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

February 7, 1997

Air Date: February 7, 1997


Northwest Forest Plan: Kindling New Turmoil / Terry FitzPatrick

Despite President Clinton's attempts at his "Northwest Forest Plan", the continued logging under the Timber Salvage Rider and lack of local support have reignited the conflict. Terry FitzPatrick reports. (09:30)

Bumpers at the Dumpster / Robert Leo Heilman

Former logger and Living on Earth commentator Robert Leo Heilman reflects on the normalization of once-radical environmental concepts in his home State of Oregon. (02:39)

California: Of Future Floods / Fritz Faerber

Fritz Faerber reports from California where the recent winter floods have prompted state officials to reconsider the future of an increasingly stressed and aging water management system. (06:55)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Facts about... a Supreme Court ruling and the snail darter fish. (01:15)

Instant Paradise: Reflooding Israel's Hula Valley / Patricia Golan

In the 1950's, Israel drained wetlands near the Sea of Galilee to create farmland. Since the project failed, recently some of the area has been reflooded, and birds abound in the Hula Valley. Now there is debate over whether to bring in tourists to experience the wildlife renaissance. From Israel, Patricia Golan explains. (09:50)

Mail Bag

Letters from listeners on recent segments. (02:00)

Sex at the Zoo

Host Steve Curwood takes a trip to the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston to talk with Dr. Donna Fernandes about sexual behavior in the animal kingdom. Hear what elks, crickets and seagulls have in common with the mating rituals of people. An encore Valentine's Day treat! (12:42)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright c 1997 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: James Jones, Steve Frenkel, Terry FitzPatrick, Fritz Faerber, Patricia Golan
GUEST: Donna Fernandes
COMMENTATOR: Robert Leo Heilman

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Four years after President Clinton fashioned a forest plan for the Pacific Northwest, loggers and conservationists are still markedly unhappy. Timber interests say the logging reductions were unreasonable.

DICK: That was probably beyond our worst fear, the reality of what happened. We were stunned. We were absolutely shocked at what ultimately came out.

CURWOOD: Conservationists say a budget rider later signed by the President wound up allowing clear cuts in some of the Federal forests. Mr. Clinton, they say, did not keep his word.

BRADLEY: This was a real betrayal, these kinds of cuts, the whole salvage rider. There are people who had spent a lot of time working cooperatively with the Forest Service, and I felt totally stabbed in the back.

CURWOOD: The Northwest forest story and more on Living on Earth, coming up right after the news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. The Federal Government has purchased nearly 60,000 acres of Alaska lands polluted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. An Alaska native village sold the land to the government for $34 million. That sum came from a billion dollar settlement fund set up by Exxon after its tanker ran aground. Some of the land will become part of a national forest. The rest will be made into a state park. The purchase will also give further protection to injured species such as sockeye salmon, harbor seals, and marble merlets. The Clinton Administration eventually hopes to purchase three quarters of a million acres of the spill area.

The Clinton Administration's budget proposal for 1998 includes increases for both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. But as James Jones reports, in this era of tighter government budgets the latest battle over funding environmental programs has just begun.

JONES: The White House proposed an $800 million increase for the EPA. Most of that money would go to fund toxic waste site clean-ups under the Superfund program.

The Interior Department, which manages the nation's parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands, would be a modest 6.6% increase under the budget plan. But officials at the Department consider themselves lucky. Growing agency budgets are hard to come by these days. Administration officials say that while spending at the EPA and the Interior Department is a very small slice of the Federal budget, the increases show that the White House is strongly committed to protecting the environment. But getting Congress to go along with the budget requests will be tough. Appropriation committees have less to spend than last year for these programs and would have to cut something else to pay for the increases Clinton wants. Some Republicans call the proposals unrealistic, and a maneuver by the White House to force them to make politically unpopular cuts in environmental programs. For Living on Earth, this is James Jones in Washington.

MULLINS: Large cracks have been discovered in a huge piece of the Antarctic ice shelf. Greenpeace researchers who discovered the cracks say they resembled those that appeared in another ice shelf shortly before it collapsed 2 years ago. During the past 50 years the Antarctic climate has warmed by 4 and a half degrees: the fastest rate of warming observed anywhere in the world. Scientists are concerned by this trend because Antarctic ice helps regulate the world's climates. They fear that less polar ice would decrease the amount of sunlight reflected into the atmosphere and restrict the ocean's ability to absorb excess carbon dioxide and heat. This could disrupt global weather patterns and cause a dramatic rise in sea levels around the world.

The Pacific Lumber Company has rejected a list of properties offered by the state of California in exchange for ancient redwoods. The decision is a setback to government efforts to preserve northern California's Headwaters Grove. That's the world's largest privately-owned old growth redwood forest. Pacific Lumber says none of the properties offered by the state were acceptable for exchange. It wants cash instead. California gave Pacific Lumber a choice of surplus properties estimated to be worth more than $200 million. Its offerings include office buildings, warehouses, a rock quarry, and a bus terminal in San Francisco.

Products that are now made from petroleum may soon be made out of corn. Government researchers have found a way to turn corn into chemicals that may replace oil in paints, plastics, and other materials. Steve Frenkel of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium reports.

