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

September 20, 1996

Air Date: September 20, 1996


Fire Season / Richard Schiffman

The western US got badly burned this summer. It was the worst fire season in 50 years. From his corner of New Mexico, Richard Schiffman reports on how human decisions over the years — not to cut trees or allow fires to burn — fueled these catastrophic blazes. (10:25)

Wolf Tourism / Jyl Hoyt

The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has brought cries of joy from some, and howls of protest from others. Travis Bullock was on of those opposed, but now the wolves are paying some of his bills. His business of leading hunters into the back country has expanded to include parties of wolf watchers. Jyl Hoyt reports from Boise. (08:20)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about the National Park System on its 80th anniversary. (01:30)

Presidential Politics in the Northwest

Tim Egan, Northwest bureau chief for the New York Times joins Jan to discuss President Clinton's decision to designate a national monument in southern Utah, and a selection of other environmental issues that bear on the President's bid for re-election. (06:35)

A Close Contest in Oregon / Ley Garnett

Continuing our series on environmental politics this election season, Ley Garnett of Oregon Public Broadcasting takes a look at the contest to fill Mark Hatfield's seat in the Senate. (06:47)

A Life of Stuff / Brenda Tremblay

The Strong Museum in Rochester, New York is taking a look at our consumerist culture and finding that American attitudes about nature are changing, but our habits aren't. Brenda Tremblay reports. (06:01)

Dog Gone Sweaters

If you were wondering what to do with all the hair your dog shed this summer, LOE listener, Phyllis Simpson, has the answer. Make yarn. (02:56)

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: Jan Nunley
NEWSCASTER: Aaron Schacter
REPORTERS: Maria Titze, Rob Schober, Richard Schiffman,
Jyl Hoyt, Ley Garnett, Brenda Tremblay
GUESTS: Tim Egan, Phyllis Simpson

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley. After a long, dry summer and a long-standing government policy to suppress fires, western forests are thick with trees and their floor is covered with tinder. The result has been an inferno for many westerners.

WASHBURN: We all just sat down on the highway helplessly watching this thing, and there wasn't much you could do. You could just stand back and watch this Hiroshima-like cloud and watch the flames shooting up and just praying that nobody was up there.

NUNLEY: Also, the story of Travis Bullock, a tour guide whose newfound respect for wolves may help ease their reintroduction into western states.

BULLOCK: You know, when I first started I was afraid that I would take some flack and there's a good chance I still will. There's still a lot of sentiment against wolves in Idaho.

NUNLEY: Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth. First, this news.

Environmental News

SCHACTER: For Living on Earth, I'm Aaron Schacter. The Federal Government has reached a deal with 15 timber companies averting the logging of timber from old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. A Justice Department spokesman says the pact also ensures that alternative timber sales must meet Federal requirements. The agreement partially settles a timber industry lawsuit. It also resolves a conflict created by an amendment to a 1995 budget bill forcing the government to sell old growth trees which had been protected. President Clinton was heavily criticized by environmental activists for signing that budget bill.

President Clinton's designation of a national monument in southern Utah has delighted environmental activists and enraged most of the area's residents. The new grand staircase Escalante National Monument sets aside nearly 2 million acres of land and may prevent plans to mine the area's extensive coalfields. From KUER in Utah, Maria Titze reports.

TITZE: President Clinton made his announcement at the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. He compared his stunning backdrop to Utah's canyons 70 miles to the north.

CLINTON: Our parents and grandparents saved the Grand Canyon for us. Today we will save the Grand Escalante Canyons and the Kaiparowits Plateau of Utah for our children. [Cheers]

TITZE: Clinton's designation covers Federal land to the west of the Colorado River and to the east of Bryce Canyon National Park. The announcement will hinder development of one of the country's largest known coal reserves. A Dutch mining company holds coal leases on the Kaiparowits Plateau. The President says the Federal Government will swap places in the area for Federal assets elsewhere. The announcement outraged local residents who say Clinton made his decision without their input. They say they've lost the opportunity for 900 jobs that coal mining would bring. But local conservationists call the designation a major victory in the battle to protect Utah's wildland. For Living on Earth, I'm Maria Titze.

SCHACTER: A decline in the proportion of Danish boys being born could be due to chemicals that affect male fertility. Since the 1950s more girls than boys have been born in Denmark. According to a letter in the medical journal Lancet, the cause may be the pesticide dibromochloropropane, which is known to reduce the sperm count and lead to an excess of females in the offspring of men exposed to the chemical. Many pesticides produce chemicals which mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen, while others suppress the production of male hormones. Researchers have found conflicting evidence of the effects of chemicals on men and their fertility.

Humans are at risk of becoming infected with a potentially deadly type of bacteria while cleaning or preparing fish. Canadian researchers say the bacteria, known as streptococcus iniae, frequently occurs in fish such as tilapia, which are bred in aquaculture fish ponds across the US. A report given at an American Society of Microbiology conference says 1 of 8 people known to have been infected by the bacteria have died. Scientists stress that although the infection can be life threatening, there is no known problem with eating the fish once it has been cooked.

The owner of an Illinois garden center was just trying to do something good for the environment but stumbled on a great way to make money. Bugs by mail. Living on Earth's Rob Schober explains.

SCHOBER: Floyd Rogers' dogs were convulsing, and veterinarians traced the problem to lawn chemicals. So Rogers began using a natural alternative to chemicals: insects. Rogers owns Butterfield Gardens in Warnsville, Illinois. The dogs got better and the insects worked so well he decided to sell them in his shop. But he was surprised when groups of giggling kids began coming by the store to stick their hands in boxes of ladybugs, letting the insects crawl up their arms. They think it's fun. Now Rogers is taking bug orders from all over the country for all kinds of reasons.

