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

March 29, 1996

Air Date: March 29, 1996


Farm Bill Overhaul

Steve Curwood speaks with Alan Freedman with the Congressional Quarterly on the overhaul of the US Farm Bill. (06:45)

One Man Muffler in the Noisy Bronx / Neal Rauch

John Dallas is a one-man crusader against unnecessary noise pollution in his neighborhood in the Bronx, New York. Dallas says noise displays anti-social behavior, and impinges on others more peaceful pursuits. Neal Rauch reports. (06:36)

March Madness / Sy Montgomery

Before everything bursts into full Spring bloom, even mud and snow are teeming with life, according to commentator Sy Montgomery. (02:46)

Listener Segment

Responses to recent segments. (03:34)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about Aldo Leopold and wildlife protection. (01:15)

The Last Stand: Protests Among the Old Growth Forest

Activist and author David Harris has written a book titled The Last Stand which documents the links between 1980's corporate raiding, and subsequent intense logging and protests in the redwood forests of northern California. The one-time family-run Pacific Lumber was taken over with the help of some of Michael Milken's junk bonds and Ivan Boesky's stock parking, forever changing the adjoining forest community. (07:30)

Old Growth Forest Interview with David Harris Continues

The newly owned and operated timber company now cuts timber around the clock, attracting the attention and protests of local environmentalists. Two anti-logging activists were seriously injured by a bomb blast, and the legacy remains. (08:00)

The Blackfoot River and the Glory of the West / Jyl Hoyt

Montanans have an important decision coming up on McDonald Cyanide and gold mining in Western Montana. Jyl Hoyt reports. (09:44)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1996 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
NEWSCASTER: Lisa Mullins
REPORTERS: Jennifer Schmidt, Robin Finesmith, Neal Rauch, Jyl Hoyt
GUESTS: Alan Freedman, David Harris
COMMENTATOR: Sy Montgomery

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Just in time for spring planting, Congress presents a new Federal farm program. Many subsidies are being phased out, but farmers would still get cash for protecting environmentally sensitive lands.

FREEDMAN: Farmers, instead of having to raise crops on land that might cause potential harm to the environment, can simply leave the land alone and not harm the environment in the process.

CURWOOD: Also, the quality of life is going up in at least one tough South Bronx neighborhood, thanks to a campaign to cut street noise.

DALLAS: Channel 9 came out. They wanted to do a report on noise in the South Bronx. And it was so quiet here that we had to go to another precinct for them to find the noise that they were looking for. So I thought that that was a very, very good sign.

CURWOOD: And looking for signs of spring in places you'd never think of on Living on Earth, right after this news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: For Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. The discovery of aerosol gases 900 miles off India's coast is raising questions about how pollutants can spread and affect the world's climate. University of Maryland professor Russell Dickerson found a sharp increase in sulfate aerosol far over the Indian Ocean. Sulfate aerosol is a principle component of acid rain. It can combine with clouds and affect temperatures. Dickerson says his discovery might explain how sending pollution into the atmosphere cools the Earth in some places and warms it in others.

Washington State's Department of Transportation decision to use recycled tires as roadfill has turned into an ecological disaster. In Seattle, Jennifer Schmidt of KPLU reports.

SCHMIDT: A portion of roadway along the Washington coast has been smoldering and oozing oil since December, shortly after recycled tire chips were added as fill. Experts are trying to find out why. They say it's possible the soil contains a microbe that likes feeding on petroleum products, and is causing the tire fill to heat up like a compost pile. This is the second recycled tire road in Washington to have problems. A county road on the east side of the state has been smoldering since last October. The state has temporarily banned the use of recycled tire chips in roads, and transportation spokeswoman Melanie Lee says the ban is likely to become permanent.

LEE: I have to say, on the part of the Department of Transportation, that we would have to see some very convincing data before we decide we're going to use this again.

SCHMIDT: There was some fear that oil from the road would harm a nearby salt marsh, a popular feeding ground for eagles. But state ecology officials say only a small portion of the marsh has been contaminated. Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration is preparing a set of recommendations for the use of recycled tires in all Federal highway products. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt in Seattle.

MULLINS: The Turkish government is investigating claims that Shell Oil injected drilling waste into a drinking water supply. Turkey's announcement follows a Greenpeace report that said Shell injected nearly 500 million barrels of water polluted with crude oil, solvents, and other chemicals, into an aquifer in southeast Turkey between 1973 and 1994. A Shell spokesman admitted the company had injected the aquifer, but said the water was not polluted. A spokesman for Turkey's Environment Ministry said the investigation had been going on since December, and that the oil giant would be required to clean up any damage it had done. Shell is currently trying to sell off its Turkish subsidiary.

Pope John Paul II is speaking out in defense of the environment. The Pontiff told crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square that the Bible lets people use nature, not destroy it. The Pope's comments were part of his message for Lent, the 40-day period before Easter traditionally used by Christians for reflection and penance. The Pope said the season should offer a profound lesson to respect the environment.

The Mississippi River's levels of human and animal waste exceed Federal limits. That's the conclusion of a study by the US Geological Survey. From the Midwest bureau of Living on Earth, Robin Finesmith reports.

FINESMITH: According to the survey, incomplete treatment of sewage is largely responsible for high levels of fecal coliform bacteria throughout the river. In some cases that's because municipalities have decided not to treat sewage with chlorine. The survey also found elevated levels of nitrates in the river, which are helping to create a biological dead zone where the Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Robert Mead is the principal scientist for the USGS study.

MEAD: It's very clear from our study that those nitrates are coming out of the heart of farm belt, the corn and soybean belt; as the river comes down through southern Minnesota and goes past Iowa and Illinois, it picks up the bulk of these nutrient elements, particularly nitrate.

