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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

May 5, 2000

Air Date: May 5, 2000


Recreational Snowmobile Ban / Jyl Hoyt

Jyl Hoyt of member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho, looks at the reaction to the National Park Service announcement that it will impose new restrictions on recreational snowmobiling at many of the country’s national parks. (04:25)

Hope and Healing in the Wilderness

In his new book “ Shouting at the Sky,” author Gary Ferguson reports on the Aspen Academy, a wilderness outreach program for troubled teens. Host Steve Curwood speaks with Mr. Ferguson and Joel Bruttane, a graduate of the academy. (07:15)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Diane Toomey reports on a new study that links the use of pesticides in the home and garden to a risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. (00:59)

In the Shadow of a Volcano / Jana Shroeder

Jana Schroeder reports on the people living near the Popocatepetl (po-po-CAT-uh-pet-ul) volcano in Mexico. Scientists worry an eruption is imminent, but residents trust the mountain will protect them. (08:00)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about wild horses. The Kentucky Derby features some of the most well-bred equines, but in the western U.S. wild horses still roam free. (01:30)

Drought in the Horn of Africa

Ethiopia is in the third year of a drought that threatens more than eight million people. Rachel Staab (STAB) of Oxfam UK discusses the severity of the situation with host Steve Curwood. (05:45)

Technology Update / Cynthia Graber

Cynthia Graber reports on Websites that bring wild animals right onto your monitors. (00:59)

Sustainable Timber / Jeff Hoffman

Home Depot began a trend in the lumber industry when it announced last summer that it would begin selling wood only from certified sustainable timberland. But, as Jeff Hoffman reports, the big timber companies have been slow to change their ways. (08:15)

Listener Letters

In the mailbag this week, listeners write in about pink dolphins, Norse legends, and peculiar ways to celebrate trees. (02:00)

Birder's Handbook

Host Steve Curwood talks with Cornell ornithologist Stephen Kress about his new book “National Audubon Society Birder’s Handbook” and about his passion for birds. (06:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jyl Hoyt, Jana Schroeder, Jeff Hoffman
UPDATES: Cynthia Graber, Diane Toomey
GUESTS: Joel Bratane, Gary Ferguson, Rachel Staab, Stephen Kress

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Anti-snowmobilers win the latest round in their battle to keep wild places quiet. U.S. Interior Department officials will ban snowmobiles from almost all national parks.

BARRY: It's very clear that Americans want places where they can find peace and quiet, and the purest air, and undisturbed wildlife, and not more pollution and stress from thousands of snowmobiles.

CURWOOD: Also, the healing power of wild places. When some parents come to wit's end with a troubled teen, they let Mother Nature try her hand deep in the wilderness.

FERGUSON: If we don't find some way to help our son or our daughter, they may well be dead in a year. Things are that desperate. And it's in that state of desperation that parents often make the decision to try wilderness therapy for the first time.

CURWOOD: Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Recreational Snowmobile Ban

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The latest round in the decades-old battle between snowmobilers and those who prefer wintertime quiet on wild public lands has gone to the anti-snowmobilers. The Interior Department says it will begin enforcing existing regulations that effectively ban recreational snowmobile use in all but a few national parks. Mechanized vehicles of all types are already banned in designated deep wilderness areas, such as the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. But national park snowmobiling is a lucrative business with many supporters, and the battlefield may shift to Congress. From member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports.

HOYT: Regulations that limit off-road vehicles in national parks and recreation areas date back to 1972. But it wasn't until last year when more than 60 environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Park Service to review the effects of snowmobiles that officials decided they hadn't followed their own rules. Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Donald Barry.

BARRY: And we came to the conclusion that we did not have an adequate justification, or an adequate legal basis, for allowing snowmobiling to continue within those parks.

HOYT: Surveys from park superintendents and winter-use research in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks show snowmobilers threaten wildlife and cause water, air, and noise pollution. At Yellowstone, visitors hear snowmobiles 95 percent of the time at Old Faithful Geyser, according to one survey. Park videos show snowmobilers harassing winter-stressed bison, as both people and animals travel along the same groomed trails. Fuel and oil that spew from the six-stroke snowmobile engines end up in rivers and streams during spring snow melt. Interior's Donald Barry says the 85,000 snowmobile visits each year in Yellowstone threaten workers' safety.

BARRY: We have to pump clean air into the ticket booths at the entrance stations to keep our employees from getting sick from all the carbon monoxide and particulate matter that is flying out the exhaust pipes of the snowmobiles.

CATTON: On the one hand, it's sad and overdue that the agency is admitting this.

HOYT: John Catton of the environmental group Greater Yellowstone Coalition lauds Interior's action to enforce and further limit recreational snowmobiling in national park units.

CATTON: On the other hand, it's encouraging that they're stepping forward and admitting that they can and now will do a better job of protecting our national parks.

