border between life and death; you know, I was so spended up there. I was so tired. So just four minutes up there. I took photos in all directions. Took the video camera, did a 360-degrees round turn. And then I'm yelling into the camera, "I did it! I made it!" Now I'm exactly halfway, you know, because I had to bike home to Sweden also.

CURWOOD: Now, you did recently go back to Everest to participate in a clean-up effort, didn't you? Can you tell me about that?

KROPP: During my '96 expedition, I saw how it looked like up on Everest, and I felt very sad. How it looked like up in the last camps of Everest. It was looking like a garbage dump. So I soon had, or decided that I had to go down again and do something about that. Though it was a small expedition, we just had six Sherpas which helped us to carry down 25 empty oxygen bottles. But it's something, you know. Now, perhaps, a huge Swedish expedition, a clean-up expedition, will go down and do a huge clean-up in the South Col, because it's looking awful up there. But I want to be in harmony with nature and leave it as it was before I was there.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time, for joining us.

KROPP: Yeah. Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Goran Kropp's new book is titled Ultimate High.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week we travel to Cambodia to collect evidence that may lead to the discovery of a new species of bear.

MONTGOMERY: I'm doing something my mother told me never to do. I'm sticking myhands inside a cage with a bear in it. And I'm trying to pluck out some of its hair with eyebrow tweezers.

MAN: Be careful.

(A bear growls)

CURWOOD: The search for the Golden Moon bear, next week on Living on Earth. We are produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production 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 Runyon, Russel Wiedemann, Hannah Day-Woodruff, and Keneed Leger. 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 and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Surdna Foundation; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the Rockefeller Foundation; and the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marineenvironment: www.pewtrusts.com.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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