FINESMITH: Concentrations of caffeine from coffee and soft drinks were also found in the river, along with pesticides and dissolved heavy metals. For Living on Earth, I'm Robin Finesmith in Cleveland.

MULLINS: An Australian scientist has come up with a very environmental friendly way to cut grass: a rabbit powered lawn mower. Nigel Wais of Australia National University says the prototype, called A Rolling Rabbit Run, is a 20-foot-long cylindrical cage built from recycled bicycle wheels and large gauge wire netting. It's powered by 2 large male rabbits, Flotsam and Jetsam. They've been taught to roll the cage to find new pastures after nibbling the grass beneath them, fertilizing it as they go. Wais says the speed of the motor depends on how hungry the rabbits are. The University's Animal Ethics Committee has approved the mower and is monitoring the health and well being of the rabbits who have been made Visiting Fellows of the university.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Lisa Mullins.

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

Farm Bill Overhaul

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Everybody eats, of course, though in a modern industrial society very few people farm. And that has been a major problem with the Federal Farm Program. Most voters don't seem to be particularly concerned about farm supports, unless they're complaining about big government. Not only does farming have a profound impact on our food security, it has a major effect on the environment as well, and debate on these matters is one reason that Congress had been stalled on producing a new farm bill since the old one expired last fall. For the first time since the New Deal, Congress has given the Federal Farm Program a complete overhaul. Government subsidies based on price supports for many crops are gone. What's left are some flat payments that will run out in 7 years. After that, farmers will be on their own in the marketplace. Getting the new farm program through Congress tested just about all concerned, says Alan Freedman of Congressional Quarterly magazine.

FREEDMAN: It's extremely difficult because it takes on some of the most entrenched political forces in the country, which is the family farmers, the big farmers. For years and years and years the Democrats really protected the Federal subsidy system. They argued this on policy grounds, but in reality it was because the farmers who received Federal subsidies represented an extremely important political constituency for the Democratic Party, primarily from rural Democrats in the South, who are a vanishing breed. The Republicans have come in and attempted to impose more of a free market philosophy on America's farmers, and there are a number of Democrats, primarily from the East, who think that's a very positive step. Sure, there are big problems with the bill, but I think the important point is that we have here a major policy shift in Washington, and for many years that would seem to be almost impossible to accomplish.

CURWOOD: With the market being opened up, who's at risk here? Small farmers, or big farmers?

FREEDMAN: Well, you know, traditionally one would argue that small farmers would be at risk, since market competition tends to benefit larger public interests. But the farm bill also has a number of complicated provisions in it and protections for certain markets that many people in reality don't actually know what the end result will be, and that there is a sense on Capitol Hill that this is an issue that will have to be revisited sooner than 7 years.

CURWOOD: Now, our nation's production of food and fiber has a major impact on the environment. And I'm asking, Alan Freedman, what impact will this new farm bill have on the environment, do you think?

FREEDMAN: Well, environmentalists are not doing cartwheels over the provisions in this bill. This is not sort of a totally green bill. At the same time, given where this bill could have ended up and the nature of politics, particularly in the House, the environmentalists did pretty well.

CURWOOD: Let's talk about some specifics here. First of all, what would this bill do in terms of protecting water quality?

FREEDMAN: A very interesting provision here is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which essentially would make Federal money available to farmers to establish buffers, for example, buffers of land between their agricultural production land and let's say a stream bed. So for example, if I am a farmer and I'm producing and I'm using pesticides on my land, I could simply use a strip of land as a kind of buffer so that there wouldn't be harmful runoff into stream beds, therefore causing environmental degradation. That's -- this is a provision that environmentalists like, and it's also a provision that a lot of the Democrats and many moderate Republicans who advocated it are very happy with and are pointing to as a key example of how this bill would help the environment.

CURWOOD: Now, there's a lot of concern about the Conservation Reserve Program --

FREEDMAN: That's correct.

CURWOOD: Land set aside to protect critical habitat and such in your farms.

FREEDMAN: Right. Right.

CURWOOD: What happens to that?

FREEDMAN: Well, it essentially would be reauthorized, allowing for 36.4 million acres in the country to be idle. This is environmentally sensitive land, and farmers could basically be paid to idle or not farm this land. And environmentalists again think this is a pretty good provision for fairly obvious reasons. Farmers, instead of having to raise crops on land that might cause potential harm to the environment, can simply leave the land alone, and not harm the environment in the process.

CURWOOD: Now, there was a lot of concern after the great Mississippi floods that farmers were farming some wetlands that should be left alone to act as sponges for high water.


CURWOOD: What would this bill do in terms of restoring some of those wetlands?

FREEDMAN: This bill would restore wetlands previously drained, and the program reauthorized with both permanent and temporary easements would equal about 975,000 acres.

CURWOOD: Now, what about the Everglades? President Clinton has been announcing a program there. What does this bill do about the Everglades?

FREEDMAN: This bill would put in place $200 million to buy back land around the Everglades. And President Clinton had wanted a broader program. He wanted to put a tax on sugar to do about twice as much in terms of real money. But there was a compromise, and $200 million is included in this bill for protection of the Everglades.

CURWOOD: Did Bob Dole get a piece of this?

FREEDMAN: Bob Dole got a piece of this in large part because Florida is a very important state in the Presidential elections, and there was a lot of pressure on Dole to move a bill that would be friendly to Florida. There's also a lot of protection of both parties to move the Farm Bill. So those 2 interests sort of came together in terms of the Everglades provision.

CURWOOD: Before you go, Alan, I just wanted to ask you about the Utah wilderness and other land bills. Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey succeeded to kill this bill, essentially; a lot of people were in favor of it. How and why did he succeed?