HOYT: Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park, and parts of the Alaska park system are exempt from the ruling. Recreational snowmobiling is explicitly permitted by law at these sites. Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are exempt until this fall, when their winter use plans will be complete. The park has already announced it's leaning towards banning recreational snowmobiling at these sites. The Park Service predicts a 30 percent decrease in winter visitors because of snowmobiling restrictions. That would cost the 17-county region of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho an estimated sixteen-and-a-half million dollars and about 400 jobs. Snowmobile users are joining with business owners who live in adjacent towns to fight the new rules enforcement. Clark Collins is director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a national group that promotes motorized travel on public lands.

COLLINS: This current effort to close the national parks to snowmobile use isn't about emissions and noise. It's about catering to anti-recreation access groups who just want snowmobiles out of our national parks, and even out of our national forests.

HOYT: Collins's Blue Ribbon Coalition is enlisting members of Congress to stop the snowmobile ban. Craig Gherke of The Wilderness Society in Idaho, a group that supports the ban, says environmentalists are gearing up for the fight.

GHERKE: I'm sure they'll be hauling the director of the Park Service up before any number of Congressional subcommittees, asking what they're doing. This is a tough political nut for them to take on.

HOYT: Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Donald Barry says the interests of the park system are paramount. The Interior Department has already limited cars in Yosemite, banned jet skis in most parks and recreation areas, and is in the process of limiting aircraft and cars in Grand Canyon and a dozen other national parks. For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.

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(Snowmobile engines)

Hope and Healing in the Wilderness

CURWOOD: The wilderness can be a place to heal and build self-esteem. At least, that's the experience of Joel Bratane. At 17, Joel was in trouble. His grades were headed down. Tensions with his parents were rising. And then the police picked him up for drug possession. So, Joel's folks tried one more shot at turning their son around. They called in the counselors from Aspen Academy. Aspen is a private wilderness survival program that uses the power of nature to shock teenagers into taking responsibility. And Joel was, indeed, in for a shock. His life began to change one night. Actually, it was in the middle of the night.

BRATANE: My mom woke me up. It was about four o'clock, and there are two guys standing at the end of my bed. And she told me that they had something to talk to me about, and that she loved me. And then she left the room. And they told me they were going to take me to, like, a summer camp. And they said we'd be doing fun things and rappeling off cliffs, and swinging over lakes. And they described it as a real, like, fun place.

CURWOOD: How did you feel at this point? I mean, if I had been woken up at four in the morning with two kind of large guys at the end of my bed saying they were going to take me to a summer camp, I would be saying, yeah, right. And I'd feel pretty scared. How did you feel?

BRATANE: Yeah, I was kind of worried. When I got to base camp, they took all my clothes from me, and strip-searched me. And gave me a physical at the clinic. And they gave me hiking boots and a couple shirts and a pair of pants, and some shorts. And showed me how to tie a survival pack, which is like a backpack with two tarps.

CURWOOD: At some point in this, you have a solo time. You go off into the desert by yourself. What was it like on solo?

BRATANE: You'd spend two days by yourself at your camp, and they'd set boundaries where you could go. And they'd bring you dinner and breakfast. But they wouldn't communicate with you at all when they dropped it off. It was basically a time just to be with yourself.

CURWOOD: What was that like?

BRATANE: Your head really talks to you a lot. There's just so much you think about and all the mistakes you made. And you get real regretful out there on solos. But I learned that, as I was growing up, I did the best I knew how to do.

CURWOOD: I want to bring Gary Ferguson in. You wrote the book "Shouting at the Sky," in which you document the story of a number of kids going through the program that Joel has told us about. Can you describe, briefly, the program? What you saw doing the research for the book? What happens?

FERGUSON: Most of the kids that I spent time with were 14- to 17-year-olds from middle-class to upper-middle-class families, and they had been, I must say, veterans for the most part of every conceivable kind of therapeutic intervention, from lock-down suicide wards, psychiatric wards, traditional 30-day drug rehab programs, therapy, tough love. And really nothing was working, and it was almost always kind of a sense in the parents of, this is our last chance. If we don't find some way to help our son or our daughter, they may well be dead in a year. Things are that desperate. And it's in that state of desperation that parents often make the decision to try wilderness therapy for the first time.

CURWOOD: Gary, what's the success rate of this program? If 100 kids go through, how many stay clean from drugs for an appreciable period of time afterwards, do you think?

FERGUSON: This program has a success rate of between 60 and 65 percent. That may not sound impressive, but when you consider that some of the better lock-down, traditional 30-day drug rehab programs have success rates of about 23 percent, it is considerably better. Now, they define success typically by who, as measured a year later after they graduate from Aspen, who's still off hard drugs, who has a relationship with their family, and who's still in school. Those are the criteria that, in fact, most programs tend to use to measure success.

CURWOOD: Joel, how are you doing with drugs? Are you drug-free?

BRATANE: Yes, I am.

CURWOOD: How are you doing in school?

BRATANE: I have all As and Bs right now.

CURWOOD: And how are things with your family?

BRATANE: Really good. They're the best they've ever been.

CURWOOD: Why do you suppose it doesn't work for some people?

