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

May 12, 2000

Air Date: May 12, 2000


National Forests' Roads

The Clinton administration has announced a proposed ban on road building across nearly one-quarter of national forest lands. USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment Jim Lyons and Jim Geisinger (GUY-sing-er), president of the Northwest Forestry Association, join guest host Laura Knoy (kuh-NOY)to discuss the merits of the plan. (06:45)

Bob Love, Natural Forester / Barret Golding

Producer Barret Golding profiles Montana forester Bob Love. Mister Love takes a gentle approach to his work in the woods. (05:00)

Health Update

Diane Toomey reports on what the First National Allergen Survey found out about what's crawling around in our beds. (00:59)

Chocolate and Health / Cynthia Graber

Research has been accumulating which suggests that chocolate might be put on the list of foods which are good for the heart. Living On Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports. (07:00)

Listener Letters

One listener calls to set us straight on redwood demographics and another reminds us of the impact of the war on the situation in Ethiopia. (01:50)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about Florence Nightingale. Born on May 12, 1810, Florence Nightingale revolutionized nursing around the basic tenet that “nature alone cures. It's an idea that’s very much in vogue today. (01:45)

Threat to Gorillas

Our closest primate relatives the apes are headed for extinction -- and being hunted for their meat is the most immediate threat to ape survival. Conservation ecologist Dr. David Wilkie talks with host Laura Knoy about the “bush meat” trade. (05:20)

Technology Update / Cynthia Graber

Cynthia Graber reports on a new synthetic skin that does not require the use of live rabbits to test for corrosive chemicals. (00:59)

Update on the GM Food Debate

Guest host Laura Knoy speaks with Living On Earth’s political observer Mark Hertsgaard about the latest news on genetically modified foods. (04:45)

Rice Futures / Anne Marie Ruff

As Asia's population grows, there is an ever-increasing need to develop rice varieties with higher yields. Producer Anne Marie Ruff reports that biotech companies are poised to get into the act which had once been the preserve of scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. (07:15)

Fire Zone / Guy Hand

Producer Guy Hand, who lives in the oak forests of central California, has a reporter’s notebook on the pleasures and perils of living in fire country. (04:30)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Laura Knoy
REPORTERS: Cynthia Graber, Anne Marie Ruff, Guy Hand
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Cynthia Graber
GUESTS: Jim Geisinger, Jim Lyons, David Wilkie, Mark Hertsgaard

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

KNOY: I'm Laura Knoy.
No new roads, but logging and some vehicle use can continue on 43 million acres in the national forests. The Clinton administration's plan to protect these wild spaces is on the table, and timber industry officials don't much care for it.

GEISINGER: The impact that this administration has had on rural America, particularly here in the West, has been absolutely profound. It's been incredibly insensitive, and the consequences are going to be felt for a long, long time in those communities.

KNOY: And -- got chocolate? New research suggests the sweet stuff may help you stay healthy.

SCHMITZ: 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.

KNOY: Those stories, and Montana's gentle logger, Bob Love. That's all coming up on Living on Earth. First, this news.

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(NPR News follows)

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National Forests' Roads

KNOY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy, sitting in for Steve Curwood. The Clinton administration has announced its plan to ban new roads on 43 million acres in national forests. Last winter the U.S. Forest Service adopted a temporary moratorium on road construction in national forests. The new permanent ban, which excludes Alaska's enormous Tongass National Forest, has drawn criticism from environmentalists and the timber industry. Jim Geisinger of the Northwest Forestry Association joins me to discuss the plan, along with Jim Lyons. He's Undersecretary for Natural Resources and the Environment with the Department of Agriculture. Mr. Lyons, why did the administration decide to move ahead now with this permanent road ban in national forests?

LYONS: The public has told us that they would like to see us protect those areas in perpetuity for future generations. These areas are critical in terms of water quality for watersheds. They're important refugies for fish and wildlife species. They provide important recreation opportunities, such as backcountry use. They're also areas that have been the source of a great deal of controversy. Over the past two decades, we've worked our way through a great number of appeals and litigation and challenges to enter these roadless areas, at tremendous expense to the taxpayer. And tremendous frustration, both to the timber industry, local communities, and the Forest Service. We think it's clear that moving in this direction to ban future roadbuilding in these roadless areas will not only help to protect these critically-important environmental areas and protect the values they provide, but also be a prudent management decision.

KNOY: Mr. Geisinger, your association represents wood product manufacturers. Now, what effect would this road ban have on your industry?

GEISINGER: Well, it will be yet another incremental reduction in our access to timber from the National Forest. And here in Oregon, the federal government controls 58 percent of our forests. So, it's very significant to us. I would have to disagree with Mr. Lyons about the public sentiment, however. These roadless areas have been studied at least five times since the early 70s, and in every instance these areas have not been deemed to be suitable for the type of preservation that this proposal is considering.

KNOY: How do you respond to that, Mr. Lyons?