FREEDMAN: Well, he succeeded for a number of reasons. The actual, the Utah Wilderness Lands Bill actually ended up getting caught up in a debate over the minimum wage, and without going into a lot of complicated procedural explanations, in short the Republicans miscalculated and were forced to pull the Utah lands bill, as well as an omnibus lands bill to which it was attached from the floor, because of a controversy over the minimum wage. I should say that there is some doubt about whether this bill could ever get through the Senate, and clearly Bradley's people and the Democrats have made this a major target and believe they have the votes to stop it. I suspect that they're probably right, but what this means for the Utah lands bill is that the chances of this bill getting through this year are somewhat diminished. In fact, this could be the end of it. The key is to watch and see if this bill comes back in either April or May. If they can't get a bill through the floor in that time period, I would say it's probably dead for the year.

CURWOOD: Alan Freedman covers the environment for Congressional Quarterly. I want to thank you for taking this time with us.

FREEDMAN: Thank you.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

One Man Muffler in the Noisy Bronx

CURWOOD: With all the power and complexity in national politics, there are still plenty of ordinary citizens who are making a positive difference for society. Even in what many would call bad neighborhoods. Consider John Dallas. He lives in New York's South Bronx, our modern icon of urban squalor and poverty. Mr. Dallas doesn't have much money to give away or a brilliant plan to stop the ravages of crime and drug abuse. But he does bring his community peace by working to clean up the environment of sound. From the Bronx, Neal Rauch has our report.

(A dog barks)

DALLAS: Imagine music from the bodegas downstairs inside and outside, and then on top of that you have people sitting on the stoops with music blasting from their portable radios. Then you have cars that are parked where the car stereos are being used as jukeboxes essentially...

RAUCH: For the last year and a half, John Dallas has been waging a campaign against noise in the South Bronx. He's been called a one-man muffler. Among his targets are stores with outdoor speakers.

(Music plays loudly)

MIKE: Generally I just play music. People walk down, they see it. If it just makes them turn their heads just a little bit, it would be better for me if they didn't.

RAUCH: Mike runs a one-hour photo and variety store on the strip. More of a problem than his moderate music, though, is the guy in front of the store he sometimes rents space to: a DJ who sells bootlegged tapes. That man cranks up his 300-watt sound system with 12-inch speakers. It can be heard up to 2 blocks away.

MIKE: The police have arrested him and taken his equipment on several occasions. But he still feels that it's necessary to conduct his business, to attract attention to his business.

DALLAS: I disagree with that. I mean either you want to buy something here or you don't. I don't see where music enhances the business.

RAUCH: John Dallas says peace and quiet should take a priority over anyone's short-term profits.

DALLAS: The values of peace and quiet are manifold and absolutely wonderful. If we want to get in touch with ourselves, know who we really are, have peace of mind, then you need peace and quiet to do that. It's important to my spirituality, and I feel it's important to everybody else's quest for their identity.

RAUCH: He admits that most people don't associate the South Bronx with an anti-noise movement, since there are so many other problems. But Mr. Dallas doesn't feel that noise should only be of concern to the suburbs or Park Avenue. Noise can be harmful to everyone.

DALLAS: Noise is hazardous to educational achievement. In a neighborhood where one of the few honorable passages out of this place is a good education, not that we have the best public schools here, but noise interferes with people being able to concentrate to do their homework. To focus on the task at hand.

RAUCH: And he sees noise as symptomatic of the community's other ills.

DALLAS: In many cases, people that are involved in this community in illegal activities, I feel will purposely blast the music to challenge, to flout the law. It can be used as a way of intimidating and terrorizing people.

RAUCH: John Dallas goes on to say that when people can get away with minor things like noise, then they may be encouraged to commit more antisocial acts. But the question that keeps coming up: with all the crime problems in the South Bronx, do the police have time to bother with noise complaints?

THOMAS: Yes. We do.

RAUCH: Inspector Ryan Thomas, commanding officer of the 44th Precinct.

THOMAS: It's not our highest priority, but it's certainly something that detracts from the quality of life throughout the whole neighborhood, and it's something that we do address.

RAUCH: Inspector Thomas has nothing but praise for Mr. Dallas and his crusade.

THOMAS: With people like John who are interested and willing to help, certainly loud and extreme noise can become the exception instead of the rule. In many respects, you know, he's the conscience of the community.

RAUCH: John Dallas also helps others by mediating disputes and giving out advice.

DALLAS: Hello!

BERLIN: Who is it?

DALLAS: It's John Dallas.


(A door is unbolted)

DALLAS: Hello Mrs. Berlin, how are you?

BERLIN: I'm fine.

RAUCH: Joyce Berlin has lived in her Bronx apartment for over 30 years. For the last three and a half years, she's been suffering from noisy tenants above her who have a loud stereo and loud grandchildren.

BERLIN: I'm a very heavy person right now, and I have a very thick and new mattress in my bedroom with a headboard. Do you know my bed was moving with me in it? Every day it starts around 2, 2:30. Most of the time it sounds like they're lifting heavy, massive pieces of furniture and letting it drop, or that they're playing ball with a bowling ball. My stomach is completely ruined; my system, I'm depressed, I'm angry at my friends.

RAUCH: When she tried going to court, the judge told her that her daily records of the noise were not enough, and that she needs someone to corroborate her story. But Joyce Berlin doesn't know anyone who would agree to do this. So John Dallas suggests she hire someone to sit with her, and then be a witness.

DALLAS: If there's some young kid who wants to earn a couple of dollars, if he could sit with you a couple of afternoons --

BERLIN: I might do that --

DALLAS: -- a couple of hours, twice a week. And you tell him: I need you to hear the noise. Listen to the noise.

BERLIN: I will try that. I will go in this week to the community center myself...

