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

March 28, 1997

Air Date: March 28, 1997


Suburban Sprawl Prevention Tax-A / J. Carl Ganter

A rural township in northern Michigan is trying to avoid becoming divided into malls and housing subdivisions and to preserve its open spaces and walkable town centers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's J. Carl Ganter recently visited Old Mission Peninsula where he found a community that has taken the unusual step of taxing residents in order to preserve the landscape and lifestyle it holds dear. (07:30)

There's Bears In Them Woods / Sy Montgomery

New England's settlers and farmers exterminated black bears from all but the most remote northern woods areas long ago. But after a century, New England's bears are coming back; and that means more encounters between people and one of the most feared animals on the continent. In this report, Living on Earth contributor Sy Montgomery headed into the northern woods to get to know her elusive neighbors a little better and was surprised by the timid animals she found. (13:05)

The Living On Earth Almanac

Facts about... An infamous garbage barge incident. (01:15)

Environmental Species Act: New supreme Court Ruling / Patrick Parenteau

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled unanimously that people whose economic interests are hurt by Interior Department proposals have a right to sue under the Endangered Species Act. This decision could have a far-reaching impact on the future enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, and other environmental legislation. Patrick Parenteau is a professor at the Vermont Law School and director of its Environmental Law Center. He joins us now from member station W-V-P-R (05:06)

Animal ADs: T.V. Stars / John Carroll

There are thousands of endangered or imperiled species on earth right now, and scientists say thousands more may disappear by the beginning of the next century. Commentator John Carroll says Madison Avenue, not environmental activists, may have the best plan to save them. John Carroll is head of Carrol Creative in Boston and a regular commentator for Living On Earth. (02:33)

Modern Day Beaver Trapping / Nick Van Der Puy

Almost three hundred years ago fur trapping led to the settlement of much of the upper Great Lakes region. The beaver's warm, luxuriant fur was prized for making hats and coats. So prized, in fact, that by the early 1900s, the beaver was almost trapped to extinction. But lately, the animals have staged a comeback; which makes life a bit more interesteing for two north woods trappers, Rodger Fish and Ray Briggs. They still pursue beavers every winter; and this year The Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Nick Van Der Puy joined them on the trapline. (05:55)


Listeners weigh in on recent LOE stories. (02:00)

One River / Steve Curwood

Steve Curwood spoke with author Wade Davis about some of the adventures recounted in his book One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest. (09:20)

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: Alexis Milner, David Keiper, J. Carl Ganter,
Sy Montgomery, Nick Van Der Puy
GUESTS: Patrick Parenteau, Wade Davis

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

This week we take you to northern Michigan, where a community is fighting sprawl and saving farm land with a special property tax. We also visit New England, where as the sap rises black bears are waking up in their dens, many black bears. In fact, compared to times past, there's a bear population explosion going on in the woods of the Northeast.

ORF: By the 1840s, 1850s, in this part of the country, the bears were essentially gone. Of course then the soldiers went off to the Civil War and what did they discover? There's good soil, there's farm land, and Emil's farmers returned to gather the families and head off and abandoned this land over the last 100 years and 130 years. And now we see the result of that abandonment is the habitat's back and so aren't the bears.

CURWOOD: But are people ready to share habitat with bears? That's coming up on Living on Earth; first news.

Environmental News

MULLINS: From Living on Earth, I'm Lisa Mullins. The price of pollution credits sold through the Chicago Board of Trade rose by 62% last year. Prices at the Fifth Annual Auction for Allowances of Sulfur Dioxide Emissions climbed to more than $110 a ton. Last year's mark was just under $70 a ton. Board of Trade officials say the rise in prices shows utilities' increasing concern with pollution. The allowances let utilities and factories exceed Federal air pollution limits. They're sold by companies that don't expect to fill their current mandate of pollution credits.

The Government's chief weather forecaster is threatening to quit over proposed budget cuts. Ron McPherson calls the $30 million shortfall a threat to public safety. We have details from Alexis Milner in Miami.

MILNER: McPherson, director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, was in Miami trying to boost morale at the National Hurricane Center, where a dozen jobs may be lost. Overall, more than 40 jobs are scheduled to be eliminated, including some in South Florida's Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch, which provides aviation and shipping weather reports. In hurricane season it supplies data to hurricane forecasters. Most of the job losses will hit sensitive overnight shifts. McPherson says that's dangerous, because that's often when the worst weather occurs. He warns that smaller staffs mean there could be less time to spread an alarm. Governors Laughton Childs of Florida and Jim Hunt of North Carolina have voiced their support of McPherson by complaining to President Clinton that staffing cuts will endanger people's lives. For Living on Earth, I'm Alexis Milner in Miami.

MULLINS: Greenpeace has entered a sealed bid for the rights to a major unexplored sea bed site off the northern Scottish coast. The British government says Greenpeace is challenging leading oil companies for 22,000 square miles of offshore acreage available in Britain's 17th oil licensing round. A Greenpeace spokesman says the group wants to turn the site into a marine wildlife sanctuary.

A dam on the Danube River has let poisonous algae take over from the previous benign organisms in the Black Sea. The river was blocked in 1972 at the border between Yugoslavia and Romania. Since then, silicates in the river have decreased by about two thirds, affecting the balance among the tiny organisms that form the base of the food chain. The silicates have been replaced by toxic algae blooms. The Danube provides about 70% of the Black Sea's fresh water. The report appeared in the journal Nature. John Milliman, a marine scientist at the William and Mary College, says the report illustrates how damaging dams can be if not designed properly. He says Egypt's Aswan Dam has helped fight drought but it also means less sediment reaches the Mediterranean, with effects ranging from a lower fish catch to dying coastal lagoons.

