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

August 31, 2018

Air Date: August 31, 2018



Gulf Orphans / Noble Ingram

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When the Gulf Stream's ocean currents circulate up the Atlantic coast of North America, they aren't just pulling warm water north, they’re carrying marine life as well. Living on Earth's Noble Ingram reports from a beach in Jamestown, RI where local scientists seek to rescue juvenile tropical fish swept north from the Caribbean. (09:38)

Sexual Misconduct in the US Forest Service: One Woman’s Story

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Abby Bolt loves her job as a Battalion Chief for the U.S. Forest Service, leading forest fire prevention efforts and commanding teams of hundreds of people in a disaster. But in a conversation with Host Steve Curwood, Bolt describes a “good ol’ boy” culture in the agency that casts a blind eye over sexual misconduct, hazing and harassment directed at the few women in the agency. Bolt says instead of addressing complaints, some supervisors in the Forest Service protect the harassers – even punishing women who speak up. (20:52)

BirdNote®: Blakiston’s Fish Owl / Mary McCann

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Owls typically hunt mice and small rodents in fields and meadows, but as Mary McCann explains in today’s BirdNote®, Blakiston’s Fish Owl is a bird of a different feather and diet. (02:03)

Conch at the Edge / Bobby Bascomb

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The Queen Conch is a large marine mollusk with a beautiful shell that is prized for export and even adorns the coat of arms for the Bahamas. The gastropod inside the shell is featured on menus across the Caribbean. Conch is so desired and desirable that, as Living on Earth’s Bobby Bascomb reports it is in danger of being loved to death. (06:27)

The Place Where You Live: Rose-Hill, Mauritius / Ameerah Arjanee

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Living on Earth gives voice to Orion magazine’s longtime feature where readers celebrate their favorite places. In this week’s edition, Ameerah Arjanee describes the sights and sounds of her childhood home town of Rose Hill in Mauritius, a small island off Africa’s east coast, and why she’s now looking at it with new eyes. (05:52)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bobby Bascomb

GUESTS: Abby Bolt, Ameerah Arjanee

REPORTERS: Noble Ingram, Mary McCann


BASCOMB: From PRI, this is an encore edition of Living on Earth.


BASCOMB: I'm Bobby Bascomb in for Steve Curwood.

As wildfires out west increase with climate change, more women are on the fire lines – facing hazards and harassment as they work in what’s still mostly a man’s world.

BOLT: I dealt with things like porn being taped to my buggy seat; the person that sat behind me used to flick his ashes into my hair. I'd have rocks rolled from the top of the hill down towards me. I was so in love with the job and just that first year, my goal was to never ever let them make me cry. And I never did.

BASCOMB: Also, a last-ditch effort to save baby tropical fish adrift in chilly New England waters.

DEMARIS: These fish are going to die because of the water turning cooler as the fall and winter comes. So you’re rescuing them from a certain death to a possible survival.

BASCOMB: That and more this week on Living on Earth, Stick Around!

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[NEWSBREAK MUSIC: Boards Of Canada “Zoetrope” from “In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country” (Warp Records 2000)]


Gulf Orphans

The rocky coves at Fort Wetherill Park in Jamestown, Rhode Island provide perfect havens for juvenile fish. (Photo: Noble Ingram)

BASCOMB: From PRI, and the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios at the University of Massachusetts Boston, this is an encore edition of Living on Earth. I’m Bobby Bascomb, in for Steve Curwood.

The North Atlantic Ocean Conveyer belt, better known as the Gulf Stream, carries heat from the tropics along the US East Coast and then over to Northern Europe. In the summer it also carries game fish like tuna, and bonito as far north as New England.
These big fish scoot back south as winter arrives, but tiny tropical fish larvae, babies that were also caught up in the Gulf Stream, lack the fins and strength to make it back to warmer waters, and they typically perish. Unless-- and it’s a big unless ---they wash close to shore and are rescued by volunteers and scientists. Noble Ingram has our story.


INGRAM: It’s a warm September Saturday, and a crowd has gathered on a rocky cove at Fort Wetherill Park in Jamestown, Rhode Island. The beach is peppered with plastic tubs and clipboards. A team of scientists and volunteers is pulling a massive net, called a seine net, full of flopping silver fish through the shallows.

CROWD: Wow what’s this? Wow. Woah! So many of these. This is nuts. This is so cool. This is a menhaden. This is also in the herring family.

After a cloudy morning at the rescue, the sky cleared, allowing for exceptional water visibility. (Photo: Noble Ingram)

INGRAM: But these are not the fish they’re looking for. Along the shoreline, four divers waddle slowly into the water. Each carries a Tupperware container and what looks like a small butterfly net. The water is clear and the sun is shining but this is no ordinary fishing trip. This is a rescue mission.

DESMARAIS: These fish are going to die because of the water turning cooler as the fall and winter comes. So hey, might as well take the opportunity to rescue them…

INGRAM: That’s Leonor Desmarais. She’s a long-time scuba diving enthusiast and a member of the New England Aquarium Dive Club, a volunteer organization that often partners with the aquarium. As she explains, the group has come to Rhode Island in search of an unusual kind of fish that desperately needs saving.

DESMARAIS: … It is a hunt because you’re hunting for them. You’re just not killing them when you find them deliberately, right? Here. You’re rescuing them from a certain death to a possible, possible survival.

INGRAM: These threatened sea creatures aren’t native, but they’re not invasive either. They’ve been spotted all throughout New England, and just over 100 miles away, on Nantucket Island, the Mariah Mitchell Aquarium has a small collection of them. On a July afternoon, a staff intern named Jack leads a tour into a room of bubbling fish tanks. Most of the animals here are locals, including the aquarium’s beloved Atlantic lobster, Clementine. But two tanks hold flashier foreigners.