RAUCH: Later Mr. Dallas says it's situations like this that keep him going.

DALLAS: Isn't that a shame? I mean a senior citizen on a fixed income and these are supposed to be her golden years, her years of relaxation. And she can't even rest under the roof in her home. That really bothers me, that makes me very, very angry.

RAUCH: What started John Dallas on his campaign was his lack of success in finding his own quiet apartment. Over the last 5 years he's had to move 5 times. It's not that he expects total quiet in a part of New York City. He just thinks people should be more considerate.

DALLAS: I'm a salsa, big salsa fan. I love to dance, I love to listen to my music in the morning when I get up. But the volume is down so that other people aren't waking up with me; other people don't have to dance along with me.

RAUCH: Mr. Dallas conducts his anti-noise crusade by giving lectures to community groups, writing articles, and distributing a peace package.

DALLAS: How to live without disturbing your neighbors. And the prohibitions range from moving furniture around late at night in your apartment to not controlling your kids. So it's all these different forms of behavior that disturb the peace.

RAUCH: John Dallas, who works as a paralegal, has spent some $2,000 out of his own pocket to print and distribute the peace package. But he thinks it's certainly worth it.

DALLAS: This community is a lot quieter than before I started my campaign. Channel 9 came out. They wanted to do a report on noise in the South Bronx. And it was so quiet here that we had to go to another precinct for them to find the noise that they were looking for. So I thought that that was a very, very good sign.

RAUCH: For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.

Back to top

CURWOOD: The riot of spring is just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

March Madness

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Here in the northern regions while we wait for the buds and flowers to pop, we're missing some of nature's wildest shows, says Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery.

MONTGOMERY: This is a bleak time here in New Hampshire. The snow is gray and brown from winter's blanket of chimney ash and sand. Then when the snow melts that's even worse. Nothing but mud everywhere. The whole landscape looks, if not dead, then at least exhausted. But that's why I love this time of year. It reminds me of one of the most powerful lessons nature has to teach us. Look again.

On one of those days when it seems there's nothing to do but watch the dirty snow melt, go out and watch the dirty snow melt. You may well find that what looks like specks of ashes on the snow are jumping around. You've encountered one of the world's weirdest animals, engaged in a dramatic spectacle so bizarre that no one is really sure what's going on.

They're called snow fleas. Actually, they're not fleas at all but animals called spring tails. They're called spring tails because they've got a mechanism at the rear of the abdomen that lets them catapult into space. These guys are only one sixteenth of an inch long, but each can jump six inches in a single bound: the equivalent of a person covering a mile in ten leaps.

Normally, they live beneath the leaf litter where you'd never see them. Why do they appear now? One theory is this: a population explosion so severe that the only solution is cannibalism. A British entomologist watching a swarm of snow fleas under magnification found the animals savagely fighting one another with mouth parts and tarsal claws. The victors ate the victims and then died themselves. The blood of spring tails is toxic. True, not every day offers such a spectacle as snow fleas fighting on melting snow.

Fortunately, once the snow is gone, there's mud to look forward to. Mud is full of life. A few years back, a biologist removed 6 inches of the stuff from a dried up pasture pool, added water, and found no fewer than 5 different kinds of tiny animals hatched out. Nice wet estuary mud is even richer. On average, each cubic inch contains 1.4 million microscopic worms and more than a quarter mile of cobweb-thin filaments called hyfulthreads, which belong to a fungus.

My friend Rick Van Depoll calls mud a mini Gaia system, because the animals who live in mud recreate and regulate their own environment. There's a lot going on here. For mud, like melting snow, is full of life and speaks to us eloquently, inviting us to look again. Reminding us, even now, to trust the richness, abundance, and generosity of nature.

CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery's most recent book is The Spell of the Tiger. She comes to us courtesy of New Hampshire Public Radio.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Listener Segment

CURWOOD: And now, a word from you, our listeners.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our interview with toxic waste activist Lois Gibbs about her crusade against dioxin drew a number of comments, including an e-mail from a listener to KPLU in Seattle. "Ms. Gibbs was allowed to state unchallenged the connection between reduced sperm counts in the human population and dioxin," the man from Seattle wrote. "The sperm count reduction is true, but the link to dioxin is just an interesting idea. There is no scientific evidence that dioxins are responsible for reduced human sperm count." My apologies. He's right, and we should have clarified Ms. Gibbs's remarks. Human sperm counts are down, but the only studies linking reduced sperm counts to dioxin have been in rodents. Which, by the way, lose half their sperm if their mothers are exposed to dioxin at a critical point in pregnancy.

George Betscakos, who listens to WKSU in Kent, Ohio, called to say Ms. Gibbs's arguments are alarmist.

BETSCAKOS: While dioxins are dangerous, she made it sound like everyone is walking around like a time bomb ready to go off. No one, no individual is at any capacity level that, you know, where you get a little bit more exposure and you're over the limit. That is absolutely ridiculous.

CURWOOD: But Marge Duck, a listener to WVIA in Pittston, Pennsylvania, says she's glad that the dioxin issue is getting exposure. Since dioxin is a byproduct of incineration, Ms. Duck says:

DUCK: We need more education about how our choice of consumer products adds to the problem.

CURWOOD: Our profile of Earth Island chief Carl Anthony drew several calls, including this one.

GOODRIDGE: Hello, my name is Tom Goodridge. I listen to WNYC. I wanted to commend you on your commentary on the Earth Island Institute, particularly your presenting Mr. Anthony's perspective on ecology as so intimately linked with the fate of our cities, and how he has involved the people who have been most dumped on.

CURWOOD: Our interview with a teacher whose students lobbied to get toxic waste cleaned up from a school playground sparked a New Mexico listener to write. "It will be up to the children, I am afraid, to make this a better world. We adults are not doing the best of jobs in that area."