Alaska's last paper pulp mill has closed down. The mill in Ketchikan, Alaska, had run for nearly 50 years on timber cut in the Tongass National Forest. From Alaska Public Radio, David Keiper reports.

KEIPER: The closure of Ketchikan Pulp brings an end to the era of big timber in America's largest national forest. At the era's height more than a decade ago, pulp companies in Ketchikan and Sitka employed several thousand people in a region which prior to the start of pulp operations early in the 1950s had few year-round jobs. For the first 20 years, few in the region questioned the mill operations. But as the environmental lobby gained strength in the early 1980s, the pulp mills, which needed large-scale clear-cuts, came under increasing pressure to change their methods. In the end, changes in how the Forest Service managed the national forest and a sagging worldwide pulp market convinced both pulp companies to pull out of their long-term contract. Ketchikan Pulp has reached a new agreement with the Forest Service to get enough wood from the Tongass to operate 2 large saw mills for the next 3 years. After that, local leaders hope that a smaller scale, more environmentally-friendly wood products industry will have arisen to replace the one that has dominated the region's economy since before statehood. For Living on Earth, I'm Dave Keiper in Ketchikan, Alaska.

MULLINS: A new species of wild pig has been rediscovered along the border of Laos and Vietnam. DNA tests show the pig, sus bucalentis, is only distantly related to other pigs in the region. This is the first time researchers have seen a living version of the pig, which was described more than 100 years ago but then became lost to science. Scientists say DNA tests show a remarkably large difference between the new pig and other wild and domestic pigs in the region. The area where the pig was found has already yielded several spectacular wildlife finds, including the discovery in 1992 of a deer-like animal known as the saula and a new freshwater fish.

Finally, dogs that act like big silly puppies their whole lives have a good excuse: they were bred that way. According to scientists, the less a dog looks like its ancestor, the wolf, the more likely it is to display immature canine behavior. Scientists tested 10 different breeds of dogs and compared their behavior to standard wolf behavior. Some, especially German shepherds and Siberian huskies, acted a lot like wolves with growling and aggressive attitudes; but others, like the King Charles spaniel, acted like wolf puppies their entire lives.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Suburban Sprawl Prevention Tax-A

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Some of the most obvious costs of our car culture and related sprawl development are traffic and congestion, but these aren't the only drawbacks. In many parts of America, every time a new subdivision goes in, a key plot of farm land comes out of production permanently. According to some analysts, we are building on and paving over so much of our best crop land that the US may face a domestic food supply crunch in the next century. Recently the American Farm Land Trust identified 20 hot spots around the nation where rapid development is consuming crucial arable land. One of these hot spots is in northern Michigan. It includes a unique micro-climate that supports numerous fruit orchards and most of the tart cherry production in the US. One rural township in the orchard district is fighting sprawl with an unusual tax. From Old Mission Peninsula, J. Carl Ganter of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium has our report.


GANTER: Walter Johnson is showing me his cherry farm on the rolling hills overlooking Lake Michigan's bays. He's a fourth generation cherry farmer. His ancestors first settled on this scenic peninsula in 1858, but in the last 20 years he's seen many of his neighbors sell off their farms.

JOHNSON: This generation of farmers is about all who are left to really work these farms.

GANTER: Thousands of acres of cherry and apple trees have been uprooted to make way for upscale subdivisions, a sign of northern Michigan's rapid development. Wealthy retirees and professionals are moving here from midwest cities like Detroit, seeking refuge in the rolling countryside. In fact, Michigan has one of the fastest rates of sprawl and farm land loss in the nation. One of Walter Johnson's most productive orchards now overlooks a ridge line of expensive new homes.

JOHNSON: This development that you're looking at here was a farm, and the developer came in here, put a lot of money into it, and they leveled off the hilltops with a bulldozer. And now you're looking at homes here that range anywhere from half million to a million dollars each.

GANTER: The last decade has been bad for cherry farmers, and a drop in profits coincided with a rise in property values. Overnight, it seemed, farms along Peninsula Drive were dotted with real estate signs. When one of the largest farms in the peninsula was subdivided 5 years ago, residents got together to do something about this sell-off trend. After a long campaign that flew in the face of anti-tax sentiment, they narrowly won approval for an initiative that increased property taxes. The new funds pay for the preservation of farm land. About a third of the township's remaining acreage will be protected by the purchase of development rights. The so-called PDR program limits new construction on that land and costs the average taxpayer about $80 a year. Over the last 2 years the township has raised about 2 and a half million dollars. Gordon Hayward, Peninsula Township's planner, says the land protection program is a bargain.

HAYWARD: When you look at it, the amount of money that we're spending, we could build about a mile or maybe a mile and a half of sewer in the township. So although it's a major program, it's no more major than putting in sewer and water systems to serve the growth that's taking place.

GANTER: Mr. Hayward says sprawl itself can be expensive. Uncontrolled development puts pressure on local systems like sewer, water, and schools. In the long run, Gordon Hayward says the investment could lead to a decrease in taxes. But township trustee Al Gray isn't convinced that tax funded land programs will reduce the infrastructure costs, or save the most valuable land.

GRAY: The program is designed to be voluntary, and so consequently all of the farms you may like to see in the program may not be in the program.

GANTER: He would rather see specific projects funded by donations, rather than a general project funded by an ongoing tax.

(Engine running)

GANTER: Despite Al Gray's doubts, the program has protected 1,200 acres so far. One of the first farmers to benefit from the PDR program is Walter Johnson's son, Ward. He sold the township the development rights on 49 acres of prime orchard. The PDR program paid him $750,000 to keep it his farm land. Ward Johnson still owns the land, but neither he nor future owners can build on it.

