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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

December 3, 1999

Air Date: December 3, 1999

SEGMENTS

Tongass Logging Roads / Johanna Eurich

In Alaska there’s debate over protecting the Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest, from further logging. President Clinton has yet to weigh in on whether or not he’ll allow any new logging road construction there. Johanna Eurich reports. (07:30)

Ecology of the Tongass

Host Steve Curwood speaks with author Paul Alaback about the ecology of the Tongass rainforest. (05:40)

Close Up of a Nature Photographer / Bill George

Producer Bill George has a portrait of nature photographer Clyde Butcher at work in central Florida’s Big Cypress Natural Preserve. (07:10)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about the mating habits of giant pandas in captivity. (01:30)

Soy and Prostrate Cancer

New research shows that diets rich in soy may help combat prostate cancer. Host Steve Curwood discusses the latest findings with Janet Raloff, senior editor at Science News and Living On Earth’s science correspondent. (04:15)

Sun Solutions / Jacob Lewin

Jacob Lewin reports from Oregon that ranchers are using solar-powered pumps to keep portable troughs filled with water so cattle will stay out of streams where they foul the salmon’s habitat. (04:10)

The Wild Side of Y2K / Chris Bolgiano

As the Big Day approaches, commentator Chris Bolgiano (bowl-gee-AH-no) has a prescription for relaxation: look out the window, where every day is Y2K. (03:00)

Enlightening Students and Shopers

Host Steve Curwood talks with Lisa Heschong (HEH-shong), co-author of a new study which suggests that elementary school kids exposed to lots of diffuse natural light learn faster and perform substantially better on tests than students learning by artificial light. The study also found dramatic sales increases in stores with skylights. (05:15)

Jamming with Wild Whales / Liam Moriarity

A Pacific Northwest artist has set up a special underwater sound system so Orca whales can hear him play the guitar, and the whales sing along. Liam Moriarity of KPLU-Seattle recorded the jam session and speaks with the artist about communicating with another species through music. (07:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Johanna Eurich, Bill George, Jacob Lewin, Liam Moriarty
GUESTS: Paul Alaback, Janet Raloff, Lisa Heschong
COMMENTATOR: Chris Bolgiano

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
The fate of the nation's largest national forest, the Tongass in Alaska, hangs in the balance, waiting for a decision by President Clinton. He may call a halt to new logging roads in the Tongass, and that prospect has some Alaskans angry.

MURKOWSKI: We're going to have to continue to fight particularly with this administration, because they're very insensitive to the needs of developing Alaska's resources.

CURWOOD: Others say the Tongass is a rare temperate rainforest that can't grow back in our lifetimes.

SEELY: What good are jobs if the area that you're living in is being destroyed? Enough is enough.

CURWOOD: Also, shooting wildlife in south Florida -- with a camera.

(Splashing water)

BUTCHER: Our gator usually hangs out right there. He's about ten foot and he's chased me a few times, and I've had to bop him in the nose.

CURWOOD: On Living on Earth. First the news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

Tongass Logging Roads

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Much of the nation's wildest public lands are governed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under laws that encourage timber cutting. Recently, President Clinton has been trying to blunt that logging mandate by making it difficult, if not impossible, to build logging roads. That is, in just about every national forest except the rarest one, the temperate rainforest in southern Alaska called the Tongass. The 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, the nation's largest, stretches the entire thousand-mile length of the southeastern Alaskan coast, and more than nine million acres of it are still roadless. But so far, President Clinton has not said whether the Tongass will be off limits to new logging road construction. Johanna Eurich has our report from the region.

(Jet engines)

EURICH: To understand the significance of the Tongass National Forest, all one has to do is look out the window of a jet. It takes about two hours to fly over it. From 30,000 feet there are vast, unbroken stretches of old growth. But there are sections where the fabric of the forest has been torn. On parts of Prince of Wales Island in the southern Tongass, roads string together a tapestry of clearcut so extensive, only the tops of the mountains remain unlogged.

(Jet engines continue)

EURICH: The jet lands in Ketchikan, which calls itself "Alaska's Gateway City." Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski used to be a banker here. President Clinton's proposal to preserve the roadless areas in national forests has few fans here. Murkowski and the rest of the powerful Alaska congressional delegation oppose the initiative, especially if it includes the Tongass.

MURKOWSKI: We're going to have to continue to fight particularly with this administration, because they're very insensitive to the needs of developing Alaska's resources.

EURICH: Ketchikan has been the center of Alaska's timber industry since the 50’s, when Louisiana Pacific built a huge mill, turning vast sections of the forest into pulp to make everything from diapers to plastic. During 40 years of operation, that mill and another in Sitka used almost half of the Tongass's available timber. That era is gone. The pulp mills are closed. The Ketchikan Pulp Company shut its doors just two years ago. Since then, the Tongass timber industry has been trying to reinvent itself, to do more with less. It's no longer politically acceptable to cut trees and ship them out as pulp and logs, but industry says it still needs access to the forest and new roads. Three managers of the former pulp mill have formed a company to build a veneer plant. Calling themselves Gateway Forest Products, they've bought the old mill site and secured nine million dollars in public financing. Richard Leary , executive vice president of the new company, worries the roadless initiative might reduce the timber flow. He needs 65 to 75 million board feet a year from the Tongass.

