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

August 18, 2000

Air Date: August 18, 2000


Water for Sale / Bob Carty

Living On Earth contributor Bob Carty reports on the changing nature of water from resource to commodity. Demand for fresh water is on the rise worldwide, and nations with abundant supplies, such as Canada, are weighing whether or not to begin exporting what is becoming a precious commodity. (11:30)

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)

Yellowstone River Threat / Jyl Hoyt

Jyl Hoyt from member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho, reports on threats to the future of the Yellowstone River. Stretches of riverfront in Montana are being lined with hard walls and boulders to protect new homes from flooding. But these barriers are threatening the river's natural flow. (08:55)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about thunderstorms. August is prime thunderstorm season – at any given moment 1800 storms are underway on Earth. (01:30)

Being with Bees / DMae Roberts

Producer DMae (DEE-MAY) Roberts is used to buzzing around a lot to cover stories, but one recent day the buzz came to her -- and landed right in her front yard in Portland, Oregon. She tells us what happened when nature paid a house call. (06:20)

Health Update / Diane Toomey

Diane Toomey reports on research which has found that biodiversity can reduce the spread of Lyme disease. (00:59)

Point of No Return, Part II: Salmon in the City / Steve Curwood

Steve Curwood reports on Seattle’s battle over endangered salmon. For the first time in the history of the Endangered Species Act, entire urban areas have come under the aegis of the act as several salmon runs that pass through Seattle and neighboring Portland, Oregon have been added to the list of protected species. Some fear the outcome of an argument couched in terms of people vs. salmon. (17:00)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Bob Carty, Jyl Hoyt, Dmae Roberts
UPDATES: Cynthia Graber, Diane Toomey

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Canada has far more water than it needs, and a thirsty world hopes to buy some of it but Canadians aren't eager to sell, especially to their neighbors to the south.

BARLOW: There is something about water that's part of our history, part of our soul, if you will. Part of what we consider to be essentially Canadian. And I think the notion that Americans can waste it, can build in the desert where there isn't any water because heck, they can take us for granted and we've got lots. And it's that being taken for granted, I think, that really rubs Canadians the wrong way.

CURWOOD: Also, nature and history take a back seat to development along the Yellowstone River.

GUDIBEER: I guess you could say that the financial situation is the worst enemy, you know. People want that right to see and do what they want to do. But maybe we're destroying our history in doing so.

CURWOOD: We'll have those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this summary of the news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Water for Sale

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood, and this is an encore edition of Living on Earth. Every 8 seconds a child dies from a water-related disease. That number is just one side world's growing demand for fresh, clean water. The United Nations says that within 25 years, almost a third of the world's population will face severe water shortages. Some nations will even go to war over water. And the crisis affects thirsty regions of the United States as well. Some countries with water to spare may well decide to sell it to those in need. And when the talk turns to water marketing, many people look to Canada, which owns one fifth of the world's fresh water. Some Canadians are eager to try to quench the world's thirst, but most people seem dead set against it. Bob Carty explains.

(Helicopter engine)

WHITE: Now we're down over Grand LaPierre at the moment, and we're flying in a Bell 206 Long Ranger

CARTY: Jerry White lifts his helicopter up and over a little community on the south shore of Newfoundland. The forests here are virgin, the lakes pristine, especially Gisbourne Lake, an 11-square-mile body of water just in from the ocean. Jerry White banks the helicopter to show where Gisbourne Lake empties into the sea.

WHITE: Now, I'm going to turn around so you can have a look and see the water that's going over the falls, so you can see the clearness and the purity of the water. Very crystal clear, you could just look right on through it. It's a beautiful sight.

CARTY: And Jerry White has plans for that water. Plans to take it to thirsty parts of the Middle East. Plans that Jerry White wants to show off up close. He lands the helicopter.


CARTY: Leads his guest down to the shore. And scoops up a handful of Gisbourne Lake.

(Mild splashes)

WHITE: Very good. Very nice. We have 100 million cubic meters of water a year that flow into the ocean, and we're looking at taking 25%, one tanker of water from the lake. It will drop it one inch. Before the tanker reaches the 200-mile limit, that one inch of water is back in the lake, and it's like nothing has happened here in the area.

CARTY: Jerry White is a millionaire owner of a construction company with a new entrepreneurial vision. He wants to make water the oil business of the 21st century. And the oil metaphor is intentional, except that this time the resource is renewable. And this time, Canada would be the OPEC of water, while the Middle East would be on the buying end. In fact, Jerry White's idea is to use single-hull oil tankers that are no longer environmentally acceptable to transport Newfoundland water to Saudi Arabia, just like any other raw material.

WHITE: You know, we export our fish, we export our minerals, our forestry products. And of course the water should be just another commodity that we export. Under strict guidelines, of course. We don't want to come in and drain every lake and then just send it out.