Divers prepare to search for orphans at the 2017 New England Aquarium Dive Club Tropical Fish Rescue. (Photo: Noble Ingram)

DUBINSKY: Our first tropical stray that we have here is our buffalo trunkfish. It was collected two years ago in Madaket Harbor. And what we suspect is these fish spawned somewhere in the Caribbean or somewhere subtropical like off the Carolinas and as juveniles, when they were really weak, they got caught in the Gulf Stream, which is a big current that makes its way up the US eastern seaboard. And there’s a little spigot of it that comes out towards Massachusetts here.

INGRAM: As Jack explains, this tropical fish was found here in New England after riding ocean currents for hundreds of miles. Now three years old, this blue blob is about the size of an apple, with a face that’s strangely reminiscent of an Easter Island stone head. It’s known as a Gulf Stream Orphan.

DUBINSKY: As a little baby, this buffalo trunkfish was the size of a blueberry when we caught it.

INGRAM: As Jack points out, the fish has grown fast. And now, it’s attracting some serious attention from visitors.

MCKAY: He’s got a lot of personality. Hi, you’re very handsome… Hi, I think you’re my friend. I wouldn’t mind finding one of you.

HOIGHT: He kind of looks like a truck of some kind or like a weird UFO.

DUBINSKY: He loves eating live shrimp…

MCKAY: So do I…

INGRAM: The buffalo trunkfish is not the only tropical species to be carried into New England. Others include bright yellow Spotfin Butterflyfish and Atlantic Blue Tangs, relatives of the Pacific fish featured in the Finding Nemo and Finding Dory films. After the tour, Jack steps outside onto the beach.

New England Aquarium Dive Club members prepare to haul a seine net through the shallows. (Photo: Noble Ingram)

INGRAM: What’s the best thing you’ve caught?

DUBINSKY: Personally, ever? A flying gurnard was a really rare tropical that we caught five years ago. It’s this beautiful fish with bright iridescent blue wings. Usually only found in the Caribbean. We had it at the aquarium for four years and it got so big we donated it to the New England Aquarium, I believe.

INGRAM: As an adult, the Flying Gurnard looks like a glowing purple Frisbee. And biologists at the New England Aquarium were thrilled to receive it. One in particular, Mike O’Neil, manages the Giant Ocean Tank there, and is completing a PhD studying Gulf Stream Orphans.

O’NEIL: So we met the Maria Mitchell Association at the Hyannis ferry and received this flying gurnard from their facility. They had him set up in a nice temperature-controlled cooler— very well-packed.

INGRAM: Raising a captured tropical orphan is no simple task. Five years in, that flying gurnard died from a bad eye infection. But plenty of other orphans at the aquarium have survived and thrived. And for Mike, gazing into the New England aquarium’s vast Caribbean collection, saving these fish from a deadly fate drives his studies.

O’NEIL: We went down for one of the field collecting trips and I could not believe that the fish we were going to be bringing back we would find normally in the Caribbean. And one of the first fish that we found was a permit, when we found it a very small, plain silver fish.

Volunteers of all ages parse through their catch, looking for Gulf Stream Orphans. (Photo: Noble Ingram)

INGRAM: Mike nods at the tank and points to a glistening fish the size of a bicycle.

O’NEIL: But it’s actually one of the two largest fish in our Giant Ocean Tank right here; they get to be maybe a hundred pounds or so and a couple feet long. It was like an out-of-body experience at first being like, “We could raise this up and bring it back to the aquarium and it could live in the giant ocean tank for a decade or more and be this massive animal”.

INGRAM: As Mike explains, even the mighty permit was found as a tiny grey speckle. That might be the biggest challenge to finding orphans: unlike the colorful adults we recognize, juvenile tropical fish look mostly like seafloor pebbles.

O’NEIL: That brown blob is a trunkfish. So you can see his little mouth and his two eyes there, so when we collect them, they’re teeny tiny. Then they get to be about football-size when they’re full-grown.

INGRAM: That looks like a rock.

O’NEIL: Yup. So that’s one of the ones that when you come across, it’s usually just sheer luck that you happen to be seining in the right spot and then as you’re looking through it instead of looking at pebbles you’re like, “Oh wait this one actually has fins and is alive”.

INGRAM: That luck is critical – and not just for the rescuers. As Leonor mentioned earlier, Gulf Stream Orphans can tolerate New England’s warm summers, but when water temperatures plummet in the fall, fish that can’t stand the cold die. And that brings us back to Jamestown in September. Mike O’Neil is here along with his colleague Mike Whyte. The pressure is on to find these orphans, Whyte says.

WHYTE: They’re going to die. It’s inevitable. They will die probably within the next month. So if we can get it and bring it back and use it in our exhibits it sends a big message out. So it’s very important.

An adult permit swims through a coral reef in its native Caribbean. When fully-grown, these fish can top out at 50 pounds. (Photo: Brian Gratwicke, Flickr CC BY 2.0)

INGRAM: But so far, this year’s haul isn’t looking promising. Three hours in, a few divers have made sightings, but every net is still empty.

BEACH PERSON: One of the divers who’s with the aquarium saw a Spotfin but didn’t have any luck in catching him.

WHYTE: Nothing in the nets yet but we’re going to try the seining and see what we come up with there.

INGRAM: Each time the seine net comes in, Mike and the dive club find a new tangle of fish, but they’re all locals.

O’NEIL: We don’t have anything tropical in this guy.

INGRAM: Then, amid the controlled chaos of another haul, a pair of divers head over to Mike with a gallon-sized plastic tub. Mike points to a brown spot swimming in their catch.

O’NEIL: That little dark guy with a red eye is a permit.

CROWD: Oh my god, little baby permit. You’re kidding me. That dark huh?

O’NEIL: Yup, that’s stress coloration. He’s figuring out why everyone’s looking at him.

INGRAM: Potentially a successfully caught Gulf Stream Orphan?

O’NEIL: Yup, that permit is definitely on the Gulf Stream Orphan list. Definitely at that size that guy is maybe half an inch long, something like that… they’ll grow up to be very, very large.

INGRAM: Mike hands the tub, and its future 50-pound fish, back to the divers. The proud rescuer poses for a photo with the permit. For now, the dive club will have to be content with their single rescued orphan.