LEARY: The Tongass is one of the best-managed forests where wilderness and roadless areas are incorporated into the Tongass land management plan, which took over ten years to do. So, are we going to throw out an investment of that much money and that much time overnight?

(Engines, beeps, sawmill sounds)

EURICH: Just across the Tongass narrows sits the Seely saw mill, a midsize operation. Wading through mud and sawdust, surrounded by the redolent smell of pitch, workers stack logs, many over three feet in diameter, before running them through huge machines to produce lumber and chips.

SEELY: I've got a good example to show you right here. Ten years ago, this log would have never gone to the sawmill.

EURICH: Steve Seely plans to build a kiln to dry the wood, and sell it within the state. He envisions an integrated industry to squeeze the highest value out of the whole forest. The fear the administration might shrink the woodpile further has prompted him to put his kiln on hold.

SEELY: This is just a far-sweeping move that has scared the daylights out of us. We're making, we've got every dime invested that we can. We're scared. If we borrow money, we have to pay it back.

EURICH: Local environmentalists support Seely's operation. However, they disagree over the roadless initiative. Mark Wheeler with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council points to 4,500 miles of road already built in the forest.

WHEELER: We think there's enough timber on the existing roads to support a small-scale, high-value-added timber industry that provides adequate jobs for Alaskans but doesn't go in and wreck all these pristine areas.

EURICH: Mike Salee, who operates a tiny one-man sawmill, doesn't need roads to get his lumber. He harvests trees washed on shore and blown down at the forest edge. He wants the Tongass included in the roadless initiative because he's tired of seeing the woods he grew up in cut and carted away.

SALEE: What good are jobs if the area that you're living in is being destroyed? Enough is enough.

EURICH: Salee is a member of the local assembly. His perspective lost, in a recent vote, when the body came out opposed to including the Tongass in the initiative. Further north, in Juneau, during a meeting on the president's plan, opinions were divided. Southeast fishermen broke ranks with environmentalists and announced they did not support including the Tongass. Kathy Hanson of the United Southeast Alaska Gilnetters Association.

HANSON: The consensus of our membership meeting was that the federal government should have no more interference on the Tongass.

EURICH: But some Alaskans remind their neighbors that the Tongass belongs to the whole country. At the Juneau meeting, those in favor of additional protections for the Tongass outnumbered those opposed.

(Splashing water)

EURICH: In Tenakee, just 15 minutes away from Juneau by float plane, the 80 full-time residents here have waged a three-decade-long battle to keep the Forest Service road system away from their town. Dan Kennedy, a ten-year resident.

KENNEDY: This is one of the last few towns that doesn't have vehicles, and we don't want them. (Laughs)

(Splashes, gulls call)

EURICH: In Tenakee, the forest comes right into town, a collection of tiny nineteenth-century clapboard buildings built on pilings. Many residents, like Sam McBean, a retired fishing guide, worry about the rate of timber cutting. If the initiative will help protect his neighborhood, he'll support it. From his cabin, he points across Tenakee Inlet.

MCBEAN: There's a sale coming up just across the inlet from us, right out our window. It's going to cause most of that hillside we're looking at to be clear-cut.

EURICH: While he speaks, whales breach and spout in the water. Molly Kemp, a friend, joins him at the window.

KEMP: I feel, you know, uniquely fortunate to have this remnant of what this whole continent was like. So much has been cut already. So much is already committed to that path that we feel it's worth the effort to hang onto whatever is left, as much as we can, for as long as we can.

EURICH: Comments on Clinton's roadless initiative are due by December twentieth. The draft recommendations are expected in spring. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens tried and failed to derail the plan in the recent budget battle, but the fight may not be over. The delegation is pressing Alaska's governor to file suit challenging the roadless initiative. For Living on Earth in Tenakee, Alaska, I'm Johanna Eurich.

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Ecology of the Tongass

CURWOOD: At the heart of the political debate over the Tongass is, of course, the forest itself. The Tongass is part of the largest temperate rainforest in the world, and I spoke with writer Paul Alaback about why this ecosystem is so important.

ALABACK: It's one of the very few places on Earth where we can really understand how do plants and animals interact together in these very large landscapes? You know, we don't really have a control anywhere. We talk about these impacts. We really don't know what were things like originally? Well, in the Tongass, it's still operating the way it always has.

CURWOOD: Paul, from the time I spent in the temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island, very similar to the Tongass, the one thing I noticed is that, well, you can't exactly go hiking because everything that's fallen over is so big. Really, it's more of a climbing expedition than a hiking one.

ALABACK: Well, we often joke about it quite a bit, because people that work in this forest are kind of amazed that they don't have more broken bones and injuries than they do. Because when you walk through the forest, not only is it a dense entanglement, like you said, many falling trees and branches that you have to climb over. But when you walk on the ground, you can't assume that's solid ground. Even though it's got a nice green mat of moss, that might be covering a hole of decayed logs, through which you're going to break soon as you land. And so, it's often, you have to have a lot of determination and a lot of will to move through this forest. It's kind of a tough exercise. You just don't know exactly where you're going to end up.