BRATANE: I think that some people go through the program and find it easy to get by, but it's definitely a lot harder in the real world than it is in the program.

CURWOOD: What do you think happens to kids when they come to this program, Gary? You followed 12 kids afterwards. You've talked to them. You saw the program in action. What's the -- I hate to use the word "magic," but it almost sounds like it must be a form of magic.

FERGUSON: There is a certain kind of indescribable magic to it, you're absolutely right, and I think most staff and therapists would be hard-pressed to articulate it. I'll give you what the kids themselves have told me was most powerful. Certainly, the presence of the wilderness and the beauty of the wilderness, as many of us can relate to, is a good first step into getting the sense that the world doesn't end at the end of your nose. There's an inner connectedness that we're part of something greater that can open the door to some sense of spirituality. There's also a lot of quiet time on solos, and just during the day, that I think it allows kids to get in touch with this emerging young man or emerging young woman. We're also good these days at distracting ourselves from our issues, from our stuff, by television and computer games and conversation and music. For a lot of kids, it was the first time they'd ever had what I would call quiet time to really get in touch with who they were. The other thing I should probably mention is that the comment I hear most often from kids, to this day, is that this was the first place where what they did mattered.

CURWOOD: Joel? I want to ask you, what do you think is your greatest accomplishment, that you'd link to the Aspen experience?

BRATANE: I think I gained a love for life, and I'm just happy to be alive. And I've discovered that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to, and I feel like the world has no limits now.

CURWOOD: Joel Bratane, a graduate of the Aspen program, and Gary Ferguson, author of "Shouting at the Sky," which describes the Aspen program. Thank you both for joining me.


BRATANE: Thanks.

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CURWOOD: The blessings and burdens of having an active volcano as your neighbor. That story is just ahead right here on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

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Health Update

TOOMEY: Exposure to pesticides in the home and garden may increase chances of developing Parkinson's Disease. That's according to a new study from Stanford University researchers. They questioned nearly 500 Parkinson's patients about their past use of pesticides, and then compared the answers to those given by a group which didn't have the disease. The study found people exposed to pesticides were about twice as likely to develop Parkinson's, a neurological condition that affects more than half a million people in the U.S. But not all exposures produce the same risk. For instance, the use of insecticides in the home was associated with the highest likelihood of getting the disease. But in the garden, it was herbicides that presented the greatest risk. Researchers think some pesticides attack a part of the brain associated with movement, which in turn may leave people vulnerable to developing Parkinson's Disease. And that's this week's Living on Earth health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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CURWOOD: It's 19 minutes past the hour.

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In the Shadow of a Volcano

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Spend all your life in a peaceful place, and it seems impossible that the familiar valleys and trees could suddenly disappear under a river of fire. But that's just what can happen if you live near a volcano. Just 30 miles from Mexico City, there is what the Aztecs call the smoking mountain, Popocatepetl. People haven't seen this volcano erupt since the days of the ancient Indians more than 1,000 years ago. But El Popo has been more active than usual in recent years. And as Jana Schroeder discovered in a visit to communities close to the volcano, the recent rumblings don't seem to have a lot of folks worried.

(Traffic; men speak in Spanish)

SCHROEDER: Twenty-one-year-old Miguel works as a minibus driver, and lives here in the town of Xalitzintla, only about seven miles from the crater of the Popocatepetl volcano. His community would be one of the first affected if the volcano erupts, since it's in a deep ravine, right where a mud flow would come streaming down the volcano. But Miguel is like many who seem unruffled by the danger, unconcerned by the clouds of ash, and not even very worried by the occasional rumblings.

MIGUEL: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: Me, I just keep working as usual. I'm not afraid. The way I see it, the volcano is more my friend than my enemy.

SCHROEDER: Aurelio Fernandez is the director of the local Center for the Prevention of Regional Disasters. He's taking a group of the center's workers on a tour of Xalitzintla as part of their training.

FERNANDEZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: People here think that since the volcano has never done them any harm, it never will. Above all, there is a need to not feel threatened, to think that nothing is going to happen.

SCHROEDER: In fact, when thousands were evacuated in December of 1994, due to the threat of an eruption, nothing did happen -- except some of their homes were robbed while they were gone, and others lost their livestock. That's why some residents say they won't be forced to evacuate again. Now, not everyone takes the warning seriously. They have a nickname for the Popocatepetl volcano, El Popo. And some even refer to it as a person, using the name of Don Goyo, with Don added as a sign of respect. They say Don Goyo brings them rich fertile soil, abundant rain, and plentiful forests: in short, a wealth of natural resources.

(Children play, turkeys gobble)

SCHROEDER: Antonio Analco also lives here in Xalitzintla. He comes home midday with a new load of firewood he's gathered to add to the pile stacked up in a small courtyard where some turkeys are penned up and grandkids are playing. Antonio Analco says Don Goyo appeared to him in a dream, when he was just a boy.

ANALCO: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The first time he spoke to me, I didn't know who he was. He told me I was going to work with him, that it was my destiny.