LYONS: This proposal is not intended to create new wilderness. We don't have the authority to do that. It is a proposal, as you said, Laura, to ban future road construction. Recreational access would continue. RV use would continue. Timbering, in fact, could continue to the extent that new roads would not be required to provide that access. We, in putting this proposal forward, sought to strike a balance, and to address one of the greatest concerns we have in the National Forest today. That is, a huge network of roads, 365,000 miles of road in the National Forest system, which unfortunately we are unable to manage today. The question was, why build any new roads into these very special areas? And obviously, we are proposing that we not do so. In fact, what we should do is better take care of the areas that are already eroded.

KNOY: Mr, Geisinger, what do you think about that? The approach of only banning roads, not banning specific activity? Does it really matter?

GEISINGER: No, it doesn't. The net effect of this proposal is very little different than if it was designated as a wilderness area. It is very difficult to manage the renewable timber resource without access to the area. Helicopter logging is feasible in some instances, but you can't fly logs very long distances before that endeavor becomes very uneconomical. And you know, the real losers in this proposal are the recreationists, because driving for pleasure is the number one-rated recreation use of our National Forest. And also, the general public that participated in good faith in the development of locally-prepared land management plans are also the losers here. This is a top-down edict that isn't balanced at all, to take one-third of our national forests, and from the top-down say we're not going to manage them as prescribed and existing land management plans that were already subject to a public input process.

KNOY: Yes. Mr. Lyons, I'd like you to address that. That's a complaint that we've heard a lot of, that this draft plan overrides the local planning process that has already drawn up plans for the various national forests in their local areas.

LYONS: Well, I'll gladly address that, but I've got to correct two things. Our proposal would only reduce planned timber harvests on the national forests by less than two percent for the next five years, so this is a real small impact on future timber sales. I think the other thing Jim mentioned was that the real impact here is on recreationists. The truth of the matter is, the impact on recreationists, particularly those who like to use motorized vehicles, is on those roaded areas where we're losing access every year because of the inability to manage the existing road system. Now, the proper way to deal with road management issues generally is going to be through that local planning process. And as I said, what we've proposed is a two-step process. We think it's important to address the roadless area issue on those larger areas that have been a bone of contention for decades through a national approach. I think it is appropriate, though, to deal with other unroaded issues, in decisions with regard to how do we manage those areas and maintain the roadless character of those unique areas, through a local planning process?

KNOY: So, Mr. Lyons, where do we go from here with this plan?

LYONS: Well, this is a proposal that we are putting out for public comment. The comment period will run through July 17th. We're going through an unprecedented effort to encourage public dialogue about the use of these roadless areas. The public has an opportunity to play an active role in deciding how this important element of the National Forest system is managed in the future, and we'll use those comments as a basis for coming up with a final proposal later this year.

KNOY: Jim Geisinger, I'm sure some of those comments will be from your organization. How will you make your objections known?

GEISINGER: Well, we'll participate in public meetings. We'll participate in the public input process. But, you know, Mr. Lyons discounts the significance of this roadless area initiative by saying it's only going to reduce timber supply by two percent. Well, the fact is this administration's already reduced timber harvesting on the National Forest by almost 80 percent, so there's not a lot of comfort in rural communities. They just say well, it's only another two percent so we shouldn't worry about it. The impact that this administration has had on rural America, particularly here in the west, has been absolutely profound. It's been incredibly insensitive, and the consequences are going to be felt for a long, long time in those communities.

KNOY: Jim Geisinger is president of the Northwest Forestry Association in Portland, Oregon. Jim Lyons is the Undersecretary for National Resources and the Environment with the Department of Agriculture. Mr. Geisinger, thanks for talking with us.

GEISINGER: Thank you.

KNOY: And Jim Lyons, thank you for talking with us.

LYONS: My pleasure.

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Bob Love, Natural Forester

KNOY: Cutting down trees, whether on government land or private property, doesn't have to be an overly-destructive exercise. At least, that's the philosophy of Bob Love. He practices what he calls wild forestry. It's logging that's for the good of the Earth, he says. Landowners who want to preserve the wild nature of their land and don't want scars left from large equipment hire Bob Love for his light-on-the-land approach. Producer Barrett Golding visited Mr. Love near his home in White Fish, Montana, and sent us this report.

(A chainsaw engine revs up)

LOVE: I'm a logger, yeah. I'm a good one. (Laughs) I mean, I spent close to 20 years in the industrial forestry sector, you know? And I was good at it. And I can cut as many trees as anyone else with a chainsaw. But I've chosen to use that skill to do it better instead of do more. We know how to log efficiently, but we don't know how to log properly.

(Engine continues)

LOVE: What I try to do is understand the fire history. Fire is the most powerful forest predator in the northern Rockies. And in the absence of fire, you get other predators. You get insects or disease. What the insects and disease are responding to is stress, because of the hundred years of fire suppression. We've altered the fire regimes, basically, so we've got more trees than we ever had before in some cases, and they're smaller. And they're stressed.


LOVE: Well, right here, we have a grand fir tree that survived the last fire in 1917. The forest fire encouraged some rot to set into the inner part of that tree. And when the rot sets in, then it makes a better habitat for the carpenter ants. You can see where their sawdust has come out of the tree. When the carpenter ants and the other bugs come in, then the woodpeckers come in. When the woodpeckers hunt for the insects, they make small cavities that are used by cavity-nesting birds, chickadees or nuthatches or those type of birds. So, that tree stays, and it should.