Finally, in response to our story about a man who traded in his lawn mower for a flock of sheep, Jennifer Good told us about her mother, who lets 5 huge African tortoises loose to mow her lawn in Sonoma, California. Jennifer's mom Marilyn reports her reptiles are very good at keeping a small lawn trim. But she doesn't want anyone following her example. She says people should neither have lawns in water-poor California nor exotic pets to cut them.

Back to top

CURWOOD: If you want to comment on anything you've heard on our show, please call us at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or try our e-mail address. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. LOE@NPR.ORG. Our postal address is Living on Earth, Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Transcripts and tapes are $12.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental economics; Joyce Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the Ford Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: A novel account of the fight to save the last of California's great redwood trees is coming up in the second half of Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

(Theme music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: This year marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of the man who in many ways defined how we go about protecting wildlife. Aldo Leopold was born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1886. He graduated from the newly-created Yale School of Forestry in 1909, before joining the US Forest Service where he worked on wildlife conservation. In 1933, Mr. Leopold published his classic textbook, Game Management. In it, he argued that when it comes to saving a species, it's necessary to preserve the entire ecological system. In his essay "The Land Ethic," he wrote, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community." Aldo Leopold's best known work, A Sand County Almanac, was published in 1949, a year after his death. Among the reflections: "We face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television." And for this week, that's the Living on Earth almanac.

Back to top


The Last Stand: Protests Among the Old Growth Forest

CURWOOD: Michael Milken is back in the news. The former junk bond king had his probation extended while the Securities and Exchange Commission investigates some of his recent business dealings. His probation follows a 2-year prison sentence and a billion dollar fine for insider trading. You don't often hear Mr. Milken's name come up in connection with environmental issues, but Mr. Milken helped financier Charles Hurwitz buy a company called Pacific Lumber, which owns just about all of the major old growth California redwood forest, still in private hands. The redwoods have been in California since the dinosaurs. Some of the trees are a thousand years old and grow up to over 250 feet tall and more than 20 feet around. They're also home to a small endangered bird known as the marbled murrelet. The redwoods are spectacular in the monetary as well as aesthetic sense; each one is worth more than $30,000 as saw lumber, and can provide enough wood to frame 5 standard-sized houses. Charles Hurwitz's purchase of Pacific Lumber provoked a conflict among Wall Street, Main Street, and environmental activists that continues to this day. His company's lawyers are now asking the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out a lower court ruling that bars salvage logging in the Headwaters old growth forest. The fall of Pacific Lumber, the rise of Charles Hurwitz, and the violent battle over the Headwaters ancient forest are chronicled in The Last Stand by David Harris, who begins his book by telling us that Pacific Lumber was not your everyday logging operation.

HARRIS: This is the oldest log sawyer in California, the last one to own a company town. It had been in the hands of the Murphy family starting at the turn of the century and running up to the 1980s, who had put it on a distinctly different course than virtually any other timber company I'd ever heard of, and certainly any other timber company in California. During the middle of the Depression they decided to give up clear cutting altogether.

CURWOOD: Why was that?

HARRIS: Well, because clear cuts are ugly, because clear cuts tended to destabilize the hillsides, and they felt that they could get everything they wanted by pursuing what they called the selective cut, where they would take about 60 to 70 percent of the trees on any given area and leave the rest behind to hold the hillside and to seed the next generation of trees.

CURWOOD: What motivated them to have this kind of strategy, do you think?

HARRIS: Well, mostly it was a man by the name of A.S. Murphy, who was the principal architect of the Pacific Lumber Company in its modern form, anyway, and he thought the biggest problem the industry faced was the fact that it always cut itself out of work. He himself or his ancestors had started out as lumbermen in Maine and then had moved to the upper Midwest and now had moved out to California, and there was no place else to move and he understood that. What he wanted to do was design a perpetual lumber company, a company that when it finished cutting its old growth would have second growth forests as big as its old growth had been and could just turn around and start right back through its forests again and never cut itself out of work.

CURWOOD: And I think I read in your book that the company decided that it would, one, it wanted to be able to use this land forever, that it would never take more than would grow in a given year. Did I read that?

HARRIS: Yeah, that was the other part of the Murphy heritage, was a policy called sustained yield, in which each year the Pacific Lumber Company's foresters would calculate how many new board feet would be growing in the Pacific Lumber timber lands that year. And that was the top end of the cut. They would never cut more than that. Their approach was basically to treat the forest as capital and try and live off the interest.

CURWOOD: The stewardship of the land you described caused some problems with the financial markets, and this is where your story picks up, right? Can you tell me, can you explain that to me, please?

HARRIS: Well, the irony of the Murphys taking such good care of their company and of their company's assets, namely its timber lands, was that in the takeover market of the 1980s Pacific Lumber became an ideal target. First, because the company had virtually no debt, because the Murphys had always pursued a cash and carry kind of economics. And thus allowing anybody who wanted to take the company over to mortgage it to the hilt in order to pay for the takeover itself. And second, because they hadn't used their assets at the rate that everybody else in the industry used theirs. They had plenty of room in which to escalate their production, and therefore escalate their cash flow, again to pay off the debt that would be assumed to take over the company. So as one of the takeover artists put it, this was a Ferrari that was being run like a Model T Ford, and there was plenty of more cash to be squeezed out of this company because the cuts that the old company had thought would wait for the next generation or the generation after that could all be done in the next 10 years.

CURWOOD: Now, in terms of being a takeover target, Pacific Lumber was vulnerable because a) it didn't have any debt, and b) it had all this inventory, as it were, standing. How much was this all worth?

HARRIS: Well that's a matter of great debate. When the company was taken over by Charles Hurwitz, he eventually paid $850 million for the entire company.