CURWOOD: So, what kind of animals, then, can thrive under these conditions?

ALABACK: Well, one animal that is very symbolic of this whole northern forest is the Sitka black-tailed deer. This is a very small deer that can hop through this dense jungle. We often think that it cannot reach some of these areas because of the brush, but it's really quite remarkable. It's small and it hops very well through this dense entanglement. It is small, we think, because of the poor nutritional quality of the forage it has. It has these very tough evergreen leaves and twigs that are kind of tough to eke out an existence but that is very symbolic of the forest. And also, you know, this is a marine environment. I mean, that's really the essence of the Tongass. It's the interplay between this very rich marine environment, the shorelines, and these dense forests. And the edge of those shorelines, you have bald eagles, which might occur perhaps one every mile of shoreline. So some of highest density of bald eagles in the world. And grizzly bears, it's absolutely nirvana for grizzly bears, because these dense, thick forests are very thick with huckleberries and currants and other berries, as well as salmon. So we can have as much as one grizzly per square mile, for example, in Northern Admiralty. So, far and away some of the densest grizzly bear populations in the world.

CURWOOD: I've never been to the Tongass, but I've been to Klaquet Sound. It is amazing. You have these huge trees. It's like being inside a cathedral. And how old are they?

ALABACK: Well, they can be quite old. Some of the oldest trees we have. I mean, the broadest definition of sort of rainforest would actually include the redwoods in the south, where you have trees thousands of years old. But even up in the Tongass, way up north, we found cedar trees greater than 1,000 years old.

CURWOOD: And the most amazing plants, aside from the big trees?

ALABACK: Well, some that are just really striking. There's one that is just a real anachronism. You think that you're in Alaska, after all, you're very far north. You're expecting, you know, very diminutive plants just eking out an existence. Well, there is this plant called a skunk cabbage, and it has a leaf that might be as much as two feet wide and six feet tall, a single leaf of this plant. (Curwood laughs) It looks like it's come out of the tropical rainforest. And it has a stinky yellow flower. That's why it's called the skunk cabbage, attracting insects for pollinating. And forms a little puddle right where it grows. And it has a unique ability, actually, to take nutrients out of the soggy soil, which most plants would not have access to. So, that's certainly one of the more remarkable plants.

CURWOOD: And the water, well the water is so clean you can drink it out of some of the lakes there. I've never been able to do that anywhere else on the planet, drink out of the lake and not, you know, have this tummy problem afterwards.

ALABACK: Yes. No, water is certainly one of the key elements of that whole rainforest. Some of the freshest and most abundant water in the world, certainly.

CURWOOD: We have to go, but before we do, I'm wondering if you could read the last paragraph of your essay for us.

ALABACK: Okay. (Flips through pages) Just a second here, let me get to it. "In this rugged, majestic place, where our abuses of the land have been much simpler than in more subdued terrains, it is likely that the forest may be able to teach us the few vital lessons that we need, to be able to adapt to a life that fits this place and time, both for us and for the surrounding forest. Our consciousness of this forest over the past century has tended to depreciate the importance of knowing the intricacies of place and time, as these plants do. It is now up to current generations of Tongass residents to develop a more profound appreciation and understanding of this place. To learn how better heal the wounds of this forest, and more importantly, to demonstrate that we can carve out an existence here that enriches and sustains the complexity of this forest. Not only on our own rushed time scale, but also on that of the giant forest patriarchs, which are the heart of the Tongass."

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

ALABACK: You're welcome.

CURWOOD: Paul Alaback's essay, "The Tongass Rainforest: An Elusive Sense of Place and Time," appears in the collection of essays entitled, The Book of the Tongass.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Just ahead: Capturing Florida's wildlife through a well-focused lens. Photographer Clyde Butcher is next on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

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

(Traffic)

Close Up of a Nature Photographer

CURWOOD: Florida's Highway 41, between Naples and Miami, is surrounded by water and trees. Near the halfway point in the middle of Big Cypress National Preserve, Clyde Butcher makes his home and his living. Mr. Butcher is a nature photographer. He works in large format black and white, and often will devote up to five hours to capture a single image.

(Splashing)

CURWOOD: Clyde Butcher and his wife, Nikki, invited producer Bill George to one of their shoots in their back yard: an 11-acre swamp which adjoins Big Cypress National Preserve.

(Splashing)

BUTCHER: We're in the woods now, 12 feet, and things are already starting to happen. When I first came to Florida I just never -- well, I was chicken. (Laughs) I would never do this, because I was going be eaten alive, you know. (Scrapes and splashes) Our gator usually hangs out right there. He's about ten foot and he's chased me a few times, and I've had to bop him in the nose.