CARTY: But there's a problem with Jerry White's project. The Canadian government has declared a moratorium on all bulk water exports. It seems Jerry White's scheme has struck a nerve in Canadian politics. Canadians have no compunction about exporting bottled water, nor about selling a river's worth of water treated with a little bit of hops and barley. But bulk water exports? That's another matter. Maude Barlow is the chairperson of the Council of Canadians, a citizen's organization that works on issues of trade, health, and the environment.

BARLOW: Well, it's interesting because we don't take very good care of our water. We're absolutely terrible water abusers, both in our lack of conservation and of course our pollution of our water. Nevertheless, we have great pride in saying it's our water to pollute if we want to. (Laughs) So, I openly and up front admit the hypocrisy. But there is something about water that's part of our history, part of our -- our soul, if you will. Part of what we consider to be essentially Canadian. And I think the notion that Americans can waste it, can build in the desert where there isn't any water because heck, they can take us for granted and we've got lots. And it's that being taken for granted, I think, that really rubs Canadians the wrong way.

CARTY: Canadians started feeling rubbed the wrong way in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

MOSS: Canada might well look to using its water as an additional resource.

CARTY: North Dakota Senator Frank Edward Moss was one of a number of American politicians who realized that in the long run, the people and industries of the US Southwest would need more water. Senator Moss's solution was a breathtaking scheme called

NAWAPA: the North American Water and Power Alliance. It was the largest engineering project ever conceived, a plan to dam virtually every major river in Alaska, Yukon, and British Columbia, and divert the water into the Rocky Mountain trench, creating a reservoir 500 miles long.

MOSS: The great and beautiful Canadian Rockies already offer a tremendous, beautiful retreat for recreation, but to this would be added a great mountain lake. This would flow on down all through the western United States and on into old Mexico.

CARTY: Billions of gallons of water surging southward to make deserts bloom and industry thrive. But some Canadians didn't quite like the idea of drowning a large part of one province and siphoning away rivers they thought were theirs. And so the NAWAPA scheme faded away, in part because of its exorbitant cost and massive environmental impacts. But it also stalled because Canada and the United States lacked a formal trade agreement to give water trade long-term stability. All of that changed in the late 1980s. Washington and Ottawa negotiated the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. And in Canada's Parliament, nationalist sensibilities were again aroused.

MAN 1: This is the Sale of Canada Act.

MAN 2: Right on.

MAN 3: We have become a storehouse, a reservoir for the United States.

(Many people shout at once)

MAN 4: Quiet, please.

CARTY: Despite widespread opposition, the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement was approved, leaving some Canadians with musical questions about what the free trade deal would mean.

WOMAN 2: (Sings to background music) When the deal goes through, will our streets get hotter? Can we sell our blood? Will we sell our water? Will Uncle Sam say voulez vous when the deal goes through?

CARTY: When the Canada-US Free Trade deal did go through, it transformed the playing field for water exports. Maude Barlow.

BARLOW: Essentially, what it did was, if you turn on the tap for water for commercial purposes in any state or province of the countries involved, then it can't be turned off again. You have to continue to supply to the area you've been supplying it to, and governments can enforce that. But more important, you give corporations of the other countries the right to come in. You can't keep it in your own backyard.

CARTY: Since the implementation of North American Free Trade, there has been a flood of new water export proposals. Besides Jerry White's plans for Gisbourne Lake in Newfoundland, there have been about 20 proposals for exporting water from glacier lakes in British Columbia. Another firm wanted to ship water from the Great Lakes to Asia, a scheme that provoked so much protest from Canadian provinces and the Great Lakes states that the International Joint Commission launched public hearings into the matter. The accelerated interest in Canadian water is why Ottawa announced a moratorium. Ottawa's not shutting the door on water exports, it just wants to go slowly. There are analysts with doubts about the business of water exports. Sandra Postel is the author of The Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity. She maintains that so far, bulk water exports are just not profitable.

POSTEL: The economics really depend on the cost of these transfers relative to, in most cases, desalination of water, which is a very expensive option, usually an option of last resort. So any proposal to trade water typically would have to be competitive with that cost. Now, that may change. At the same time, the cost of desalination is coming down at the same time.

CARTY: There are technologies that could cut the cost of bulk water exports. One is bag or bladder technology. You put fresh water into an enormous plastic bag. And because fresh water floats on salt water, you can drag it through the ocean. The bag of water is its own vessel, absorbing all the shocks of waves and storms. If it leaks, there's no environmental damage. But critics say the extraction of water for export could be environmentally devastating. Maude Barlow is the author of a new study called Blue Gold. She argues that although Canada does have a lot of water, much of it is locked up in ice, and much of the rest flows northward to the Arctic. Use of that water would require massive damming projects with extensive environmental impacts. And Maude Barlow bristles when she hears promoters suggest that fresh water running out to sea is wasted.