ROGERS: One of the calls we got recently was from a lady in Phoenix who wanted to order the Bug of the Month to be sent to her grandson. She specified that it had to be squirming, and it had to go in October. So now it's a matter of scrambling around to find out what's going to be squirming in October for the Phoenix area.

SCHOBER: Rogers says teachers like to order praying mantis eggs because they're a good entomology lesson. And besides, kids like to watch them hatch. He'll send you worms, too. For Living on Earth, I'm Rob Schober in Urbana, Illinois.

SCHACTER: Atlantis may have disappeared beneath the waves, but a city in China has vanished beneath the clouds. According to the Chinese Defense News, a western intelligence agency assumed China was carrying out experiments in the city of Lanzou after the city failed to show up on satellite photographs. But western specialists sent to the area posing as tourists concluded from extensive tests that heavy air pollution had caused a thick cloud of smog to form over the city, making it invisible to satellites.

That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Aaron Schacter.

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

Fire Season

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley, in for Steve Curwood. This summer has been the most destructive wildfire season in nearly half a century in the western United States. From Alaska to New Mexico more than 5 million acres of national forest have burned so far this year. Fire of course is an integral part of the natural ecological cycle, but the number of catastrophic fires has been increasing at a rate that's being called unnatural by people who live in the affected areas. Among them is Richard Schiffman. He's a radio producer who spends his summers in the mountains of northern New Mexico, and he sent us this report on how his neighbors are dealing with the current spate of forest fires.

(Flames in the background; a man on radio, with static: "It's burning on this conifer. It's in a south facing slope, about a quarter of an acre in size. This [came up?] from the fire and we'll be able to handle it." Woman: "I copy, that's going to be the ... ")

SCHIFFMAN: It started with a call like this one, crackling over the local fire channel. On the fifth of May, hot, dry winds were gusting out of the southwest. A trash fire in the village of San Cristobal blew out of control. Within minutes flames were ripping up the hillside into the pinion juniper woodlands.

(Man continues talking on radio)

RIEFSCHNEIDER: It was bad. It was clear, it was obvious that when I went down in the pickup truck to take a look at the front end of it, I didn't waste any time turning around and getting the heck out. I mean it was clearly going to be a major fire.

SCHIFFMAN: And my neighbor Bill Riefschneider should know. He used to fight fires himself, and he taught fire behavior at Yale University before moving into an adobe house just 100 yards from the path of this year's blaze. By the time this one was through, it had burned 8,000 acres of virgin forest and half of the small community of La Lama. Bill Riefschneider says that conditions were ripe for just such a disaster.

RIEFSCHNEIDER: We have had no rainfall for 2 months. That on top of a winter in which there was well under average snowfall. And so it was just clear that the woods and the fields were ready to burn.

SCHIFFMAN: But it wasn't only drought that set our mountain up for a catastrophic fire. It's also what we humans have done to the forest.

(Flowing water, birdsong)

SCHIFFMAN: These woods in northern New Mexico certainly look natural and untouched. That's why I built my house up here.

(Birdsong continues)

SCHIFFMAN: Like so many of my neighbors, I wanted to live close to nature. Which meant, for me at least, surrounded by trees. Lots of them. Grandfather Ponderosa pines 300 years old. Crowded stands of shrub oak. Gnarled pinons and junipers. And all of them so close together their crowns are intertwined. That's natural, isn't it? Well, not according to Mark Trujillo, the chief firefighter for the Carson National Forest.

TRUJILLO: A lot of people who live in areas like this think well this is the way the forest should look. But wherever you have dog-haired thickets and you have trees that are crowding each other out, it's an unhealthy situation. Nationwide, all of our forests are overstocked.

(Footfalls on gravel)

LONG: Look at all the fuel that you've got in here and it's just packed in right next to each other. And it just becomes a big pathway like you laid a fuse.

SCHIFFMAN: George Long is a wildlife expert with the Carson National Forest. I walked with him through a woodland crowded with squat pinons and fragrant junipers. He told me how decades of fire suppression had transformed these woods.

(Footfalls continue)

LONG: If we had a normal fire cycle in here where we hadn't gone through a period of suppression, then you might have a tree here, a tree there, a tree here, a tree there, and a lightning strike could actually hit one of these trees and just that tree would burn.

(Bird calls)

RIEFSCHNEIDER: Clearly what's happened is that the Forest Service and other government agencies were entirely too successful in their Smokey Bear campaign.

SCHIFFMAN: Fire expert Bill Riefschneider says that at the turn of the century the US Forest Service instituted a policy of total fire suppression throughout its vast land holdings. They hoped to protect valuable timberlands and to safeguard the property and lives of those who lived nearby, and they did their job well. Fire was banished from much of its former range, or so it seemed. But when Yellowstone burned in 1988, forest managers began to rethink their policy. They realized that by interfering with the normal fire cycle, they'd inadvertently set the stage for virtually unstoppable mega-fires, like the one that burned my mountain this spring. Even a veteran firefighter like Mark Trujillo was stumped by this one.

TRUJILLO: I've been on a lot of fires where I've arrived, sized it up, and I know what my plan of attack is going to be. On this one it was very hard to come up with a plan of attack that I thought was workable.

SCHIFFMAN: What started as a brush fire became in short order a raging firestorm with a cloud of smoke 30,000 feet high. The small community of La Lama 4 miles upwind from where the blaze started was evacuated in less than an hour. Residents like Collin Washburn had scant time to gather their valuables.

WASHBURN: We all just sat down on the highway helplessly watching this thing, and it wasn't much you could do. You could just stand back and watch this Hiroshima-like cloud and watch the flames shooting up and just praying that nobody was up there.

SCHIFFMAN: While the local residents were fleeing their homes, the first of nearly 1,000 firefighters were already assembling. It would be a week before the final embers were cool. By then, our mountain was a wasteland of blackened trees and shattered dreams. Thirty-seven homes and other structures were gone, including Colin Washburn's cabin. As you walk up his dirt road today the charcoal crunches underfoot.