LOVE: My basic ground rule is to be careful. Move slow, be careful, be thoughtful about what you're doing. And realize that everything is connected. Everything. Now, here's a real good example. You can see a bear has been in here, just since I've worked here. I imagine it's a black bear, and what he was after was carpenter ants under the bark of this old fallen log. When you learn to read the land, you look for clues that tell you how it's being used and by whom. Right here, we're coming up onto a flat spot off this bench. I could tell, when I walked in here initially, that it was used as a bed ground for white-tailed deer, and sometimes elk, and sometimes muledeer. And here's a bed right here.


LOVE: So, when I worked in here, my goal was to help the trees, give them some room to grow, but also retain enough cover for the deer, so they didn't feel threatened by what I'd done, so it wouldn't disrupt their activity that much. And I also left a strip of timber basically untouched, so they could come down from the upper slopes into this area and not feel threatened by being too exposed. Normally, I would have taken that smaller tree and several others in this area, but because of the consideration for the deer and the bed ground here, I left it. And some folks like to call this New Age forestry, but it's not. It's reacquainting ourselves with traditional wisdom about the Earth and maintaining the breeding stock. It's like, I see parallels between forests, say, and elk herds, where these trees that I leave are the dominant trees. They're like the big, dominant bull elk, the big, old, wise lead calls of that herd. You've got to maintain that reservoir of proven genetics on the land, or you're devaluing it, and that's what we've done. Especially on public forests that should be maintained as a trust for the good of the people. We have to maintain their character and their nature and their integrity, and make sure that they remain wild. The Forest Service currently is being pulled between industrial lobbyists on one hand and environmental lobbyists on the other. The industry is in denial if they think they are going to resume their former prominence in the National Forests, and the environmentalists are in denial if they think that they're going to stop the saws. There is a place for logging in our National Forests, and public forests, too. It just has to be done right. And I'm just trying to show my version of it, I guess.

KNOY: Our profile of forester Bob Love was produced by Barrett Golding.

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How sweet it is. New evidence that chocolate may be good for you. The story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

(Music up and under)

Health Update

TOOMEY: You've heard about toxic buildings. Now consider toxic beds. In what's dubbed the first national allergen survey, scientists armed with Eureka vacuum cleaners collected and then analyzed dust from the bedding of more than 800 homes across the country. The results aren't pretty. Scientists discovered that about 45 percent of all beds contain so many dust mite fecal particles they could trigger an allergic reaction. And in about half of those beds, the concentration is so high it could produce an asthma attack. Researchers are now turning their attention to the living room, analyzing the mite dropping content in rugs and upholstered furniture. For dealing with those unwanted bed guests, researchers recommend the use of allergen-proof bedding covers, washing sheets and blankets in really hot water, and keeping the humidity in your home low. And that's this week's Living on Earth environmental health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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KNOY: It's 19 minutes past the hour.

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Chocolate and Health

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. Heart disease is America's number one killer. But it's also one of the most preventable diseases. Doctors tell us to exercise regularly and watch our weight. And over the years, scientists have suggested that foods like oat bran, olive oil, and red wine may promote healthy hearts. Now new research shows that chocolate might deserve to be on that list. Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports.

(A milling crows)

WOMAN: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Cafe Fleuris. Are you going to be joining us for our chocolate buffet this afternoon?

GRABER: Cafe Fleuris in Boston's Meridien Hotel. This is a chocolate-lover's wildest fantasy: an all-you-can-eat chocolate buffet.

MAN: We have some white and dark chocolate cake. We have marble cake, truffle cake. And the last buffet, we have two of our specialties, chocolate ravioli and...

GRABER: In the corner, a cook sets a chocolate crepe ablaze in an orange flash of Grand Marnier.


GRABER: One of the most blissed-out people here is Zack Gold, a maddeningly thin 19-year-old. He proudly proclaims himself an unrepentant chocoholic.

(To Gold) How would you define a chocoholic?

GOLD: I cannot eat enough chocolate, and I'll eat it 24 hours a day.

GRABER: Well, Zack, you can now feel a little bit better about that obsession. Research has been accumulating that cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, may actually be heart-healthy. In moderation, of course. It shouldn't be all that surprising, really. Cocoa beans come from a tree, and many of our pharmaceutical drugs do come from plants. In fact, the Olmec and Aztec Indians called cocoa the food of the gods and drank a cocoa beverage valued for its health benefits. Spanish missionary Jose de Acosta wrote of the strange beverage he encountered in sixteenth-century Peru.

(South American music up and under)

READER: Loathsome to such as are not acquainted it, having a scum or froth that's very unpleasant to taste. Yet it is a drink very much esteemed among the Indians. They say they make diverse sorts of it, and put therein very much of that chili. Yea, they make paste thereof, the which they say is good for the stomach.