BARLOW: Recent studies in British Columbia show that fresh water, particularly the glacier water coming off the side of a cliff, where it meets the sea water is a very important spawning ground for salmon and other fish. And that taking that fresh water and, you know, drinking it up, putting it in a big tanker and taking it away would destroy the spawning system for that fish. So I think we need to understand what we don't know yet.

CARTY: As Director of the Global Water Policy Project in Amherst, Massachusetts, Sandra Postel agrees. The supply of fresh H2O is limited; population is increasing. Something, she says, has got to give. For Postel, the answer is not moving water to thirsty nations and regions. The most effective measure is working on the demand side of the equation, on water conservation.

POSTEL: If you save a gallon of water, you in effect create a gallon of new supply. And it's a supply that's just as good as if you tankered it in. The cost of these demand management options, whether it's drip irrigation in agriculture, putting more efficient fixtures in our homes, more efficient toilets, faucets, shower heads, recycling water within industries, these options increase the efficiency of water use, and they do it at a much lower cost, typically, than trading water through tankers and large bags.

CARTY: But solutions like that take time, and political attention. And so far, there has been a noticeable drought in international debate about water, and whether it is just a commodity like any other. Maude Barlow says water has been taken for granted for too long.

BARLOW: The commodification, commercialization, privatization of water is happening now. Government are standing like animals in the headlights of a car. They have just discovered the water crisis. They haven't the faintest idea what to do.

(Flowing water)

CARTY: In downtown Ottawa, the Rido River empties off a cliff into the Ottawa River. The capital of Canada was established here because it was far enough away from the threat of Americans across the St. Lawrence River. It seems water, and issues of Canadian sovereignty, are doomed to be married together for some time yet to come. For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty in Ottawa.

(Flowing water; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: That story was produced by Bob Carty.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up next: Development is changing the course of the Yellowstone River. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.

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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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CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

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Yellowstone River Threat

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The name Yellowstone brings to mind some of America's most wild and beautiful landscapes. And that's why so many people are moving to the area around Yellowstone National Park. New home construction in Montana's Yellowstone watershed is at an all-time high, but every new home makes the area a little less wild. And along the Yellowstone River in particular, the effects of development are starting to add up. Many new residents have reinforced parts of Yellowstone riverfront with hard walls and boulders to try to protect their homes from flooding. Now scientists say the barriers are disrupting the river's natural cycles and threatening its future as a wild river. Jyl Hoyt of member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho, has our report.

(Flowing water)

PAIGE: Okay, are we ready, you guys?

MAN: Ready to go.

PAIGE: Okay. Go.

HOYT: Outfitter Julia Paige pushes her raft into the Yellowstone River just north of Yellowstone National Park in Montana, and rows out to the icy current. Majestic purple mountains march across the horizon, throwing jagged shadows over broad green meadows. Eagles, geese, and hawks fly overhead. Great Blue Herons lift off their nest at the top of a cottonwood. Julia Paige points to something else at the top of the trees.

PAIGE: Look at how high all that driftwood and stuff is stacked in those cottonwoods. It was amazing, '96 and '97. You'd come down here and you couldn't believe how much water was coming down this river.

HOYT: In the spring of 1996, then again in 1997, record floods raged for more than a month when the river, bloated with melting snow, roared out of Yellowstone National Park. Gravel-filled waves dug entirely new river channels, swallowing houses, forest, and pastures. Montana hydrologist and environmental consultant Scott Gillilian says the floods were dramatic, but not that unusual for rivers like the Yellowstone.

GILLILIAN: Gravel bed rivers don't have predictable boundaries. They scroll across the landscape, form new channels, abandon other ones. That's the natural behavior of a river. And thereby that much more difficult to try to control and engineer.

(Bulldozer motor)

HOYT: As we float around a bend we pass a bulldozer digging up cottonwood trees at the river's edge. The Paradise Valley, as this is called, is in the midst of a building boom. And in order to protect their investments, newcomers have been bulldozing trees and hauling in rock, trying to keep the floods away with levees, burns, and rip wrap.

GILLILIAN: There are people moving in with enough wealth that they can afford million-dollar river training projects.

LEONARD: It's not going to work in any kind of long term sense, and it does such harm to the river.

HOYT: The rip wrap is destroying important fish spawning areas, and damaging cottonwood forest that border the Yellowstone River, where song birds rest on their migration from South America. Susan Leonard, a biologist with the Montana Audubon Society, says that as the river is hemmed in from its natural floodplain, the vital cottonwood forests are disappearing.

LEONARD: Flood control structures prevent a lot of the deposition that cottonwoods need. They need to find silt soil and sand that comes downriver, and adequate moisture in order to germinate. Cottonwoods support more species of breeding birds than all other western habitats combined.

HOYT: And it's not just the environment that's suffering.

(A radio plays amidst truck rolling on the road)

HOYT: A few miles south of Livingstone, rancher Jerry O'Hair gestures from behind the wheel of his white Dodge truck as he passes through a pasture. His family has lived along the Yellowstone for 125 years. He says he's never seen anything like what he calls the vicious floods of 1996 and '97.