JOHNSON: The high land prices that are out here, it's impossible to farm. Where the PDR program has helped me is help make the farm payments.

(Engine continues)

GANTER: When Ward Johnson gave up his development rights, the resale value of his land dropped and so did his property taxes. This makes it easier to live off cherry sales. The effort to control growth here goes beyond the purchase of development rights. Peninsula Township is also debating how to make the growth that does occur different from typical sprawl. Township planners say the next step is to build a cohesive village center instead of scattered subdivisions.

(A printer runs)

GANTER: The Mapleton Grocery is at the center of the tiny hamlet of Mapleton. At the heart of the peninsula, it sits among rolling hills and country crossroads.

CUTLER: To me, it's almost like a brand new community. You move into an area and everybody says hey, we're going to build the town here.

GANTER: Mike Cutler owns and runs the Mapleton Grocery. He looks forward to an old-time Main Street, which would incorporate shops and schools with small parks and tree-lined residential streets. He also looks forward to the community effort that it would involve.

CUTLER: And everybody, somewhat cooperatively, gets together and says this is how we're going to do it, this is how we're going to lay it out, this is how we're going to plan it. So hopefully, this will be a neat thing where everybody plans it ahead and it follows a pattern, it follows a game plan and stays that way.

GANTER: Supporters of the idea envision a place where people know one another and can easily get around on foot. Surrounding the town would be farm land, expansive orchards like Ward Johnson's permanently protected by the township's land program. But like any pilot project, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. It's still not clear if the community will embrace the village concept or if planning can deliver lower taxes and preserve the landscape. But supporters say at least the community is addressing the issue of growth instead of waiting for decisions to filter down from the state level. Presently, the Michigan legislature is sending mixed signals on growth management. Governor John Engler recently signed a bill making it easier for local governments to create PDR programs like the one in Peninsula Township. However, he also approved changes to the state's Subdivision Control Act, which many believe will encourage more sprawl by making it easier to subdivide land. One thing's for sure, however. Land protection has become a high-profile issue in Michigan. There were 50 land use bills proposed in the last session of the legislature, but it will be some time before lawmakers agree on how to balance development and preservation. Meanwhile, the people of Peninsula Township are moving to define their town and their future. On Old Mission Peninsula I'm J. Carl Ganter for Living on Earth.

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(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Something's brewing in the northeast woods. The bears are back. Lots of them. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)

There's Bears In Them Woods

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Many folks think New England settlers and farmers exterminated black bears from all but the most remote regions long ago, and they're right. By the mid-1800s, bounty hunters and clear-cutting for farms had pretty much wiped bears out. But after a century, New England's bears are coming back, and that means more encounters between people and one of the most feared animals on the continent. Living on Earth contributor Sy Montgomery headed into the northern woods to get to know her elusive neighbors a little better, and here's what she found.

(Barking dogs. A gate creaks.)

WOMAN: Hi, come on in. Hi.

MONTGOMERY: Donny McDonald raises bulldogs and retrievers. Chasing a lost dog, she encountered her first wild bear in the woods near her home in southern New Hampshire.

McDONALD: My first reaction was that I didn't want my dog to get hurt, so I started chasing after the dog, who was also chasing the bear.

And I was blowing these very loud whistles, as loud as I could, to get the dog to turn around, and the bear was totally -- just took off at 100 miles an hour. The thing was so scared, and I'm sure it must have been in the next county in 5 minutes. (Laughs) And by the way, I might add this was a huge bear. It must have been a big male. Because it was huge.

MONTGOMERY: The story's almost always the same: a huge black beast looms menacingly out of the forest, and then turns tail and runs away. Encounters like these reflect one of the most dramatic wildlife recovery stories in the country. Massachusetts' bear population has tripled in the past 10 years to over 1,000. Vermont and New Hampshire each have more than 2,500.

ORF: As far as bear going to New Hampshire, these are the best of times. We now have more bear over a wider range in New Hampshire than we had in 200 years.

MONTGOMERY: Eric Orf, looking much like a big bear himself at 6 foot 2, 280 pounds, is the bear biologist for New Hampshire Fish and Game. On this snowy February day we head into woods not far from Dotty's house, looking for signs of this mysterious black beast who lives among us.

(Vehicle engine, followed by footfalls)

MONTGOMERY: As we snowshoe down this tree-lined path, it's hard to believe this was once the town's main thoroughfare. But like many thousands of acres across New England, what's now forest was once sheep pasture and farm land.

ORF: By the 1840s, 1850s, in this part of the country, the bears were essentially gone. Of course soon the soldiers went off to the Civil War and what did they discover? There's good soil, there's farm land, and Emil's farmers returned to gather families and head off and abandoned this land over the last 100 years and 130 years. And now we see the result of that abandonment is the habitat's back and so aren't the bears.

MONTGOMERY: We're heading up a rocky knoll toward a stand of beech. In the fall these trees provide one of the bears' favorite foods: beech nuts, whose rich nut meats help the bear put on the 5 inches of fat it needs to survive the winter. In a fall feeding frenzy, some bears consume 20,000 calories in a single day.

ORF: You can see on the side of the tree where the bear had to dig in with its claws to pull itself up.

MONTGOMERY: The trunk is about 2 feet in diameter with smooth, silvery-gray bark.

ORF: See that big branch up there, looks like some of it's been broken off. They'll sit in a crotch and they pull the branches in and eat the nuts off the branches, just like you or I would pick blueberries or blackberries.

MONTGOMERY: I love how you can see the 5-pointed claws in exactly the shape of a bear paw right on that tree, one after the other, and you could almost see the bear going up that -- that -- beech tree.