(Buzzing, scraping)

BUTCHER: The first thing I gotta do is get my tripod set up. (Splashes, scrapes, buzzing) Many people say, how do you go back here and survive the snakes and the gators, and, you know, all that stuff? And I say, well, that is nothing compared to lightning. I mean, gators and snakes, you have control. I can take this stick and I can throw a snake out of the way. I can bop the gator on the head and hope for the best. But lightning, when it hits, you have no choice what happens. We were out photographing in a prairie on the Babcock ranch, called Trout Creek. We were rolling about a foot, foot and a half of water, same metal tripod we have here. And this storm starts coming across. I mean, the whole ground is shaking, you know, I mean, the thunder and lightning. And all of a sudden our hair is standing up, and lightning is coming out of our fingers. But the unfortunate part about it is, that's when there's neat photography, all these neat storms. (Laughs) So you ought to be out there when it's storming and get these great shots. But you know, you're playing with a pretty formidable force. And that's more scary than any gator, any water moccasin.

(Rummages in his bag)

BUTCHER: Honey, do you want to get that camera out of the top of the bag?

(Zips the bag shut. Nikki laughs)

NIKKI: It's a little heavy.

BUTCHER: About seventeen pounds, just the body. (Zips) This camera was built in 1948. It's a young one. (Laughs) It's called a Dierdorf . It's made out of mahogany and brass. The School of Architecture in Chicago helped design them for architectural photography, and architectural photography you need a wide angle, tall buildings. So it was basically designed for wide angle, and that's what I use. Okay, I'm going to get the lens.

(Splashing, zippers) You could probably get the --

NIKKI: Table release?

BUTCHER: Yeah, okay. Good. A lot of times I call Nikki my nurse here, because basically this is like being in surgery. You know, you say "scalpel" and I say instead of "scalpel," you know, it's "shutter release," or, "focusing device," or "dark cloth," or "light meter," you know, or, "film holder." So right now I'm screwing the cable release in.

(Bird song; shutter release)

BUTCHER: We're going to open the lens up so we can view through it, so we can focus it. Nice little scene right out in front of us here. Saw grass, vermilions, cypress.

(Raucous bird calls)

BUTCHER: I found, really in the swamp, the best way to do it is to set my camera up, and I'll actually then get in the water and float up to the camera, press the shutter release, and then kind of swim back from the camera and count for -- have you ever counted to ten minutes? One thousand one, one thousand two... (Laughs) Basically I count. And then swim back up to the camera and release the shutter. The only thing that really kind of frustrates me when I do that, is you'll see in these swamp areas, you have these beautiful reflections, and the water is perfectly still. And all of a sudden there are waves. And I said, "Where are these waves coming through?" And all of a sudden I realized, my heartbeat was the same rhythm as the waves. That's how still it can be out here.

(Bird calls; rummaging)

BUTCHER: Nikki, help me hold the dark cloth over so I can focus. Okay, bring her back. Bring her up to forward. Ooh, nice, neat. Okay. Now, hold that up. It's all focused. Now, what I'll do, I'm going to shut the lens down. (Closes shutter) Then, put it down to F45, and this, we're out in the sun right here, so it's going to be about, only going to be about a one-second exposure. Now, I need some film. (Rummages) Put that back in there. My negatives are seven to eight times larger than the 35. And the reason I use that large format, so when I make a five-foot by eight-foot picture, when you see the ferns down in the left-hand corner, you can see the seeds on it. When you see the grass, you can see the veins of the grass. So, each piece of that print has to be as sharp as a small print from a 35-millimeter, because you're looking at it as pieces, and you want your eye, your brain likes sharpness, likes to see the detail. That's why I think it's necessary for large format. I mean, I can make a five-foot, eight-foot from a 35-millimeter. But it's just a bunch of fuzzy stuff. And I want people to feel like they're there.

(Buzzing, bird calls)

BUTCHER: A lot of my images, the ones I think are more successful, are the ones that the center part of the picture is void. There is a space for you to walk into the picture. Or you feel like you're in a canoe going down a stream.

(Releases the shutter)

BUTCHER: The quest for knowledge about the Everglades is really increasing. It seems like every year the people want to know more about it, and I'm hoping that some of it has to do with the photographs that I do, and helps people understand it.

(Bird songs)

CURWOOD: Our sound portrait of photographer Clyde Butcher was produced by Bill George. You can see a portfolio of Clyde Butcher's photographs on our Web page at www.loe.org. You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; 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: Just ahead: why soybeans may help men fight prostate cancer. How solar panels and portable troughs can help protect water and grasslands in the west. And a walk on the wild side of Y2K. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

SECOND HALF HOUR

The Living on Earth Almanac

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

(Panda calls)

CURWOOD: No, that's not an old Dodge Dart trying to get started on a cold winter morning. It's the sound of pandas mating, or at least trying to mate.

(Chinese flute music)

CURWOOD: Hsing Hsing, the giant panda given to the United States by China to mark the 1972 visit of President Richard Nixon, recently died without leaving any offspring. He and his partner, Ling Ling, lived at the National Zoo in Washington, but the pair never produced any viable cubs. Getting giant pandas to reproduce in captivity, zoo officials found, is harder than they figured.