O'HAIR: That rock bank that you're looking at over there is where the river cut a channel through when the river finally abated and went down along in August. The estimate was almost two thirds of the river was running down through Springvick .

HOYT: The river had jumped to a new channel, right through Jerry O'Hair's ranch. Over the next 2 years he spent nearly a million dollars in a largely losing battle to protect his pastures from the river.

O'HAIR: I hired a couple of bulldozers and put those in here, and they worked for 2 weeks 24 hours a day, and they were working in water and mud and fighting the river at that time. And that's when this road was built in here, the early part of '97.

HOYT: The road acts as a new levee and keeps the river at bay, for now. Jerry O'Hair blames the recent floods on the fires in Yellowstone National Park 11 years ago, which he says reduced the forest's ability to hold water. But many others say the major reason is all the impoundments built to protect new houses in the floodplain. In the two years between 1995 and '97, the Army Corps of Engineers issued 82 permits for riverbank barriers along the upper Yellowstone in Park County. More than twice the number approved in the previous two decades. Hydrologist Scott Gillilian says in the past few years, the river became caught up in a vicious cycle. Every flood control structure just increased the chances of flooding downstream.

GILLILIAN: You could look down on this piece of river and what you essentially had going on was dueling bulldozers. People frantically building a dike and levee on this left bank when in fact building that levee and dike put a great deal of pressure on the right bank around the corner, so those people, to defend their property, started throwing up a large levee and dike.

HOYT: So, this stretch of the Yellowstone is becoming less and less like a natural river, and more and more like a fire hose. And it's not just environmentalists that are concerned. Park County commissioners tried to pass a tough new zoning plan, and floated a flood mitigation proposal that would have strictly regulated further development on the floodplain. But both plans met strong opposition from land owners like rancher Jerry O'Hair.

O'HAIR: I can't tell my neighbor what to do or how to sell his property. It's the American way. It's the capitalistic way. When you pass rules and regulations that stop people from protecting their private property, then you're going down the other road. That's the way it is across the water in the Soviet Union.

HOYT: Ranchers are facing low commodity prices, and selling land for development sometimes is the only way to make a profit. The dilemma has left Park County Commissioner Dan Gudibeer almost despairing for a solution.

GUDIBEER: I guess you could say that the financial situation is the worst enemy, you know. People want that right to see and do what they want to do. But maybe we're destroying our history in doing so.

HOYT: The state and federal governments are worried, too. The Montana legislature and the U.S. Geological Survey have funded a study of the problem. And Montana's governor has created a task force on it. But it may be three years before the task force even issues a report. Meanwhile, houses and river barriers will continue to be built, and environmentalists like Dennis Glickman of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition are looking for ways to break the cycle.

(Running water)

GLICKMAN: One of the reasons that we feel like we need a time out is not just to protect the river and the riparian habitat, but basically to protect private property from the effects of what other private property owners have done. Or what the state or communities have done. Some of their bridges and some of the rip wrapping they've done have backed up water and flooded other people's property.

HOYT: Back on the Yellowstone, Dennis Glickman says it would be a tragedy if nothing were done soon to stop the piecemeal destruction of the river. Despite all the problems, he says, it's not too late.

GLICKMAN: It's really America's last best river, and I think we have a tremendous opportunity here to protect what's left and even restore a lot of what has been damaged. And I really hope that we as citizens of Montana have the guts to move forward and do that.

HOYT: For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt on Montana's Yellowstone River.

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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.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And this is NPR, National Public Radio. Everything stops when nature stops by for a visit. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


The Living on Earth Almanac

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

(Thunderclap and rain)

CURWOOD: At any given time there are more than 1,800 thunderstorms underway on Earth. And in the U.S., August is prime thunderstorm season. Warm, humid, and unstable air is the key ingredient for thunderstorms. When water drops are rapidly agitated in the storm cloud, molecules get stripped of electrons, giving them a positive charge. Meanwhile, the ground has plenty of electrons and a negative charge. Opposites attract, and sooner or later the charge in the clouds builds up so much that a giant spark flies to the ground, and we call it lightning. Heat from the lightning bolt causes the air around it to expand explosively, which we hear as thunder. You can tell how far you are from the storm cell by counting the seconds between the lightning and the thunder. Sound travels slower than light, so every five seconds between lightning and thunder corresponds to about a mile from the lightning bolt. If you're outside during a thunderstorm, it bears repeating: Stay far away from that tall tree. Taking shelter under a tree is still the main reason for 100 lightning deaths each year in the U.S. A car is a safer bet, unless it's a convertible. The metal body should direct the charge away from the occupants. By the way, lightning does strike the same place more than once, contrary to popular belief. It hit Ray Sullivan, a park ranger, seven times between 1942 and 1976. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Thunderclaps and rain continue up and under)

Being with Bees

CURWOOD: When nature pays a house call, everything stops. It doesn't matter if you live in the city and you don't feel particularly in touch with living things. Natural events have a way of making you put down that coffee just to take stock. Producer DMae Roberts is used to buzzing around to odd and wonderful places to cover stories. But, one day, the buzz came to her and landed in her front yard in Portland, Oregon.