FRENKEL: Corn is a good oil substitute because it's made of sugars. Though sugars can be turned into acids that contain carbon, and carbon is the basic ingredient for many plastics and other commercial materials. The corn is processed through an organic fermentation method that uses microorganisms. Researchers at the US Government's Oak Ridge Laboratory say this technique is less harmful to the environment than traditional petroleum processing. That's because the byproducts of corn processing are biodegradable and can be easily disposed of. Researchers add that the environment will benefit because corn is a renewable resource that can reduce the chemical industry's dependence on imported oil. Using corn instead of oil could have economic benefits as well, by creating new jobs if the industry grows. Researchers say it's about 20% cheaper to make chemicals from corn than from oil. For Living on Earth, I'm Steve Frenkel in Chicago.

MULLINS: Nicaraguan authorities have banned the eating of green iguanas, the main ingredient in favorite Holy Week dishes. The ban is in effect until the end of April, when Nicaraguans traditionally cook a soup-like dish called In Dio Viejo, made with iguanas, vegetables, and ground corn; and Pinol de Iguana, a form of breaded iguana. The ban is intended to prevent the slaughter of the lizard in its reproductive cycle. People caught eating them during the ban face fines of about $5 per reptile. The green iguana, native to Central America, is rated as threatened in Nicaragua. A government spokesman says it could easily become an endangered species if the ban is not observed.

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

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

Northwest Forest Plan: Kindling New Turmoil

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

CLINTON: The process we begin today will not be easy. Its outcome cannot possibly make everyone happy. Perhaps it won't make anyone completely happy. But the worst thing we can do is nothing.

CURWOOD: Soon after President Clinton was elected 4 years ago, he vowed to end the bitter war between loggers and conservationists in the Pacific Northwest. At the time the region was in turmoil. Logging was at a standstill because of court injunctions to protect the endangered spotted owl. The President said his Northwest forest plan was the solution. It reopened Federal lands to limited logging while attempting to manage the entire Pacific Northwest as a single ecosystem. The President's plan has survived a rash of court challenges, but it's failed to win much support among local residents. And a spate of new logging, under the so-called Timber Salvage Rider, has reignited the conflict. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports.

(Trucks on the highway)

FITZ PATRICK: On Highway 12 in the Cascade Mountains, trucks laden with freshly cut trees are headed to sawmills in the timber town of Morton, Washington.

(Truck horn)

FITZ PATRICK: Despite tough times, logging is still the backbone of the Northwest's rural economy, employing more than 100,000 workers.

(Truck traffic)

FITZ PATRICK: But on Main Street in Morton, Bob Dick of the Northwest Forestry Association points out that things aren't what they used to be.

DICK: You look at the empty buildings, the dilapidated buildings. It's depressing to see places like that.

FITZ PATRICK: Loggers had hoped the President's forest plan might bring back the boomtown days of the 1980s. The plan did restore some logging on Federal lands, but only 25% of what the industry had been cutting just a decade ago.

DICK: That was probably beyond our worst fear, the reality of what happened. It was -- we were stunned. We were absolutely shocked at what ultimately came out.

FITZ PATRICK: Large corporations who control their own supply of trees on private land have actually done quite well under the President's program. That's because the withdrawal of Federal wood has made the remaining trees more valuable.

(Sawmill sounds)

FITZ PATRICK: The Federal cutbacks have primarily hurt smaller, family owned sawmills, which were already struggling because of foreign competition, automation, and the export of trees for processing overseas.

(More trucks)

FITZ PATRICK: Forty percent of the region's mills have shut down, putting more than 20,000 people out of work. One mill that's still open is run by the Pacific Lumber and Shipping Company in the mountain town of Randall, Washington. Here, workers convert raw logs into two by fours for home construction.

(Wood being sawed)

FITZ PATRICK: On a tour of the facility, company vice president Jill Mackee says it's been a scramble to survive.

MACKEE: Other mills have just gone out of business because their traditional source of supply has dried up, and the cost of the raw material has gone up dramatically because there's been a shortage in the system created by this withdrawal of Federal wood.

FITZ PATRICK: So you're the lucky ones.

MACKEE: Those who are currently operating are the lucky ones.

(Wood being sawed)

FITZ PATRICK: Environmentalists contend this day of reckoning was inevitable for the timber industry. For decades, they say, loggers have been cutting trees at a rate nature could not sustain.

(Running water)

FITZ PATRICK: Activists are divided over whether the President's forest plan has been good for the environment. Some remain furious that it doesn't completely protect the region's last stands of old growth forest. But other groups, like The Wilderness Society, have been willing to give the President's plan a chance. Still, even these activists are wary.

(Footfalls and conversation)

FITZ PATRICK: Steve Whitney is the group's regional director. And on a recent walk through the woods, he explains how they formed a citizen's police force to check up on local forest managers. Volunteers monitor logging to be sure environmental rules are strictly obeyed.

WHITNEY: The Northwest Forest Plan is just a plan. It's effect on us is a function of how seriously the land managers take their job to implement it properly, and the plan is just full of discretion. We knew that the plan would be protective of the forest to the extent there was a whole army of people throughout the region keeping their eye on the Forest Service.

FITZ PATRICK: But no amount of monitoring could stop what environmentalists consider to be the biggest setback to the plan. A rash of unexpected logging that began just as the program was taking hold. The timber industry, angry over the dwindling supply of wood, worked with Congressional Republicans to pass the Emergency Timber Salvage Program in 1995. The law was designed to let loggers harvest trees damaged by fire or disease. However, it also allowed some companies to clear-cut highly profitable stands of virgin old growth, the very forest Mr. Clinton had pledged to protect.

(Footfalls and conversation)

FITZ PATRICK: One of these clear-cuts occurred on a steep ridge along Carriko Creek, west of Seattle. Volunteer forest monitor Alex Bradley brought Mr. Whitney to survey the results.

(Papers being pulled from a case)

BRADLEY: I have some photographs of what it looked like before it started. These trees were actually standing right on this hillside that is now cut; this is exactly what was up there. And this was the owl forage habitat.

FITZ PATRICK: The pictures show thick stands of centuries-old trees. All that's left now is a mangled slash of debris and stumps.


FITZ PATRICK: Mr. Whitney brushed the snow off one stump for a closer look.

WHITNEY: You can see that it's a pretty old tree. I'm not going to take time to count these rings, but I think you have probably up around a couple hundred years old. And needless to say, this is one of a million stumps out here on this massive clear-cut.

FITZ PATRICK: As bad as a fresh clear-cut looks, industry representatives, like Bob Dick, maintain the salvage program did not devastate America's forests.

DICK: From the standpoint of what the salvage rider did, it allowed many people in the industry to survive. It allowed many people to keep their jobs that were looking at layoffs. In terms of environmental impact, my guess is that in 5 years the salvage rider will be an interesting footnote in history and not much more.

FITZ PATRICK: Others, however, contend the effects will be felt for decades. Nationwide, about 4 billion board feet of timber was sold under the salvage program before it concluded at the end of 1996. That's enough wood to fill a caravan of logging trucks, more than 7,000 miles long. Assessments are just beginning to determine how much healthy timber was cut, and the damage caused to sensitive habitat, such as salmon spawning streams. Activists like Alex Bradley say the clear-cuts not only left scars on the land, but have poisoned the political environment. She'll find it tough to trust the Federal Government in the future.

BRADLEY: This was real betrayal, these kinds of cuts, the whole salvage rider. There are people who had spent a lot of time working cooperatively with the Forest Service, and I felt totally stabbed in the back.

FITZ PATRICK: Although the salvage program cast a shadow on the President's Northwest forest plan, officials insist their original goal of a healthy economy and a healthy environment can be reached. Timber-dependent communities have received millions in economic assistance and work is underway to repair watersheds damaged by a half century of logging. Still, it could be decades before the region returns to health. The plan's ultimate success may hinge on the guidance of the Forest Service's new chief, biologist Mike Dombeck. He's told staffers to make forest protection their highest priority, but hasn't indicated how he'll bridge the rifts that still divide environmentalists and loggers.

(Gathering; ambient voices)

FITZ PATRICK: During his first appearance before Congress at a January hearing of the House Agriculture Committee, Mr. Dombeck was careful to avoid taking sides.

DOMBECK: I'm here to listen and learn on my ninth day on the job, and the themes that I will be talking about throughout my tenure in this job are basically sustaining the health of the land through a collaborative stewardship. Because I think managing the land is about stewardship and it's about people working together.

FITZ PATRICK: However, cooperation may ultimately be unattainable. Congressional Republicans are currently floating another proposal to dramatically increase logging, this time by rewriting the basic law that governs timber policy nationwide. And environmentalists are looking with hope to a decision this spring that may put coho salmon on the Endangered Species List. That could lead to further protections for Northwest forests. For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick reporting.

Back to top


Bumpers at the Dumpster

HEILMAN: I was up at the dump a while back, the same place that I've been hauling our trash to for 21 years now. And I got to thinking about the changes our little southern Oregon timber town has gone through over the years.

CURWOOD: Commentator Robert Leo Heilman is a former logger who lives in Myrtle Creek, Oregon.

HEILMAN: There used to be a hole in the ground there, where we tossed everything we discarded. Tires, paint, used motor oil. Furniture, animal carcasses, garbage. Every once in a while someone would set it on fire and the heap would get smaller for a while. Maybe twice a year the county sent a man with a bulldozer down to compact the mess and spread some dirt around.

Nowadays we have what's called a transfer site, which sounds different but smells pretty much the same. We throw our stuff into a metal dumpster that gets picked up by a semi truck and hauled downriver to the county's sanitary landfill. There it gets dumped into a big hole in the ground and a man on a bulldozer works 5 days a week compacting the mess and spreading the dirt around. I guess that doesn't sound like much of an improvement.

But things have changed. We can sort our trash now, recycling paper, tin, glass, plastic, appliances, motor oil, leaves and grass clippings. This saves us room at the big dump and makes a little money for the local charity that sells what we sort out. While I was musing instead of tossing, one of my neighbors pulled in. He was a logger, a timber faller in fact, judging by the chainsaws, oil and gas jugs, axes and road warnings signs in the bed of his crew cab pickup. Our county calls itself the Timber Capitol of the Nation, which isn't too far from the truth. So loggers are a common sight in these parts. The bumper sticker on his truck read Help Ruin America: Join An Environmental Group. Which is a pretty common one now, like the ones that say Keep Oregon Green: Stop Clearcutting. Twenty years ago you never saw anything like that around here.

Well, the first thing he did is what just about everyone does nowadays. He pulled up by the recycling shed and dropped off his newspaper, glass, tin cans, and plastic milk jugs in their appointed bins. It was all so commonplace that if it hadn't been for that bumper sticker I never would have noticed. Like I said, things have changed. We've come up with good ways to cut down on what we haul to the dump. Now, if we could just figure out how to reduce the trash that environmentalists and timber people paste on their rigs.

CURWOOD: Robert Leo Heilman is a writer and former logger. His collection of essays, Over Story Zero: Real Life in Timber Country, is published by Sasquatch Books. He comes to us from KLCC in Eugene, Oregon.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Humans like to think we can manage nature, but the California floods remind us it's the other way around. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

California: Of Future Floods

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Heavy storms hit much of the west coast in January, causing widespread flooding from California to Washington State. In northern California the rains melted a heavy snow pack in the mountains, overwhelmed the state's flood prevention system, and immersed almost 300 square miles. Eight people died, and some 16,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. More than a month later, state officials are still trying to repair levees and drain reservoirs to be ready for the next storms. The disaster shows the limits of an aging water system that has to cope with competing interests. Fritz Faerber explains.


FAERBER: A stream of trucks dumps loads of rock and gravel into the muddy water off the end of a levee near the town of Meridian, in California's central valley. Crews have been working around the clock since the levee broke, flooding fields and homes in the rural area about 60 miles north of Sacramento. Within sight of the levee, C.R. Skelton stands at the edge of a muddy brown lake. His house and mobile home are in the middle of it.

SKELTON: Well I have 2 pieces; I have a mobile in the back and then a small house in the front that I just remodeled, the boy's going to move into. And it had some feet of water. The mobile had right at 43 inches.

FAERBER: Is there anything left?

SKELTON: Uh, yeah. It's all outside the mobile in a pile.

FAERBER: Like many of his neighbors, Mr. Skelton lost everything. He has no flood insurance and says he isn't likely to rebuild. He and many victims blame their losses on southern California's thirst for water. He says dam operators court disaster by keeping reservoirs dangerously full in the rainy season to ensure adequate water supplies during the dry summers. When heavy storms hit, he says the reservoirs quickly overflow, often overwhelming levees downstream.

SKELTON: I think if Southern California wants water, then they should pay to fix the levee system so that they can get the water and we don't get drowned.

FAERBER: This dilemma is at the heart of California's water troubles. The same system that provides water to a $22 billion farming industry and the millions of people living in the arid southern half of the state must also protect against flooding in the north. It's often a zero sum game. The more flood protection, the less water supply. Tom Stein lost about $100,000 worth of dried beans when his warehouse flooded. He says it might not have happened in the dams had been able to hold more water.

STEIN: They should be used for flood control and they were 70% full, with a large snow pack and they had predictions of warm rains. If the dams would have been down around 50% or less, we probably could have saved all these losses.

FAERBER: But officials say it's impossible to prevent every flood. Federal guidelines already require lower reservoir levels during the winter, creating a sort of reserve tank where storm runoff can be stored and gradually released later. But at least in the case of the New Year's storm, State Water Resources Director David Kennedy says increasing the reserve space still further wouldn't have helped much.

KENNEDY: Waterville Reservoir, some of the folks downstream of that, they came in afterward and they thought this was happening because water was being held back for southern California. We demonstrated to them that even if we had had the reservoir drawn down quite bit before, there was so much water that came in during that 3 days it wouldn't have made any difference.

FAERBER: In fact, the dam released some 1.4 million acre feet of water in 3 days of the storm. That's more than it sends to southern California in an entire year. If flood control were the only priority, California could just empty its reservoirs before the rainy season. But it's not that simple. Dam operators hold the impossible task of balancing California's competing water interests. They must keep flood plains dry and keep deserts wet. They have to keep reservoirs full enough to draw tourism while feeding rivers and streams enough water to support fish and wildlife. There are also hydroelectric needs. They even have to worry about the salinity of the San Francisco Bay, where most of the state's rivers meet the ocean. Jim Spence, who operates the Oroville Dam, says water managers have to coax an aging system into meeting needs its designers couldn't have imagined. California's changing climate compounds the difficulty. The system was designed for the weather of the first half of this century, which was much less volatile than the past 40 years.

SPENCE: In a moderately wet or average year, maybe we can operate the project to only make a moderate number of people angry at us. But when it's very wet or very dry, essentially everyone is critical because you just can't meet, just plain can't even come close to meeting everybody's interests.

FAERBER: Mr. Spence says he was heavily criticized for releasing too much water before the storms. Then a few days later, when levees broke downstream, came the criticism for not releasing enough.

(A torrent of water)

GUIDE: (Shouting over the water) The entire American river flows through these 3 pinstock pipes. These pinstock pipes are 15 and a half feet in diameter. So if you could imagine these pipes are big enough for a school bus to actually fit through.

FAERBER: Just outside Sacramento a group tours the Folsom dam. This is one place a community's flood worries have led to changes in water management. After major floods 10 years ago, the downstream city of Sacramento actually bought extra space in the reservoir, increasing the flood reserve by 50%. In the wake of January's disaster, other communities are discussing following Sacramento's lead. There's also a scramble to repair and upgrade the levee system. But some say these are only minor changes that don't solve the basic dilemma. Californians can't expect their dams to both protect and provide.

MOUNT: We are operating our reservoirs at cross purposes. They can't be both a water supply and flood control reservoir. So we may see a revision of the operating procedures in a number of reservoirs.

FAERBER: Jeffrey Mount is chair of the University of California, Davis, Geology Department.

MOUNT: Rather than flood prevention, let's actually look at flood promotion. And this is where you turn the paradigm of flood control absolutely on its head. That you start making conscious decisions to flood some areas in order to save others.

FAERBER: Allow the rivers to flood sparsely populated farmland, says Professor Mount, and you can often protect residential areas. He isn't the only one supporting this option. David Kennedy, the state's Water Resources Director, also supports using farmland as a safety valve to protect cities. But this of course will require tough decisions about where people will live in the rapidly growing central valley. While there's little talk of moving existing communities, there is an emerging view that future development must stay out of harm's way. For Living on Earth, I'm Fritz Faerber.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: We're always interested in what you have to say about Living on Earth. You can call our listener line any time at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can write us at Post Office Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. That's P.O. Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And check out our web page at www.loe.org. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Major contributors to Living on Earth include all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt -- whether supporting worthwhile causes or producing healthy foods, Stonyfield's goal is to make you feel good inside; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the W. Alton Jones Foundation; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture; and Patagonia: a clothing company committed to making quality outdoor clothing with the earth in mind. For a free catalogue call 1-800-336-9090.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Nature shows remarkable resiliency in Israel's Hula Valley. But now there's a new threat: tourism. Stay tuned to 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 20th anniversary of a precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling to protect a small fish known as the snail darter. The story began in 1975, when law professor Zygmunt Plater and student Hiram Hill filed the first ever endangered species petition to protect the snail darter. The petition requested that the 3-inch-long fish living in the Little Tennessee River be listed as a species in threat of extinction. The threat? Construction of the Tellico Dam by the Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1976 Messrs. Plater and Hill sued the Authority to stop the dam. A year later, the US Supreme Court ruled in their favor. But the court left a way for Congress to exempt the dam from the Endangered Species Act, which is exactly what Congress did. In January of 1980 the dam was completed, sealing the fate of the Little Tennessee River and its darter population. But later, in nearby streams, an additional population was found, and in July of 1984 the snail darter was reclassified as threatened. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

Instant Paradise: Reflooding Israel's Hula Valley

CURWOOD: In the late 1950s, shortly after the state of Israel was founded, authorities undertook an ambitious project to drain a large lake and marshlands near the Sea of Galilee. The aim was to create a vast area of rich agricultural land in the Hula Valley. But the project turned out to be a failure. Some of the valley has now been re-flooded in a successful attempt to restore part of the original marsh. But the effort has also generated a new fight, this time over whether the wetlands should be left alone or turned into a tourist attraction to help debt-ridden settlements in the area. Patricia Golan traveled to the Hula Valley and filed this report.

(Crickets, owls, and other animals)

GOLAN: The original Hula marsh lay on the plains north of the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a freshwater lake known as Lake Knerret. The site is right on the Syrian/African Rift junction where Europe, Asia, and Africa meet. For those who remember the wetlands then, the profusion of plant, bird, and animal life from all 3 continents was almost indescribable. Galilee historian Arik Lubovsky was born on the stores of the lake.

LUBOVSKY: I still remember the water buffaloes. This whole lake was filled with water buffaloes. They used to walk in the mud. The whole area was yellow colored and green. The water lilies, plenty of butterflies. So everybody used to have a natural shower in the lake. To bring water with buckets or with barrels. To irrigate, to water.

GOLAN: The huge and unprecedented 1950s project to drain the Hula Swamp, as it was called, became part of national lore: an example of Israeli determination to cultivate the land. The drainage project was aimed not only at creating agricultural land, but getting rid of, for once and for all, the anopheles mosquito, carrier of the deadly malaria plague that had killed thousands of early settlers. Construction crews dug a network of deep channels, transforming some 15,000 acres of wetlands and swamps into arable land, which was then leased to collective farms and villages in the area. One thousand acres were set aside as a nature reserve. The results of the drainage were almost immediate, but not exactly as expected. Nature Reserves Authority head Eli Sedot explains that the land recovered for agriculture was a disappointment.

SEDOT: [Speaks in Hebrew]
TRANSLATOR: Only part of the recovered land was useful. The high nitrate content of the peat made agriculture unprofitable. Fires kept breaking out in the peat beds. They would spread through water tunnels and were almost impossible to put out.

GOLAN: Not only that. It soon became clear that the marsh had served as a filter for the water that eventually reached the Sea of Galilee. With that filter destroyed, pollutants flowed into Israel's chief water reservoir. Furthermore, as the peat beds dried and decomposed under the Mediterranean sun, the entire area began to sink. Clearly, the grandiose rehabilitation plan of the 50s had to be rehabilitated itself. In the 1980s government agencies embarked on a 9-year study of the area. It resulted in a master plan which called for the reflooding of part of the drained Hula, in effect reversing the drainage project of 40 years ago. Two years ago bulldozers scooped away an earthen dike, allowing water from one branch of the Jordan River to spread across 250 acres of the most damaged part of the Hula Valley. The results astonished everyone.

(Riotous bird calls)

GOLAN: An almost instant paradise sprang from the soil. The once lush wetland floor made a comeback. Dabbler ducks, ibis, sandpipers, storks, egrets, pelicans, and other water fowl returns. Papyrus was planted and took root and proliferated. Standing at the edge of the newly created lake, project researcher Moshe Goffen says he was thrilled to see how life returned.

GOFFEN: For example, an old native fish was recently fund in this shallow lake. Moreover, about 38 old native species of plants, which inhabited the Hula Swamps 40 years ago, completely disappeared after drying of the Hula, came back within less than 2 years into this area. How did they come back? Nobody knows.

GOLAN: The re-flooding project is aimed at preserving the soil and improving the quality of water that reaches the Sea of Galilee. But it also includes a controversial proposal to generate income for the farmers in the area who have lost their agricultural fields. The plan is to build a tourism center around the newly flooded area, including a holiday village, nature trails, restaurants, and boat rides through the lake. Professor Goffen, an enthusiastic proponent of the scheme, explains that a safari park is planned to encircle the lake.

GOFFEN: If we can introduce elements like grazing animals, green grass covering the area, and people coming to watch these animals and will pay money for coming to watch these animals, this is the new utilization technique of this area compared to the old one, which was pure agriculture.

GOLAN: Moshe Goffen says the new eco-tourism site will provide income for the farmers and badly needed jobs. He insists the site will be carefully managed. But the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel doesn't believe it, and has now gone to Israel's Supreme Court to try to put the brakes on the project.

(Voice on a CB radio)

GOLAN: Yohanan Darom, northern region coordinator for the Society for the Protection of Nature, took me on a tour of the newly created Hula Wetlands.

(Water splashing and bird calls)

DAROM: At the minute that the vegetation grew up higher and higher, a lot of colonies of water birds came here, nested in here, and reproduced themselves in here. As you can see now, thousands and thousands and thousands of birds, what's amazing, it's the speed of how nature reconstructs itself.

GOLAN: According to the development plans, visitors will be able to glide through the water in electric boats. The developers claim this will not disturb the birds. But the Nature Protection Society's Darom is alarmed.

DAROM: Imagine 4,000 people running around this lake in an electrical engine boat, shouting, singing, talking. Even if they are sailing in the edges of the pond, there will be no birds in here.

GOLAN: Hula Valley project director Giora Shaham is furious that the Society for the Protection of Nature is only now making a fuss.

SHAHAM: We spent about $2 million in the last 2 years, with 20 groups of researchers, from water aspects, from ecological aspects, from agriculture aspect. And they are -- all their reports showing that there will be no damage to the area, what -- a hundred huts of a little village, tourist village we destroy the whole area? It's ridiculous to think that those minor activities that we are planning there are going to destroy the area total.

GOLAN: One of the many governmental bodies involved in the Hula project is the Ministry of the Environment, whose approval is needed for any construction in the newly flooded areas. After long negotiations with developers, the Environment Ministry reached a compromise that removes, at least on paper, all commercial activity to at least 400 yards away from the water's edge. Farmers who watched the swamp reclaim their land agreed to this restriction, but argue that they have the right to develop, since they hold the rights to the land. But there's almost no such thing as privately-owned land in Israel; 92% of it is administered by the state. Valerie Brachia is director of planning in the Ministry. She says that in such a small country, management of the site should be carried out by those who have the national interest at stake.

BRACHIA: We don't have the scale of wetlands that there are in some places, and we don't have the scale of space available for recreation and tourist opportunities. We have to find ways, sometimes difficult ways of managing, so that we can manage different activities together, so they can blend together and not conflict together.

GOLAN: In March, the Supreme Court begins deliberations on the case brought by the Society for the Protection of Nature. The court is to consider an appeal for an environmental impact assessment of the entire project.

(Wildlife sounds, crickets and hooting)

GOLAN: Meanwhile, for a third season an extraordinary variety of wildlife continues to flock to the Hula wetlands. For Living on Earth, this is Patricia Golan in Israel's Hula Valley.

Back to top

(Music up and under, with wildlife sounds)

CURWOOD: Sex at the zoo is just ahead, but first it's time to hear from you.

(Music up and under)

Mail Bag

CURWOOD: Most of our mail this week came in response to our report on black farmers in Arkansas. Many of them are struggling to hold onto their land. The story struck a nerve in Howard Motyl, who was listening while driving from Chicago to Des Moines. He writes, "Your treatment of racism in the segment was amazing. It was presented as an issue without becoming an issue. As I drove I became more and more infuriated at the electric company that refused to give power to the black family, and became even more infuriated at the banks refusing to provide loans to black farmers."

Katherine Jenson, who listens to us on WBTF in Roanoke, Virginia, says she was impressed at how knowledgeable the farmers were about sustainable agriculture. She says, "I found it very touching and very impressive. I really want to compliment you for something that was quite outstanding."

Finally, this comment from Pat Borne, a listener to WHYY in Philadelphia, about our reports on the efforts to save the Barton Spring salamanders in Austin, Texas.

BORNE: More power to people who will sue the Federal Government for not doing its job. The government is not producing these safeguards to our drinking water and our clean air. And if we have to go and sue Bruce Babbitt and Al Gore and the United States to protect a salamander to keep our water clean, it's a sorry state of affairs, but I want to applaud you for bringing it to the public's attention.

Back to top

CURWOOD: If you want to get our attention, call Living on Earth's listener line any time. The number is 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. You can write to us at Post Office Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. That's P.O. Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. Our e-mail address is LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. You can also reach us via the World Wide Web on the Internet. Our web site can be found at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. You're listening to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Sex at the Zoo

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

(Alligator calls)

FERNANDES: These are alligators. It's a rather romantic call, loud and robust, but until I had done this program I really was not aware of the fact that there are mating calls in alligators.

CURWOOD: Sounds more like a Harley Davidson.

FERNANDES: (Laughs) Yeah.

CURWOOD: Meet Donna Fernandes, a zoologist, and until recently Vice President of Programming at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo, where for years she presented the yearly "Sex at the Zoo" lecture. It took place, as you might expect, on Valentine's Day. And with Valentine's Day upon us once again, we're taking the opportunity to re-broadcast an interview we did with Ms. Fernandes back in February of 1995. It's a sort of one-on-one version of the standing-room-only show she would conduct in a small amphitheater at the zoo's African Tropical Forest Pavilion. Her lesson is that humans have much in common with our feathered and furry friends when it comes to courtship and mating. As Dr. Fernandes explains, just about any human sexual behavior can be found in the wild kingdom. Take for example the mating call. The human male's street corner whistle has its counterpart in the vocalizations of male elk, parrots, even insects.

(Crickets chirping)

FERNANDES: This is a common field cricket. Probably most of you have heard this out there. What's neat about field crickets is the rate at which they call is related to their body temperature, and in fact one of the early scientists at the beginning of this century worked out the formula so that you could actually tell the temperature of the air by counting the number of chirps in 15 seconds, and I think adding the number 22 or something. I forget the exact formula, but you can find a clear relationship between chirp rate and temperature.

(Birds caw in the background)

CURWOOD: But it's not a thermometer; it's a love call.

FERNANDES: Yes, it is a love call. And so, females have to sort of take into consideration what the air temperature is when they are responding to a call. Because very often, species differ only in their calling rates. So a female not only has to listen to the call, but sort of adjust that to the outside temperature so she's sure that she's responding to the right male.


CURWOOD: Oh, this is very loud.

FERNANDES: The 17-year cicada. They're really interesting in that they take about 17 years to develop. After they sort of emerge from the ground, the males climb to the tops of trees and they emit this really loud buzzing call, and females then fly into where the males are and copulate with them.

CURWOOD: I guess if they've been waiting 17 years, they deserve it. Okay. And this?

(Elk call)

CURWOOD: This sounds like rutting season to me.

FERNANDES: That's right. This is an elk call, and they also vocalize. And what's interesting about elk, is females often choose mates on the basis of their call in that they prefer to mate with males who give very long vocalizations, so that the bout length is quite pronounced. As well as the calling frequency, because there's quite an energetic demand to vocalize. And so, if they mate with animals that are able to call for a long time, amounts of time, it means they're in very good body condition.

(Elk call continues)

CURWOOD: Now, Dr. Fernandes, why study sex in animals?

FERNANDES: Well I've always thought it was very interesting to understand some of the complex, bizarre behaviors that you see. Courtship, even some of the characteristics that males have evolved which function solely to attract females, like elaborate plumages in peacocks, or inordinately large bright red breasts in frigate birds and things. And also, the duration of copulation can vary so much in species. How come some can get it over with in 3 seconds and others remain together in amplexis, if they're frogs, for 6 months? I mean, why stay on a female for 6 months? And so, I always thought that those kinds of questions were really fascinating.

CURWOOD: And what are some of the answers? Why 6 months?

FERNANDES: Well, animals that remain incopulate for a really long time, it's usually as a way of guarding the female or reducing the risks that some other male is going to come and fertilize her. So probably only a small portion of that time is actually needed for the transmission of sperm. Thereafter, it's mate-guarding.

CURWOOD: Now, with sexual reproduction as a way to mix up the genetic pool, and this behavior around sex, the courtship and duration stuff, is to do what? What's the biological purpose of that?

FERNANDES: Well, I think it really comes down to the fact that females represent a very limited resource, in that eggs are much, much larger than sperm. So females can only lay a limited number of eggs in their lifetime. Because females make these larger eggs and also often invest thereafter by carrying the young in a pregnancy, or lactating so they give breast milk, they're making this huge investment, whereas often males give little more than their sperm. They copulate with the female and they're gone. That sets up competition among males for access to those females, because there's certainly more sperm out there than there are eggs to fertilize. And it's that competition among males which has led to a lot of dominance, interaction, or the evolution of giant horns in males which they'll use to fight with each other. Or sometimes males can only get access to females if they bribe her with gifts. So there's sometimes courtship feeding, where males have to prove their worthiness by offering her some sort of dead insect if she's a hanging fly, and so females will copulate only if they get an insect prize. And the duration of copulation is related to the size of the prey, so that if you give her a really big insect she'll let you copulate with her for 25 minutes. If you give her a small little midge, you'll only get on her for 5 minutes. So those really interesting stories, I think, fascinate me.

CURWOOD: The presents of Valentine's Day have their precedents in nature.

FERNANDES: Oh, absolutely.

CURWOOD: So what species look for these presents? You mention these insects. Who else?

FERNANDES: Well, a lot of birds will insist on courtship feeding before they'll settle down with a male. And that's because in male birds, a lot of them do a substantial amount of parental care after the chicks are born. And so what you really want to evaluate is how good of a father is this male going to be. And so, if he's able to bring you lots of fish or lots of insects over a fairly short courtship period, then you know that once those babies are born, he'll be pretty good at going out and getting food for the offspring. So you're sort of assessing his parenting skills by how much he can bring you in a short period of time.