CURWOOD: But I mean if you add up what the timber could have been sold for if it were sold quickly and the company's assets, what was the company worth, do you think?

HARRIS: Well there are those who -- the claims have gone as high as two and a half billion dollars.

CURWOOD: How does somebody buy a company that could arguably be worth two and a half billion dollars for $800 million?

HARRIS: Well, Hurwitz started by consulting the Drexel Burnham Lambert investment banking firm, looking for targets. They came back with the name Pacific Lumber as a possible target. He investigated it, decided that it was worth making a run at, began to make a secret stock accumulation. The law requires that you report your interest in a company as soon as you own 5% of its stock, but he bought up to that 5% level without ever breaching it, so that he was able to go unnoticed during this entire anticipatory phase. At the same time he went to Michael Milken in Los Angeles and said that he would need the backing of an enormous issue of junk bonds in order to come up with the cash that would be necessary to make this takeover.

CURWOOD: Now what did he need exactly from Milken? How was this going to work?

HARRIS: Well, Hurwitz did not have the money necessary to go out and buy this stock, and in order to get the money he would have to borrow it. Standard borrowing would not do, either, because he didn't have enough assets to pledge, and it would take too slow, and it would be too public. He needed somebody who could deliver money on a moment's notice, and he was willing to pay for it and willing to pay in terms of paying off high yield bonds. Michael Milken was in a position to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bonds in a single afternoon because of the network he had built around his junk bond operation. So they were a natural marriage. Milken provided the money and Hurwitz grabbed it and did the rest.

CURWOOD: Okay, so Hurwitz went around and he gathered just under 5% and then he makes an offer?

HARRIS: Then he surfaces with his offer. Now at the same time, the allegations of illegality around this deal begin to crop up about this point in the procedure, because Milken, apparently worried that somebody else would come in and jump on their target before they had a chance to take it over, and did not feel that 5% was a sufficient enough foothold to ensure that nobody else would try and make their way into the deal, got his ally Ivan Boesky, started buying Pacific Lumber stock as well. So that Boesky eventually bought more than 5% of the company himself, and in so doing scared off any other possible investors and secured the flanks for Milken and for Hurwitz. Eventually, Milken would be charged with illegal stock parking for having engaged in this procedure with Boesky and the principal witness against him of course would be Boesky himself, who became a government witness when faced with a number of felony charges.

CURWOOD: David Harris is my guest. His book is called The Last Stand. We'll be back in just a moment.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Old Growth Forest Interview with David Harris Continues

CURWOOD: My guest is David Harris. His new book is called The Last Stand. Now what happens when Charles Hurwitz takes over Pacific Lumber?

HARRIS: Well, with this takeover came a transformation of the company. What had been the conserver of the forests became just one more timber company trying to cut as fast as it could cut, and in this case that meant they more than doubled their cut out in the forest. Then they put all their mills on double shifts and put them on overtime, so that the 60-hour week has been a standard Pacific Lumber practice ever since Hurwitz came on board. And the result was, of course, suddenly the roads in Humboldt County were full of a lot more logging trucks carrying old growth logs than anybody had ever seen around in a long time.

CURWOOD: So he has to do all this cutting because he's got what? All this debt that he has to pay off for the company.

HARRIS: Right, he needs cash flow, and he set out to get it. And the only terms that you can get it with a timber company, which is to cut more trees.

CURWOOD: Now, once Hurwitz got involved, is this when Earth First gets involved?

HARRIS: Well once the cut got enlarged, this attracted the attention of a couple of young Earth First organizers by the name of Darryl Cherney and Greg King, who upon investigation decided that Hurwitz was about to liquidate the last significant pieces of old growth outside of public hands, and set out to do whatever it could to stop him.

CURWOOD: Tell me a little bit about Darryl Cherney and Greg King. How alien were they to this small logging town culture?

HARRIS: Well you have to remember, in Humboldt County you have a very particular kind of culture. About half the people who live there look like they got out of the Marine Corps last week, and the other half look like they just got out of the Grateful Dead. So you've got a strong cultural division in the beginning as well. And the old logging towns in the southern part of the county where there's nothing but second growth forests left, after the breakdown of the Haight Ashbury in the 1960s, sort of long-haired culture moved to a little town called Garberville and went back to the land and made the area around Garberville, among other things, the largest marijuana producing area inside the United States. And set up a culture which could be the base from which to protest what the Pacific Lumber Company was doing and did in fact provide that base.

CURWOOD: Essentially hippies.

HARRIS: Yeah. You got it. The hippies, it was hippies against loggers from this point on, or at least hippies against logging companies.

CURWOOD: Now there came to be a battle over a piece of ground known as the Headwaters Forest. Who named it that, and why?

HARRIS: Well it was named by the Earth First members who explored this area, and it was named that because the parcel includes the headwaters of Salmon Creek and the little south fork of the Elk River, and is the largest contiguous parcel of old growth redwood outside the park system.

CURWOOD: So now, at this point, what are we talking about chronologically?

HARRIS: The company was taken over in 1986, and by early 1987 had targeted the area that they called the Headwaters Forest, and had applied to the California Department of Forestry for permits to begin logging that area. Those permits went through a public process in which they were approved, and then were challenged in court by a group of the hippies from around Garberville, led by an organization called the Environmental Protection Information Center. And they filed suit and they won the suit, in which the courts ruled that the Department of Forestry had simply rubber stamped these requests and had not done any serious investigation or any serious pursuit of its own legal obligations to judge the impact of logging before approving it. That began a series of court fights that continue to this day in which Charles Hurwitz and Maxam have lost every single case, and have been unable to go in and cut this area.

CURWOOD: And what's been the course of the demonstrations and confrontations by the Earth First people?