(Footfalls over charcoal)

WASHBURN: The turquoise Chevy Apache truck. Now it's -- it was black 2 months ago. Now it's rusted and kind of turning a nice brown.

SCHIFFMAN: There isn't much left where his house and silversmithing studio had been. A blackened foundation. An old fashioned cast-iron bathtub. My neighbor Collin took his loss philosophically.

WASHBURN: See you don't miss this stuff; you didn't have half of a Navajo rug. It was vaporized literally, you know? So it was easy to take when nothing, it was everything had disappeared, you know? Made it a little easier to bear.

SCHIFFMAN: Recovery will come slowly to the land and to the people who lived on the land. The fire had unleashed a whole slew of new troubles. Ben Haggard lives and works at the Lama Foundation, a spiritual community which was devastated by the fire.

HAGGARD: First was the fire. Then we had severe wind storms that were virtually intolerable and that knocked down, in my case, my second home. My tent was destroyed. Then the flooding.

(Thunder storm; rain)

SCHIFFMAN: Five weeks after the fire the rains came with a vengeance. The denuded landscape had lost its ability to retain water. Flooding on a massive scale scoured the canyons of Flag Mountain, washing out roads, and threatening to bury the Lama Foundation's spring, their sole source of water.

(Turbulent water flow)

HAGGARD: And I think that's actually normal in situations like this, is that the first high visibility, you know, catastrophe is followed by a series of catastrophes that come from the breakdown of the infrastructure and the support systems for people.

SCHIFFMAN: Most of the fire victims are still in a state of shock. To date only one family has started to rebuild. But while the people here are struggling to find their direction, nature has lost no time in discovering its own. It will take a generation for the mature forest to come back. In some starting and highly visible ways, however, that process has already begun. For one thing, the crickets are back.

(Chirping crickets)

SCHIFFMAN: And even before the rains started, shoots of aspen and shrub oak were rising out of the unburned roots. Grasses, forbs, and wildflowers are now sprouting where there were only trees before, including some species which were rare and even unknown in the forest previously. In an odd way, the fire has undone years of human mismanagement of the forest. Biologist Saul Cross.

CROSS: This area had very little diversity. You would have seen pines and mostly bare ground covered with needles. Some oak interspersed. This area hopefully will come back with a lot more diversity.

SCHIFFMAN: As the land begins its slow recovery, Lama residents are facing some tough choices.

CROSS: It's one of the long-term planning issues that we need to address, is how to manage the land away from these disastrous boom-bust cycles.

SCHIFFMAN: Lama naturalist Ben Haggard says that here, as in the rest of the west, the only way to avoid future all-consuming fires is to find some way to thin out the forest. They either have to allow small fires back into the ecosystem, or they need to do what was considered a sacrilege here in the past: cut down some trees.

HAGGARD: So, I think we've all learned from this, and this generation will understand this. But how that gets passed along, you know, 10 years from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now, you know, it's incumbent on us to be looking at that. How do we pass this information along?

SCHIFFMAN: That's a challenge forest managers throughout the country are exploring. They know they have to convince people how important it is to maintain an open forest, either by judicious thinning or allowing fire itself to do the job. Where the Forest Service used to suppress all fires without exception, they're now allowing some small blazes to burn themselves out. And they're even setting some of their own under carefully prescribed conditions. By reintroducing small fires back into the forest, they hope to prevent some really big ones from happening in the future. Veteran firefighter Mark Trujillo.

TRUJILLO: The main focus in fire is not going to be suppression but it's going to be managing it. And figuring out how to do that safely. Smokey's not sending out the same message any more. We're going to have to live with fire and respect it.


SCHIFFMAN: For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Schiffman reporting.

(Fire; a woman on radio: "... canyon, and you're headed up to the Grand Canyon. And you don't find anything there, you head back down." Man: "That's affirmative, and then on my way out I'm going to stop by and ... ")

Back to top

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: Learning to live with wolves for fun and profit. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Wolf Tourism

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. When gray wolves were transplanted to Yellowstone National Park in the central Idaho wilderness during the past 2 winters, most Americans supported the program. But surveys also showed that many ranchers and hunters, especially in Idaho, opposed bringing back wolves. Now a small but significant change is taking place. Some of those most vehemently opposed to the reintroduction are finding that wolves bring some unexpected benefits to the region. From member station KBSU in Boise, Jyl Hoyt explains.

(Flowing water)

HOYT: An icy creek threads across a mountain meadow full of thigh-high grasses that wave in the afternoon breeze. Lush meadows like this one lace Idaho's Frank Church River of no return wilderness where outfitter Travis Bullock has spent much of his 27 years.

BULLOCK: Probably one of my number one loves is to be back here in this wilderness area, and I love it to death.

(A horse snorts)

HOYT: Every fall Mr. Bullock guides hunters looking for elk and bighorn sheep through the pine forests that border these meadows. Now, for the first time, this swarthy outfitter with a handlebar mustache is leading tourists who hope to spot some of the 35 gray wolves the US Fish and Wildlife Service transplanted here. It's a big change for him. He used to be a vocal opponent of wolf reintroduction. As he saddles his horse, Travis Bullock admits watching wolves doesn't exactly fit his character.

BULLOCK: I'm a redneck, and I'm proud of it. I got a lot of friends that tease me about that, and that's just fine. I consider myself a cowboy sometimes. But at the same time I also consider myself a public person, a public servant, and I really enjoy doing that.

(To tourists: "Heads up. Let's go." The horse snorts.)

CONNINGTON: My name's Mike Connington and I'm from Bergenfield, New Jersey, which is about 10 miles outside New York City. I sponsor wolves and that's why I'm out here today.