ROBERTS: A bright sunny day. I'm typing away on a story. My husband, Richard, is outside working in the vegetable garden when he opens the door and tells me to look out the window. I grab my microphone and recorder.


D. ROBERTS (to Richard): Ahhh! Ahhh!

ROBERTS: Outside in my front yard, brown and yellow objects flit by my nose and ears. Honey bees. Thousands and thousands. A swarm. Like you see in killer bee movies. I always knew that honeybees rarely attack because when a honeybee loses its stinger, it also loses its life. So I never felt threatened by a few cute little bees buzzing around my garden.

(Buzzing continues)

ROBERTS: But this is different. I let Richard take the recording equipment, swimming through the sea of bees to make his way to the camellia bush where the queen and about 40 thousand of her followers have landed on a branch. Cars stop to look at the two-foot clump of buzzing, moving bees. This is not an everyday site in Portland. In Oregon, wildlife often finds its way into the city. Not long ago a bear made its way across Portland and crossed the Willamette River before getting caught and returned to woods. But looking cross-eyed at a bunch of bees trying to land on your nose in your own front yard? That's a bit freaky. But not so for Richard. Did I mention my husband is the sensible one? He called a beekeeper.

(Buzzing continues)

RULE: Well, in a swarm situation like this, they won't sting you unless you pinch one or something like that.

ROBERTS: Bill Rule is 80 years old and has been keeping bees since he was in eighth grade.

RULE: They have actually gorged themselves on honey before they left their home. And they're so full of honey that it actually would pain them to put down their tail to sting you. And so a swarm normally won't bother you at all.

ROBERTS: Mr. Rule explains that when a new queen is born into a bee colony, the old queen takes about half the worker bees (which are also female, by the way) to start a new hive. I thought that was very gracious of the old queen.

RULE: That's what they're doing. They're looking for a home. Some place to get inside. They would not have stayed out there in the tree. They would go inside in a crack into the wall of your house or an out building. Anywhere they can get inside is where they're going.

ROBERTS: When bees swarm in the city, they're looking for a dead hollow tree, which is a bee's ideal home. But often they find cracks and holes inside buildings and houses. I heard later, it's best to call an exterminator within the first few days. After that, the hive will start making honey combs that could stain and melt through the walls inside the house. We're very lucky indeed that Richard knew to call Bill Rule, the beekeeper. And the bees were doubly lucky that it wasn't an exterminator but a beekeeper who came to get them -- a bee keeper who is now fearlessly standing in our yard with a saw in his hands. Quickly, Mr. Rule cuts the branch with the clump of bees, drops the clump into the box and starts banging on it with a stick.

(Banging stick)

ROBERTS: The queen and most of her workers are now inside this box that will soon become the bee hive. The cloud of bees still swarming around seem even more excited now. They're looking for their queen. Mr. Rule keeps beating on the box to attract the confused bees inside. He does this for about ten minutes. It doesn't seem like many are going into the box. But after a while, the cloud does thin out a little.

(Banging, buzzing)

ROBERTS: Mr. Rule stops, walks over to us, and casually mentions he's just been stung about five or six times. He laughs at my pained expression and says he's probably been stung thousands of times since he was kid. But he doesn't mind at all.

RULE: I think it's good for me. I know it's good for me. It's good for my arthritis. I've known that for years. I've got advanced arthritis in my neck, but I get enough bee stings and it doesn't bother me.

ROBERTS: It's true that apitherapy, or bee venom therapy, is gaining in popularity as a treatment for advanced arthritis and even multiple sclerosis. And I hear there are actual bee venom clubs where people gather together to stick their hands into bee-filled jars. I shake off that image. Shots at the doctor's office are hard enough. Considering how many bees were just in our yard, I am amazed I haven't been stung. I look at the bees still buzzing around aimlessly. I ask Mr. Rule what will happen to them.

RULE: If they come from somewhere close here, they will go back where they come from. If not, they will hang around here and just will die in time. There's no hope for them. They can't survive.

ROBERTS: But the bees Mr. Rule coaxed into the box will survive. He's taking take them to a field where a farmer lets him keep about 50 other hives in exchange for pollinating the crops. After Richard and I say goodbye to Bill Rule the beekeeper, we pause awhile staring at the several hundred leftover bees buzzing around in circles. We stand and watch them on this summer day, a day when everything just had to stop because nature came to our house for a visit.


ROBERTS: For Living on Earth, I'm DMae Roberts in Portland, Oregon.

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(Buzzing continues, fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: When we return: Fish in the city. Seattle struggles to make room for salmon. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.
First, this environmental health update with Diane Toomey.

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Health Update

TOOMEY: Biodiversity isn't just good for the planet. It may also keep people healthier. Researchers have found that in regions with diverse wildlife populations, ticks are less likely to carry Lyme Disease. To understand why, you have to know how a tick gets the bacterial infection. When they're in the larval stage, ticks feed off the blood of small animals who may transmit Lyme Disease to the tick. And the prize for the most likely to infect a tick goes to the white-footed mouse. In areas of poor biodiversity, this rodent flourishes, thanks to a lack of both predators and competitors. The researchers from the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, say this is the first report to show that biodiversity may reduce the risk of disease in people. Their work was published in the journal Conservation Biology. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

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Point of No Return, Part II: Salmon in the City

CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth.

WOMAN: There they are!

CHILD: (Gasps) Fish!

CHILD 2: Fish!

WOMAN: There, there's a whole school of them right there. See them?

CHILD 3: A baby fish!

CHILD 4: A big fish!

(A baby gurgles)

CURWOOD: Here, through special underwater windows at a public park in Seattle, people gaze, spellbound, at the annual migration of salmon. Every year more than a million tourists make their way to an ocean inlet at the Boward Locks to witness this wonder of nature.

CHILD 5: Look at that little guy!

WOMAN: And then, from right out here, they smell that freshwater...

CURWOOD: Tour guides tell the stories of how adolescent salmon, born in the mountains that surround Seattle, depart for the ocean past these locks. While salmon near the end of their lives return from the sea on their way to spawn at the very spot where they were hatched.

WOMAN: They can actually smell from right here the nutrients of the river stream where they were born. So they have an incredible sense of smell. and out of a thousand eggs only one makes it back this far. So, these are really the tough ones that have made it so far.

CURWOOD: This spectacle is one of Seattle's biggest attractions. When you visit New York, you go to Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. Here, you visit the fish.

(Children's voices exclaiming)

CURWOOD: So what's the fascination with the fish?

WOMAN 2: They're very beautiful to watch, and it's very difficult for them to swim against that current. It's very impressive.

CURWOOD: We're right in the middle of the city. Strikes me as unusual to have fish in the middle of the city. How about you?

WOMAN 3: Well, I just hope that we're doing all the right things to take care of them. They were here first, so I hope they stick around, and that we learn to live together.

CURWOOD: But many of the wild salmon runs that pass through urban areas of the Pacific Northwest have drastically declined. So recently, the federal government put these wild salmon on the Endangered Species List.


WOMAN 4: Only five minutes left before the next one-hour harbor tour is departing here at Pier 55...

CURWOOD: If you take a stroll down Seattle's waterfront, you'll be impressed with the crowds and the obvious financial success of many of the enterprises here.

(Gulls call)

CURWOOD: You'll also see why wild salmon are in trouble. Every inch of the shore seems to have been put to work for humans. Environmental activist Tom Geiger of the Washington Environmental Council recently gave us a tour.

GEIGER: Well, it is a beautiful waterfront, but as you look past you'll see a marina that's built, there's a whole jetty going out into the water that's built with all these stones that destroyed shoreline areas. And as you come closer, you see a hotel that's literally built out over the water, with pilings coming up. And then a concrete face running along the entire shoreline of the city of Seattle.

CURWOOD: Like many northwest cities, Seattle has plenty of spectacular wildlife habitat outside the city limits. But salmon require livable conditions along every part of their migratory route. And, says Mr. Geiger, the way the city has developed its oceanfront and rivers is highly hazardous to salmon.

GEIGER: You know, it's just threat after threat after threat that they have to swim through before they even get up to their spawning beds. It is really kind of a gauntlet, if you will, that the salmon have to run through to even get upstream.

CURWOOD: This gauntlet is presenting one of the biggest challenges ever for wildlife officials, and for residents of the Pacific Northwest. The recent listing of Chum, Chinook, and Sockeye salmon has brought entire metropolitan areas under the scrutiny of the Endangered Species Act. It's the first time that's happened. Previous endangered species battles have mostly been rural affairs involving a single industry. Loggers versus owls, for example, or ranchers versus wolves. But this time the fight includes Portland and Seattle, one of the nation's fastest-growing cities and home to three million people and corporate giants including Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boeing. Bob Turner's in charge of enforcing the Act for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

TURNER: We've had endangered species in urban environments before, but they've always been terrestrial wildlife, like butterflies or something where you can be confident that if you have an acre of land protected for that species, you're pretty sure it's going to survive within that habitat. Salmon are so different because their life cycle is so complex.

CURWOOD: Every river and stream is currently under evaluation for its impact on salmon. Soon, every construction project will come under strict review, too. Efforts to protect wild salmon may eventually involve any aspect of urban life that affects water quality, down to the fertilizers and pesticides people use on their lawns. But is it realistic to expect that salmon can live side by side with people in areas dramatically transformed by a century and a half of human settlement? Mr. Turner says yes.

TURNER: I don't have any doubt that they can coexist. I think we can certainly protect streams and water in urban environments in a way that can allow fish to survive. The question is, do we have the political will to do so?


MAN: So please welcome His Excellency, the Honorable Governor Gary Locke.

CURWOOD: Even before the endangered species designation, officials like Washington Governor Gary Locke recognized how much of the challenge lay ahead, and how high the stakes were.

LOCKE: Salmon recovery is about much more than fish. It's about respect for the natural world that sustains us. And if we fail to do what's necessary for salmon, we will fail at something far larger than saving fish. We will fail at saving the very quality of life that makes living in the Pacific Northwest unique and distinctive. In addition to...

CURWOOD: In his 1999 State of the State Address, Governor Locke warned local officials that if they don't act, the Northwest could come under the environmental equivalent of martial law.

LOCKE: If we fail to protect our wild salmon, the federal government will do it for us, and even to us. We will lose control over our land, our water, our farms, and our forests. We will not let that happen without a fight.


CURWOOD: This prospect of federal control has some people fighting mad, and one battleground is a familiar setting for environmental conflict: construction sites in the suburbs.

(Engines and earthmoving)

NYKREIM: Well, we're going to build three single-family homes. They're going to be about 2,600 square feet each, each with anywhere from a two- to a three-car garage...

CURWOOD: Homebuilder Mike Nykreim is a fourth-generation Seattle resident who develops vacant lots inside existing neighborhoods. Tall and trim, he's an outdoorsman and a mountain climber, who feels his projects don't harm the environment.

NYKREIM: We're not tearing down old growth trees by any stretch of the imagination. This is what's called infill development.

CURWOOD: And what's it going to cost? If I wanted to buy one of these when your done, I'd have to part with how much money?

NYKREIM: I'd be happy to sell it to you for $460,000. (Curwood whistles)


CURWOOD: Part of that cost is an elaborate drainage system Mr. Nykreim is required to build. It captures rainwater running off roofs and driveways and slowly releases it into the ground. This prevents many flash floods from scouring sensitive habitat in nearby streams.


CURWOOD: With a long metal crowbar, Mr. Nykreim pries the cover off a freshly-installed manhole.

(Echoing clanks)

NYKREIM: (Echoing) Hello!

(Water drips)

NYKREIM: It's 24 feet deep. There's this monstrous tank down there that's supposed to retain the stormwater from just three homes.

CURWOOD: This stormwater detention system is just one of a growing number of environmental precautions that developers have been forced to take by local regulators. But Mr. Nykreim feels builders are being pushed too far. He says environmental safeguards are making single-family homes too expensive. For example, this stormwater system will add about $20,000 to the price of each house it serves. And when you talk to him about doing more to save wild salmon passing through the city, Mr. Nykreim begins to bristle.

NYKREIM: I see this as some kind of eagletopia that somebody in Washington, D.C., would like to see the Pacific Northwest have to experiment around with. Come up with a nice little plan that we're going to do everything in the world, everything regardless of economics, to control the environment.

CURWOOD: This perception is based on the painful history of the Pacific Northwest with endangered species protection. The listing of the spotted owl years back decimated small logging towns. It even created its own mythology, of an inflexible federal government concerned more about animals than people. So people like Michael Nykreim worry what will happen now, with the listing of wild salmon runs that include metropolitan areas. He's so concerned, he says he's getting out of the homebuilding business.

NYKREIM: Now, I'm nobody's fool here. I'll watch ESA come into a community and devastate the community. And it's going to happen here. ESA is implemented here like it has been in other communities, it's going to crush this economy.

CURWOOD: This fear recently prompted builders to go to court to challenge the listing of salmon as endangered species. They filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service, saying they're being unfairly targeted. Indeed, the salmon controversy is putting a number of lawyers to work. Environmental activists sued in the first place to get salmon listed. This battle over local or Federal control has some people wondering if the listing of salmon could push the Endangered Species Act itself into extinction.

SMITCH: This is really a fundamental, if not the fundamental test of the Endangered Species Act. I think it's huge stakes. I think this is probably a test case for the long-term survival of the Act.

CURWOOD: Kurt Smitch is the top salmon advisor to Washington Governor Gary Locke, and coordinates the current jockeying among Federal, state, and local officials. Dr. Smitch is worried the entire process could become a stalemate. That, he says, would provide ammunition to those who feel the Endangered Species Act is inflexible and in need of major reform. Even so, Dr. Smitch feels there's still time to find a compromise that could rescue salmon from extinction. And surprisingly, he welcomes the federal pressure on state and local authorities.

SMITCH: We need the federal government once in a while to come in when local political will simply can't take the pressure to do the right thing on behalf of public resources. We have had these problems before us for the last 20 years. We know we don't have enough clean water. We know we don't have enough water in this state for fish and people at the same time. However, if it weren't for the Endangered Species Act, we would not be addressing these issues. And that's the only reason we have a chance. If it weren't for that law, we would all sit here continuing to quack about the problems with salmon, and they would wink out.

CURWOOD: Despite this optimism about the politics of salmon recovery, one of the biggest questions remains unanswered. Can a sprawling metropolis really be made safe for wild salmon? To see how salmon really might survive in a highly industrialized environment, I strap on mud boots for a boat trip up Seattle's biggest river, the Duwamish. My guide is a youthful, energetic biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Curtis Tanner.

TANNER: After our ride, there's this one hill slope, and then about a mile, a mile and a half over to the east there, you can see the other hill slope. That is the boundaries of what was once the river valley. So you can imagine that we were once in a large river valley, that there was once a meandering channel, a lazy little river if you will, kind of going back and forth from valley wall to valley wall. About 12 miles in the lower stretch of the river here of meandering channel.

CURWOOD: How has it been shrunk, it's been straightened out like --

TANNER: It's been straightened out, so we basically took all the kinks out of the 12 miles of channel, took it down to about five miles of what they now call a navigable waterway. They deepened it, and they filled in the wetland to create industrial land.

CURWOOD: And not just any industrial land. This is the heart of Seattle's heavy industry. There are cement factories, a steel mill, ship yards, one of the West Coast's busiest ports, and the world's largest airplane manufacturer, Boeing. All of them generating billions of dollars in economic activity, in the wetlands where millions of salmon once thrived. The lower Duwamish isn't just any stretch of river, either. It's a vital salmon estuary, where the juveniles are supposed to fatten up before heading to sea. This is also where they make the critical transformation from a freshwater to a saltwater fish. That's why Curtis Tanner is here. The Duwamish uplands are still productive salmon habitat, but the estuary? It's a mess.

TANNER: To write off the estuary, in this case, is to write off an entire watershed. I don't think that we have the moral authority, if you will, to write off an entire watershed, much less the legal ability. The Endangered Species Act doesn't allow us to say well, we're going to write off that system and go, say, fish someplace else. We have a responsibility to save fish everywhere.

CURWOOD: Some say it's hopeless to spend limited resources on salmon in an industrialized river like this, but Mr. Tanner hopes to prove them wrong. He's pioneering an effort to restore these estuaries. Right now the project is focusing on reclaiming tiny scraps of abandoned industrial land.

(An engine slows down)

CURWOOD: Our boat begins to slow as we reach one of the pilot projects, a tiny patch of green beside a small tributary.

(To Tanner) This is like night and day. I mean, we're looking at something that looks reasonably natural. That could be someplace far, far away from the city.

TANNER: Yeah, you can. It's a little bit of an oasis here on the river.

(Slapping water)

CURWOOD: Instead of concrete, the river bank here is a natural mud flat. Instead of junked cars and abandoned boats, the shore is lush with tidal saltmarsh vegetation.

TANNER: This sedge that we're looking at here is, jeez, what would you say? Three, maybe four feet high?


TANNER: Looking pretty good. This is really the fuel of these kinds of habitats. It's this plant material that breaks down and becomes small little bits and pieces of detritus or decaying vegetation that really fuels the food web here in this system.

CURWOOD: In other words, this is salmon food.

TANNER: This is next year's crop of salmon food.


CURWOOD: It's taken four years and $300,000 of public money to restore this single acre of shoreline. But already, hundreds of salmon are using the site. One of more than a dozen postage stamp-sized projects created by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, and local volunteers.

(Engine starts up)

CURWOOD: It's too early to tell how many salmon might be saved through projects like this, but biologist Curtis Tanner feels they're worth the effort. They demonstrate that urban restoration is possible, and they've fostered support for even bigger projects on streams in Seattle neighborhoods that flow into the Duwamish. Headed back down the river, Mr. Tanner explains that there is an intangible benefit from his work as well. Like Washington Governor Gary Locke, he feels that wildlife habitat can make the city livable.

TANNER: People do live and work down here. And I think it's important to provide green space in people's back yards. Just having some green in an otherwise urbanized area is very important.

CURWOOD: So the salmon might save people?

TANNER: Let's hope so.

CURWOOD: Biologist Curtis Tanner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of several agencies working to restore wild salmon runs in urban areas of the Pacific Northwest.

Back to top

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CURWOOD: Next week our special series on Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest concludes with a salmon saga. We follow the migration of a single Chinook salmon from the Rocky Mountain streams of Idaho to the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean and back.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is 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, and Bree Horwitz. We had help this week from Jenna Perry, Jennifer Chu, Nicole Cobb, and James Curwood. Alison Dean composed the theme. This program was directed by Jesse Wegman. 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.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund for reporting on marine issues; the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the Surdna Foundation; the James and Kathleen Stone Foundation; the Town Creek Foundation; and the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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