The first time they tried, Hsing Hsing wasn't sure what to do. Frustrated, Ling Ling slapped him across the head. Later, another male panda was brought in but the animals fought and Ling Ling was mauled. Eventually, Ling Ling did give birth to five cubs, but none lived longer than a few days. Recently, though, things are looking up. Three months ago a cub was born to Bai Yun and Shi Shi at the San Diego Zoo, and has survived the longest of any giant panda born in the U.S. Last week zookeepers named her Hua Mei, which can be translated as "China-U.S.A." And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

Soy and Prostrate Cancer

CURWOOD: Joining me now is Janet Raloff, senior editor at Science News and Living on Earth's science correspondent. Hi, Janet.

RALOFF: Hello, Steve.

CURWOOD: Janet, there's news of some possible health effects from that high-protein bean plant called soy, which is made into everything from infant formula to tofu. In two recent studies, scientists have reported that Asian men with a diet rich in soy die less often from prostate cancer than men in western nations, even though both groups have the same incidence of the disease. Janet, what's behind these two new animal studies that could explain this difference?

RALOFF: What they're finding is, the major difference is that when you give animals some foods that are rich in plant estrogens, and we're talking here, like soy or rye, that these animals develop cancers that grow more slowly and also ones that spread less throughout the body.

CURWOOD: So, tell me about these plant estrogens. What exactly do they do?

RALOFF: Well, in one study, they seem to prevent the development of blood vessels that come to feed a new tumor. And essentially, they starve these tumors, which may explain the slow growth. In the other, they seem to find that these particular kinds of foods, like the soy and the rye, seem to be able to cause cells of the cancer to undergo what they call a programmed cell death, a natural death. Something they don't ordinarily see in a cancer. Cancers grow with uncontrolled proliferation, and that's because they're not normally undergoing this programmed cell death.

CURWOOD: Now, why do you think plant estrogens work to help protect against cancer, when human and other animal estrogens don't?

RALOFF: In a sense, the body was made to have various kinds of gene actions unlocked by these hormones, estrogens. But these plant ones aren't quite the same, and they're almost like a skeleton key. So they don't unlock the normal gene action in quite the same way, and sometimes not at all. They also seem to be more effective in different tissues than your ordinary animal estrogen would.

CURWOOD: Now, I find this fascinating, that somehow soy plants would protect against cancer. Nature must have somehow designed this, right? I mean, how did scientists find plant estrogens to begin with, anyway?

RALOFF: Well, they actually found them because they were shutting down reproduction in some livestock in Australia, and then later on in other places as well. Turns out that the clover these animals were grazing on, if they got too much of it, it actually just shut down reproduction altogether. When they tried to find out why, they found out the compounds in the clover mimicked, and in fact even resembled structurally, natural human estrogens. Now, they're wondering whether these plants develop them, in a sense, to protect themselves against grazing, so they didn't get grazed out of existence.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Birth control for cows, huh?

RALOFF: Absolutely.

CURWOOD: What are some of the other plants that have these estrogens, aside from soy?

RALOFF: Well, you can find them in lots of nuts, in whole grains, including wheat, rye, and corn, even rice. You can find them in some fruits, like cherries and apples. You can find them in carrots and potatoes. And ginseng. Even coffee and tea.

CURWOOD: That's a long list. But soy's the big one, huh?

RALOFF: Well, yeah. Biggest bang for the buck. There's an awful lot of these things in soy, and soy is so easy to incorporate in the diet.

CURWOOD: Now, this is not a cooking show, Janet. But do you have a favorite recipe for soy, for someone who might want to eat this stuff to try to combat prostate cancer?

RALOFF: My daughter's favorite is our chocolate mousse tofu pie. It's almost exclusively tofu, to which you blend in some melted chocolate chips, just a little bit of sugar, and you put it into a graham cracker or a chocolate cookie crust. Let it sit in the refrigerator to chill. And I defy anyone to realize they're eating rich soy. It's wonderful.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Well, thank you. Janet Raloff is senior editor of Science News and Living on Earth's science correspondent. Good talking with you.

RALOFF: Bye, Steve.

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Sun Solutions

CURWOOD: A popular bumper sticker in Oregon reads, "Cows Kill Salmon." The spoiling of fish habitat by cattle tends to pit ranchers against environmentalists. But as Jacob Lewin reports, the two groups are finding some common ground, thanks to new technology.

(Splashing water)

LEWIN: Silver Creek, in the Ochoco National Forest in rural Harney County, Oregon, is free-flowing, beautiful, and clean. That's unusual for ranching country, where thousands of cattle drink from waterways and trample their banks. And that creates a problem for fish. A big problem, says Geoff Pampush of Oregon Trout.

PAMPUSH: Indirectly, livestock grazing probably has had a bigger impact on fish in the west than any other single land use activity. And that comes because silt accumulates. The streamside vegetation is eaten down over time. So the shade is eventually removed. And overall, it is as large a problem as any.

LEWIN: Pampush acknowledges that development and logging also play big roles. But cattle trample stream banks and kill streamside plants. That leads to erosion and even major landslides. Severely degraded streams become broad, shallow, and too warm for fish to survive. Rancher Mark Doverspike runs a thousand head of cattle in Harney County, not far from Silver Creek. He's trying something new amongst ranchers in the west. He is pumping water out of streams and away from stream and river banks, and to drinking troughs. And he's doing it with solar power, mostly out of necessity.