ZIMMERMAN: My name is Margaret Zimmerman. I think a lot of people on the East Coast have the same feeling that Mike and I do. That it's important to conserve and to protect our environment, and part of that is bringing the wolf back.

(The horse snorts)

HOYT: Ms. Zimmerman and Mr. Connington are among 8 people that Travis Bullock has outfitted on mules and horses for this 5-day trip. He has a lot more trips planned.

(The horse snorts)

HOYT: The trips came about because of an encounter with his former nemesis, Suzanne Laverty of the Boise-based Wolf Education and Research Center. Ms. Laverty suggested to the outfitter that if he were smart he'd capitalize on the wolf's popularity. Despite their different feelings about wolves the 2 now work together leading trips.

(A woman laughs)

LAVERTY: I guess I, I kinda like him. [Laughs]

BULLOCK: Half of Suzanne's body is covered in hair, she likes wolves so much.

LAVERTY: [Laughs] Shut up, Travis. [Laughs]

BULLOCK: I think she's half wolf herself.

(A crackling fire)

HOYT: As they chow down huge steaks and Idaho spuds in front of the campfire, the 2 laugh together like old friends. It wasn't always this way, says Suzanne Laverty, opening her journal.

LAVERTY: And somewhere in here, Travis Bullock. The word butthead I know was around here somewhere, because I remember sitting here thinking golly, he was so stubborn. Last summer when I was at the Western Idaho Fair, he came into the booth and he -- [pitches voice to tenor] I like wildlife but I think this wolf project is just for the birds. No, it shouldn't be happening in my state. [Voice back to normal] You know, it's like, well, why?

HOYT: Mr. Bullock worried wolves would eat too many bighorn sheep and other wildlife, which could hurt his outfitting business. But Ms. Laverty convinced him that there was something in it for him.

BULLOCK: Business money. And I should -- I shouldn't sound so selfish in that way. I wanted to get into this.

HOYT: Mr. Bullock hopes that guiding tourists who are anxious to see and hear wolves will eventually generate half his income.

(Campfire. Fade to radio being tuned over static)

HOYT: The next day, along a ridge, Ms. Laverty scans various frequencies on telemetry equipment, trying to locate wolves that were fitted with radio collars during their reintroduction. She needs to count exactly how many new pups were born this year.

LAVERTY: Maybe 8 litters in the entire state of Idaho in one year. The reintroduction's been very successful.

HOYT: But it still faces a lot of local opposition. Ms. Laverty was shot at once. Her organization still gets lots of hate mail. Mr. Bullock expects to get some grief, too.

BULLOCK: Yeah, when I first started I was afraid that I would take some flack, and there's a good chance I still will. There's still a lot of sentiment against wolves in Idaho.

(Paper being unfolded)

HOYT: By the third day the group has seen herds of elk and deer as well as moose and bear. But still no wolves.

(Unfolding continues)

HOYT: Travis Bullock unfolds a map and plans the next day's ride.

BULLOCK: We'll come up here and come to the west.


BULLOCK: Up one of these 2 drainages.

LAVERTY: Okay. Right there will be a great spot to do some tracking. Awesome.

BULLOCK: It's gonna be fun.

(Laverty laughs)

HOYT: After a few days in the wilderness tracking wolves, Mr. Bullock is starting to see more than dollar signs.

LAVERTY: Yeah. More than one. Yeah, there's more than one down there.

BULLOCK: You serious?

LAVERTY: Yeah. Yeah.

BULLOCK: This is cool.

LAVERTY: This is cool. [Laughs] Let's go.

HOYT: On the fourth day, the group finally hears wolves howling in the distance. Too far away for a microphone to pick up. Suzanne Laverty wears a big grin.

LAVERTY: Sounds like we got some high ones and some low ones together, so adults and maybe pups with them. Yeah, I think we're onto something today.


HOYT: The group heads down the ridge, trying to get closer to the wolf pack. Teacher Denise DeClaire talks excitedly about how she'll share her experience with her sixth grade class in Gainesville, Florida.

DeCLAIRE: Margaret and Mike and myself are indicative of people on the East Coast who feel the lure of going to Montana or Wyoming or Idaho, you know, we dream about it like some westward movement.

HOYT: Ms. DeClaire is not alone. Tourism is Idaho's third largest economy. Two recent studies found wolf tourism could bring up to $20 million a year to the region.


HOYT: Back at camp, Suzanne Laverty sits quietly on the meadow's edge, thinking about the role her new friend, Travis Bullock, plays in the changing American west.

LAVERTY: What Travis is doing is answering the question that's been really hard to answer to rural citizens who have been opposed to having wolves come back. And that is, what good are wolves? Travis can answer now, they're helping me make a living. And that's something that the people he lives with can relate to. And all of a sudden they have a way of actually valuing wolves, which will help the wolves survive in the long run.

(Campfire. Fade to wolf howls -- by humans)

HOYT: Throughout the trip the group has imitated wolves howling, hoping the predators will respond.

(Howls continue)

HOYT: At the last campfire, Travis Bullock, for the first time, joins in. After 5 days in the wild his conversion may be nearly complete.

LAVERTY: Travis, we've never heard you howl so low before.


LAVERTY: Come on. Come on, this is the time.

(The group urges him on)

BULLOCK: All I do is one pitch because I'm afraid I'm going to throw a vocal cord out if I do anything else.

(Human howling continues)

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

Back to top

(Human howling continues)

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Living on Earth is made possible with major funding provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

NUNLEY: Campaign politics on the western front. To shore up the environmental vote, President Clinton make a monumental decision about the Utah wilderness. And why the race to replace Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield may hinge on how green ballots are cast. That's coming up in the second half of Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

(Theme music up and under)

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley.