HARRIS: Well, that was a steadily escalating phenomenon through the late 1980s up to a high point in 1990, with an activity called Redwood Summer, where they attempted to get volunteers from all over the country to come in and help them restrict the logging movement with direct action. One of the spinoffs of that was an enormous volatility in Humboldt County, which eventually included a car bombing and a lot of hostility.

CURWOOD: Tell me about this car bombing. It went off in Judi Bari's car, is that right?

HARRIS: That's right. It's one of the great scandals of this whole episode, that has gone largely unnoticed in the rest of the country. This bombing occurred in the spring of 1990. It involved a car driven by Judi Bari, who was an Earth First organizer, and one in which Darryll Cherney was riding as a passenger. The car explosion happened in Berkeley after they had left a meeting and were on their way to another meeting. The scandal of it all was the FBI investigation.

CURWOOD: Really.

HARRIS: Yeah. The FBI at this point had targeted Earth First as a quote "terrorist organization." The critical question was where the bomb was located in the car, because the FBI maintained then and maintained for the next 2 months while they charged Cherney and Bari with the felony charges of bomb transportation, that the bomb was located behind the front seat of the car. Therefore, it was visible when Bari got into the car; therefore she knew it was there; therefore it must have been her bomb. This was the FBI logic. Now this logic was contradicted as soon as they got on the scene of the crime, because they found a car in which there was a hole blown right under the front seat of the car, not behind it. Right under the front seat. And pieces of the front seat were even embedded in Bari herself when they put her on the operating table. So there was no doubt that this bomb was under the seat, therefore hidden, and therefore the entire logic that the FBI was pursuing was nonsensical. But the FBI, despite this evidence, maintained for 2 months that the car bomb had been located behind the front seat of the car, when they knew better from the beginning, and in essence engaged in an extraordinary obstruction of justice to try and make their point about Earth First being terrorist, regardless of what the actual evidence at the site of the crime was.

CURWOOD: Who bombed Judi Bari's car, then, in your view?

HARRIS: Good question. I don't have an answer to that.

CURWOOD: What's the status of the Headwaters now today?

HARRIS: Well today it remains stalemated in the same legal struggle that EPIC commenced way back in 1986. Every time they have tried to get a new permit to cut some part of it, EPIC has stepped in and sued, and has continued to have success in the courts blocking it. So as long as there's an Endangered Species Act, the chances are that the Headwaters Forest is not going to get cut, thanks to a bird called the marbled murrelet which only lives in old growth forests and is threatened with extinction should Headwaters Forest be cut down.

CURWOOD: Looking back at this story, what's the greatest tragedy you see here?

HARRIS: I think the tragedy is that we have an enormous resource that belongs to somehow the entire race. I mean we have an old growth forest, which is really our taproot back into our own primeval past, and that this is rapidly disappearing, and the tragedy is that we are not making a decision about that. The tragedy is that we're simply letting it disappear by default, that we've sort of handed it over to the status quo standard operations of the financial system. And in so doing, we have essentially doomed it without ever making the explicit decision to do so. I think if there's one thing that we ought to do it's at least face up to this disappearance and make a decision about whether we want it to happen or not, and make an explicit decision. Right now we've just sort of ceded responsibility over to people like Charles Hurwitz, which is to say we have written its own death warrant.

CURWOOD: David Harris has been my guest. His book is called The Last Stand. Thanks for joining us.

HARRIS: Thank you.

Back to top


The Blackfoot River and the Glory of the West

CURWOOD: There are many threats to wilderness beyond logging, including the dirty process of mining for gold. Typically, tiny flecks of gold are sprinkled throughout huge amounts of rock, so to get at the gold some miners spray cyanide on the rocks to dissolve it. Cyanide can be deadly. It is also used in the executioner's gas chamber. And while mining companies say no cyanide will be released into the wilderness, others worry about the consequences of a possible accident. Right now a company wants to use cyanide gold mining in western Montana, in the area south of Glacier National Park. They say they'll protect the environment, but some residents say the cyanide could run off and pollute the Blackfoot River, which was made famous by the book and film A River Runs Through It. Jyl Hoyt has our story.

(A car motor)

SHERN: We're going to slow down here and pull off. Hopefully not too far, so we don't get stuck. It's kind of snowy right now. Maybe not very far at all. Huh, what do you think, Jim?

JIM: No guts, no glory.

SHERN: All right, let's go for it.

(A tone sounds; car doors open and shut)

HOYT: Mike Shern and his colleagues drive across a sheet of ice, climb out of their rig, and defy the below zero weather as they crunch across snow at the McDonald Gold Mine site east of Missoula, and just 18 miles from the Continental Divide. A few miles to the north is the Scapegoat Wilderness. Eight hundred yards to the south is the Blackfoot river.

(Boots crunch on snow)

HOYT: Shern points to 2 mountains that his company plans to move.

SHERN: So those 2 particular hills will come down, and this hill will grow. So actually where we're standing right now will be under some rock when we're all finished. We'll be under a new hill. So you're in the roots of the new hill.

HOYT: Phelps Dodge and its partner plan to use explosives to level the mountains. They'll crush and haul 900 million tons of rock, which they'll sprinkle with cyanide. As cyanide trickles down through the mountain of crushed ore, it dissolves the gold and silver flecks scattered throughout the heap. Shern says the company hopes to find precious metals worth about $1.2 billion.

SHERN: We have every interest in the world to make sure that we don't lose any of the solution, because the solution is where the gold is.

HOYT: But it's the toxic cyanide solution that worries many people. Some fear it might leak into the aquifer and poison the river. To help prevent that, Shern says his company plans to build composite barriers, plastic-lined pools, and monitoring wells.