An adult Spotfin Butterflyfish weaves through coral in the wild. Though these fish were spotted at the rescue, none were caught. (Photo: Kyle Johnson, Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

O’NEIL: Fish-wise, little bit left to be desired. We did get a few reports of tropical fish and we have one permit in hand. So from a New England Aquarium perspective, not ideal for the collection animals, but for the Gulf Stream Orphan project, definitely excellent data. Weather turned out great, dive conditions were perfect. Can’t ask for much more.

INGRAM: Day overall still definitely worth it?

O’NEIL: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Particularly to see future marine biologists in training out here, and getting wet and learning about their native environment - it’s the way to go.

INGRAM: Every fall, the New England Aquarium Dive Club’s event gives citizen scientists of all ages the chance to save just a few tropical fish caught in the region’s cooling waters. Thanks to this year’s outing, more people are now enlisted orphan rescuers. And one tiny permit here gets to make it past October. For that, at least, it seems safe to call it: mission accomplished. For Living on Earth, I’m Noble Ingram in Jamestown, Rhode Island.

Related links:
- Gulf Stream Orphans Project
- Gulf Stream Orphans at the New England Aquarium
- Mariah Mitchell Aquarium
- New England Aquarium Dive Club’s Tropical Fish Rescue

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[MUSIC: Doc Watson, “Fishing Blues”, on Elementary Doctor Watson!, composer unknown/first released by Henry Thomas, Tomato Music

BASCOMB: Coming up, the “Me too” movement comes to crews fighting wildfires on public lands. That’s just ahead on Living on Earth, keep listening!

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and from a friend of Sailors for the Sea, working with boaters to restore ocean health.

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Nucleus “SONG FOR THE BEARDED LADY” Album: We’ll Talk About It Later, Released: 1971

Sexual Misconduct in the US Forest Service: One Woman’s Story

Abby Bolt has been in the U.S. Forest Service for 21 years. (Photo: courtesy of Abby Bolt)

BASCOMB It’s an encore edition of Living on Earth. I’m Bobby Bascomb.

2018 has been a devastating year for wildfires in the West. And the Mendocino Complex fire north of San Francisco was the largest in state history. Tens of thousands of wildland firefighters have battled these blazes in the tender, dry West. It’s dangerous work. Several firefighters have died in wildfires this year. And in addition to the physical risks, some face other hazards too. In the US Forest Service, which is increasingly consumed by the task of fighting wildfires, women are speaking out about sexual harassment they’ve experienced at the hands of their colleagues and supervisors. Today we bring you the story of one of those women. Abby Bolt is a battalion chief in the firefighting division based at Sequoia National Forest. She spoke with Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood.

CURWOOD: So, first tell me about your job. I understand that you've been with the Forest Service for a number of years.

BOLT: Yeah, I cannot believe that I'm into my 21st year of fighting fire. I just started doing it to put myself through college and do it in the summers and then next thing you know, I became what they call a "lifer" and took the full-time job. And now it's been over 20 years. I started off with hotshots and was a helicopter rappeller, and then went into hand crews and engines and now I actually specialize in fire prevention and public education.

CURWOOD: Hot shots, I mean, helicopter rappelling sounds like either jumping out of planes or climbing out of aircraft right into places that are on fire. Why do you do that? Why do you want to do that?

BOLT: Ahh, those were the highlights of my career. Why do I want to do it? I mean, I grew up in the outdoors. I loved to play sports. I loved to be athletic and competitive, and you know, it's hard to be on a professional ball team. So, the next best thing was being on a team to fight fire, and there was just so much satisfaction to it that it's addicting. You know, even the worst days, the most miserable days where you're just trudging along in the ash just doing the same menial work looking for little hot rocks all day long, even those days are really memorable and great.

Earlier in her U.S. Forest Service career, Abby Bolt worked as a hotshot firefighter. Above, a crew of hotshots tackles the Cedar Fire in the Sequoia National Forest, August 23, 2016. (Photo: Lance Cheung / USDA, Flickr CC BY 2.0)

CURWOOD: What kinds of behavior have you noticed over the 22 or so years that you've been working with the US Forest Service?

BOLT: There's great camaraderie, there's really great teamwork and there's really great friendships, but then along with that can come the hazing and some of that behavior that probably isn't acceptable, but when you're brand new you don't really realize it. So, my first years I dealt with … I dealt with things like porn being taped to my buggy seat. The person that sat behind me used to flick his ashes into my hair and I didn't know it until it was melting my hair and people told me about it, but that would happen days on end, and you might pick up your backpack and it's full of rocks or maybe a dead animal in it or there might be you know, something silly and I don't know if that...I think it just has to do with being the odd man out, you're the new person. I was the first girl on a crew who hadn't had a woman in a long time and they didn't really know any better, I think, and I just wanted to be there. I was so in love with the job and just that first year my goal was to never ever let them make me cry, and I never did. So, that kind of thing, you'd open up your pack, toss the things out, keep moving.

CURWOOD: So, in that first year did you say anything to your supervisors or or anybody about the harrassment, you know porn being left on your truck seat isn't exactly ordinary hazing.

BOLT: I did, because I didn't want to be the only girl they had in a long time and then instantly be a problem. So, I tried to defuse a lot of it on my own and blow a lot of it off, and then there was one particular guy that just would not stop. He wouldn't stop picking at me and I remember it would make me so angry, he would either, you know, physically shove me or touch me or throw things at me or basically dump all of his work on to me. He would drop things at my feet that he was supposed to be carrying, just little silly schoolyard things and I just got so frustrated, that and all of that other stuff happening on the side.

I finally went to my supervisor at that time and just said, “hey I need your help ... can you just help me deal with this guy.” I wasn't complaining, I just said I needed to deal with him for me and he just simply said “Hey, Abby, you're on your own.” And I said, “Well, on my own, I'm getting so frustrated I'm going to end up smacking this guy with my tool at some point to get him to back off,” and he said, “Well you do what you need to do.” And that day kind of came there was a day where I finally he did something to me out in the middle of a fire and I remember I was so mad and couldn't get him to back off and I did smack him with my tool to get him to back off. That's just kind of that you take care of yourself, and that's what I was told. And towards the end of the season, when we were doing our exit interviews, I told all of the supervisors on the crew, I said, “Hey, just just know that this was going on and that I'm not going to complain because I love this job, but I just want you guys to know so that you watch out for it in the future,” and I would like to think that they took that forward and did something good with it, but I was actually pretty much blackballed for a long time because I said that.

While managing a forest fire as a Battalion Chief, Ms. Bolt oversees a chain of command that can include 300 to 500 personnel. (Photo: courtesy of Abby Bolt)

CURWOOD: And their solution was violence. Hey, these guys are hassling you, then do whatever you need to do to take them out. Almost an explicit order to you to do something physical.

BOLT: Right, and it was. And at that point in my life, I mean, I didn't even know about things like EEO or formal reports, and I don't think I ever even would have filed one of that point, and what ended up happening is the guys that were on the crew that believed in me, they rallied around me like brothers and ended up sticking up for me and they – they handled that guy in the end. So, they did.

CURWOOD: But you were blackballed.

BOLT: Yeah, I was.

What did that mean?

BOLT: I didn't realize how bad it because I performed well and I did a good job and I went on to do great things and continued there and then I went and became a rappeller, but one of the supervisors, the one that I asked for help and told me to deal with it on my own, years later I actually got a job offer somewhere on another hot shot crew and he went out of his way to make a phone call to tell them that they shouldn't hire me, and he had no reason to do that, no reason at all except for I did stand up and say, hey, you guys could have some problems with women on this crew if you're not careful. I just gave them a fair warning and years later, he made sure to ruin a job for me.

CURWOOD: So, they didn't hire you on that crew.

BOLT: It was even after they had made the official offer and then they rescinded after he reached out. That's a piece of that good old boy stuff that goes on and it can follow you in fire and and burn you for the rest of your career, and that's why people stay quiet.

CURWOOD: So, talk to me what happened to you back in 2012. You went on assignment in Colorado.

BOLT: Yeah, I was actually in Wyoming and Colorado and I was with an incident management team, and we were traveling around the country, had a few fires that we were dealing with and one was in Wyoming, and then also we were partly in Colorado. And towards the end of the assignment I was sexually assaulted and raped by another firefighter that wasn't a member of our team, but he was there working with them and it was a violent situation by somebody that I was an acquaintance with and I never understood like how that could happen or what you do in that situation. And I just… I remember negotiating with him and pleading with him, and long story short I was covered in bruises and, yeah, so...

CURWOOD: I'm so sorry. It's just so horrible.

BOLT: Yeah, it's just one of those situations you find yourself in and it's surreal, like it's not happening to you, you're just watching a TV show in your head that must be all that it is, and the next day it was time for me to drive home back to California and I just ... I was in shock, literally in shock and shame and I didn't know what to do. Like I knew that it was wrong and I knew that I needed to do something about it and report it, but then all the thoughts in your mind of what's going to happen to you in the agency and in the fire service, what will rip your career apart. You know, when I show up to a fire, I show up and people look at me and go “There's Abby, that's that division supervisor we had on that fire where we saved all those homes.” And after you report something like this you show up to a fire and now “There's Abby, she's that gal that was in that rape trial that ruined that firefighter's life.” It becomes your identity, and we had a team of like 56 people there, and once I reported it, an investigation would have shot through the roof. Everybody...that whole team would have been stood down for fire assignments and they would have been questioned and it would have brought so much darkness to so many good people. I didn't want everybody else to have to pay for what I went through.

Ms. Bolt and two other U.S. Forest Service fire officials consult maps while commanding a firefighting operation in California. (Photo: courtesy of Abby Bolt)

So, on my way home driving back to California, my best friend ever since we were little is with the police department here and I reached out to her just in tears and I told her I didn't know what to do, and of course she was pleading with me to report it and told me that I had to, and I explained to her all the reasons and she know how it works in her department, what it would feel like for her. And because imagine the investigation, it's not just a police investigation. We're talking federal, all the agencies, it would have been a mess in different states, and I've seen how our agency doesn't do very well on things that are much less than that. How would they have treated that? How would they have treated me? How could I have trusted them? So I told her and she convinced me to come down and at least do the police report. And I met with the SVU detective and we went through all of it, and I went to the hospital and I did the rape kit to make sure that all the evidence was captured. But I just – I couldn't bring myself to actually tell the agency because I just … I knew it would ruin everything, and it would be easier if I could if I just kept moving forward.

CURWOOD: So you got the rape kit from the local police department where you were assaulted or back home or?

BOLT: Actually, back home where I live, and they ended up working with the police department where I was assaulted, and both of those detectives kept following up with me and they were pleading with me to press charges, and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It was in the middle of the fire season. I was still traveling around fighting fire, and I just – I wanted to be known in the agency for my firefighting abilities not for that. Of course, now that's changed, but they kept telling me you've got to do something or this will happen again or maybe he's doing this to other women or ... you know and I was thinking about his family and his children that I knew that he had and I didn't want to ruin anybody else's life, but I instead of confiding and letting the police protect me or going through the judicial system which I just didn't trust at the time, I confided in a – in a friend on a hot shot crew that I was really good friends with and I knew that he knew my assaulter, or I knew that he knew who he was because they both lived in Arizona. He told me, “Abby don't worry we will watch out for you and you give us the word and we will take care of him and we will keep him away from you.” It's a bunch of brothers in this job, it's a bunch of big brothers that are just amazing and like their little sister, they made sure that I was protected and we would go to fires and if he would be around, they would - they would eat their meals with me, they would just keep an eye on me, and they did put him in check couple of times, and had to pull him aside and so they were my justice. It ended up being kind of a brotherly justice that I had and it felt like at least that was something that I did have to protect myself and not let that man know that it was known about and he was put in check. But then in 2013 that friend of mine and his entire crew except for one of them, they all died in a fire.

CURWOOD: They all died in a fire.