SCHROEDER: Antonio Analco says he was given the gift to work with the volcano as a rainmaker. He says the volcano will warn him if there's going to be a dangerous eruption.

ANALCO: [Speaks in Spanish]

SCHROEDER: Antonio Analco says authorities have created too much alarm. He continues to make offerings to the volcano at a place believed to be sacred, less than three fourths of a mile from the crater, even though it's prohibited to get that close. In early May he goes there to ask for rain, when farmers have planted their corn and are waiting for the rainy season to begin.

(Bird calls, ambient voices)

SCHROEDER: In a local town plaza, we meet up with Julio Glockner, an anthropologist who spent years studying the myths and rituals of those living on El Popo. He says the offerings to the volcano reflect a tradition of giving something back to the Earth, not just taking from it. Sometimes a turkey is sacrificed and cooked, and an altar is filled with tropical fruit, with coffee.

GLOCKNER: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: . . . bread, tortillas, cigarettes, tequila or brandy, and clothing the volcano has asked for in dreams. . . maybe hats, some shoes, or a blanket.

SCHROEDER: Julio Glockner explains that in ancient mythology, the hills and volcanos used to walk on the land as people, and they still appear that way in dreams reported by rainmakers.

GLOCKNER: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The meaning behind making an offering is to return to the volcano what local people have taken. The volcano is not only the one who sends rain for crops, but it also provides wood, rocks for building, zacate for making brooms. All the natural resources are a product of the volcano. The offering is an act to show their appreciation, and to again ask for abundant rain, for good weather, the well-being of their families, and even personal favors, like helping them find a lost animal or protecting family members who have gone to work in the U.S.

SCHROEDER: Not everyone believes in these rituals. Julio Glockner says that for some, asking for rain doesn't seem necessary any more, since now they use irrigation in their farming, or they have jobs in nearby cities and aren't so dependent on the land. Plus, some of the elderly rainmakers have died, and haven't been replaced. Benito Perez, who lives on the other side of the volcano, in the town of Hueyapan says he used to accompany his mother, a rainmaker, when she made offerings. But he hasn't continued since she passed away at age 97.

PEREZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

SCHROEDER: What he's concerned about now is protecting the area's natural resources. He says there are bigger threats to life on the volcano than a potential eruption.

(Bird calls; fade to a running stream)

SCHROEDER: A few miles below Hueyapan, the Amatzinac River rushes along, an unusual sight during Mexico's dry season. It looks like water is plentiful here, but Benito Perez says rainfall has been decreasing, and water isn't being managed as it should be.

PEREZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: What's happened is that water -- you could say that water's been privatized. My group of 30 farmers took over one natural spring. Another group took over another.


SCHROEDER: He takes us to a piece of land he farms. As we walk along the few rows of chilacoyote, a kind of squash he's just planted, he says the climate's gotten warmer, and that means more pests in crops and fruit trees.

PEREZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

SCHROEDER: He points to the pear trees lining one side of a field and says they don't produce any more. Expensive insecticides are needed, and most farmers can't afford them. Benito Perez thinks the warmer climate is caused by the growing problem of deforestation.

PEREZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: We are seeing the consequences of deforestation, illegal logging. That's caused an ecological imbalance. We used to have 12,000 acres of forest on communally-owned land here. But half of it has been cut down.

SCHROEDER: He says deer, pumas, and other wildlife once roamed these hillsides, but not any more. Now, some of the locals are chopping down trees to sell for use in construction and furniture, and no one is stopping them.

PEREZ: [Speaks in Spanish]

TRANSLATOR: The worst danger here isn't an eruption. The worst danger is deforestation, uncontrolled deforestation.

SCHROEDER: Benito Perez says people here have long grown accustomed to the danger of living on an active volcano. He's much more worried about the chainsaw we can hear in the distance, and predicts this area will soon look more like a desert if reforestation doesn't begin soon.


SCHROEDER: For Living on Earth, I'm Jana Schroeder in Mexico.

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CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Please call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. Once again, www.loe.org.

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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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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. When we return: Big trouble from too little water in the Horn of Africa. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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

(Music up and under: race trumpet)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: May is a great month for horses.

(The race gate opens. Man: "And they're off!" Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Racing fans head to Louisville, of course, for the Kentucky Derby, while the fancy horse show crowd makes its way to Devon on Philadelphia's main line. But few people know that, when we celebrate the horse, we're celebrating one of North America's most admired endemic animals. Contrary to the notion that the Spaniards introduced horses to this continent, North America is the real birthplace of the horse. Fossil records show that the early ancestor of the modern-day horse was a cat-sized, multi-toed creature of the temperate and tropical forest.

(A cat meows)

CURWOOD: When the landscape shifted to grasslands, this first horse evolved into a larger animal with an enveloped single toe, the hoof.