ORF: Absolutely; you can see exactly where it climbed up that tree. Sure. It started down here. And they take the tree on the outside like that and just go right up it. Unlike a human, their big toes are on the outside edge so that they can better grasp that tree.

MONTGOMERY: It's like their feet are on backwards, almost.

ORF: Well, ours are on backwards. (Montgomery laughs)

MONTGOMERY: Last fall's harvest was generous. But 2 years ago the nut crop failed and some folks who set out seeds for birds attracted larger quarry than they bargained for. In Massachusetts one hungry bear stole a pie off a back porch, and another bear opened a back door and took some Milky Way bars off a kitchen counter. New Hampshire Fish and Game got more than 400 complaints that year, mostly from people terrified just to see a bear.

ORF: Most people think that a bear is vicious, is going to attack them, is going to sneak up on them. It's the stories, it's the history that bears are bad and that we should be afraid of them. But the fact is, the last time anyone was killed by a bear was in the 1700s here in New Hampshire.

MONTGOMERY: Unlike the polar bear and grizzly, the black bear virtually never attacks. It runs away, as terrified of the person as the person is of the bear. Yet our fear remains, and Eric Orf says that's part of what makes the black bear's comeback so tenuous.

ORF: Human attitude has always driven the bear equation to a large degree. When we didn't want bear, our forefathers killed them off, suppressed them, so we've got a big job ahead of us. We know to educate people to live with bears and develop a bear-friendly attitude, I guess I might say.

MONTGOMERY: A poll the state commissioned in 1995 found that though some people were happy bears were coming back, more than half the respondents said they didn't want them. So Fish and Game launched a public information campaign called Something's Brewing: Learn to Live With Bears. It urges common sense. When bears wake up in April, take bird feeders and pet food inside. Store garbage carefully. And just as important is making sure bears have enough wild land they don't need to raid back yards for food. The regrowth of New England's forests offers a rare chance to live with bears. But as Eric Orf points out, each new house and road has the potential to fragment the bear's range.

ORF: You can have bear only when you have links to other bear, to a bigger population. And they do need to move 50 or 100 miles for food. And if that corridors through an urban area, then the probability of that bear not making it is vastly increased.

(Trickling water into a basin)

MAN: Making sure everything's clean.

MONTGOMERY: At University of Massachusetts, Amherst, bear biologist John McDonald is working with one of the most densely packed bear populations in the country.

McDONALD: These are the darts, the dart barrels, and you fill them up with drugs and push them into the bear.

MONTGOMERY: John is working on one of the longest continuous studies of black bears in North America. Today he's checking up on a bear who's been part of the study for 8 years, a 10-year-old female.

McDONALD: She's a pretty successful mother. She's -- I think she's only ever had 2 cub litters, but she usually raises both cubs.

MONTGOMERY: An earlier check on the bear's radio collar signal told John she's somewhere about 10 miles from the campus. Last winter she had 2 cubs, but he doesn't know if they've survived. On this sunny February afternoon he's going to try to find out.

(Car engine; slamming door)

MONTGOMERY: We're going with him, along with 15 students from the University's Wildlife Techniques class.

MAN: So this bear that you're going after today, do you know where it is right now?

McDONALD: No, I don't know exactly where she is.

MAN: So she could be out walking around or --

McDONALD: No, she's not out walking around. She's denned. If we get to the den you'll see where the yearlings have been out climbing around probably. She'll probably let us get within 30 yards or so and then take off. You never know. Sometimes we get lucky, too.

MONTGOMERY: As John fills syringes with tranquilizers the students learn to work the radio tracking equipment.

McDONALD: We would like to track our bear. He's already dialed in the frequency, which is 4022.

WOMAN: Is it special for that bear?

McDONALD: Exactly. Each bear has its own frequency so that you can basically dial up your bear and tell them apart.

MONTGOMERY: The receiver looks like a television antenna. The student swings it slowly, searching for the direction of the strongest signal.

(The radio chirps)

McDONALD: Yeah. Okay, good. Good good good.

MONTGOMERY (whispering): As we get closer to the den, the students wait behind while my producer and I follow John.

McDONALD: If I stop moving, you stop moving.

MONTGOMERY (whispers): Okay.

McDONALD: Don't catch up and stop moving.

MONTGOMERY (whispers): Okay.

McDONALD: It's probably within 100 yards, 110 yards.

MONTGOMERY (whispers): We know we're close and we don't want to scare her away.

McDONALD: You might see her run out ahead of us, if they do decide to run. She may be -- you know, in a big hollow tree or something, you don't know.


McDONALD: I need a flashlight.

MONTGOMERY (whispers): She's right here.

McDONALD (whispers): Two yearlings.

MONTGOMERY (whispers): The den's like a shallow cave beneath a slab of granite, its opening partially blocked by a log. I wedge my face into the opening and look directly into the dark brown eyes and tan snout of an adult female black bear.

McDONALD (whispers): Hold that light.

MONTGOMERY (whispers) Sure.

I ask John if he's drugged her yet.

McDONALD (whispers): Not yet. Not yet.


MONTGOMERY: My face, I realize, is less than 3 feet away from the jaws of a fully alert mother bear in her den with her 2 cubs.

(McDonald gives instructions [inaudible] in a whisper)

MONTGOMERY: The mother bear never whimpers or growls or snorts a threat, even while John pokes into her den with a 4-foot jab stick.

MAN: She down now?

McDONALD: Yeah, she's down.

MONTGOMERY: John has to get the mother out to tranquilize the cubs. Dragging a bear out of this tight space isn't easy.