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

NUNLEY: Eighty years ago the US Government wanted to establish more control over its scattered national parks and monuments, and so was founded the National Parks System. Today the system is responsible for nearly 370 sites covering more than 80 million acres. That's slightly more than 3% of the nation's total land mass. The smallest site? It's the 870 square feet of the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia. The largest is Alaska's Rangall St. Elias National Park and Preserve, which covers more than 13 million acres. The most frequented national park isn't Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. It was visited by more than 8 and a half million people in 1994. During the government shutdowns of the past year the parks closed for the first time in their history, and some called for increasing fees at the parks so they could support themselves. Congress is now considering a Clinton Administration proposal to allow corporate sponsorship of national parks in exchange for private contributions to keep the parks operating. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Presidential Politics in the Northwest

NUNLEY: Last year President Clinton angered environmentalists when he signed a budget bill containing the so-called Salvage Logging Rider. The measure opened up vast tracts of ancient forest to logging, mostly in the western states. Now Mr. Clinton appears to be making amends. On September 18th in Seattle the President announced a land swap deal with timber companies that he said would protect large tracts of old growth forest in the Pacific Northwest. Earlier in the day with the Grand Canyon as a backdrop he designated nearly 2 million acres in Utah's Red Rock wilderness as a national monument. The move will prevent mining companies from developing massive coal reserves buried there. With us to discuss this development and an array of environmental politics in the west is Timothy Egan, Seattle Bureau Chief of the New York Times. He says the President's announcement in Utah will go a long way to solidify environmentalist support.

EGAN: Remember in, late in Jimmy Carter's term, he declared much of the Alaska wilderness to be off limits to development. He did this by Executive Order. Similarly, Clinton has been told that he could, by Executive Order, declare some of the Red Rock country of Utah that's now in play, there's a giant Dutch-owned coal mining company, Andalax, that wants to build a big coal mine in the middle of the Red Rock, Utah, wilderness. By declaring it a national monument he could just usurp Congress and bingo, it would be protected under the same protection that something that's in the National Park System has. So the greens are saying you do this, you'll be back as a hero. Now, he'll tick off a lot of rural westerners, but they feel like those people are not in the majority anyway, and there's no traction for Dole anywhere in the west, so they feel it's a political calculation they can live with.

NUNLEY: So, what has Bob Dole been saying to western voters?

EGAN: The Dole campaign is really missing an opportunity. He's been going around, in his rare visits to western areas -- for example, he was in Billings, Montana, a few weeks ago. He was in Salt Lake City, Utah, also a week or so ago. And he's been saying that the Clinton Administration is waging a quote, "War on the west." Now, this is a term that was used effectively by the Wise Use Movement 2 years ago --

NUNLEY: Right --

EGAN: -- to describe measures by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to restrict grazing or to restrict mining, to protect wild lands or endangered species. Well, war on the west is not being used this time around, because it has no traction. It is hurting Republicans. Newt Gingrich went around and told Republican candidates, "Don't use that term." But apparently the message has not gotten through to the head of the ticket yet.

NUNLEY: Now, how many House seats are up for grabs in the western states?

EGAN: Well let's look at the big picture first. Remember that the Democrats need about a net gain of 20 seats in order to change the House from Republican back to Democrat. They think they can get half of those -- half of them -- in the west. Where do they get them? They get 6 in California. They get at least 1 in Oregon. They think they can get another 2 to 3 in Washington State. Washington State, by the way, had the biggest swing 2 years ago from Democrat to Republican. It went from an overwhelmingly Democratic delegation to an overwhelmingly Republican delegation, so it's a big, you know, sort of soccer mom suburban vote swing state. So they think they can pick up 2 or 3 there. Then they go to Idaho, where there's a target they really want to knock off; that's Helen Chenowith. Then you go down to Arizona, where the Democrats think they can get at least 1 pickup. And again, they expect to get one seat in Colorado as well. So looking at just the western landscape, which putting aside California and Oregon is traditionally thought to be big Republican territory, the Dems, ironically, think they're going to make their biggest gains in the west. And they're going to make them largely on the issue of the environment.

NUNLEY: What are some of these House races in which environmental issues are coming up?

EGAN: In the state of Washington you have a very interesting race going on with Rick White. Now, Rick White started out a freshman Republican and he voted initially against some environmental measures. Then his second year, he voted strongly for them. He's one of the few Republicans that has a semi-decent environmental record. The League of Conservation Voters, for example, gave him a 30 rating, and now there's a big internal dispute among the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters as to whether they should lay off on Rick White because they do not want to be seen as just supporting all the members of one party. White has also made a big issue now, and this is really, I think, an incredible demonstration of how far the issue's moved -- he's made a big deal of favoring tearing down a dam on the Olympic Peninsula, a dam that's destroyed one of the great salmon runs in North America -- it's called the Elwa Dam. It would cost taxpayers about $100 million to tear the dam down, but supposedly it would bring back this huge salmon run. Ten years ago tearing down that dam was an issue for Earth First, the, you know, the radical anti-environmental group.

NUNLEY: Mm hm. One of their very first actions, I believe.

EGAN: Exactly. And now you have this freshman Republican, scion of this great oil family, advocating what Earth First first advocated 10 years ago.

NUNLEY: And what about the Senate races? I've heard Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is facing a pretty tough re-election battle.

EGAN: Idaho is probably the second most Republican state in the nation right after Utah. Democrats there are almost an endangered species. Clinton ran third in the 1992 election. Now, you have a challenge there by a member of the Board of Directors of the Wilderness Society, a person named Walt Minic. He's well-financed and he's making a run at Craig. The latest polls show him within 10 points, which in itself is just astonishing. Idaho is one of those states that's had a lot of newcomers. They come to the state primarily for quality of life, and the environment is a huge issue there. In fact, Minic is trying to make it the number one issue. The other interesting thing there that's driving that race is a ballot measure to keep nuclear waste out of the state if Idaho. The person behind that is Bruce Willis, the actor, who happens to own most of a small town south of Sun Valley. Now, Bruce Willis is a Republican. But since he's moved his family to southern Idaho and he's raising his kids there, he found out that he's living in a state that may soon become a nuclear waste dump. So he helped to finance this ballot measure to keep nuclear waste out of Idaho. But the Republican establishment is against that ballot measure, that is, they're for bringing nuclear waste into Idaho. And Minic is just driving this thing all the way to November 5 in the Senate race.

NUNLEY: Sounds like in some sense the environment has become the fulcrum on which that '94 revolution has sort of gone flat.

EGAN: Yeah, I think that's fascinating, because House Speaker Gingrich, I think, misread the mandate of the new western Congresspeople. He let people like Helen Chenowith or J.D. Hayworth of Arizona become very high profile, and they would go around, they'd speak at the Wise Use property conferences and they'd say we're going to destroy the Endangered Species Act. And they'd say we're going to drive the environmentalists to the sea. And that just scared a lot of people. So what happened was, they misread what came out of the west in '94, and now it's coming around to haunt them. And I think it's important to look at the historical shift in the west right now. You haven't had the Democrats win the state of Arizona since 1948; they're leading by 10 points down there. The Democrats may take every western state except for Utah and Idaho, and that would be a shift of truly historic dimensions saying that -- not saying necessarily that the west is becoming more liberal, more Democrat, but simply saying that the majority of people out here care about environmental issues, and the party that goes against those does so at their peril.

NUNLEY: My guest has been Timothy Egan, Seattle Bureau Chief of the New York Times. Thanks for being with us, Tim.

EGAN: Sure, it's been a pleasure.

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A Close Contest in Oregon

NUNLEY: We focus now on one of the more closely contested races in the west. It's in Oregon, where 5-term Republican Senator Mark Hatfield is retiring, and Republicans have nominated State Senator Gordon Smith to replace him. Now, Smith lost a close race to Democrat Ron Wyden in a January special election that was held to replace Bob Packwood. Political newcomer Tom Brugerre, a computer software entrepreneur, is the Democratic challenger this time around. The environment is always an issue in Oregon politics, but in this race it may be the deciding factor. From Oregon Public Broadcasting, Ley Garnett reports.

(Convention emcee: "This time, we all are pointed and we're going to elect Gordon Smith and he's going to be the next United States Senator and here he is." Applause and cheers.)

GARNETT: Gordon Smith gets a rousing reception from a convention of Republican activists in Bend, Oregon. Mr. Smith needs a big turnout in this region, because it's the state's only Republican stronghold. Bend is located in central Oregon, just east of the Cascade Mountains, which divide Oregon politically as well as geographically. Most of the state's residents live in the western half of the state, where support for the environment is strong. But in eastern and central Oregon, where the government owns about two thirds of the land, and where logging, ranching, and farming support the economy, Federal environmental regulations are unpopular. Gordon Smith's laissez faire message plays well here.

SMITH: The genius of America, its past and its future greatness, is predicated not on big government, not on big bureaucracy, but on allowing free people to pursue their dreams and engage in enterprise.

GARNETT: Candidate Smith is vying for the Senate seat long held by political maverick Republican Mark Hatfield, whose coalition often included a share of the green vote. Mr. Smith is a product of the conservative right wing of the Oregon Republican Party, but he knows he must offer himself as a moderate and cast his opponent as out of step.

SMITH: Everywhere I go I see farmers and ranchers meeting with local officials, environmental activists, coming up with voluntary watershed programs. All over, in my district, in this area. And are making enormous progress. But for some people like my opponent, apparently that's not good enough. Apparently that's not good enough.

GARNETT: But Mr. Smith's opponent, Tom Bruggere, says that's not true. That he's not opposed to local involuntary solutions to environmental problems when Federal regulations aren't needed. Mr. Bruggere says Gordon Smith is a Newt Gingrich Republican masquerading as a moderate.

(Ambient conversation backdrop)

BRUGGERE: One of the reasons I'm running is because I believe that this movement on the part of the Republicans, the Conservatives in this country, to weaken or do away with our environmental laws, leads us to the kind of country that I wouldn't want my 7-year-old daughter or my 5-year-old son to grow up in.

GARNETT: Tom Bruggere developed his environmental beliefs as a child of the 60s in Berkeley, California. About 20 years ago he moved to Oregon and founded the computer software company that made him a multimillionaire. He's made the environment a central theme of his campaign, but he suffered some bumps and bruises in the process.

BRUGGERE: My injury is much less significant than it looks. I fractured my ankle slightly and tore up some of the muscles...

GARNETT: Bruggere stands on crutches as he opens a campaign office in Salem. A few weeks earlier he hurt his foot during a thousand-dollar-a-seat fundraiser on a river raft. Even though Bruggere and Smith are reportedly worth around $20 million each, both say they won't spend much of their personal fortunes on their political campaigns, and both candidates say they oppose negative campaign tactics. But that hasn't kept negative ads off the airwaves.

(Dramatic music and a man's voice-over: "Gordon Smith. He's back...")

GARNETT: This television spot, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, is a blistering attack on Gordon Smith's voting record in the Oregon legislature, and the environmental record of the frozen food process plant he owns.

(Music and voice-over continue: "... Gordon Smith's factory was cited twice last year for illegally polluting Oregon's water. Violations at Smith's factory have continued now for more than a decade...")

GARNETT: Environmentalists charge that as president of the State Senate, Gordon Smith pushed through an unsuccessful bid to weaken Oregon's land use and water quality laws. Exit polls suggested that green voters were key to his narrow loss in his previous run for the Senate last January, a weakness that the League hopes to exploit again. The League's effort is part of a concerted drive by national environmental groups to regain ground lost in the 1994 Congressional elections. The League chose Mr. Smith for its so-called Dirty Dozen list: the top 12 Congressional candidates it hopes to defeat in November.