CURWOOD: So in general, in nature, the more attractive species are the males. They have the brighter plumage, the big peacock feathers or whatever. And the females are less attractive.


CURWOOD: So why the reversal for humans?

FERNANDES: Well, it's hard to say if that's true. If you looked at males and females without makeup, then I don't know if you necessarily would say that females are the more attractive. If you look at why makeup has sort of evolved in culture, very often it is to make you look younger, and to simulate sexual arousal. Rouge looks very much like flushed cheeks, or a lot of the eye makeup's supposed to make your eyes look bigger. But the biggest thing is you want to look young. Because in humans, and in a lot of animals, your value as a mate is dependent on youth. Because once you're slightly older, your reproductive potential is much less. You have fewer years ahead of you where you'll be able to bear children. And if you look at societies where there are multiple wives, very often males will have several wives and have very young wives. And even in today's society, very often successful men will divorce their wife when she's about menopausal or in her 40s, post-reproductive, and marry a much younger woman. And it's because he could have a much, a whole second set of offspring with another female.

(Bird calls)

CURWOOD: All right. Let's take a walk around the zoo and take a look at some of the animals.


CURWOOD: So we're in front of the chameleons here.

FERNANDES: Right. We have some panther chameleons. What's neat about these guys is, you can tell if a female's receptive by her body coloration. That if she's in a certain color state, she is receptive. And what's also neat about chameleons, and it's true of a lot of lizards and snakes, is they have 2 penises. Hemi-penes.

CURWOOD: Two penises?

FERNANDES: Right. And the one that they use depends on which side they approach the female. So if they approach her on the left side of her then they'll use their right penis, or if they approach her on the right side they'll use their left penis. So we've watched these guys copulate, and he doesn't seem to have a preference of which one he uses, but he does have two.

(More footfalls)

CURWOOD: What do we have here? This is a marmoset, or...?

FERNANDES: It's actually a pado, which is one of the early types of primates called prosimian primates, and they're found deep in the forest canopy of West Africa. And what's interesting about these guys is they copulate upside down, which is--

CURWOOD: Upside down?

FERNANDES: Upside down, very interesting to watch. And also, that what the male will do is he uses a mating plug. So after he copulates with a female, he'll sort of seal up her genital tract by having a substance that's mixed in with the semen that has a glue-like property. And that helps, because it sort of seals her up; it's like a little chastity belt. It's going to limit when she can mate with another male, and usually it allows enough time for his own sperm to travel up her reproductive tract. And this is very common in a lot of insects as well, who will use these mating plugs. And in fact, there's this interesting type of worm called an ecanthocephalon worm, which also, when he mates with a female, he'll cement up her genital tract. Well they have a phenomenon known as homosexual rape in these ecanthocephalon worms, where males will copulate with other males only to seal up their genital pores, because it's in effect sterilizing rival males. So once they're all sealed up with cement, they can't copulate with other females. So you may be the only intact male in town if you've been able to take all these other males out of commission.

CURWOOD: What have you learned most about human sexual behavior from the animals?

FERNANDES: Well, probably that anything that you've ever seen in human sexual patterns, bizarre as it may seem, you can find examples in the animal kingdom.

CURWOOD: Okay, you walked into this. Give us an example.

FERNANDES: Well, at first I thought homosexual behavior was rather rare in animals, because you really just don't see it that often. But I've been doing a lot of research on this and found that, in fact, you do find lots of cases where males will copulate with other males of their own species, or females will remain together and raise young together, so-called lesbian gulls. And transvestism is a very common phenomenon in animals where you will have males that will mimic the appearance and behaviors of females, and there are a couple of reasons why they might want to do that. Often, if you mimic a female, you'll be able to sneak into the territory of another male; he won't suspect that you're a male. So when that territorial male is off defending maybe the border of his territory, you can sneak copulations with all the females that are in his territory. Or when I talked about the insects that insist on getting a nuptial gift before they'll copulate, well there are some males who will adopt the sort of flight pattern and courtship pattern of females so that when males offer them the nuptial gift thinking that it's a female, they'll steal it. And then they'll go off and try to court a male with the stolen gift. So, you know, you might think that transvestism in humans is really a bizarre phenomenon, but there are cases in the animal world as well where males will take on the appearances of females for some reproductive gain.

(Bird calls)

CURWOOD: Well, it seems like the residents here are getting a bit restless Maybe we should wrap it up. Donna, this has been both enlightening and entertaining. Thanks for taking this time with us.

FERNANDES: It's been a real pleasure to talk with you today. Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Dr. Donna Fernandes is an associate curator at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City, and former presenter of the annual "Sex at the Zoo" lecture at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production team includes Constantine Von Hoffman, George Homsy, Liz Lempert, Susan Shepherd, Julia Madeson, and Peter Shaw. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. Jennifer Schmidt edited this week's program, and Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. We also had help from Kim Chainey and Colin Studds. And we bid a fond farewell to intern Jason Craw, who is now off to the West Coast. Thanks to KPLU in Seattle. Our program is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. Our engineers are Mark Navin at WBUR, and Jeff Martini at Harvard. Michael Aharon composed our theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. And thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Major funding for Living on Earth comes from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; The Great Lakes Protection Fund and the George Gund Foundation for Great Lakes Reporting; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; and in part by Patagonia: a clothing company committed to making quality outdoor clothing with the earth in mind. For a free catalogue call 1-800-336-9090.

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.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

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