SHERN: The Blackfoot River's going to be fully protected. The project has no impact on the Blackfoot River at all.

(Water runs)

HOYT: The Blackfoot is one of Montana's famous trout streams. Its crystal waters bordered by Ponderosa pines and lush meadows are a source of state pride. Along with cyanide, Montanans worry about nitrates from miners' explosives and sediment from the proposed mile-wide pit polluting the river.

FARLANE: This mine is really bad for fish because of the potential pollution sources from it.

HOYT: Bruce Farling is with Montana's Trout Unlimited.

FARLING: Number one is they're going to have to pump somewhere in the area of about 15,000 to 17,000 gallons per minute of water out of the deep aquifer around the open pit to keep it dewatered so they can mine it, and it's enriched with high levels of arsenic and zinc. Arsenic's not healthy for people at these levels, and the zinc is not going to be healthy for fish. They have to discharge that water somewhere, and it's either going to go directly or indirectly into the lander's fork in the Blackfoot River.

HOYT: The company says it plans to return the groundwater with its naturally occurring arsenic and zinc back into the aquifers. But state officials acknowledge some contamination could end up in the river.

(A door opens; footfalls)

HOYT: It happens before, says Jim Jensen of the Montana Environmental Information Center, as he walks up to his second story office in downtown Helena.

JENSEN: One of the most serious pollution events in the Blackfoot River occurred in 1975, when a big tailing dam at the old Mike Horse Mine washed out in a flood, and hundreds of millions of tons of toxic sediments were flushed down into the river system.

HOYT: Fish populations in the Blackfoot River were decimated for miles downstream. Jensen's organization sued, and the company cleaned up its mess. Now, fish are returning to the Blackfoot. Montana's landscape and history are replete with such events. State records show that after a century of mining, at least 6,000 abandoned mine sites remain, many with streams running orange from toxic chemicals. Environmentalist Jim Jensen says recent political changes in Montana could bring a return of these kinds of problems. The Montana legislature turned Republican in the last general election.

JENSEN: In the 1995 session of the legislature Montana went from having the strongest water quality protection in the west to having the weakest, and it was done specifically at the request of the mining industry.

(Clanking sounds of silverware)

HOYT: Phelps Dodge took a leading role in pushing for the changes, which were sponsored by Montana Senator Tom Beck. As he takes a dinner break in Deer Lodge, a small town bordered by a gold mine, Senator Beck says concerns over his legislation are overblown.

BECK: I still want it environmentally sound. And the mining industry agreed to that, but they said we can at least meet this, where the other parameters were so stringent that it was virtually impossible for them to achieve.

HOYT: Conservationists are working now to get an initiative on the ballot to reverse the new water laws and restore tougher standards.

(Creaking hinges)

HOYT: A face stinging wind blows the hinged sign outside Garland's Trading Post in Lincoln. A one-street town just 8 miles west of the proposed McDonald Gold Mine. Store owner Theresa Garland, whose husband is a geologist for the project, says the mine would mean year-round business instead of seasonal customers.

T. GARLAND: Growth that we could hang onto. Something that we knew that we could just live by, other than just to sit here and wait for somebody to drive down the highway and pull into our businesses.

B. GARLAND: If you want to have quality of life, the quality of life that Lincoln can give you, don't expect to get filthy rich here.

HOYT: Garland's 40-year-old sister Becky, who lives behind the store in the same log cabin she was raised in, doubts the mine's economic benefits, and feels it could drive away the hunters, fishers, and hikers she's served for the past 2 decades.

B. GARLAND: That's the constant. That's something that has always been here, and I believe that is stable enough to keep Lincoln intact.

T. GARLAND: That puts us all being still and making service industry wages. We still will wait on people. We'll be waitresses, we'll be in the motels cleaning the rooms. That is just a service-based economy. There's no real money in it for people.

HOYT: Phelps Dodge says it will hire 390 workers if the mine is permitted. Miners would buy $550 million in goods and services from Montanans. And because the mine site is mostly on state land, the company would also support a state university. Benefits of tourism and recreation are less quantifiable, says Jim Jensen of the Montana Environmental Information Center. But he says, they could be stronger and more stable in the long run.

JENSEN: And as the rest of the world becomes more and more developed and there is less and less of this kind of country available, this place will become more valuable and more people will come here. It's the classic supply and demand economics that are going on.

(People milling)

HOYT: At a Kiwanis Club meeting in Missoula, skeptical members question a Montana state official about the McDonald Mine proposal.

MAN: Isn't there a possibility of having similar magnitude problems out of this mine on the Blackfoot?

OFFICIAL: I guess the potential is always there for those kind of disasters. I would like to think, though, that because of the environmental laws that we have today, there is a much less, much smaller likelihood that that will ever happen.

(A piano plays; people applaud and sing: "Montana, Montana, glory of the west...")

HOYT: Kiwanis Club members close their meeting with a friendly song. But most acknowledge that mining in general and this mine in particular are Montana's most contentious issues. State officials say they'll distribute an environmental impact statement and elicit public comment before making their decision, possibly late next year. But the November statewide election and the Clean Water ballot initiative may effectively make the decision before then.

(Kiwanis club members sing: "... skies are always blue. M-o-n-t-a-n-a, Montana I love you.")

HOYT: For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Senior producer for Living on Earth is Chris Ballman. Our editor is Peter Thomson and our director is Deborah Stavro. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Liz Lempert, and Julia Madeson. We also had help from Mark Borrelli, Susan Shepherd, Michael Argue, and Emily Atkinson. Our engineers in the WBUR studio are Keith Shields and Mark Navin. Our Harvard University engineers are Larry Bouthlier and Jeff Martini. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major funding provided by the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the Ford Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; the Great Lakes Protection Fund; and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


This Week's Books


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth