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

May 27, 1994

Air Date: May 27, 1994


Menominee Indians Harvest Sustainable Forests

Host Steve Curwood travels to the forests of Northern Wisconsin for a look at a highly successful timber business. The Menominee Indians in the area took to logging back in the 1850's out of economic necessity. Since then, they have harvested two billion board feet from the Menominee Forest . . . yet the area contains more timber now than it did when logging started. Careful, sustainable treatment of the trees — and harvesting based on biological rather than market demands — has left the area the only preserved old-growth tract in the entire region. (09:34)

It's Super-Compost...Fortified with Essential Microorganisms / Gordon Black

Gordon Black reports from Washington State on one county's attempt to make yard waste compost a marketable product. The owners of Land Recovery, Incorporated knew that compost from the yard waste of Pierce County wasn't likely to fetch a top price on the market — so they've enriched the compost with pest-fighting microbes to make a combined fertilizer and pesticide that's chemical-free. (05:51)

Letters Segment and Living on Earth Address


Musing on Mushrooms / David Catlin

Commentator David Catlin reflects on the advent of mushroom hunting season . . . and the spiritual rewards granted to a mushroom hound on even the most unsuccessful hunt. (02:48)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Stephanie O'Neill, Mary Boyle, Gordon Black

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Two billion board feet of lumber have come out of the Menominee Tribe Forest in northern Wisconsin since the 1850s. Yet there is more timber there now than when logging began.

SIMEONE: It's an unbelievable example; if you drive through the forest you believe you're driving or walking through old growth timber. The trees are huge. And they have the best grade timber in the state.

CURWOOD: Also, successful county composters confront their toughest challenge: finding customers.

GAGE: They think of peat moss as being a great product. Well, this has so many more benefits than peat moss, and they're willing to pay $120 a yard for that. Yet they're only willing to pay $20 to $30 a yard for compost.

CURWOOD: So now they sell enhanced compost with natural pesticides included. Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

Canada says it will start seizing foreign vessels caught fishing in a restricted area just outside Canadian waters. Officials say they've taken the unusual action to protect plummeting fish stocks in the Grand Banks Region near Newfoundland. Canada has banned fishing for several key species in its own waters in the region, and several other countries have agreed not to harvest fish which move between Canadian and international waters. But Canada says rogue vessels continue to deplete the stocks. Some observers fear the action could lead to an international confrontation. A US State Department representative says Canada should pursue a negotiated solution to the problem.

The US will appeal a recent ruling that a law protecting dolphins from tuna fishing boats is an illegal trade barrier. It's the second time the Marine Mammal Protection Action has been found to violate free trade accords by a secret dispute resolution panel of GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Now the US says it wants to open up the resolution process to public scrutiny. US trade representative Mickey Cantor says environmental, business, and other groups should be allowed to defend their interests when challenged by GATT. One trade official says Cantor's effort faces stiff opposition from countries which don't generally involve the public in government decisions.

California's effort to get drivers into electric cars has shifted into high gear, now that a deadline for the production and sale of zero-emission vehicles has been upheld. As Stephanie O'Neill reports from Los Angeles, there are many issues still to be worked out.

O'NEILL: An important part of getting clean cars on the road is making sure there's a market for them, and that's what California's local, regional, and state officials will be grappling with in the months to come. With the 1998 deadline for the sale of zero-emission vehicles reaffirmed by Clean Air officials, the attention is now on market development, infrastructure, and incentives. Some of the perks for zero-emission car owners may include free parking and access to carpool lanes. Standards for charging electrical cars and ways to keep them from interfering with neighborhood TV reception are among the many technical issues that will be taken up in meetings with utilities, auto makers, and government officials. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

NUNLEY: A Massachusetts scientist has apologized for charging that the man who first proposed global warming theory was duped into signing an article downplaying its risks. Justin Lancaster had charged that the late Roger Revelle had been manipulated by the article's coauthor, global warming critic S. Fred Singer. Lancaster now says Revelle was a true and voluntary coauthor of the paper. Because of the apology, Singer dropped a libel suit against Lancaster, saying the statement vindicates the article and his role in it. But Lancaster still maintains Revelle thought global warming posed a greater threat than the article implied. Revelle's writings on the possibility of human-induced global warming influenced Vice President Al Gore and others to call for tougher controls on greenhouse gases. This is Living on Earth.

A second big fight over preservation of western wilderness is coming to a head in Washington. Just weeks after Congress voted to protect 7 million acres of California desert, lawmakers are moving toward another battle over Federal land in Montana. The House recently voted to protect 1.7 million acres there as wilderness, but the effort has run up against Montana's Republican senator, Conrad Burns, who wants to set aside much less land. From Billings, Mary Boyle of High Plains News Service reports.

BOYLE: The bill introduced by Senator Burns and crafted by industry interests would protect about 800,000 acres of wilderness. That's about half of what was set aside in the House bill. Senator Burns says too much wilderness means fewer jobs in the future.

BURNS: If you take all this land out of production, we have no resource jobs. There's not the prospect of mining, there's not the prospect of timber, there's not the prospect of oil and gas and energy.

BOYLE: Critics of the Burns bill say it's unbalanced. According to Michael Scott, the regional director of the Wilderness Society in Bozeman, Burns doesn't count jobs that are created because of wilderness like outfitting and tourism.

SCOTT: I think in that regard, Senator Burns is really not showing leadership as he should, as a Senator, where he's trying to resolve Montana conflicts. What he's really trying to do is to drive people apart, to perpetuate conflict. The only people that win in that scenario are those people that are working to develop land as quickly as possible.

BOYLE: Senator Burns says he is willing to compromise. He previously supported a bill that would set aside 1.2 million acres. But Burns is up for reelection, and it's unclear how far he's willing to go against Montana's development interests. If a compromise cannot be reached, many believe Montana may not see wilderness protection this century. For Living on Earth, I'm Mary Boyle in Billings, Montana.

NUNLEY: That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

Menominee Indians Harvest Sustainable Forests

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Drum beats, chanting)

CURWOOD: Imagine land belonging to your ancestors for 1,000 - 2,000 - even 5,000 years. That's the legacy of the Menominee Indians of northeastern Wisconsin.

PECORE: You see a farmer that's, he's the third generation, he's very protective of his land. Just multiply that by a few hundred generations and people are going to be very protective.

CURWOOD: Marshall Pecore is the guardian of this rich legacy: more than a quarter million acres of forest. In the 1850s the Menominee were able to keep only a portion of their ancestral lands from white settlers. Left with a remote, forested section, they turned from hunting, fishing, and growing wild rice to logging.

PECORE: Menominee means wild rice men, so wherever the shell, bays and lakes were is where they primarily settled. When they were going to be pushed west to the prairie state, and they lobbied to maintain this part of their acreage here, they said well let us settle here in this timber land; we'll stay on our timber lands there. And the old chiefs looked around and said if we're going to survive, more or less, we've got to make our livelihood off of this timber. We no longer can be subsistence living.

CURWOOD: Since then, more than 2 billion board feet of lumber have come out of the Menominee forest, and yet today there is more timber standing than when the logging began. And they've preserved the ecology of the old growth forest.

SIMEONE: Through selective harvest, they've been able to maintain natural biodiversity of their forest.

CURWOOD: Forest management specialist Robert Simeone first visited the Menominee 20 years ago as a forestry student.

SIMEONE: It's an unbelievable example; if you drive through the forest you believe you're driving or walking through old growth timber. The trees are huge. And they have the best grade timber in the state. And it's basically only because of a strong stewardship ethic that they've practiced from the beginning. You know, they really were way ahead of everyone when it came to good forest management practices.

(Footfalls and birdsong)

CURWOOD: Once all of Wisconsin was blanketed with woods like these. But they were cleared to build the cities of St. Louis and Chicago and Milwaukee. The Menominee Forest is the only major old growth forest left in the region. Its managers wait until the trees are in prime condition to remove them, instead of when the price is highest, even if it takes 200 years. I caught up with Menominee Forest Manager Marshall Pecore in a stand of white pine.

PECORE: When a tree starts to decline is when we cut the tree, rather than, on a lot of lands when the tree or when the markets are there, the tree is cut. On Menominee, we cut it when it's biologically ready and the growth is starting to taper off. That's a key difference.

CURWOOD: Now let's talk, let's talk a bit about the health of, the age and the health of this tree and how soon you'd like to cut it.

PECORE: Well, what we do, the health of it right now is on a declining condition. If you look up the bowl of most of these, well, like the one over here, you see the little knobs about, oh, maybe 18 feet up. That's a sign of red ring rot. Red ring rot, it's a disease that has a lot of effect, and it also decreases the value of the timber. Inside, the boards, if you cut the tree down and you're going to cut boards out of it, they'll all have a reddish appearance and there wouldn't be any quality.

CURWOOD: So in essence, you cull the bad and leave the good.

PECORE: Right. We mark the worst and leave the best.

(Creaking door, truck engine)

CURWOOD: Marshall Pecore oversees the Menominee Forest in a truck with a shovel, a chainsaw, and a can of insect repellent to ward off swarms of hungry mosquitoes. He's part Menominee and the woods seem to be in his blood. Both his father and grandfather worked as loggers and in the mill here. There are 25 different species of timber in this forest and 14 different forest habitats. The Menominee are working hard to preserve each one of them. They're able to manage their huge reserves thanks to a database called the Continuous Forest Inventory. With it, they track each of the 109 separate sections of the forest. Each habitat requires its own prescription for renewal and regeneration. We drive and bounce, bumping along in the truck on the narrowest of roads. Barely 6 feet wide, the brush and understory crowd our way. Past basswood, ash, pine, oak, sugar maples. After all I've heard about how differently these woods are managed, I'm now surprised where Marshall stops the truck. We're in a wide area that's been shorn of all but a few white pines. We get out and walk around the stumps. At first glance it's an ugly gash on the landscape. It looks like a clear-cut. But Marshall tells me it's a special type called a shelter wood.

PECORE: We call this a white pine shelter wood system. But it is a unique system on Menominee. We do a few things a little bit different. Our scare frying or how we turn the dirt over is kind of unique.

CURWOOD: Here the Menominee are trying to simulate a natural process. Fires used to sweep through the forest, clearing the old stands and preparing the way for white pine seedlings. Today, wildfires are suppressed, so Marshall Pecore tries to mimic those fires in other ways, that include clear-cuts like these. They allow sunlight to blanket a wide swath of the forest floor. His workers then turn over the soil, making it receptive to new growth, and occasionally apply herbicides to keep out competitors. I look around, and on closer examination I notice that a small miracle is happening underfoot. This is the forest maternity ward, and you do have to watch where you step. The handful of 170-year-old pines that remain are giving birth to a new generation of seedlings.

PECORE: There's probably four or five thousand on the ground right now already. There they are, that's the white pine right there.

CURWOOD: Well golly, this guy's, he's less than an inch tall, he's a half an inch tall.

PECORE: Last year was our bumper crop of seedfall. We had anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds of seed per acre falling. That means that in a pound there's about 26,000 seeds per pound. And on a shelter wood, the idea is, in order to get so many seedlings on the ground you have to use the natural seed fall; otherwise you could never afford to replant an area like this with that amount of seed. Once you start looking at the ground it's kind of staring at you; it's just covered with them. Look at them all. All right there, all the way down.

CURWOOD: This shelter wood will be tended for decades on its way to becoming a mature forest. It could be 200 years before these tiny seedlings are trees ready to be cut. But Marshall Pecore likes to say that forestry's a long-term gain, and the tribe is in it for the duration. But it's not just when trees are taken; it's how they're taken out that also distinguishes this type of forest management.

(Chainsaw cutting a tree)

CURWOOD: Taking down a tree causes some damage to the surrounding forest no matter how careful you are. But the Menominee are more finicky than just about anyone else about removing trees from their forests. Many loggers drag the timber out of the woods, ripping up the ground. But the Menominee crews cut the trees into short logs which can be carried out; and they don't log at all during the 3 wettest months of the year, when trees and soil are most vulnerable to damage. Forester Robert Simeone says the Menominees set the logging standards for the industry.

SIMEONE: They try to maintain or minimize impacts on, in their harvest. They are leaders in establishing harvesting regulations. They do things that nobody else does. They have designated skid trails, for example. They have very restricted machinery that can operate in their forest. They carefully monitor the effects that the harvesting has on the long-term productivity.

CURWOOD: It costs more to use these kinds of sustainable management practices, and the Menominee don't make as high a profit as they could if they weren't so careful. Because of stiff competition in the forest products industry, the Menominee have had to assume the added cost of sustainable forestry without passing them along to consumers. Now, environmental auditing firms, like Scientific Certification Systems, offer labeling programs so that Menominee lumber can be marketed at a premium to consumers who prefer to buy from sustainably managed forests. And Robert Simeone says the entire Upper Great Lakes Region benefits.

SIMEONE: You know, just having that forest there today is a tremendous encouragement for everyone. Because if that forest didn't exist, we wouldn't know the potential of these forests up here. We wouldn't even realize how productive they could be.

CURWOOD: The Menominee want to establish a center for sustained yield development, to share with others their secrets of forest management. Marshall Pecore likes to say that the Menominee are true stewards of the land because they didn't inherit their resources from their ancestors - they borrowed them from their children. To Marshall Pecore it's simple: just follow in the footsteps of the tribal leaders who have gone before.

(Drum beats and chanting)

PECORE: So the wisdom and the vision of those old guys was just, to me, just astounding and astronomical to have that type of vision. And that's what kind of set the course where we are today, with those old guys of 150, 160 years ago.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

It's Super-Compost...Fortified with Essential Microorganisms

CURWOOD: Leaves, lawn clippings, and tree trimmings can easily be composed into organic fertilizer, but it's tough to find customers for commercial amounts of yard compost. But officials in Washington State's Pierce County aren't letting that stop them. In an effort to attract more customers at a higher price, they're mixing pest-fighting microbes into the county's compost, creating a chemical-free combined fertilizer and pesticide for farms, golf courses, and orchards. Gordon Black reports from Seattle.

BLACK: A smell reminiscent of a freshly-plowed field hangs in the air as you approach Pierce County's compost center in Purdy, 45 miles southwest of Seattle. Officials here are proud that making compost doesn't cause a stink with their neighbors. They've also designed a building that produces compost in a mere 16 weeks. Under a roof that could easily cover a football field lie piles of brown material: yard waste from throughout Pierce County that's in various stages of decomposition. This isn't just a bigger version of a backyard compost bin, though. It's custom-built to make compost on a grand scale.

(Fan vents blowing)

BLACK: Vents in the floor blow air into the piles which are watered and turned every week. Jeff Gage is recycling coordinator for Land Recovery, Inc.: the center's operator.

GAGE: The yard waste leaves brush, grass clippings, all of the material that comes in is being digested by microorganisms. We're trying to create an environment for those microorganisms so we can maximize the number of them , maximize the decomposition rate, how fast they eat the stuff up, and also keep it without problems such as odors, by providing exactly what those organisms want.

BLACK: Ultimately, the yard waste is turned into a loamy soil sought by landscapers and topsoil companies. Last year, the center turned 32,000 tons of garden leftovers into compost. This saves Pierce County valuable landfill space, but it's still not an economic proposition, and county residents subsidize the compost center. Jeff Gage says buyers won't pay as much for Purdy compost as they do for conventional materials, even when it's a better product.

GAGE: They think of peat moss as being a great product. Well, this has so many more benefits than peat moss, and they're willing to pay $120 a yard for that. Yet they're only willing to pay $20 to $30 a yard for compost.

BLACK: So for the last 6 months, the Purdy center has been experimenting with additives it hopes will boost the selling price of the compost.

(Conveyor belts)

BLACK: As the compost goes through its final screening process, it's sprayed with a solution containing microorganisms that fight disease and promote plant growth. Gage calls this step inoculation.

GAGE: It's a little bit like microbial warfare going on. We're sending in good bugs into the compost and it, and thus the customer takes the compost, puts it into their soil, where there might be plant diseases.

BLACK: Gage hopes this amended compost, as he calls it, will sell for 4 times more than regular Purdy compost. But just as important as its economic benefit to the county are its environmental benefits in places where it'll be used.

BERGER: What this would be substituting for is a chemical to kill the bacteria or the disease-ridden soil, to help modify that and bring it back to a good state.

BLACK: Elizabeth Berger is a marketing assistant with the Clean Washington Center, a state agency set up to find new outlets for recycled products. She says Pierce County's amended compost could replace some synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on farmlands, orchards, and golf courses. That could reduce the threat of harm from these chemicals to workers, consumers, and the environment.

BERGER: There's a natural demand but several of the potential end-users may not be aware of its benefits at this point.

BLACK: It's been a tough sell, even among customers who are already using regular compost, such as golf courses. Jim Snow is the national director of the US Golf Association, Green Section.

SNOW: It's a great idea and we've looked into it and we are continuing to look into that concept. But it's got a lot of practical, biological pitfalls, if you will, that could limit its potential for usefulness that way.

BLACK: For instance, Snow says it's unclear if the disease-fighting microbes in the amended compost can hold up on intensively-managed golf courses. Some pesticides would still have to be used, and he fears that those could neutralize the benefits of the compost. There are other problems, too, such as cost. While the amended compost saves money on chemicals, it requires extra labor to use, and that costs more in the short run. But pressure to reduce the use of pesticides is growing, and regulations are getting tighter. According to Olaf Ribiero, a plant pathologist who has studied the Purdy compost for 2 years, at least some potential customers recognize that.

RIBIERO: Initially, we all understand that it's going to be more expensive than just the pesticides we're using. But I think there are enough people with a vision of what the future's going to be like that they're willing to start early and take that risk and spend the extra money right now.

BLACK: Pierce County officials understand that they still have a lot to prove. But so far they think the results are good. They say the amended compost has an 85 to 100% success rate in combating diseases common in the northwest. Trials are currently underway at a Weyerhaeuser tree farm and an apple orchard. County officials hope that these tests will confirm that the amended compost is effective and help develop a technology that benefits county residents and the environment. For Living on Earth, I'm Gordon Black in Seattle.

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(Music up and under)

Letters Segment and Living on Earth Address

CURWOOD: Now it's time to check in with our listener comment line. Our recent story on the efforts of US scientists to patent genes taken from a Panamanian Indian woman has brought many calls, including this one from a listener in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina.

CALLER: On your article about the ownership of genes, human and plant and animal, it's not a question of who owns the genes. The people in question don't own genes; they merely possess them during their lives. The business of creating life and adapting life through artificial processes is going to continue just as people bred roses and Gregor Mendel bred peas hundreds of years ago. It's inevitable. Government can try and slow it down, but they can't stop it.

CALLER: Hello. My name is Mike Beckman; I'm calling from Tampa, Florida. I listen to 88.5, WMNF. Placing patents on and claiming exclusive monopoly and control over a product of nature is unethical. The bounty of nature is something which we are all part of. Our DNA surely was not created by a biotechnical corporation, at least not one from this planet. Thank you very much.

CALLER: Hello, this is Richard Aldrich. I listen to WCPN in Cleveland, and WKSU in Kent. I believe that patenting genetic materials is patently absurd. If Galileo were alive today, he would have every right to patent his telescope and make a profit. But I hope he wouldn't have the right to patent the moons of Jupiter and charge me 17 bucks every time I looked up into the sky. Similarly, genetic scientists have every right to patent equipment and techniques for decoding and cataloguing genetic material. And just so long as they pay royalties to the Panamanian woman, they have a right to patent medicines developed using her DNA. Finally, they even have a right to charge me 137 bucks for a sample of it, because this is a huge savings over organizing my own expedition to collect a sample for myself. But let's get out of this sick, European-American mentality that being the first to plant a flag gives one the right to monopolize forever the handiwork of God.

Back to top

CURWOOD: We'll claim no ownership of your thoughts. Call us at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write to us at Living on Earth at Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $10.

(Music up and under)

Musing on Mushrooms

CURWOOD: "A bad day of fishing beats a good day of work," reads a bumper sticker. Commentator David Catlin says the same goes for a bad day of mushroom hunting. But he says a good day is even better.

CATLIN: Spring has arrived in the Ozarks, and with it two of my favorite outdoor pastimes: fishing, and hunting morel mushrooms. Now, nearly a fifth of the US population fishes. And practically everyone knows someone who does. I don't need to paint a picture of the fever that takes hold when the buds swell and the bass start hitting topwaters. But even though morel mushrooms are found in most of the forested parts of the country, far fewer people heed their siren call.

I often find myself having to explain the equally powerful passion that grips those of us in the morel minority. It helps to say that fishing and mushroom hunting have a lot more in common than just an edible result. For instance, both activities thrive on the thrill of pursuit: how many will I come back with? Will I tangle with any really big ones today? Both activities attract participants with a wide range of abilities. Some people return from the forest with baskets full of morels, while others, though they stalk the same woods on the same afternoons, get skunked. Just like fishermen, the successful morel hunters sympathize with the failed ones in a gregarious, breezy sort of way. Without giving away secrets, they always offer a few helpful tips.

As a moderately successful mushroom hunter, I can offer you some tips, myself. Rainy, overcast weather is often good for fishing, and it's good for mushroom hunting, too. As with fishing, if you catch one morel, there are probably others nearby. And, as with fishing, you can buy the videos and read the books, but nothing works better than to go mushroom hunting with a confiding friend who knows some local hot spots.

Of course, the big ones may still get away. But fortunately there is one more thing fishing and mushroom hunting have in common. Both are just great excuses to be outdoors. So, should you encounter me returning from a morning in the Webster County Woods with my basket empty, I'll offer you that testimony as a final tip. I'll tell you that I found perfect morel hunting satisfaction from just being out in nature reveling in the beauty and joy of Spring. And, like the fisherman, I'll be lying.

CURWOOD: Commentator David Catlin is the manager of the Springfield Conservation Nature Center in Springfield, Missouri. He comes to us from member station KSMU.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our segment on the Menominee Sustainable Forest was produced by Debra Stavro, who also directs our program. Living on Earth's associate producer is Kim Motylewski, and the coordinating producer is George Homsy. Our editor and producer is Peter Thomson. Our production team includes Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe, Jessika Bella Mura, and engineers Frank DeAngelis, Bob Connolly, and Karen Given. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Major contributors to Living on Earth include all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the National Science Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation. Additional contributors include Jennifer and Ted Stanley and for New England reporting, the Jesse B. Coxe Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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