McDONALD: You can get her paw, John; I'll get her head.

JOHN: All right. Let me just get my jacket.

MONTGOMERY: Finally out of the den, the cubs, both males, are almost as big as their mother. Fewer than half of all cubs survive their first year, but these yearlings are fat and healthy.

(A clanking sound; ambient conversation)

MONTGOMERY: Each bear gets hoisted on a scale hung from a tree branch.

JOHN: Sixty-one.

(More clanking.)

MONTGOMERY: After they're weighted, the bears lie groggily on a space blanket spread out in the snow. The students have rejoined us now, and they reach out to stroke and pat the shiny black fur.

WOMAN: The babies, you just want to cuddle them. Even the mother looks like a big teddy bear; you just want to hug them. (Laughs)

MONTGOMERY: The mother bear would stand less than 30 inches tall. Her weight, only 123 pounds, is about average for New England. This great black beast people fear so deeply seems more like a furry little waif.

McDONALD: Pull on that rope.

MONTGOMERY: Now it's another big effort to get the bears back in the den.

McDONALD: On your other side, you want it?

MAN: Well, I think so...

MONTGOMERY: When the drugs wear off in 40 minutes or so they'll be warm and dry, nestled like spoons. And we'll be long gone.

McDONALD: And you can see a den; you'd walk right by a place like this den, you know, and they'll let you walk right by them.

MONTGOMERY: As bears return to their natural range, the question is, can we let them walk right by?


MONTGOMERY: I'm Sy Montgomery for Living on Earth.

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(Footfalls, ambient conversation)

CURWOOD: Our story on New England's black bears was produced by Tatiana Schreiber.

(Music up and under)
(Footfalls, ambient conversation)

CURWOOD: Our story on New England's black bears was produced by Tatiana Schreiber.

(Music up and under)
(Footfalls, ambient conversation)

CURWOOD: Our story on New England's black bears was produced by Tatiana Schreiber.

(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: If you have a bear story or want to tell us about any encounter you've had with species that are coming back in reforested areas, call our listener line right now at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or write us. Our address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. That's 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. Our e-mail address is loe@npr.org. Once again, 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.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include 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.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Reviving an age-old practice: trapping beaver in Wisconsin. That story is ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

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The Living On Earth Almanac

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Ten years ago the world's most famous load of garbage began an unintentional international tour. A barge containing 32 tons of trash from New York City was turned away by a North Carolina landfill for lack of proper permits. So began a 6,000-mile, 155-day trip for the garbage scow. Officials from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Belize, and the Bahamas, all refused to accept the cargo. They feared it contained hazardous waste. At each stop the barge gathered more attention, becoming fodder for news reports and comedians. Some public officials said the fiasco helped to convince the public that garbage disposal is a growing problem. Brendon Sexton, then New York City's sanitation commissioner, proclaimed, "That's one small barge for New York City, one giant bale of garbage for mankind." The barge finally landed back where its journey began, its cargo disposed of in a Brooklyn incinerator. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Environmental Species Act: New supreme Court Ruling

CURWOOD: When the US Supreme Court decided on March 19th to give a group of ranchers and water agencies the right to sue the Federal Government under the Endangered Species Act, private property rights activists claimed a major victory. The ranchers had sued over a government plan to reduce rancher access to water from a reservoir near the Oregon/California border. The government said the move would help protect 2 endangered species of fish. But the ranchers argue the proposal was based on faulty science. The actual merits of the case have yet to be tried. The question before the high court was whether the ranchers had the right to sue, a right lawyers call standing. The Clinton Administration said no: the only ones who have standing to sue under the Endangered Species Act, it claimed, were those who seek more protection of species, not less. But in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the law allows suits from citizens with a wide range of interests. Professor Patrick Parenteau, director of Vermont Law School's Environmental Law Center, says that while the case of Bennett v. Spear does make it clear that property owners have the standing to sue, the ruling, he says, does not mean the suit they filed will prevail.

PARENTEAU: The court made no comment whatsoever on the merits of what the irrigation districts and the ranchers were arguing. And in fact, in looking at the claims that they seek to bring, I can't believe that they're going to be very successful. Now, it's always hazardous to predict the outcome of any litigation but their arguments are of a very technical nature. They're basically arguing that the Fish and Wildlife Service, in effect, was designating critical habitat for these 2 species without going through the proper steps to do so. And that's the kind of discretionary action that I think it's going to be very difficult for the ranchers when they finally get back down to the trial court level, to actually win.

CURWOOD: I'm really wondering how much this decision changes. The review that we did of the law in this area points out that property owners have had the right to sue under the Endangered Species Act. We're thinking of the Sweet Home case, which also wound up in front of the Supreme Court. And there, people who had some woodlands, some timber, were allowed to file a suit under the Endangered Species Act, weren't they?

PARENTEAU: Yes. It's interesting that you mention the Sweet Home case, because in Sweet Home there was no argument based on standing. The standing of the timber industry that brought that case wasn't even challenged. It could have been and that could have been the case that reached the Supreme Court on the standing question. But it was not challenged, and by the time it got to the Supreme Court nobody was raising a question about whether these groups actually had standing.

CURWOOD: Does this decision from the high court mean that the Endangered Species Act is going to be even more bogged down by litigation? I mean, is it just going to get tied up in dockets and legal knots here?

PARENTEAU: Well, certainly from the standpoint of the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is understaffed, under-budgeted in every way, it is going to be a diversion. So yes, in the sense that this opens the door to challenges by industry that seek to slow down the Endangered Species listing process, for example, or anything that the government may be doing on behalf of endangered species, what's going to happen now is that more time of the Fish and Wildlife Service staff is going to go into building better records to defend against industry attack, and then actually being dragged into litigation and having to defend those decisions in the face of lawsuits.