BOLT: Yeah. So, they all died in a fire in 2013, and I think I was just devastated from that already, but then that was my justice, and I also lost my justice and my answer to how I responded to the assault. So, that tore me up pretty bad.

Abby Bolt, left, with Jesse Steed,
who was the friend and colleague in whom Ms. Bolt confided about her 2012 sexual assault. Tragically, in 2013, Steed and his entire Granite Mountain Hotshots crew, except for one team member who was at a different location, perished when they were overrun by the Yarnell Hill wildfire in Arizona. (Photo: courtesy of Abby Bolt)

CURWOOD: One of the things that so awful about sexual assault is obviously, how people ... what happens to your life afterwards. How are you doing in the aftermath of this? It's just such a devastating thing.

BOLT: Yeah, I'm still trying to figure it out actually. I'm still trying to figure that out. And I think I buried a lot of it, and this is all definitely pulling it forward. I didn't tell my family. I told, you know, I was married at the time and he knew, and you know we -- he helped me through it, and but it was really hard on us. But I didn't tell my mom and my dad because, one, I was afraid my dad might just lose it and go out and take care of his daughter. But I just, I didn't want that weighing on their hearts, you know, so I kept it inside and just worked with the police and then worked with those friends of mine that were watching out for me and I buried it and that's definitely affected me though. The fact that it all happened isn't what gets me so much right now and why I've come forward about it. The fact that that I knew that I wouldn't be able to trust in the agency to take care of me if I reported it.

CURWOOD: Talk to me about the kinds of bullying that you have experienced since that incident.

BOLT: The bullying that I've dealt with since then, it wasn't – didn't have anything to do with that incident because I hid that from my agency in general. So, since then it's been like ever since I would speak up for either myself or for other employees that weren't being treated well, I've just been completely burned for that. But it all seemed to happen when I went under the supervision of a particular supervisor because for 18 years before that, maybe I had worked for somebody difficult, but I never had these problems. And I'm dealing with all that with in a complaint now and I've tried, the thing that kills me is I tried from the lowest level because that's how we're taught, try to fix things at the lowest level. If that doesn't work, go to the next level, and then the next level. And I just was banging my head against the wall with the lowest level trying and trying and trying, and then the next level. But what happens is you bring something to the attention of your supervisor and if his supervisor wants to protect him he absolutely will.

Despite the hazing and harassment Ms. Bolt says she experienced during her first year firefighting with the Forest Service, she says, “That goal my first year was to never ever let them make me cry. And I never did.” (Photo: courtesy of Abby Bolt)

I would speak out about something that was so blatant, but then it was almost like his supervisor didn't want that sort of a thing to come out, and they start covering up for each other because then if the word gets out that there is a hostile work environment or some sort of poor treatment happening on their unit, that's going to get out further and further and that's not going to look good. So, I think that motivates them to cover up for each other, and then they start making the person that is making a complaint look like the problem because it's a lot easier if you get rid of that problem than if you admit that there's actually a problem on your unit or a problem with one of your leaders.

CURWOOD: What kind of litigation, if any, are you engaged in now against the department given this devastating history?

BOLT: Well, you know t's been ... 2014, I finally had to step forward and file a complaint and that fire season kind of ate that up. There's really no employee advocates out there that are truly on the employee's side, so it's really tough when you file a complaint to know what your deadlines are and really understand all of that and have an advocate because you also are expected to do your regular job. There's a lot of time that has to be spent on that, but if you're the agency that you're filing a complaint against, they have endless resources to help them. So, that moved on and I basically just had to let things go because I needed to get on with the season and being a supervisor, but then the retaliation started.

There were a lot of opportunities taken away. I used to teach at academies and I'm talking about big fire academies that were very respected. They wouldn't let me teach any more. I was on committees. They took me off of all of the committees that I was on. Just a lot of opportunities that are critical for your career and your advancement and your networking, they were just slowly taking all of those away. They made me move my office miles away from where it was, just me but not the other male that worked there that was in the same position. So, then I made the phone call and started the retaliation complaint. So, that was in 2015. And then one thing after another where they're just not being responded to. I'd reach out to our civil rights folks and tell them literally what was happening in my office and I would literally write e-mails that said, “Please help me,” as blatant as I could so that they would maybe read them and say maybe we should check in on her and see what's going on, and they would get ignored for, for a long time.

CURWOOD: Outside of official actions that feel like retaliation, to what extent have you felt threatened, intimidated, by things that you're not sure of the source of, but nonetheless for you, well, frankly downright creepy?

BOLT: That's what starting to eat me up and, you know, the supervisor that I was working for and he's moved on, he would make very odd comments and it was getting creepy, and then it was actually just a one sentence note that was typed up and addressed to me in my inbox and said that that I was a prime example of why women didn't belong in fire, especially single mothers. And then my – the back of my car window was written in, just the word "quit" and I had heard that one of my supervisors had been saying that and he had also said it to me in passing. So, it just makes you not even want to enter the building, and I go to bully meetings at my child's school, bullying prevention meetings and we're talking about how to keep kids safe on the playground and in the classroom, and I sat there one day and realized like, oh my gosh this is verbatim what is happening in my workspace. You know, it's schoolyard bullying at an adult level.

CURWOOD: Firefighting is a dangerous business and I'm sure you've been in many situations where you really needed to make sure that the people you were with were going to literally have your back. To what extent did you feel that the harassers, the bulliers didn't in those circumstances?

BOLT: There was – there was a time in the very beginning where that happened a few times. There was, you know, I had had fire literally lit underneath me, just because they thought it would be funny and they left me there. I’d had rocks rolled from the top of a hill down towards me, which have killed people. There's that kind of thing. So, yeah, you kind of lose that sense of safety because if they're not going to be good to you in the buggy, they're not going to be good to you out on the fire line.