(Music and voice-over continue: "... Owners of companies who break our laws shouldn't be allowed to make them. Don't send Mr. Smith to Washington.")

GARNETT: The ad campaign has itself become an issue. Gordon Smith has demanded that Tom Bruggere pull the ad, but Mr. Bruggere says election laws bar him from telling the League what to do. At a recent protest march, former Oregon Republican Governor Vic Ateyah attacked the commercial. Mr. Ateyah says Republican Smith as fixed the pollution problems at his food factory.

ATEYAH: Senator Smith stood up and said okay, it's a problem. Yes I agree, let's go do something about it. So it's old stuff is what it is, and they're rehashing it.

GARNETT: Gordon Smith defends himself by saying his plant's environmental record is normal for the industry and that the state's recent renewal of his sewage permit is proof. He says his opponents have distorted his legacy in the State House, and since his last Senate campaign he's also changed the color of his bumper stickers from red to green. The main environmental issue dividing the candidates is the Federal Salvage Logging Law. Passed in 1995 officially as a fire prevention remedy after the previous year's forest fires, the law has promoted cutting dead and dying trees on Federal land by limiting legal challenges to timber sales. But it has also allowed clear-cut logging of healthy old growth trees. Though the law expires at the end of this year, a pending bill would extend some of its provisions for another decade. Gordon Smith says this year's destructive fire season shows the salvage law is still needed.

SMITH: Folks, we got too much fuel on the forest floor. All we are doing by not allowing jobs to be created and wood products produced is providing fodder for a huge, even larger catastrophic forest fire.

GARNETT: But Democrat Tom Bruggere says the Salvage Logging Law saves the forest from fires only to see it fall to the chainsaw. He says he supports thinning dead trees, which puts him in the political mainstream.

(Voices in the background)

BRUGGERE: I've been trying to run a campaign here that brings the state together, and tries to talk about how we can have a healthy environment and still good jobs in our timber industry, for example. Or good jobs in our farm industry.

GARNETT: Neither candidate's efforts to portray the other as an extremist seems to be working. Recent polls show Smith and Bruggere in a dead heat, leading pundits to predict that other races on the ballot may be key to victory. The Presidential campaign could sway this senate race, as could an initiative barring livestock from polluted streams, which is expected to boost turnout from ranching interests as well as environmentalists. For Living on Earth, I'm Ley Garnett in Portland, Oregon.

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(Music up and under: The Police)

NUNLEY: This show goes to the dogs. We'll get to the root of what that all means just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

A Life of Stuff

NUNLEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Jan Nunley. When we think of environmental issues we often think of huge public problems: disposal of hazardous waste, acid rain, or the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals throughout our food supply. But a new exhibit at the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York, makes an environmental issue out of how and why we use everyday objects. The exhibit is called "Unearthing the Secret Life of Stuff." And in an age where consumerism is at an all-time high, it questions some assumptions about just how much stuff is enough. Brenda Tremblay of member station WXXI in Rochester has this report.

(Children playing. "Wait, somebody gets to play the drums!" Drumming on household objects. Woman: "Okay, now, Tye it's your turn. Okay, you guys sit down." Child: "Cool.")

TREMBLAY: A dozen third graders in matching pink T-shirts are getting excited about garbage, or at least by the prospect of banging on a 14-foot-high monstrosity of egg cartons, toilet plungers and plastic and metal cans called a "garbaphone."

(Woman: "Now, all of you together, get up and play the garbaphone!" Children laugh and make lots of noise)

TREMBLAY: The garbaphone greets visitors who enter an innovative museum exhibit that explores the relationship between Americans and their environment through everyday objects. About 2 years ago, Christopher Clarke-Hazlett, a senior curator at Rochester's Strong Museum, started making connections between environmental history and modern consumerism.

CLARKE-HAZLETT: We are without a doubt at this point in time a consumer culture, and we tend to make things, use them up and throw them away. And that's one of the most dramatic changes that's occurred in the United States over the last hundred years. And it's one of the changes that we try and document most carefully in our exhibition.

TREMBLAY: To make that point, Hazlett and his colleagues divided the exhibit into 2 parts. The first examines how American attitudes towards the environment have changed over the past 150 years. In the 19th century, for example, people wanted to control and harvest nature. Their efforts are symbolized by a painting on a child's plate from the 1880s showing hunters matter-of-factly clubbing seals. A generation later, people still wanted to control nature, but they had also grown to revere it. This conflicting impulse is represented by a 1931 inkwell made out of a rhinoceros hoof. Today we eat Rainforest Crunch cereal and toss away the package. Things haven't changed much since the 1930s according to Mary Corbin-Sies. She teaches American Studies at the University of Maryland and acted as a consultant on the exhibit.

CORBIN-SIES: Many of us have very contradictory attitudes toward nature. On the one hand, we love it, we embrace it as something that we like to include in our lives in terms of recreation. But at the same time we hold a real commitment to a very high consumption lifestyle. We like our automobiles. We like our various gadgets. We like our home entertainment centers. We like our computers.

(Echoing, metallic sliding sounds)

TREMBLAY: The second half of the exhibit uses the computer to examine the consequences of the consumer lifestyle. Visitors sit down at computer terminals and click their way through the life cycle of a washing machine, noting how its manufacture, use, and disposal affect the environment. A few feet away, 20-foot-tall towers of trash loom over a cave of plastic containers strung together with stiff wire. Inside the cave, a group of third graders is learning how to recycle.

(Many children's voices. Woman: "Now, we have a little game here. I need everybody just to back up a little bit. Where would you recycle this?" Child: "Um, right here." Woman: "Okay, why don't you do that?" Child: "It's actually tin." Child: "Yeah, but tin is a kind of metal." Woman: "Now...")