DOVERSPIKE: As the crow flies to the nearest power line from where we're standing right now, it's almost ten miles.

LEWIN: Mr. Doverspike and Dave Chamberlin, a state employee helping with the project, laid a half mile of pipe, installed a submersible pump --

(The pump hums)

LEWIN: -- built and filled metal troughs.

(Water runs against metal)

LEWIN: Mr. Chamberlin , who spends part of his time evangelizing about these systems in several western states, felt if they built it, they would come. And they did.

(Cows moo)

CHAMBERLIN: I'd hesitate to explain how a cow thinks, but they do appear to prefer to drink out of a tank. It's up more at eye level. Creeks tend to be kind of in a hole, and so they have to kind of stand on their heads to drink out of the creek.

LEWIN: In addition to protecting streams, the pumping systems help protect grasslands. Cows eat near where they water. Over-grazing can eliminate natural plant diversity, but the pumping systems are portable, and moving the troughs around opens up new grazing areas, which eases the problem. Mr. Chamberlin, a former rancher himself, says he's not surprised that Mark Doverspike and other ranchers have embraced the new technology.

CHAMBERLIN: The ranch families live on the land, and they take a real personal responsibility for how that land operates. If you run your cows out here and this year destroy all of your grass base, you don't have any grass base for next year.

LEWIN: Meanwhile, the Doverspikes, a fourth-generation ranching family, are enjoying a bonus from the solar pumping project: wildlife are watering at their troughs.

DOVERSPIKE: In the fall, we'll get groups of antelope, 200 to 300 per bunch, and the elk will probably, the biggest bunch we will see, about 100 to 150 head.

LEWIN: And Doverspike and Chamberlin, along with the state energy office, have also made a believer out of conservationists like Jeff Pampush.

PAMPUSH: Absolutely. Getting the livestock to clean water off the stream in the late summer is very good for the stream, and I think most livestock producers say it's better for the cows.

(Running stream)

LEWIN: The state of Oregon is offering subsidies to those who come on board. Mr. Chamberlin says as more ranchers sign on, we'll be seeing cleaner streams around the west ranching country, and solar panels right alongside them. For Living on Earth, I'm Jacob Lewin in Riley, Oregon.

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(Running stream up and under)

The Wild Side of Y2K

CURWOOD: With less than 30 days to go before the calendar flips to 2000, Y2K is increasingly in the news. Businesses, government agencies, and institutions of all types are checking their systems to avoid disruptions in services. Meanwhile, citizens are being urged to have some emergency supplies on hand for any minor, temporary power outages. Commentator Chris Bolgiano looks at another side of Y2K: the wild side.

BOLGIANO: In the Virginia mountains, where I live, a butterfly sneeze can knock down the power lines. My neighbors and I have always had to be ready to supply our own essentials, like food, water, and a deck of cards, at any time. We've weathered two 500-year floods, three blizzards of the century, and annual bouts with that unique species of sleet and freezing rain we call Virginia sleaze. Even so, I'm hearing talk about Y2K that makes me wonder.

One neighbor is proposing a collectively-owned generator. Another is harvesting extra quantities of healing herbs. A third is fixing up an old shop so a family member from the city could move in if necessary. Even my bank is sending me soothing notices not to worry, which worries me. Fortunately, I have a ready antidote to panic. I just look out my window. Because, as it happens, I live in one of the oldest-known places on earth: the Appalachian mountains.

Here, in the shadow of rocks 800 million years old, human millennia look kind of puny. Our chronology means nothing to the oak forest that surrounds me, now losing its leaves in the seasonal rhythm that marks the only real calendar. In the wild, every day is Y2K, because systems are constantly resetting themselves in response to everything that happens around them. Take the long view, and apocalypse is just another day in the life of the universe.

But it's not the universe that we're concerned with here, just the world as we know it. And never before has there been an actual physical connection between the human construct of calendar and apocalypse, the end of the world as we know it. At the turn of the first millennium, in the Dark Ages of Y1K, people believed, erroneously as it turned out, that divine intervention would make that connection. Many of them renounced their belongings and fled to the nearest church. A thousand years of progress, and electricity and computers have rendered this second millennium tangible. Y2K is our self-made crisis of calendar, our Apocalypse Now only a few shopping weeks away.

So if you're feeling panicky, try looking out your window. Even the merest patch of sky, where day and night pass endlessly into an eternal present, regardless of anything we do, should be enough to make us think about the meaninglessness of millennia. But I suspect that this millennium will mostly make us think about our survival shopping list. And don't forget to buy toilet paper.

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

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: Why sunlight may make your child perform better in school, and have you spending more money at the mall. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Enlightening Students and Shopers

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. There's new research to suggest that exposure to natural light may have some powerful effects. A study measured 21,000 grade school children in three different classrooms: one in Seattle, one in California, and one in Colorado, and found students exposed to more natural light performed better and learned faster than children in rooms with more artificial light. Lisa Heschong is a partner of the Heschong Mahone Group, which produced the study.

HESCHONG: Those students were learning 20 to 25 percent faster, or mastering the curriculum that much faster, when they were in classrooms with the maximum amount of daylighting compared to the students in the classrooms with the least amount of daylighting.

CURWOOD: How exactly do you think the presence of daylight improves learning rates? Improves test scores?

HESCHONG: Well, we don't really know. This kind of a study cannot show us what a causal relationship is. It merely shows an association. The more daylight, the better students are doing. But it doesn't tell us why. So, we have to go to other studies or other theories to try and sort that out.

CURWOOD: Okay, what are some of those other theories?

HESCHONG: The other theories fall into three basic categories. One category is that there is something about daylight that improves visibility. It makes it easier to see. It makes the environment more visually comfortable, so that you can have sustained performance and better performance. The second category would be that somehow daylight improves mood, that it may make you more alert. It may make you calmer. It may make you more focused. It may improve your memory. It may improve the mood of the teacher. The third category would be that daylight improves long-term health. That there's something about daylight that improves the immune system, improves our circadian rhythms, and that overall improves functioning.

CURWOOD: Now, perhaps, since daylight is something that people enjoy, maybe just the stronger or the more senior teachers would have those classrooms. Perhaps it wasn't the light at all.

HESCHONG: Well, that is an issue that we are concerned about. We have interviewed teachers, principals, and administrators, and they have all assured us that that is not the case. But in order to prove that statistically, we're going to have to go back and do a second-level study. We don't discount the importance of the teacher or the curriculum. Everybody knows that those are primary. But if you have an opportunity to build a new school or retrofit an old school, what this study is saying is that you would do well to enhance the amount of daylight in the classroom whenever possible. And that that also will improve student performance.

CURWOOD: Now, you've done some similar work with people in the retail business. Tell me what you did for a study and what the results were, briefly.

HESCHONG: Yes. We did a study with a retail business because we wanted to look at more than one building type. In this case, we were given data from a large chain retailer who shared their gross sales with us over an extended period of time. We were very surprised at the magnitude of the results. Controlling for all the other variables that we had available to us, the size of the store, the hours of operation, the location, we found that the stores with skylighting were selling 40 percent more than a comparable store without skylighting.

CURWOOD: (Whistles) Forty percent more sales if you have a skylight in your store than if you don't? Same company, same product --

HESCHONG: All other things being equal. Same company, same management, same advertising. It may be that daylighting is an environmental muzak. That it makes people feel happier to be in the store, and sets them at ease so that they do more shopping.

CURWOOD: Wait a second. Muzak? I mean, muzak is -- is fake, it's canned, it's sort of numbed down. Daylight is, you know, the original from Mother Nature.

HESCHONG: Well, exactly. And it might be that if we had three string quartets in retail stores, that it would do even better. That somehow making the environment more pleasant for shoppers makes a major impact on sales.

CURWOOD: Ms. Heschong, all this seems to make sense, that people would prefer natural light to artificial light. Why do you think so many buildings haven't incorporated more natural light in their designs?

HESCHONG: Well, you know, nobody is selling daylight. Nobody is making a profit from providing more daylight into schools. I don't think any of us would buy a house without any windows, but we seem to have been talked into buying workplaces and schools with few windows. In the past, there have been standards for the provision of a minimum amount of daylight in schools. We started to abandon those standards in the ‘60s, when artificial lighting became so prevalent. And so, we look on this particular challenge of trying to bring more daylighting back into buildings as a fairly recent challenge. It's only a 30- or 40-year-old problem.

CURWOOD: Lisa Heschong is a partner of the Heschong Mahone Group in Fair Oaks, California. Thanks for joining us.

HESCHONG: Well, thank you so much for your interest.

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Jamming with Wild Whales

CURWOOD: Many of us hold powerful convictions that we are not alone in the universe. Astronomers, for example, constantly search the heavens for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. But for more than 20 years, artist and author Jim Nollman has sought otherworldly contact closer to home. Mr. Nollman uses music to interact with whales, creatures that inhabit a world nearly as alien to us as outer space. And he believes connecting with them is as challenging and as important as communicating with beings in distant solar systems. From member station KPLU, Liam Moriarty reports.

(Power boat engines)

MORIARTY: The power boat skims over glassy water on a sunny day off the west coast of Canada.

(Voices on radio)

MORIARTY: Jim Nollman and the two-man crew scan the horizon, looking for whales. It doesn't take long. The waters near Vancouver Island are home to more than 200 killer whales, or orcas, that travel in highly-structured family groups.

(A guitar strums)

NOLLMAN: Underwater speaker --

MORIARTY: Mr. Nollman pulls into a quiet cove and prepares to entice the whales into a jam session.

NOLLMAN: So is it plugged in?

MAN: Yeah, it's plugged in.

(A few notes on the guitar)

MORIARTY: The sound of Mr. Nollman's electric guitar will be broadcast underwater through a special speaker. A microphone will pick up how it sounds underwater, and how the whales react.

(Guitar plays)

NOLLMAN: I'm kind of diddling around right now. I haven't quite found my niche yet.

(Guitar plays, joined by whale songs)

MORIARTY: Orcas live in a dark world where sound, not sight, is the primary sense. They navigate by echolocation and communicate with each other using a sophisticated pattern of clicks, chirps, and squeaks.

(Guitar plays; whales sing)

NOLLMAN: There's a key time between when they are really fully at rest and they're moving, in which they kind of get playful, in which they seem to be most interested in something new.

(Guitar and whales)

NOLLMAN: I've got them now.

MORIARTY: It can sometimes take hours for the whales to show interest. Some days they're not interested at all. Today, Mr. Nollman gets lucky.

(Guitar and whales)

MORIARTY: He grins as the whales respond, following the notes up and down the scale.

(Guitar and whales)

NOLLMAN: I've had some good luck with some reggae rhythms, actually, and with ragas, Indian ragas. With a raga, you know, you can just keep a drone going forever, so it -- you can play a piece of music for an hour, for example, and it remains basically musical. There is always a space for the whales to come in.

(Guitar plays)

NOLLMAN: When I get into some of the ping ponging, I think it starts to sound pretty cool, at least through headphones.

MAN: Mm hm.

MORIARTY: Back in his studio in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, Mr. Nollman edits his field tape with a technician for release as a CD. He's published several collections of music with orcas, and he's written a book about the relationship between humans and whales.

(Guitar and whales)

MORIARTY: When you ask what motivates him, or even to define what he does, Mr. Nollman doesn't have a quick answer.

NOLLMAN: The thing that I like about it -- this is nuts, to say this -- is that you can almost not say what it is. Because it involves biology and cognitive science, and new music, and reggae, and religion. It has all those things and they're all equal.

MORIARTY: To him, it's conceptual art, a way of dancing with the natural world. He's often asked to speak to scientists at conferences about whales, but he is quick to point out that his approach is artistic, not scientific.

NOLLMAN: I remember a biologist saying I really should focus on sine waves, because then I can measure the frequencies and all that. And I said, we're not here to measure sine waves. We're here to try to make music, which is a form of communion. We want to have communion with these animals.

MORIARTY: While his work may not be scientific, it has had an impact. In recent years, Mr. Nollman has used his art to promote whale-watching in Japan, northern Russia, and other places where whales or dolphins are still hunted. He feels that whaling communities will change only when they see it's more lucrative to let the whales live than it is to kill them.

NOLLMAN: I think that's a value that art always has. It's to change perceptions of the world we live in. And I'm trying to do it with whales.

MORIARTY: And Mr. Nollman's pioneering work has inspired other efforts at inter-species cultural exchange.

(A choir sings)

MORIARTY: Aboard the Odyssey, a whale-watch boat out of Friday Harbor, 14 members of Seattle's City Cantabile Choir check their sheet music and warm up their voices. They're on their way to make an unusual artistic gesture. They're going to sing to the whales.

(Choir sings)

MORIARTY: In the wheelhouse, director Fred West says the choir wants to show the whales there's more to humans than harpoons and noisy boats.

WEST: They see a whole other side of human existence, you know, mostly kind of the mechanized side and the fishing side and whatnot. I just feel like they ought to meet the artist. Don't you? (Laughs)

MORIARTY: Jim Nollman's sound system is set up to broadcast the performance underwater. The boat's skipper picks a spot that resident orcas are known to frequent, shuts off the engines, and waits. Soon, several black fins slowly approach, rhythmically diving and surfacing. It's show time.

(Choir and drums)

MORIARTY: The choir kicks into an Afro-Brazilian song about Yemanja , goddess of the sea.

(Choir and drums continue)

MORIARTY: Over the next 30 minutes, more than a dozen whales swim by. Some continue on their way. Other seem to linger, perhaps curious about the unusual sounds.

(Choir sings: "Yemanja, oh ya" )

MORIARTY: On the trip back to port, choir member Joanne Koonce feels the singers made a connection with the whales.

KOONCE: It seemed like there was a whale that was heading sort of right by us across the bow. And it looked like he turned around and kind of tacked back and forth a couple times, came up. It did seem like they stopped.

MORIARTY: The participants are exhilarated by their encounter, but Jim Nollman resists reading too much into it. He says overanalyzing the whales' reaction is missing the point.

NOLLMAN: Somebody else might say, well, how do you know that they did anything? And I don't know. I just know what I feel, you know, and I'm not a scientist. I'm an artist, so feelings have power and they have weight.

MORIARTY: For Jim Nollman , the value of this work doesn't lie in achieving some dramatic breakthrough in interspecies communication. It lies in changing people's perceptions about the whales, and about our own place in the natural order. For Living on Earth, I'm Liam Moriarty aboard the Odyssey out of Friday Harbor, Washington.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week we meet Roger Masters, a professor of government from Dartmouth College, with some unorthodox ideas about the connection between crime and chemicals.

MASTERS: My concern is that we need to look at why it is that within some poor families that are broken, where people are unemployed and living in poor environments, there are criminals, and in others there are not criminals.

CURWOOD: Professor Masters says lead poisoning and other toxic metals are factors leading to crime, and he has the research to back up that theory. But some other scientists say he's way out of his league. The great crime and lead debate, next week on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Jesse Wegman, 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, Russell Wiedemann, Hannah Day-Woodruff , and Kaneed Leger . Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. And Peter Thomson is the 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 Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Surdna Foundation; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity: www.wajones.org.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

 

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