CURWOOD: Some people say that this decision also has an impact in other laws like the tax laws.

PARENTEAU: Well, it could. A lot of tax policy is anti-environmental because it rewards resource consumption, accelerated consumption, or rewards activities that alter wetlands, for example, and alter wildlife habitat. And environmental groups, when they try to sue and challenge, for example, a tax credit -- recently they challenged the tax credit for ethanol -- and the reason they challenged it is because to produce ethanol you have to put a lot more land into agricultural production, and to put more land into agricultural production means you have to convert wetlands or wildlife habitat to crop production. Their case got thrown out; the environmentalists' case got thrown out, on the grounds that they lack standing to challenge and Internal Revenue code regulation creating this ethanol tax credit. I don't know whether the Bennett decision will specifically overturn a decision like that, but at least it gives the environmental plaintiffs an argument that their interests in the environment are every bit as important as the business interest in the tax credit. Whenever the court opens the doors of the courthouse to one set of interests, there are [sic] always another set of interests quick to find entrance as well. And I think that's what this opinion is likely to produce. I think it's going to allow environmental lawsuits to proceed in cases where in the past they might not have.

CURWOOD: Patrick Parenteau is a professor at the Vermont Law School and director of its Environmental Law Center. Thanks for joining us.

PARENTEAU: Thank you, Steve.

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Animal ADs: T.V. Stars

CURWOOD: There are thousands of endangered or imperiled species on earth right now, and scientists say thousands more may disappear by the beginning of the next century. Commentator John Carroll says Madison Avenue, not environmental activists, may have the best plan to save them.

CARROLL: Thanks to excessive farming, widespread deforestation, and modern technology in general, plant and animal species are dwindling faster than Al Gore's credibility these days. To take just one example, scientists report that the penguin population of Antarctica has shrunk by 20% over the past several decades. At least in this instance, we know where they've all gone: to Los Angeles to shoot TV commercials. Lately, penguins have been popping up on the small screen at the same pace as Seinfeld reruns. With the penguins, though, you get a lot more variety. Recent TV spots have featured emperor penguins, African black-footed penguins, and Adelaide penguins: the classic black and white that inspired so many police cars across America. And penguins help sell products from BMW to Canada Dry to Bud Ice to N'ice cough drops.

Now, even though penguins aren't technically endangered or imperiled yet, their current popularity has to be good for their long-term prospects. So maybe advertisers should think about adopting various endangered species as corporate icons to generate both goodwill and good ecology. How about a marketing campaign built around Ivory Snow leopards, which are 99 and 44/100% gone? I'll bet Blue Whale Corduroys from Levi's would be a big hit with the Birkenstock crowd, and after a hard day of saving the rainforest they could kick back with a Molsen Golden Monkey. For the internal combustion crowd, Madagascar Radiated Turtle Wax would probably do a great job of protecting cars against acid rain. And maybe NBC could switch its peacock symbol to the imperiled Chinese pheasant. Not to be confused with Chinese peasants, whose numbers are holding steady despite the spread of capitalism there.

Meanwhile, advertisers of all stripes keep flocking to penguins. Even the Aetna Life Insurance Company is using penguins in magazine ads for its retirement services. Of course, if the new eco-commercialism works, retirement would never have to come for endangered species.

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CURWOOD: John Carroll is head of Carroll Creative in Boston and a regular commentator for Living on Earth.

(Music up an under: "Penguins are so sensitive. Penguins are so sensitive. Penguins are so sensitive to my needs. My needs. My needs....")

CURWOOD: He went into the Amazon in search of medicinal plants and emerged 12 years later to become the father of ethno-botany. The story of Professor Richard Schultes is coming up on Living on Earth.

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Modern Day Beaver Trapping

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Almost 300 years ago fur trapping led European settlers into the remotest regions of North America. One of the most prized pelts was the beaver, with a warm, luxuriant fur that was popular for making hats and coats. So popular that by the early 1900s, the beaver was almost trapped to extinction. But lately, the animals have staged a comeback, which makes life a bit more interesting for 2 North Woods trappers, Roger Fish and Ray Briggs. They still pursue beavers every winter, and this year the Great Lakes Radio Consortium's Nick Van Der Puy joined them on the trapline. Here's his report.


VAN DER PUY: We walk out on a barely frozen pond in northern Wisconsin. A beaver lodge made from sticks and mud rises above the thin ice.

FISH: This is a beaver, all beaver cutting here. They sure make a mess, they can log a bunch of 'er. That's the easiest way to spot some of the areas is by just seeing the trees cut down by the beavers. You know there's an active colony around. You see the house right out here. We got 5 sets here so we'll check them out.

VAN DER PUY: Back in the 17- and 1800s French and native trappers worked places like this to fill the huge European demand for warm beaver pelts. The beaver were almost completely trapped out. Then, at the turn of the last century, the forest was cut, grew back, and in the past 30 years has grown back again. Beaver love to eat the new growth aspen or popple trees, which shoot up after a timber harvest. Now the animals are approaching record numbers. Trout fishermen, in fact, consider them a nuisance.

(Ice being chopped)

VAN DER PUY: Ray Briggs walks ahead, probing and chopping a hole with an ice chisel, looking for the traps set beneath the ice. While his partner, Roger Fish, slips on a black rubber glove up to his elbow. Fish grabs the chain from a stake and reaches down the hole to pull up the trap.

(Heavy breathing and pulling)

FISH: It's definitely sprung. And there is a beaver in it. I'll chisel her out all the way now, be like a medium size beaver. But we really can't tell till we get him out.