TREMBLAY: Curators say the purpose here is to prod people to think about their habits as individual consumers, then imagine the scale and scope of our collective consumption. The lesson is not lost on 8-year-old Tom Guyler. He concluded that despite his efforts, not everything he uses is actually recycled.

GUYLER: Usually, if it's like wood, I would think that it would go to a lumber factory where they could cut it down to use it to build houses and floors.

TREMBLAY: So you'd like to think that a lot of things are reused.

GUYLER: Yeah. But it's sad to say that a lot of it is just thrown out into the middle of nowhere.

TREMBLAY: The key idea running through the exhibit is that everyday objects have a past, a present, and a future. For example, the exhibit documents the life cycle of a standard Number 2 pencil, from the mine where the graphite is extracted for the pencil's lead to the landfill where the pencil stub might end up stuffed in a plastic trash bag. Curator Christopher Clarke-Hazlett says that we seldom think about anything but an object's present when we pick it off the shelf.

CLARKE-HAZLETT: Most of us don't live in a place that seems much like nature any more. Most of us don't do work that gives us any indication that the things that we consume come from the environment. And most of the meanings that we attach to the objects that we consume every day have more to do with advertising and more to do with what we think a certain product says about us than they do about where the object came from or how it's made. And so, by looking at object life cycles, we think people can begin to re-establish those connections between themselves, the things they consume, and where those objects came from.

TREMBLAY: Hazlitt is not sure where those connections might lead. To preserve a livable environment, he says, individuals may have to settle for a less comfortable standard of living. But the exhibit does not explain how that might happen. Hazlitt says it's difficult to address the subject with a public audience. He'd rather present the facts and let visitors make up their own minds.

CLARKE-HAZLETT: We don't want to send people away thinking oh my Lord, there's nothing I can do about this great environmental problem. You know, I'm a sinner and I'll never be redeemed. On the other hand, we don't want to send people away thinking that if they only, you know, buy the biodegradable product at the store, that that's going to solve the problem, too.

TREMBLAY: Christopher Clarke-Hazlett is the curator of "Unearthing the Secret Life of Stuff," about the relationship between Americans and the environment. The exhibit continues through 1997 at the Strong Museum in Rochester, New York. For Living on Earth, I'm Brenda Tremblay.

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(Music up and under)

Dog Gone Sweaters

NUNLEY: Take a look at the calendar. The dog days of summer are over. Winter is coming and it's time to get the warm clothing out of storage. Which is your favorite sweater? The wool? The angora? What about the dog hair? Yep -- dog fur. Long considered a nuisance anywhere but attached to a dog, it turns out the stuff can be quite useful. My guest Phyllis Simpson recycles canine hair by spinning and weaving it into sweaters and scarves, even blankets. Ms. Simpson says most people accept the idea of using the family pet for sartorial warmth, but she's also run into resistance close to home.

SIMPSON: About 90% of the people in this world think that spinning dog hair? Oh, that's wonderful! The other 10% say "dog hair!" My son unfortunately, who had a large, beautiful golden retriever, was one of the latter, who said, "Ugh! Dog hair." So I didn't get his golden retriever hair. But I got some from someone else.

NUNLEY: Now, what are the best breeds?

SIMPSON: Well, as far as I'm concerned, the sheltie has been the best. If you're not familiar, a sheltie is a small collie.

NUNLEY: Now, how much hair do you need to make a sweater, let's say?

SIMPSON: Well, a short-sleeved sweater would take 2 to 2 and-a-half shopping bags full of dog hair. I have a short-sleeved sweater, and I'm so glad I didn't make it long-sleeved. It would be much too hot to wear.

NUNLEY: Now, can you, are you restricted in colors and styles and that sort of thing? Or can you dye the hair?

SIMPSON: I don't know what -- I wouldn't even think of dyeing it, because natural hair is so beautiful. Actually, the sheltie, if you're familiar with the sheltie, they have 2 or 3 colors in their coats, and when you spin them they all sort of blend, and it comes out lovely. I wouldn't think of dyeing it.

NUNLEY: Have you ever mixed hair from a sheltie and a golden?

SIMPSON: Yes. The blanket that I finished is mostly sheltie, with sections of golden retriever in it. And it looks very nice.

NUNLEY: But no dog hair-polyester combos.

SIMPSON: No. [Laughs] No polyester at all in anything, okay?

NUNLEY: Now one worry that I'd have that I'd be walking down the street and other dogs would sort of pick up my sweater scent and start barking at me or even worse.

SIMPSON: Well, occasionally a dog will give it a sniff and then go on. They'll stop and sniff it more than they would when I wear a woolen sweater or an angora sweater. But it doesn't seem to cause any problem with the dogs.

NUNLEY: Ms. Simpson, thanks for joining us.

SIMPSON: It's been my pleasure.

NUNLEY: Phyllis Simpson spoke with us from her home in Haverford, Pennsylvania.

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NUNLEY: If you or someone you know has an interesting or offbeat environmental tale to tell, we'd like to hear it. Give us a call at 1-800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And our address is Living on Earth, P.O. Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, P.O. Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238.

(Music up and under)

NUNLEY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our senior producer is Chris Ballman. Our editor is Dan Grossman and our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Liz Lempert, Constantine Von Hoffman, Susan Shepherd, Julia Madeson, and Peter Shaw. We also had help from Michael Giammusso. Our engineers are Frank DeAngelis and Mark Navin at WBUR, Jeff Martini at Harvard University, Antonio Oliart at WGBH. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Living on Earth is produced in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. Executive producer and host Steve Curwood returns next week. I'm Jan Nunley. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes reporting; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and the W. Alton Jones Foundation for reporting on environmental ethics.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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