Forest fires are becoming more intense, and fire seasons longer, as climate change warms and dries out trees throughout the West. (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Now that I'm further in my career and I'm in more of a leadership position, I even told our four supervisor this in writing and in person several times about the hostile work environment and the hazardous human behavior that was happening underneath him with a couple of our fire leaders, and I told him that eventually this kind of behavior is going to bleed over to a fire and the behaviors that they're displaying in the office were going to come out on the side of that mountain in the fire because maybe – maybe they don't answer the radio when they should just to be mean or maybe they don't fill an order when they should or call that helicopter when they should just because they're retaliating and eventually it's going to get somebody killed.

CURWOOD: Abby, what gives you strength to go through this? What's helping you get through all of this?

BOLT: Well, my family. You’re going to make me choke up. If I didn't have my family, you know, I've got really strong sisters and my mom for women, and my parents always taught me to speak up if you see something wrong, say something, do something about it. And it's so much easier for me to speak up and protect somebody that isn't me. I'm much more comfortable speaking out for someone else, and it's been really hard for me to speak out for myself, and my significant other, he's been amazing. He's also with the agency and so supportive and he admits he had no idea how bad it could be until he saw it from my eyes and saw it from the inside, and if it weren't for the folks that love me, I don't know what I would do right now, and there's so many gals in fire, and just the e-mails and the phone calls and the messages I've gotten since I came out on PBS, like, there will be another one that will come in that will confess to me the pain that she's been in what she's dealt with and she's thanking me for speaking out because she can't because she's scared, and I'll get one of those and I think, “Now that is the reason I did this. That's the reason I'm speaking out.” And then I'll get another one and I think, “That's the reason,” and quite honestly, there's ... still when I go into a classroom to teach about fire prevention, there will be little girls that walk up to me still and they say like, “I didn't know that girls can do this, and it breaks my heart. I'm like, “You guys, it's 2018, what do you mean you didn't know little girls could do this? You can be anything you want to be.” And I realize that anything that I do now to help bring progression is going to help some little girl some day that I'm never going to meet. If I lose everything right now, but it is going to make things a little bit better then, I'm good with that because that's how strongly I stand behind this.

As a Battalion Chief, Abby Bolt teaches kids and the public about forest fire prevention. (Photo: Casey Christy / Bakersfield Californian News Paper)

BASCOMB: That’s Abby Bolt, a Battalion Chief for the US Forest Service’s firefighting division. She spoke with Living on Earth’s Steve Curwood. There’s more on this topic at our website – loe dot org. It includes the story of a young woman who thought working for the US Forest Service was just the job she wanted.

MYERS: I got what I thought was a dream job, fighting wildland fires. You know I was gonna get paid to go hike out to fires and camp and it was gonna be really exciting.

BASCOMB: But sexual harassment and bullying quickly turned that dream into a nightmare. To hear her story, and for more on the challenges women face protecting public lands, go to our website loe dot org.

Related links:
- Listen to Michaela Myers' story about her experience of sexual harassment and hazing during 2017, her first season fighting fires
- Listen to our interview with PBS NewsHour reporter Liz Flock about the systemic sexual harassment problems U.S. Forest Service women describe
- Our 2016 LOE story: “Sexual Harassment Blights National Parks and Forests”
- U.S. Forest Service Anti-Harassment Policy
- PBS NewsHour: “They reported sexual harassment. Then the retaliation began”

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[MUSIC: Glen Velez, “Pan Eros” on Pan Eros, CMP Records]

BASCOMB: Your comments on our program are always welcome.
Call our listener line anytime at 617-287-4121. That's 617-287-4121.
Our e-mail address is comments at loe dot org. - comments at loe dot org.
And visit our web page at loe dot org. That's loe dot org.

Coming up, why a treasured icon of Caribbean culture and cuisine is disappearing, that’s just ahead here on Living on Earth, stay tuned.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from you our listeners and United Technologies, combining passion for science with engineering to create solutions designed for sustainability in aerospace, building industries, and food refrigeration. UTC companies such as Otis, Carrier, Pratt and Whitney, and UTC Aerospace systems are helping to move the world forward. You can learn more about United Technologies by tuning into the Race to Nine Billion podcast; listen at race to nine billion dot com. That’s race to nine billion dot com. This is PRI, Public Radio International.

[CUTAWAY MUSIC: Dr. Lonnie Smith “Tropicalia” on Boogaloo to Beck
Scufflin Records 2013]

BirdNote®: Blakiston’s Fish Owl

A Blakiston’s Fish-Owl with prey. (Photo: Hiyashi Haka)

BASCOMB: It’s an encore edition of Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.


BASCOMB: When most of us picture owls, we see them swooping low on silent wings over fields in search of mice and voles. But as Mary McCann points out in today’s BirdNote, some owls choose a different diet.

Blakiston’s Fish-Owl - Fishing for Salmon
[Hooting sequence of Blakiston’s Fish-Owl]
These distinctive hoots signal the presence of a sumo wrestler of a bird


It's Blakiston’s Fish-Owl. Blakiston’s, because its existence was recorded by the English naturalist, Thomas Blakiston. And Fish-Owl, because, it hunts fish. Standing on the edge of a stream, sometimes in the shallows, it watches intently. Eyes fixed on the water. Then, with a sudden jump forward, wings upraised, it plunges its talons into a fish and pulls it onto the bank – sometimes, a fish as large as a salmon.

This massive bird is the largest owl in the world. Tawny brown, a female Blakiston’s Fish-Owl is the larger of the sexes and may stand 28 inches tall, weighing in at over ten pounds. That's the same weight as a Bald Eagle. Compared with our largest familiar owl, the Great Horned, the Blakiston's is six inches taller and nearly three times as heavy. No other owl approaches its prodigious girth.

[More Hooting]

A Blakiston’s Fish-Owl, considered to be the largest owl in the world. (Photo: Robert TDC)

But the Blakiston's Fish-Owl is endangered. It's found only in wooded areas in the east of Japan's second-largest island, Hokkaido, and in small areas in adjacent Russia and China.

Future preservation of forest and river habitats in these regions will be crucial to the survival of this one-of-a-kind owl. I’m Mary McCann.
Written by Bob Sundstrom
Blakiston's fish owl 1163700 recorded by David M., Xeno-Canto.org
Nature SFX Essentials #18 “Stream, Moderate” recorded by Gordon Hempton of QuietPlanet.com
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2005-2018 Tune In to Nature.org March 2018 Narrator: Mary McCann


BASCOMB: And for pictures, swoop on over to our website loe dot org.