VAN DER PUY: This is nice; there's not much ice.

The thin ice makes this pretty dangerous work. Briggs broke through up to his ears a few weeks ago. Fish pulled him out before he froze. But the beaver aren't so lucky. The men here use a conibear trap. Its folding steel frame snaps shut, choking the animal to death.

FISH: You notice it's hooked right behind the head so it's a very good hook on him . You don't damage any of the fur that way. And this one here is probably going to be a large beaver when we grade him, when we get him skinned out and stretched. So it's a nice beaver.

VAN DER PUY: Trapping faces stiff opposition from animal rights groups across the country. Last fall, Massachusetts voters banned all traps meant to kill. And several European countries this year are halting imported furs caught with killer traps. They see this kind of hunting as brutal and unnecessary. But Briggs defends the type of traps they are using.

BRIGGS: These are killing traps. They kill them immediately. Like that, you can see where his head shot, and it kills them within minutes. And this is the trap...

VAN DER PUY: Ray Briggs and Roger Fish have been trapping almost 30 years. Each year they catch several hundred beaver. When he isn't out trapping, Briggs works as a forestry technician for the state of Wisconsin. He sees how beaver flood land and gnaw down trees. Fish pulls a conibear trap from his pack basket.

FISH: These conibears really get messed up with the springs and hooks and drive you half crazy at times.

VAN DER PUY: He shows how to load the trap, by pulling a trigger spring behind 2 folding steel rectangles.

FISH: See, right now, that's the way it's set. Want to put a stick in it or fire it for him?

BRIGGS: He took the locks off the springs, now, so the springs --

FISH: It'll go off.

BRIGGS: A beaver swims in --

(The trap springs shut)

FISH: That -- that does it to him.

(Ice is chipped with a chisel)

VAN DER PUY: A few years ago Briggs broke his wrist when a conibear he was checking snapped back on him. We check the other sets. By the time we leave the frozen pond, 4 more fat beaver lay on the ice.


VAN DER PUY: The men ready to sled, to pull their catch back to the truck.

FISH: Now this part's not the fun part. Carrying them out is not fun. You can get over 100 pounds of beaver here, and we've got to get back to the truck.

BRIGGS: Notice I put most of the weight on Roger.

(A truck door slams)

VAN DER PUY: After skinning the beaver back at the cabin, Briggs and Fish will sell their catch to a fur buyer from Toronto. The carcasses go to a sled dog team for food. Right now, a prime beaver pelt fetches about $30. Prices have been rising lately, due to increased demand for fur in Asia. But Roger Fish doesn't do it for the money.

FISH: To me it's a challenge and it gives you the opportunity to be out in the woods and in the fall you see ducks, see geese, locate your rice and harvest wild rice. Everything out there has some purpose for it and I just enjoy doing it all.

VAN DER PUY: With plenty of popple sticks around to feed hungry beaver, it seems that Briggs and Fish will enjoy trapping for a long, long time.


VAN DER PUY: For Living on Earth, I'm Nick Van Der Puy in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

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CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners. Stacy Rowe, a listener to WLRN in Miami, called school superintendent Harold Overman and his staff in Spirit Lake, Iowa, heroes for developing a windmill for the school's electric power, as we reported last week. Writes Ms. Rowe, "In our society where a great deal of people do not practice what they preach, this effort is an inspiration to us all."

Richard Schiffman's report on environmentalism in the Roman Catholic Church prompted Dave Fletcher, who listens to KPBS in San Diego, to urge the Church to change its stance on birth control and abortion. He writes, "One of the major causes of environmental harm is overpopulation."

Two of our recent stories -- one about the pending renewal of Federal transportation laws and the other about the perils of road salt, brought a response from Bradley Berg, who hears Living on Earth on KOAC in Corvallis, Oregon. He writes, "Since becoming acquainted with my neighbor, I've mused on the problems we've created by coming to depend on the automobile for transportation. You see, she's told me of her girlhood, when no cars existed in her small Iowa town. She could hear the church bells ring 5 miles away. Needless to say, the snow-covered roads weren't an obstacle. Her father simply hitched the horses to the sleigh."

You can reach Living on Earth by calling our listener line any time. The number is 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138. And the e-mail address is loe@npr.org. Transcripts can be found on our Web site at www.loe.org.

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(Music up and under)

One River

CURWOOD: Most botanists would consider it the apex of their career to discover a single new plant species. That said, consider Richard Schultes. He uncovered 300 new species, and that's just a small part of the achievements of this legendary Harvard botanist. The early career of Professor Schultes makes Indiana Jones look like a bookworm. Starting in the 1930s, he did pioneering work in the peyote cult among Southwestern Indian tribes. But he is best known for his explorations in the Amazon. He survived innumerable perils there to collect more than 27,000 specimens and create the field of ethno-botany, the study of the interaction of human societies and the plant world. Wade Davis, one of Professor Schultes' former students, has written a book about the professor and his students, called One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest. He told me that Professor Schultes began his career almost by accident, with a homework assignment at Harvard.

DAVIS: In that course at one point Schultes had to do a book review. And in order to do his homework, he raced to the back of the room, grabbed the thinnest book he possibly could off the shelf, simply because he had so much other homework, took it back to his home in East Boston where he read throughout the night these rather extraordinary passages. Because this book he had happened quite accidentally to select turned out to be the only monograph that was then available in the English language that described the stunning pharmacological effects of peyote. And as he read through the night of these visions of orb-like brilliance, he became completely enamored of the intellectual questions that this plant provoked. And he went to his professor the next day and he said, simply, "Professor, I must know about this plant." And his professor, who was a famous orchid specialist, Oaks Ames, said to him, "That's fine, young Richard, but if you want to know this plant you can't simply read about it. You must live it." And that's how this young kid from East Boston, who had never been west of the Hudson River, ended up pounding over the dusty roads of Tennessee in the summer of 1936, destined for the Kaiwa Reservation of Oklahoma where, with the road men of the peyote cult, this young boy from East Boston would eat peyote 3 and 4 times a week for 8 weeks of his young life.