GRABER: Today, nobody's saying cocoa is good for your stomach, but modern science may actually be vindicating the use of cocoa for your health. Much of the preliminary research has come from what is probably the most advanced chocolate lab in the country: the M&M Mars factory in Hackettstown, New Jersey.

(Bird song)

GRABER: Outside the sprawling beige building, a 20-foot-tall balloon in the shape of a bright yellow M&M waves to visitors. In the lobby, stuffed M&Ms relax on the chairs, their white arms draped over the sides. The sweet smell of chocolate hangs in the air.

SCHMITZ: Hi, I'm Dr. Harold Schmitz.

GRABER: Dr. Harold Schmitz is the preeminent chocolate chemist at Mars. Like everyone here, he wears a white lab coat with a little M&M logo. Dr. Schmitz says he's discovered that cocoa is a very strong anti-oxidant. That means it can do battle with the dangerous free radicals that roam our bloodstream.

SCHMITZ: The free radical is sort of the drunken driver out there on Interstate 80, and it can run into things and damage them. And that's what a free radical does. In the context of health, a free radical could damage your vascular system, or your heart potentially. And so, what anti-oxidants are able to do is, essentially, arrest the free radical or arrest the drunken driver, and prevent that deleterious reaction from happening inside your heart or inside your vascular system.

(Lab fans)

GRABER: We are now in the epicenter of U.S. cocoa research. Here in this lab, the beans are freeze-dried with liquid nitrogen.


GRABER: And ground up. The remaining powder is mixed with a solvent. A robotic arm lifts small vials of the liquid and injects it into an analyzer, where the various compounds are separated out for further study. Scientists found that the anti-oxidants in chocolate, called polyphenols, prevent a type of cholesterol from clogging blood vessels. The Mars team also looked at cocoa's ability to reduce the clumping of blood platelets.

SCHMITZ: And what we wanted to understand was, could these polyphenols in chocolate and cocoa prevent the activation of platelets, much like aspirin does? So we wanted to see that in the test tube, if that could work. And in fact, it did work.

GRABER: Finally, the team discovered that these polyphenols actually promote the relaxation of blood vessels, again helping blood flow freely. But all this happened in a test tube. Would these benefits stand up to human testing? Dr. Schmitz teamed up with scientists at the University of California at Davis to test cocoa's effects on people.

SCHMITZ: To see the results we saw, it's sort of one of those that knocks your socks off.

GRABER: Researchers fed a small group of subjects Mars Dove dark chocolate bars. They fed another group chocolate that had the anti-oxidants removed. Scientists hoped to see the polyphenols appear in the blood of the group that ate the Dove dark. But they ended up seeing much more than that. Again, Dr. Schmitz.

SCHMITZ: And what we were able to observe was that, 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.

GRABER: They saw a reduction in the clumping of platelets, as well as proof of short-term blood vessel relaxation. But now, a reality check. How this preliminary research will translate into long-term benefits is not clear. And there's no conclusive data about which brands of chocolate process their cocoa in a way that retains the anti-oxidants.

SCHMITZ: We all know that if you steam a vegetable, it will tend to have a higher nutrient content than if you stew the vegetable. Same general principle, here. You need to take care of those nutrients, and take care of the bean.

GRABER: And even if chocolate turns out to be wonderful for our hearts, there certainly can be problems when it hits our waistlines.

(Hersheys jingle plays)

GRABER: Just a two-and-a-half hour drive from the Mars lab, no one's talking calories or anti-oxidants. This is the Hershey's visitor center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Among its many attractions, a mini-tropical rainforest, complete with a small waterfall.

(Water flows)

GRABER: There's one tree here, growing off to the side, that all the visitors want to see. It's a cocoa tree, 15 feet tall, hidden in the shade of the larger trees. It's actually not such an imposing figure, considering the passion its beans have inspired. An employee points up at a small, pale green growth sprouting off its trunk.

WOMAN: Straight up there, move in here...

GRABER: It's barely visible now, but it will grow into a gnarled, foot-long, yellow-green pod filled with slimy, melon-like pulp that surrounds its cargo, the cocoa beans. These beans are subjects of continuing research. Scientists at Mars and at several universities around the country say their next step will be long-term human studies, testing if feeding chocolate has healthy effects over the long haul. One thing's for sure: If it turns out that a small amount of chocolate, consumed regularly, is good for our hearts, scientists certainly won't have a tough time convincing the American public to give it a try. For Living on Earth, I'm Cynthia Graber.

KNOY: And by the way, Cynthia says she gained three, maybe four pounds, producing that story.

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(Music up and under)

Listener Letters

KNOY: Time now for your comments.

(Music up and under)

KNOY: KQED listener Joseph Funk writes from San Francisco about our interview on the drought in the Horn of Africa. "You neglected to mention the ongoing war between Ethiopia and Eritrea," he says. "Vast resources are being poured into a conflict over small patches of relatively unproductive land. While I agree that the international community should have reacted to the drought much sooner," Mr. Funk writes, "the war between these nations is surely aggravating the situation."
From a cell phone in Oklahoma, where he hears us on KROU, Mark Lollar called about our story on sustainable forestry.

LOLLAR: You mention redwood growing along British Columbia. Redwood doesn't grow in British Columbia. It never has. It only grows along the coast of northern California and southern Oregon, a correction I wanted you to make if possible.

KNOY: Some post-facto fact-checking of our own revealed that there are a few scattered redwoods in British Columbia, but they aren't native to the region. Mr. Lollar, who is a wholesale distributor of timber, says we might have been thinking of the western red cedar, which does grow in British Columbia and is also a spectacular tree.
Call us with your corrections, comments, complaints, and kudos any time. The listener line is 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Send your e-mail to letters@loe.org. Once again, letters@loe.org. And our Web address is www.loe.org. That's 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; Town Creek Foundation; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues and the environment; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change.

(Music up and under)

KNOY: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. And this is National Public Radio. When we return: The fate of the world's ape population may rest on curbing the appetite for bush meat. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy

(Music up and under: Stravinsky's "The Nightingale")

The Living on Earth Almanac

KNOY: May 12, 1820, is the birthday of the lady with the lamp. Named after the Italian city in which she was born, legend has it that Florence Nightingale roamed the Barrack Hospital in Scutari,Turkey, with a lantern during the Crimean War, and the soldiers felt comforted by her illuminating presence. Beyond the legend, though, was a pioneer in bringing the environment into health care. Florence Nightingale believed hospitals should have plenty of fresh air, space, sunshine, and windows. And a patient's bed, she said, should face the out of doors. She was also an advocate for bringing animals into health care facilities, especially birds. Patients, she thought, would be soothed by their song. Ms. Nightingale owned a bird herself, a baby owl named Athena that she carried in her pocket. Florence Nightingale's old ideas are now backed up by modern research. Recent studies show that hospital patients who look out onto trees and greenery heal at a faster pace. A patient's blood pressure drops when a cat or dog is brought into the room. And in ICUs, the more natural sunlight present, the lower the mortality rates. Some hospitals are now being built with attention to what's called environmental design, reminding us, as Florence Nightingale wrote, "Nature alone cures." And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music and bird song up and under)

Threat to Gorillas

KNOY: At the recent International Ape Conference held near Chicago, many speakers warn that our closest primate relatives are inching toward extinction. Apes are threatened by logging, mining, and burning of the forests where they live. But apes face an even more immediate threat than habitat loss. Across central Africa, chimpanzees, gorillas, and other wild animals continue to be hunted, often illegally, for their meat. Conference participant and conservation ecologist David Wilkie says reliance on this so-called bush meat is common in developing nations.

WILKIE: In North America about 120 years ago, we ate a lot of wild ducks. We ate passenger pigeons. We ate deer. And it wasn't until cattle production got really geared up that Americans began to shift from eating wildlife to eating the meat of domestic animals. Well, in many developing countries, in many poor countries, particularly in the tropics, there's not very much livestock raising. And people look to the forest, look to the savannahs, to the wildlife that live in those places as a source of meat. There are very, very few options for people to find alternate sources of protein. In Africa, sleeping sickness is really common, and cattle are very susceptible to sleeping sickness. Chickens tend to get these terrible infections, and they don't grow very quickly. And people are poor. And the forest is a free source of wildlife. You just, anybody can, walk into the forest and go hunting.

KNOY: Dr. Wilkie, give us an idea of how big the bush meat trade is.

WILKIE: It's far, far larger than I think most people ever imagine. When you think, at least for central Africa, there's probably 30 million people who live near or in the forest, who eat bush meat on a regular basis. In fact, I think about 80 percent of the meat that people eat comes from wildlife. And everybody eats about the same amount of meat that Europeans and North Americans eat. So, anything between 30 to 70 kilos of meat a year. If you do the math, that comes out to maybe a million metric tons of wildlife are hunted in the forest, shipped off to markets, and consumed by families. A million metric tons of bush meat is about the equivalent of maybe four million cattle. So if you can just imagine what four million cattle looks like, that gives you a really good sense of the scale of the bush meat question. This is not a small industry. This is a major industry for central Africa and is probably worth over a billion dollars per year.

KNOY: Have governments in central Africa made any kind of statement about the declining ape population and bush meat?

WILKIE: Yes. A group of African presidents got together and signed the Yaounde Declaration, which basically holds them to committing resources, both financial and personnel, to conserving wildlife within the forests of central Africa. And at the recent CITES meeting in Nairobi, all of the central African nations were exceedingly keen on establishing a bush meat committee within CITES and having regional representatives, national representatives, sit on those committees and establish much more clearly what is the status of the bush meat trade and laws against bush meat hunting within each nation in central Africa area.

KNOY: Do you think it's just talk, or do you think there will be some action?

WILKIE: Ten years ago I would have said that it would be exceedingly hard to get national governments to even think about the bush meat issue. But conditions have changed. Awareness has changed. People's concerns have changed. But I think most importantly, the thing to do is to work with the logging companies, and really encourage them to enforce the regulations that prohibit their drivers from carrying hunters into the forest and carrying bush meat back out again. And I think, also, people realize that there are solutions to the bush meat trade that wouldn't necessarily hurt the poor hunter or the poor family who eat the meat. If apes are only maybe one percent of the bush meat that people eat, asking people not to eat apes probably is not going to really impact their diet very much. And that's good for ape conservation, because if, for example, you really enforce the laws, and there are laws in all of the nations against hunting apes, that's not going to have a huge impact on hunters' salaries, hunters' profits. And it's not really going to have much of an impact on poor people in rural and urban areas' capacity to find a source of meat. So I think that, at least with the apes, because they're so scarce, because they turn up in markets very rarely, enforcement of the present regulations would probably not hurt the hunter or hurt the consumer, and it would certainly help the conservation of the apes.

KNOY: How does the bush meat problem fit into the overall picture of ape conservation?

WILKIE: Well, the bush meat issue is an immediate, intense threat. Because gorilla, chimpanzee, and bonobo populations are so small, relatively, unless we do something about the bush meat trade, then there's going to be no great apes to preserve. So, the question about whether there is enough forest for the apes to live in becomes moot, because there will be no apes to occupy the forest.

KNOY: Conservation ecologist David Wilkie is an adjunct professor at Boston College. Thanks for speaking with us, Dr. Wilkie.

WILKIE: It was my pleasure. Thank you.

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KNOY: Bioengineers line up to make withdrawals at the world's biggest rice seed bank. And the diversity of the crop may be at stake. That's coming up on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

(Music up and under)

Technology Update

GRABER: For years, animal rights activists have raised protests over the treatment of animals in product testing. For example, to test the corrosive properties of chemicals found in products like floor strippers, cleaners, and pesticides, scientists apply these chemicals directly to the skin of live rabbits. The results allow them to devise warning labels for humans, but many rabbits die in the process. Now, the federal government has approved an alternate test. The chemicals are placed on a new, synthetic skin. Once they penetrate the fake skin, simulating an actual burn, a liquid behind the barrier turns color. The time it takes the chemical to penetrate the barrier is compared to a chart. Scientists use it to determine the chemical's corrosive factor, make up their warning labels, and no rabbits are hurt in the process. And that's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.

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KNOY: It's 21-and-a-half minutes before the hour.
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Update on the GM Food Debate

KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy. Questions about the safety of genetically-modified foods continue to grow in the U.S. In response, the federal government recently came out with a plan to address some of the concerns being raised. Living on Earth's political observer Mark Hertsgaard joins us to discuss this and the latest on the biotech front. Hi, Mark.


KNOY: The new plan would require the producers of genetically-modified foods to tell the government about it four months before they bring a new product to market. Now, what's the goal here?

HERTSGAARD: The goal, essentially, is to quiet public concern about genetically-modified foods. The Clinton administration has been a big backer of genetically-modified foods for quite a while, now, and this represents something of a shift for them. They've realized that there is a firestorm of protest out there in the United States, coming in on the heels of widespread protests overseas, especially in Europe. And indeed, industry representatives have admitted that they went to the government and specifically asked for these regulatory changes in order to calm public concern about potential food safety and environmental risks associated with biotech food.

KNOY: So, the producers have to tell the government. Do they have to tell anyone else, like the consumer?

HERTSGAARD: No, they don't. This stopped short of labeling, which is obviously a key demand on the part of the activists. And, indeed, labeling is now the common policy in Europe and in Japan. So, no, there's no labeling required. Essentially, the producers will go to the FDA and say: Here's our product, we want to bring it to market. Here's our data showing that it's safe. The only labeling that this administration regulation foresees is labeling on the part, ironically enough, of the firms who do not produce genetically-modified foods. But the producers who are putting the biotech food on the market, they will not be required to label.

KNOY: What's been the response from consumer groups and environmental groups? What do they think?

HERTSGAARD: They think that this is inadequate. They say, quite directly, talking is not testing, in the words of the Center for Food Safety. They've got a lawsuit against the government saying that, look, these things are food additives, and therefore by law, you, the federal government, are required to test these things. They're not happy with the regulations, but I think that they see this as the first front in a larger war and that they have at least gotten the government to respond to them.

KNOY: What about the biotech food industry? How does it feel?

HERTSGAARD: That's been remarkable to watch, actually, because they are saying that they're pleased with these regulations. And that's quite a turnaround from just a few months ago, when they were saying that no regulations are required, these foods are entirely safe. So, they see this as a step forward, and they think that this is going to help calm consumer fears of these products.

KNOY: What about the rest of the American food industry, Mark? We've been talking about the biotech food industry, but what about the restaurants? What about the food producers? How do they feel?

HERTSGAARD: Good question. They are customers, in other words. And their customers are running scared on this. Recently, McDonald's, Frito-Lay, two of the biggest food retailers in America, have said that they are not going to use biotech foods, precisely because they are afraid of the consumer backlash that comes on the heels of Gerber Baby Foods last summer announcing that they wouldn't use this. And, indeed, all over the world you're seeing big food customers back away from this. In Japan, the second-largest tofu maker and one of the big breweries have said they're not going to use this. In Mexico, the second-biggest tortilla maker. Many firms in Europe are not using this. So, I think that's the real concern for the biotech industry, is that their major industrial customers like McDonald's and Frito-Lay have closed the door on them.

KNOY: You mention Japan, which is certainly a major market for U.S. exports of corn and soybeans. And Japan recently came out with even more stringent regulations.

HERTSGAARD: Yes, they did. This is a development that got no attention in the American press, but Japan has announced that they are going to demand testing of biotech foods. That is an important step beyond their current policy, which is to require labeling. It is unclear exactly what they mean by tested, who will do the testing, what the standards will be. But the potential impact of this is major, because Japan is such a huge market for U.S. exports, and, you know, $10 billion a year. So, this is why the Financial Times newspaper of Europe put this on their very front page, because they can see that the potential impact on the world biotech industry of Japan demanding testing could be very extensive.

KNOY: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. Thanks, Mark.

HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Laura.

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Rice Futures

KNOY: The biotech industry has taken a keen interest recently in the international Rice Research Institute, in the small town of Los Banos in the Philippines. The Institute, also known as IRRI for short, developed the original high-yielding rice varieties of the green revolution. As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, IRRI is being called upon to boost yields again. And as Anne Marie Ruff reports, the Institute may turn to the biotech firms for help.

(Rice being scooped)

RUFF: In Asia, food is rice. From India to the Philippines, from Bali to Korea, every third mouthful people eat is rice. In China, where the customary greeting is "Have you eaten?" rice, quite simply, is a matter of survival. But the simplicity ends there.

(People speak)

RUFF: Rice vendors, like this one in Thailand, sell a range of rices.

VENDOR: Each village would have their own. So it's very hard to find.

RUFF: It turns out there are about as many different kinds of rice as there are dishes to eat it with. More than 100,000, in fact, all with slightly different genes. Many of those 100,000 are stored in an oversized freezer at the International Rice Research Institute.

JACKSON: So if you'd like to follow me, we're going to the cold rooms.

RUFF: Michael Jackson oversees the rice collection, or gene bank, at IRRI.

JACKSON: And you're now standing in what is essentially a very, very large cold chamber. There are rows of movable shelves containing rice seeds. There's probably about 90,000 samples in here. It's a very, very large collection. It is the most genetically-diverse collection of rice in any gene bank.

RUFF: There are rices that can grow under 50 feet of water during tropical monsoons, while others can grow on the sides of temperate mountains with hardly any water at all. Multiply this ecological diversity by the exacting culinary standards of thousands of different ethnic groups, and you get a sense of what Michael Jackson is keeping in his big freezer. The seeds, or germ plasm, as they are called, and their genetic diversity become valuable when they leave the gene bank to restore lost varieties or help breed new ones. A number of varieties will be sent back to Mozambique, which was recently hit with devastating floods.

JACKSON: And although the germ plasm from Mozambique only represents a few tens of samples, it could mean life or death in the future for rice farmers if they can get access to some of these varieties again.

RUFF: Farmers in Mozambique are not the only ones interested in IRRI's gene bank. The biotech giant Monsanto has recently announced it has deciphered a working draft of the rice genome -- basically a blueprint of rice genes. This blueprint will help them find valuable genes within IRRI's freely-accessible collection. Monsanto's not alone. The biotech companies Novartis and DuPont are also interested in IRRI's genes and research, which can help them develop seeds for the potentially giant Asian seed market. This interest has spurred the Institute to look to private companies for possible funding. While its budget has traditionally come from governments and private foundations, IRRI spokesman Duncan Macintosh says that's likely to change.

MACINTOSH: One of the main challenges IRRI faces in the future is how to form relationships with the private sector. Because the simple fact is, that's where the money is for research.

RUFF: The thought of IRRI trying to woo private funders is troubling for grassroots organizations across Southeast Asia. Fears that IRRI will turn its focus from the needs of rice farmers to the needs of the biotech giants have been heightened by IRRI's aggressive promotion of high-yielding hybrids. Farmers are not inclined to save these seeds for replanting, because yields go down after one generation. Hybrid seeds, in effect, secure markets for more seeds. This not only costs farmers more, it runs counter to a centuries-old tradition of saving seeds for replanting. But biotech companies are interested in hybrids because it's difficult to copy them. So a company selling hybrids doesn't have to worry about protecting their seeds in Asia, where patent enforcement is weak.

YAP: It's a big business for them. This is real politics. And these well-meaning scientists from IRRI better wake up.

RUFF: Emanuel Yap is with a Philippine farmer-scientist cooperate called Masipag. The group is part of a growing wave of Asian consumer opposition to genetic engineering. Sri Lanka has banned the import of genetically-modified foods. Anti-GM organizations are sprouting up in Thailand and Malaysia, and Indian farmers have ripped genetically-modified crops right out of the ground. But the fact is, Asia must increase rice production by 40 percent in the next 25 years just to keep up with population growth. IRRI's chief breeder, Gurdev Kush, thinks the opposition to GM crops will subside in the face of that need.

KUSH: My feeling is that this storm will blow over in a few years, and people will come around and use this technology. This is a part of the world where it is needed most. In Europe and the USA, it's not really that important to use this technology because there is no shortage of food.

RUFF: But Manny Yap of Masipag says GM crops are not the way to increase yields.

YAP: Masipag tries to support farmers in regaining the ability to conserve this biodiversity and use such biodiversity for their livelihood. We think you are better able to criticize if you have an alternative, and I think the 15 years of Masipag has shown that it's possible to do it. There's another way to do it.

RUFF: Yap's group teaches farmers to conserve rice diversity in their fields and use it to breed their own rice varieties. These farmer varieties, many of which are already yielding better than average crops, are freely shared with 30,000 farmers across the Philippines. While IRRI firmly believes in sharing seeds as well, biotech giants do not. Their marketing of hybrid rice in Asia will likely be followed by the marketing of genetically-modified rice for a profit. As IRRI struggles to maintain its budget and produce better rice seeds, critics wonder whether working with the private sector will help or hurt rice farmers. IRRI's Duncan Macintosh is optimistic.

MACINTOSH: We're quietly confident that it will work out in favor of the rice growers and not the private sector. Governments, societies, will not let companies go to the extent where they can openly be seen to exploit people in the developed world, or exploit, particularly, the rice farmers. It just can't happen that way.

RUFF: Which way biotechnology does go in Asia could hinge on how IRRI plays its influential hand. For Living on Earth, this is Anne Marie Ruff in Los Banos, Philippines.

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Fire Zone

KNOY: It's fire time in the West. New Mexico is the first casualty of the season, as blazes spread across thousands of acres, shut down the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and forced thousands of people from their homes. Despite the risk, the dream of a closer connection to nature has more and more Americans moving in and near fire country. Producer Guy Hand, who lives in the fire-prone oak forests of central California, wonders if that's a wise move.


HAND: I recognize the signs immediately. The bone-dry snap of twigs. The brittle crack of fallen leaves. That unblinking sun set against a cloudless sky. Air so dry, so damned hungry for moisture, it cracks the skin around my knuckles until they bleed. By July, I'll be well into my summer habit of scanning the horizon, sniffing the air.


HAND: I'll have cut away dead limbs, cleared brush. I'll have raked oak leaves to bare ground. After that, I'll wait. It's all I can do. Fire is rooted to this place. It's as native as sandstone, and it will come.

(Scraping; fade to bird song)

HAND: When my wife and I bought our cabin in the mountains north of Santa Barbara, I knew all that. I'd grown up in the West, embraced by aridity, but always lived in town. Yet the trees, the wildflowers, the birds, the quiet of the country were too much to resist. Freed from city life by mobile phones, fax machines, and telecommuting jobs, others are drawn, too -- drawn like the proverbial moth to flame. And those too new to understand the incendiary nature of the West often assume that fire can be banished as easily as an unsightly pig farm or trailer park, with nothing more than a swift rewording of the zoning codes. Yet it takes far more than words to banish fire. It takes technology, money, manpower, and, too often, human lives.

(Helicopter engines. Man: "More firefighters head to the front line of the stubborn Ogilvie fire...")

HAND: Last fall, a fire bloomed in the mountains some fifteen miles from our cabin. Soon the borate bombers were growling overhead, and fire engines rumbling up our remote mountain lane. When the crew erected a base camp on a terrace just across the river from us, filling it with tents and trucks and crackling radios, any illusion that in the backcountry we had slipped the bonds of civilization went up in smoke.

(Woman: "We have a lot of helicopters on there as well." Helicopter engines)

HAND: The choppers arrived like some crazy, nightmarish scene from a Vietnam War movie. They rattled overhead six or seven at a time, carrying fire crews or water to the front. As unnerving as a swarm of metallic deer flies, they hovered over us for six long days. When the wind shifted, and ash suddenly drifted down on us like snow, the sun fading behind smoke to a flat orange doppelganger moon, I suddenly felt blessed to have that army of ear-shattering technology nearby.

(Helicopter engines)

HAND: And as I watched the flames fade under a shower of retardant more aggressively orange than the fire itself, I was struck by a uniquely Western paradox. Every time we suppress a blaze, we suppress the very nature of the West. We cut short the evolutionary dance of land and flame. We starve the ground of nutrients. We inhibit the dispersal of seed. We alter, perhaps forever, that which we have come here to love.

(Bird song)

HAND: I'd taken a certain pride in living lightly on this bit of land, in learning the names of its plants and its animals, its geology, the rhythms of its weather. Yet, no matter the passion or purity of our intent, as we run from the excesses of modern life, they simply march into the woods behind us.

(Bird song)

HAND: For Living on Earth, I'm Guy Hand.

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(Bird song, fade to music up and under)

KNOY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week, putting pen to paper to document the experience of being Native American in the twenty-first century.

LADUKE: . . .started to write about these native environmental issues, because I knew people by and large are treated in America as things that are historical in the past, or romanticized, without allowing people to be full human beings with dignity, with ideas, with dreams that are just like other folks.

KNOY: Winona Laduke on native struggles for land and life, next week 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. Allison 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. Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. Steve Curwood returns next week. I'm Laura Knoy. Thanks for listening.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on sustainable development and environmental issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity; www.wajones.org; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues.

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