Related links:
- This story on the BirdNote® website
- Blakiston’s Fish-Owl on Arkive
- Blakiston’s Fish-Owl Project
- Watch: Blakiston’s Fish-Owl Catching Fish
- Watch: Blakiston’s Fish-Owl in Hokkaido, Japan

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[MUSIC: Eddie Bullen, “Caribbean Nights” on Desert Rain, CD Baby Records, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdOQ6ngGakQ]

Conch at the Edge

The Queen Conch is a large marine mollusk found throughout the Caribbean. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

BASCOMB: The Queen conch is a massive mollusk that grows an impressive and lovely spiral shell with a wide flaring lip and a bright pink interior. Conch are ubiquitous across the Caribbean, the decorative shells are exported and made into jewelry, and the huge gastropod inside is a staple food there. But I discovered new research that suggests that the conch is possibly being loved to death.


BASCOMB: Learning to produce a musical note out of a conch shell is a desirable skill across the Caribbean. In Key West, Florida – known locally as the capital of the Conch Republic – people come out in droves to compete in the annual conch honk. Children make their best effort – they blow into one end of the huge shell that can weigh up to 5 pounds.


ANNOUNCER: Beautiful, very good Luna. Good job!

Researchers dive to collect data on conch in the Caribbean. (Photo: Community Conch)

BASCOMB: But a middle age man in a bright pink t-shirt knocks it out of the park.


BASCOMB: This year’s conch honk even involved a marriage proposal. Mary Lou Smith took her turn on stage wearing a lei and flowered dress, then a man in a matching lei and flowery shirt got down on one knee with a ring in one hand and a conch shell in the other.

MAN: Mary Lou, we’ve been together long enough for me to know that I want you for the rest of my life. Will you marry me?


BASCOMB: She responded appropriately for a conch-blowing contest.


ANNOUNCER: I think that was a yes!


BASCOMB: Conch are also a local delicacy. As for how to prepare it, the list is as long as Bubba’s ways to prepare shrimp in the movie Forrest Gump. There’s…. cracked conch, conch chowder, conch fritters, conch salad, conch and rice – you get the idea…

Researchers measure discarded conch shells to see what size animals fisherman are harvesting. (Photo: Community Conch)

As beloved as it is though, the conch fishery in the Florida Keys has actually been closed since 1975. So all of the conch enjoyed in the Conch Republic has to be imported, mostly from the Bahamas. Alan Stoner, chief scientist with the conservation organization, Community Conch, has been conducting surveys of conch populations in the Bahamas for more than 20 years.

STONER: By 2016 the density of conch was down to only 10 percent of the original density in very shallow water.

BASCOMB: Stoner says overfishing is the culprit. Half a million pounds per year are exported and more are consumed locally. To keep up with demand, methods for harvesting conch have become more sophisticated. Historically fishermen would free dive with a mask and snorkel to scoop them out of the sea grass. But now fishermen use surface supplied air equipment called hookahs, which allows them to stay underwater longer.

STONER: When hookah is added to the fishing equipment, almost every conch is just available to fishers.

BASCOMB: Adding to the problem, there’s no closed season for conch in the Bahamas and some conch are legally harvested before they reach sexual maturity so they never have a chance to reproduce. That’s bad news for people who like to eat conch fritters and worse for marine species that depend on the mollusk for food.

STONER: There are a whole host of predators that require conch at least as part of their diet and that would go right up to sea turtles and things like octopus which take a very large number of conch.

BASCOMB: The Bahamas has a network of Marine Protected Areas where conch are safe from human harvest but even there, researchers are finding far fewer conch than they did just a decade or two ago. Stoner says the density of conch is just not high enough for the animals to reproduce.

STONER: We need about 50 conch per hectare, a hectare is about the size of a soccer field and if you don’t have 50 mature adults in that space the males and the females can’t find one another.

BASCOMB: They are seeing closer to 20 conch per hectare in most areas. Stoner says researchers in the Florida Keys tried to relocate conch to a protected area in order to reach that threshold of 50 adults but they had mixed results.

STONER: That works on a fairly small scale but obviously for the millions of conch that are harvested every year we really need a large number of eggs being produced and humans haven’t found a good way to do that yet.

BASCOMB: In the Bahamas the mollusk are a critical component of not just the local diet but also the culture, with conch festivals and a conch homecoming each year. The conch sits at the top of the Bahamian coat of arms and for some islanders, it’s simply hard to believe that they’re endangered.

A local group of musicians, part of what they call the “conchservation campaign” made an elaborate music video called ‘Conch Gone’ that offers solutions to saving the threatened animal.

[MUSIC: My, oh my, my, should have left them babies in the sand.
Why, oh, why, why, Should have give them a chance to grow up,
Should have give them chance to multiply.
We must think about tomorrow, there’s some simple rules to follow. Preservation, moderation, we need some conservation.
Conch gone, conch gone…]

BASCOMB: Alan Stoner of Community Conch says there are many ways to preserve the conch that remain – increase the legal size they need to be for harvest, go back to free diving to collect them, and end exports. That last one is a tough sell in a country where conch exports are a multi-million dollar industry. The government has been slow to take action on conservation, but Stoner believes that if locals act now they could still save the species before all the conch are truly gone.


Related links:
- “Conch Gone” Official Music Video
- Community Conch

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The Place Where You Live: Rose-Hill, Mauritius

A fountain in Rose-Hill, Mauritius. (Photo: Ameerah Arjanee)

BASCOMB: Warm, tropical waters off the coast of Africa attract lots of tourists to the small island of Mauritius – where we head now for another installment in the occasional Living on Earth/Orion Magazine series “The Place Where You Live.” Orion invites readers to submit essays to the magazine’s website to put the places they care about on the map and we give them a voice.

[MUSIC: Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes “Home” from Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes (Rough Trade Records 2009)]

BASCOMB: It was the search for magic in the mundane that inspired today’s essay.

ARJANEE: When people think of Mauritius, they usually think of the very tropical touristy things like the beaches and the coast. But my town is sort of a post-colonial, tropical twist on Suburbia. Yet it has this gentleness and rather breezy feel to it.

[MUSIC: Tommy Emmanuel; Anjelina, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWS1IRF_IFA
Album, Endless Road 2004, Favored Nations Records.]

ARJANEE: My name is Ameerah Arjanee and this is my essay about Rose-Hill, Mauritius.

The architectural emblem of my mid-size, mild-weathered town is a municipal hall adjoining an out-of-use theatre from the 1920s. The style of the building harks back to the colonial past, yet it doesn’t have the grandeur or aloofness of similar ones in Port-Louis or Curepipe. For Rose-Hill has always been, at least in my eyes, an unassumingly bourgeois place, peopled mainly by schoolteachers and administrators who look at life with kindness and indifference in equal measure.
In front of the municipal building is a fountain that’s hard to qualify as tasteful or odd. It’s in the shape of a statue of three men helping each other up, a noble gesture, yes, but each body is abnormally elongated, each arm a twisting branch. Every Rose-Hill child has loved climbing up its limbs on Saturday nights, when the sprinklers are off. Her tired parents will sit on a peeling white bench and eat Vona Corona ice-cream cones, grateful for an opportunity to not talk to each other, while the family dog runs through the still-wet grass, chasing an invisible frog. At dusk, a drug addict will come squat in their spot. Close his eyes, kiss the dark.

A church steeple rises above the trees in Rose-Hill, Mauritius. (Photo: Ameerah Arjanee)

During the worst years of my adolescence, this town has felt like a tropical Privet Drive, Surrey. I decided to ignore the Plaza’s hall and odd statue, the old cloth shops of Surtee merchants, the elegant Catholic churches, the bursting colors of the local market, and see only beige, utilitarian buildings. I saw the sidewalks but not the flower-heavy jacaranda trees lining them.
I am now twenty-three, and every day, I try to fall back in love. When I came back from a trip to Mumbai, I noticed how pretty and green this town actually is. There’s a lingering scent of crushed, flamboyant petals, mango leaves, tall ferns, and breeze on every walk to the bus station, Chinese corner store or municipal library, if you pay enough attention. I try to now, every time I step out of the house.

[MUSIC: Tommy Emmanuel; Anjelina, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWS1IRF_IFA
Album, Endless Road 2004, Favored Nations Records.]

I think the charm in Rose-Hill is very much like the charm of a town in a Miyazaki cartoon or the small, imaginary town in 100 Years of Solitude. A place which looks very neat and small on the surface but has hidden magic.

One of the things that create this discreet magic is the combination of the quiet presence of trees and buildings that sort of bear witness to the colonial history and waves of immigration of the country. So, you could be walking down a small street and find a beige cement house that would not have any mystery to it, if not for the odd, wooden veranda still attached to it and the alcove of a Tamil goddess on the other side of the road.

Or in the Summer, you could be sitting on your balcony and you’d see a row of flame trees over the horizon and there’d be the steeple of a Catholic church rising above the trees and piercing the blue sky. And in the town center you’ll also find old Chinese restaurants made of cool stone. And inside the owner would be serving pork-filled buns alongside Indian sweetmeats. And on the wall, would be the Chinese goddess Guanyin alongside the Virgin Mary. So, at the same time as you’re seeing traces of the different communities that have populated the country, and there’s a bit the sound of the leaves in the breeze in the air and that’s sort of a marriage of the sound and smell of the trees with the cultural richness. And it really sort of reminded me of, like, how magic realism hides in these little things and you have to…you have to really look for it to find it.

A mix of buildings in Rose-Hill signal the different waves of colonial and immigration history. (Photo: Ameerah Arjanee)

[MUSIC: Tommy Emmanuel; Anjelina, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWS1IRF_IFA
Album, Endless Road 2004, Favored Nations Records.]

BASCOMB: That’s Ameerah Arjanee coming to terms with her hometown, Rose-Hill, Maurititus. You can find pictures, and details about Orion Magazine and how to submit your essay, if you want to tell us about the place where you live – at our website, loe dot org.

Related link:
Ameerah Arjanee’s essay on the Orion website

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[MUSIC: Tommy Emmanuel; Anjelina, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWS1IRF_IFA
Album, Endless Road 2004, Favored Nations Records.]

[SEABIRDS: Lang Elliot “Petrel Night” from Seabird Islands (Nature Sound Studio 1996)]

BASCOMB: We leave you this week among Seabirds.


BASCOMB: Thousands of Leach’s Storm-Petrels circle overhead, swooping and calling into the night.


GELLERMAN: Lang Elliott captured these sounds for his CD he calls “Petrel Night.”


[MUSIC: David Chevan And Warren Byrd “ Let Us Break Bread Together” on Further Explorations of the Afro-Semitic Experience Label Reckless DC Music 2001]

BASCOMB: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Naomi Arenberg, Thurston Briscoe, Savannah Christiansen, Jenni Doering, Anna Gibbs, Jaime Kaiser, Don Lyman, Maggie O’Brien, Aynsley O’Neill, Sarah Rappaport, Jake Rego, Adelaide Chen, and Jolanda Omari. Tom Tiger engineered our show, with help from Jeff Wade. Alison Lirish Dean composed our themes. You can hear us anytime at L-O-E dot org - and like us, please, on our Facebook page - PRI’s Living on Earth. And we tweet from @livingonearth. The executive producer of our show, Steve Curwood, will be back next week. I’m Bobby Bascomb. Thanks for listening!

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from you our listeners and from the University of Massachusetts, Boston in association with its School for the Environment, developing the next generation of environmental leaders. And from the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, supporting strategic communications and collaboration in solving the world’s most pressing environmental problems. Support also comes from the Energy Foundation, serving the public interest by helping to build a strong clean energy economy.

ANNOUNCER 2: PRI, Public Radio International.


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