(A horse whinnies)

CURWOOD: Some of these animals crossed the Bering land bridge and scattered throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa. Those that stayed in North America perished in the Ice Age. Reintroduced by the colonists and conquistadors, by 1900 there were an estimated two million wild horses roaming the nation. They are protected by federal law, but the numbers of wild horses and the places where they can run free continues to decline. Today, less than 50,000 remain. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Drought in the Horn of Africa

CURWOOD: You remember the photos: babies, brown and listless, with arms like twigs, bulging bellies, and enormous eyes, dying from starvation. This was the image of Ethiopia in 1984 and 1985, when as many as a million people perished during a massive famine caused by drought and the slow response from richer nations. Today, after three years of another drought, experts say Ethiopia is headed for an even worse calamity. Once again, the aid is coming too slowly. People are already dying. And the drought is spreading to Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, and Uganda. Rachel Staab works for the relief organization Oxfam. She recently returned to London from some of the worst-hit areas.

STAAB: It took us a day to reach the capital of this particular zone. And when we got to the capital, we learned that people had not had food for two months. The nearby river had dried up for the first time in living memory. And one of the families I met there, the grandmother showed me her one-year-old grandson. Their story was heart-rending, because they had heard that there was food in this particular town. They had lost all their livestock. So they picked up everything, they walked for three days. And when they got there they found that the food had finished. And I don't think that child is still alive today.

CURWOOD: This seems so incomprehensible. I mean, this morning I got up, I went to my refrigerator, I had my yogurt, my granola. And I didn't think about eating. And yet you're saying that people haven't eaten for two, three months. Their animals are dying.

STAAB: That's right. Some of the people I spoke to showed me wild berries that they're having to depend on. And they've been using the seeds from palm trees to sort of scratch some nutrition from the side of the seed. They've also been now digging up palm trees and using the roots of palm trees to boil up broth. I mean, that's how desperate it's becoming in certain parts of Ethiopia.

CURWOOD: It's been three years. It seems like a long time for this drought. But this is a pretty arid region, right? I mean, how unusual is the three-year drought?

STAAB: I think the Somali region of Ethiopia, as it's called, is quite used to dry weather. But I think three years running is really too much for them to cope. But they have coped in the last two years. And this third year without rain is really the last straw for them, and it's particularly because of the livestock, which they depend on. About 90 percent of livestock in certain regions have died. And as a result, people have lost their income, their wealth, their everything.

CURWOOD: Is food really enough here? You point out that many animals have died, much of the livestock have died, which is how people sustain themselves in these somewhat nomadic cultures. So even if they get food, what type of life will these people be able to return to?

STAAB: Of course, that's a long-term issue. At the moment, the food and water, clean water, and medical help is what's required to keep people alive. And obviously, in the long-term, we need to be looking at perhaps restocking, but that's an issue which I think has to be addressed further down the line.

CURWOOD: After the famine in 1984, Ethiopia had been trying to build up its food reserves. What happened?

STAAB: What happened was that last year the reserves were drawn upon heavily, and the agreement to replenish the food reserves was not fulfilled. And as a result, the reserves were allowed to drop very low. And when the food was needed for the Somali region, it just wasn't there.

CURWOOD: Who's responsible for not replenishing those reserves?

STAAB: Well, it's a complicated set-up between the Ethiopian government, the aid agencies, and the donor governments. And a number of donors didn't replenish. So, I wouldn't want to blame the international community totally, but I think there was certainly a time lag that put a lot of pressure, and led to people going hungry in the Somali region.

CURWOOD: I understand that rain is expected next month, in June. What does it mean if these rains come? What does it mean if these rains don't come?

STAAB: In the worst-affected drought regions, at the moment, there still hasn't been very much rain. And the main rains were due in mid-March. So they've gone a month and a half without their main rains. In the highland areas, it's slightly different. The rains are due in mid-June. If the rain doesn't come in the highlands, then that means that not only are the 2.3 million people at risk in the Somali region, but it's going to widen out. And what we're seeing, and what we've been seeing for the past month, is likely to take place on a much bigger scale. And that could be a major catastrophe. If it rains in the highlands in mid-June, what we're also going to see is a crisis, I think, because we have to pre-position food that's coming into the country at the moment. And I don't believe that's being done fast enough, because what happens when the rains come is that areas will be cut off. And if food isn't pre-positioned in those regions, then you will see people going without food for a long period. We've got a window of about six weeks where we need to move food into the highlands, and pre-position the food as fast as we can. We are looking at a very critical few months for Ethiopia.

CURWOOD: Rachel Staab is with Oxfam. She recently returned from Ethiopia. Thank you so much.

STAAB: Thank you.

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CURWOOD: The search for sustainable lumber at the retailing giant Home Depot. That's coming up on Living on Earth. First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

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Technology Update

GRABER: You may have heard about those slightly risque Web cams, the ones that let you watch the intimate details of someone's daily life stream onto the Internet. But how about Web cams for real wild animals? Today, many Web sites offer real-time video or regularly-updated still photos to bring the natural world right into your living room. Web surfers can check out the development of the spectacular and elusive baby quetzal birds in the wilds of Costa Rica, or watch the birth of American peregrine falcons. And some zoos use hidden cameras to let us get close to animals we should probably steer clear of in the wild, like elephants and tigers. For listings and links to many of these animal Web cams, you can check out our Web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And that's this week's Living on Earth technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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CURWOOD: It's 21-and-a-half minutes before the hour. You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at letters@loe.org. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes and transcripts are $15.

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Sustainable Timber

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Since humanity's earliest days, people have relied on wood for everything from homes to weapons to warmth. It's a great resource that could keep giving forever, as long as the trees are allowed to grow back as quickly as they are logged. But today, the demand for lumber seems insatiable. Most of the ancient trees in the U.S. and Europe are already gone, and those in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are rapidly going. The sustainable forestry movement in the lumber business aims to halt this downward spiral. And as Jeff Hoffman reports from San Francisco, the retailing giant Home Depot and other corporations are joining the trend.

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HOFFMAN: The pungent smell of lumber fills the air at the Home Depot store in East Palo Alto. Stacks of raw Douglas fir, mahogany doors, and other wood products fill about a quarter of the aisles. This center and a few other Home Depots have recently begun carrying wood stamped with the checkmark tree logo of the Forest Stewardship Council. The nonprofit group guarantees that such products don't come from threatened forests, and are harvested from timberland managed in an environmentally responsible, sustainable way.

APPLE: See that Columbia Forest Products hardwood plywood, the FSC label? That's how it comes wrapped to the stores. And then...

HOFFMAN: Last August, Home Depot touched off tremors in the lumber industry when it announced it would stop selling wood taken from endangered forests, such as Indonesian luann and British Columbian redwood, by 2002. Meanwhile, the company is phasing in certified products. Suzanne Apple oversees Home Depot's environmental programs.

APPLE: Our challenge is getting the volumes. I mean, you look up and down this lumber aisle, there's a lot of lumber in this aisle. So, we have an enormous demand for wood. If a supplier can supply Seattle or Portland or Reno, then we're putting them in those markets and making that product available, and promoting it in our advertising.

HOFFMAN: Getting big timber to change gears quickly won't be easy. But Home Depot's competitors are responding. In November, do-it-yourself chain Home Base announced its own commitment to sustainable forestry. So have furniture retailers Wickes and Ikea. Recently, Centex and Kaufman & Broad, two of the country's largest home builders, said they would review their wood buying practices. Collectively, these companies purchase billions of dollars worth of lumber each year. The move stemmed from a combination of altruism and self-interest. Suzanne Apple.

APPLE: We're talking about the sustainability of the environment, but we're also talking about sustainability of our business. If forest practices don't change, and we aren't sustainably harvesting wood, then how are we going to have lumber and wood doors? I mean, if you walk our store, you see there's wood in every aisle, just about. How do we make sure that we have wood for generations to come? The wood is a renewable resource, so we need to be renewing it.

HOFFMAN: For now, the company isn't charging more for certified wood. In fact, she says Home Depot will absorb the slightly higher cost.

APPLE: We want to help create the market for this product, and we don't want the consumers to have to pay a premium. And we think if we can create the market and demand, then the pricing will balance out, because we'll have the supply.


MAN: Who's the guy in charge?

MAN 2: Nobody's in charge, but --

MAN: Okay, then, who's calling the shots?

MAN 2: You can talk to me. Everybody calls their own shots; if you need to talk to me, you can talk to me.

MAN: All right. Okay. One thing you can't do is you cannot block the entrance to the front of my store.

MAN 2: All right.

MAN: Can't have that done. You cannot block the driveway here. So make sure --

MAN 2: Are you the manager?

HOFFMAN: Home Depot's action comes after several broken promises on old growth timber -- false starts that drew loud protests from environmentalists until last summer.

MAN: We've been in negotiations for six years. For six years Home Depot has promised to stop the practice of destroying ancient forests. We've had enough words...

HOFFMAN: In 1998 Greenpeace and a member of British Columbia's Nuxaulk nation demonstrated at a store in Seattle and tried to reclaim wood they said was illegally taken from tribal lands.

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MAN: That's stolen property. Leave my property or be arrested, period. Period. You either leave the property, stop blocking entrances and the exit to my store, or be arrested.

WOMAN: We're here to take --

MAN: It doesn't matter --

WOMAN: -- stolen goods back to the people...

HOFFMAN: Now, organizations like the San Francisco-based Rainforest Action Network are offering cautious praise. Michael Brune directs the group's old growth campaign.

BRUNE: Certainly, Home Depot has taken a pretty aggressive stand, and we hope that they implement it. Logging companies and wood products companies are beginning to meet those standards and are changing their operations to do so. And we're truly seeing a revolution in the wood use sector. Most people don't want to buy wood or paper from destroyed old growth forests, and they certainly won't support companies which are playing an active role in rainforest destruction.

HOFFMAN: Even so, it could be years before Home Depot and other big wood buyers have enough certified lumber to meet their needs. Only a tiny fraction of the world's timberland is certified. In the United States, less than one percent of production forest, an area smaller than Rhode Island, gets audited by one of three certification agencies sanctioned by the Forest Stewardship Council. FSC started in Europe's rainforest protection movement in the early 1990s. Hank Cauley heads its U.S. arm.

CAULEY: When the FSC first hit the shores of the States, a lot of large companies looked at it, were quite fearful, and many of these large businesses, you know, the Weyerhaeusers, the Champions and so forth, you know, really took a step back. We've been able to attract here our more medium and small land-owners. You know, we've made progress with those, but we obviously have a long way to go.

HOFFMAN: The powerful American Forest and Paper Association, which represents 90 percent of U.S. wood production, has set up its own certification system. But its standards are not as rigorous as those of the Forest Stewardship Council and are not approved by any major environmental group. Nor are they accepted by Home Depot. Hank Cauley says that will push the industry mainstream toward higher standards.

CAULEY: To get a major company like Home Depot is a major watershed for the whole environmental movement. We are really getting calls on a weekly basis from much larger companies looking for advice on how to get into certification.

HOFFMAN: Seeking advice, perhaps, but still a long way from actual certification. That's partly because the audit process isn't cheap. But sustainable management also means longer harvesting cycles, erosion prevention, wildlife habitat maintenance, and other measures that could cost a large operation millions of dollars. It's far more profitable to simply clear-cut a forest. Some experts say timber producers will just have to accept those costs as the price of doing business in the new marketplace.

FORD: What we're looking at in the kitchen is a plyboo floor, which is a flooring made strictly out of bamboo, which is a sustainable product. The veneer on the cabinets is a cherry, which is a certified cherry.

HOFFMAN: David Ford heads the Certified Forest Products Council, a nonprofit that works to convince big wood consumers to buy green. He's visiting a Palo Alto demonstration house built with certified wood. The challenge, he says, is figuring out how to distribute the price increases to reflect the true costs of sustainable management.

FORD: Frankly, moving the marketplace through a voluntary mechanism like this really creates much quicker change and creates a real opportunity for the full value chain, from the forest all the way to the user of that wood, to have a play in how we're going to manage our forests in the future.

HOFFMAN: Ford says he expects the U.S. to follow the example set by Europe. At home centers in Britain, where certified products make up 20 percent of the market, one can buy two-by-fours, cabinets and tools stamped with the Forest Stewardship logo. David Ford is optimistic that American consumers, given a choice, will opt for sustainable products.

FORD: The more we connect the wood that we see here in a house like this back to the forest, people generally do have emotional reactions to forest and to wood. People will, over time, ask that most fundamental question: where is the wood coming from? Where is this wood coming from? Am I helping destroy a forest, or am I helping assure that there's good management going on in the forest?

HOFFMAN: That kind of consciousness about wood is a way off, he admits. Ultimately, the success or failure of the movement in the U.S. depends on consumer demand and economics that have yet to be proven in the market. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Hoffman.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: Time to hear from you, our listeners.

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CURWOOD: Skip Dahlgren, who listens to us on KUAR out of Little Rock, heard our interview with Sy Montgomery, sharing the truths and myths of the pink dolphins in the Amazon. "I was especially struck," he writes, "by the Boari Indian story of the dolphin who falls in love with a woman and appears in human form in the light of the full moon. This story is remarkably similar to the Norse and Celtic legends of the Silkie, a seal who changes to human form and takes a lover. I'd like to think that anyone with the surname Montgomery must have also noticed such an ethno-mythological convergence."
Our almanac last week about Arbor Day prompted some surprising responses, including this one from WOI listener Cindy Hildebrand in Ames, Iowa. "It might surprise you what some people do to celebrate Arbor Day. While many folks were busy planting trees," she writes, "this year, for the first time, Iowa had a big environmental event in late April that featured the cutting down of thousands of trees and shrubs, to the cheers of environmentalists. We are trying to save the tall grass prairie, a globally-endangered ecosystem. Tree invasion, largely caused by human fire suppression, is one of the biggest threats to prairie survival. So, hundreds of Iowans worked in the hills of western Iowa, cutting down cedars and other trees and brush, to try to save the remaining prairie on hills that were covered with prairie when Lewis and Clark first saw them."

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Birder's Handbook

CURWOOD: It's peak migration time for birds. Some are flying as far as 12,000 miles to reach their destinations. Along the way are several stops to refuel and rest, and they offer us a perfect opportunity to join the always popular pastime of bird watching. Dr. Stephen Kress is an instructor at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. He is also the author of the new edition of the National Audubon Society's "Birder's Handbook." Dr. Kress, why do you watch birds?

KRESS: Well, birds are available, they're colorful, they sing, they fly, their courtship and their mating habits are exciting to watch for people. And I think that they just enlighten our lives through all their activities.

CURWOOD: When did your passion for birding begin?

KRESS: I think my passion for birding began back in the fourth grade, when I was asked by Mrs. Reed, my fourth-grade teacher, if anybody in the class could identify a brown bird that was sitting in the grass. The bird was just poking into the grass, not too conspicuous. But then it flew up and it flashed a white rump. And I knew, right away, when I looked in the book, that that was a northern flicker. And that was the beginning of my bird identification. And I think that must have lit some little candle that has grown into my career.

CURWOOD: I'm looking at the "Birder's Handbook" that you’ve recently published. It's a beautiful book. Not only is the art in it really lovely, but it seems to operate at several levels. If you really know a lot about birding, I guess there are some things in here. And if you don't know a whole lot, it's not too intimidating.

KRESS: Well, that's it. You know, I wanted people that have the basics to also find something useful, and the chapters particularly on photography and sound recording and note-taking, counting birds, those are all techniques that really sort of go after you've identified the birds. But I wanted people to learn how to pick up binoculars and also to identify birds before we did anything else.

CURWOOD: In your book you have a rather interesting way of arranging the birds. Rather than the famous book put together by Roger Tory Peterson, "Field Guide to the Birds," you have a running discussion and an evolution, kind of, of the different families of birds in here. Why did you do that?

KRESS: I encourage people, when they're learning to recognize birds, to concentrate on learning families of birds. Because when you do that, it helps you sort of, by process of elimination, come down to the actual species that you're looking at. For example, it's important to separate nuthatches from woodpeckers from creepers and other kinds of small birds. Likewise, warblers as a family, vireos as another family. And if you learn these birds by families, then you can turn to the section in the field guide and leaf through the warblers, or the vireos, or the flycatchers. But first learn the families and then look to the species.

CURWOOD: So let's talk about nuthatches and chickadees and titmice and wrens and creepers. On first glance, they all look pretty much alike. How do you use the family system to tell them apart?

KRESS: All these small, little birds that come to back yard bird feeders, like chickadees and nuthatches, titmice, they look alike at first. But if you put them in the families, then you can begin to sort them out. Woodpeckers, of course, hang on the sides of trees, and they sort of hitch their way up the tree as they're looking for food, insects and larvals and eggs in the tree barks. Nuthatches, in contrast, are a different family of small birds, sparrow-sized birds that turn themselves upside-down frequently and work their way head-first down the tree trunk. Another family, the creepers, also work the tree trunk, but they spiral their way up the tree. And then when they get high up, they drop to the nearby tree and they start working from the base on up.

CURWOOD: In your chapter "Closing the Distance," you offer some tricks to get closer to birds. Can you tell us about some of the tricks you mention?

KRESS: Right. In that chapter I'm talking about land birds, and I am encouraging people to realize that birds will come closer if you do certain things that are attractive to them. And there are several tricks that birders have discovered over the years. One of the most useful tricks is to imitate the alarm call of a land bird. Because when birds see a predator, such as a snake or a fox, they will often make a particular sound that rallies other small birds close. And if you make that call, other birds are likely to come and rally around. Because together, all these different birds of different species can chase that predator away. It's a very fundamental kind of response to a predator. If you like, I could imitate it.

CURWOOD: Yeah, could you please?

KRESS: Okay. What's called the pishing sound, sounds like this. Psshhht! Psshhht! Psshhht! Psshhht!

CURWOOD: Let me try that now, see if I get this right. Psshhht! Psshhht! Psshhht! Psshhht! That it?

KRESS: Actually, you're a natural. That's fantastic.

CURWOOD: So I just head out to a good birding spot and I make that racket, and...

KRESS: Well, I've got to tell you, just so you don't get discouraged, it works best in the spring, when birds are in a nesting condition. And if you happen to be going through the woods and you hear a little chip! chip! chip! that means the birds are already excited. And then if you add to that with this alarm call, you're more likely to get a response. There's a squealing, squeaking sound that also works if the pishing doesn't work, or you may alternate with it. But there is a sound that's made by kissing the back of your hand. It sounds sort of like this. (Makes kissing sounds)

CURWOOD: And that will do it, too.

KRESS: It will work.

CURWOOD: Your book has a number of North American birding hot spots in it. I'm wondering what's your favorite spot to watch birds.

KRESS: Well, my favorite birding spot is a little island off mid-coast Maine called Eastern Egg Rock. There, you can not only see puffins, but you can see thousands of terns -- Arctic, common, and roseate terns -- black guillemote, eiders, and many other kinds of sea birds. Even whales are spotted frequently.

CURWOOD: Dr. Stephen Kress is the author of the National Audubon Society "Birder's Handbook." He's vice president for bird conservation at the Audubon Society, and an instructor at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. Thank you so much for taking this time today.

KRESS: Thank you, Steve.

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(Music up and under: "The birders are saying, the birders are saying what I want to say. The birders are saying, the birders are saying what I want to say...")

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, chocolate lovers of the world, listen up. Your addiction may be good for you.

MAN: Without a doubt, the subjects that consumed the Dove dark bar, we were able to see enhanced anti-oxidant activity. And so, that's where we've gotten very excited.

CURWOOD: That's next week here on Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, and Maggie Villiger, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Christina Russo. And with many thanks, we bid fond farewells to interns Hanna Day-Woodruff, Stephen Belter, and Emily Sadigh. Alison Dean composed the theme. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is science editor. And Peter Thomson is special projects editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

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