CURWOOD: How do you think that changed him?

DAVIS: I think he became completely captivated by the possibility of the Other, you know, the possibility that there were worlds outside his own imagination. And that there are people who love their plants and understood their plants in a way that he had never come to appreciate. And certainly in a way that he was not being taught at Harvard.

CURWOOD: You know, it probably is impossible for you to answer this question without telling me the whole substance of your book. But when he went down to the Amazon to start looking at the hallucinogens there, he stayed for 12 years. What did he do for those 12 years?

DAVIS: Well you know, he began, of course, not looking for hallucinogens per se but to study medicinal plants for the National Research Council. He had a Guggenheim Fellowship. And he was initially interested in identifying the botanical sources of curare, the famous "flying death," which had a drug in it which had been just recently discovered to be extremely useful in modern surgery. Schultes actually found himself, after this extraordinary period of time in the forest, where he'd had malaria countless times -- he found himself at the headwaters of the Rio Wyneo, which is the headwaters of the Rio Negro one morning when he -- his fingertips began to feel numb -- and he thought it was the formaldehyde he was pressing his specimens with. But then his toes began to be numb. And he realized that he was coming down with beri beri. Now the only treatment for beri beri, which is a very serious disease, which can kill you, is injections of thiamine. And to get those he needed to get to a pharmacy. And needless to say, he was a long way from a pharmacy. He was several hundred miles, in fact he was 1,500 miles or more. And he came downriver. He met a mission post where a missionary had saved his life once and had an idea that [he] could do it again. Instead of going all the way down to Menales, 800 miles, there was the suggestion he could go a couple hundred miles upriver into Colombia and get to a remote military post. And so he immediately left for upriver, but the problem is the missionary's geography was wrong, and so it wasn't 3 days upriver, it was a week and a half. It wasn't a day over a portage, it was 7 days on feet that felt like stumps. And by the time he got to this middle territory post, he was completely exhausted: no food, no water. And he looked up at the landing and he said to the corporal of the Colombian Army, he said, "When's the next plane for Bogota?" And the corporal began to laugh and he asked again and the corporal just said 2 words, "La violencia," which is a term for the civil war that had wracked Colombia in the 17 months that Schultes had been upriver. There hadn't been a plane to that depot in 6 months; there wasn't one expected in 6 months. Schultes had gone 400 miles out of his way only to be that much further from where you could get rescued.


DAVIS: He immediately turned around and had, in a dugout canoe, to travel something like 1,200 miles downriver to Menales. By the time he got to Menales he had to be carried off the dock in a hammock. But before passing out he spotted an empty vessel belonging to the American Chiclet Company. His last words before passing out were, "Hire that boat." And you would have thought that after 17 months in the jungle, with beri beri, countless episodes of malaria, he might have, like, rested for a few days in Menales. He stayed for 3 days, just long enough to get a supply of vitamins, enough syringes to shoot himself up for the next month and a half, and he left on that boat. That gives you some sense of the man we've been talking about.

CURWOOD: Professor Schultes inspired several generations of students, yourself included, to go out into the field and try various plants, to try to understand them and the effect they have on people. What happened to you when you took this super-hallucinogen, the iowasca?

DAVIS: Well, one of the kind of odd parts of the sort of the '60s drug culture was this sort of narcissism or this sort of the sense that somehow these substances all were supposed to be pleasant. Well, yahe, or iowasca, is many things, but pleasant isn't among them.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) I see.

DAVIS: What I find is that the imbibing of this substance sends you into a realm beyond your imaginings where the world no longer exists but the world in which we are born appears almost be a crude and opaque facsimile of another world, which is a world that is quite horrific in a certain sense. And of course, when the shamans speak of facing down the jaguar, it's because they really do.

CURWOOD: So, it was terrifying in other words.

DAVIS: Absolutely terrifying. Of course, that's the whole purpose of it. It's -- you know, who said that messing around with God was supposed to be pleasant?

CURWOOD: I'm wondering -- don't you think that was a rather risky affair?

DAVIS: In what sense?

CURWOOD: Well, you never know what happens if you take a substance. Might kill you.

DAVIS: Most of these substances are relatively non-toxic. And you know, Schultes wasn't sending us out there, you know, quote unquote, to get high, any more than he had gone to the forest to get high. He sent us there because he understood that ethno-botany was a perfect conduit to culture, and because in his heart he understood that the loss of cultural diversity was a parallel process to the loss of biological diversity--and in some sense the terrible and tragic hallmark of the 20th century.

CURWOOD: So much has changed since Schultes first went into the Amazon. Western culture just keeps to be moving further and further into the rainforest. Would it be possible to do today what Schultes did 40 years ago?

DAVIS: No, and I guess that's probably the most profound question you could ask, Steve, because this is sort of the bittersweet element, both of Schultes' story and of course of the book. Which is that, you know, the rate of change is -- I've always thought that people living through a period of history are never aware of the kind of currents that are flowing beneath them. And one of the things we just don't realize too often is how fast things are changing. You know, let me give you one example. At one point there were probably 15,000 languages spoken on the planet, each one, you know, a unique manifestation of the human soul. Each one in some sense a flash of the human spirit. Today there are probably 6,500 languages spoken, and in another century, linguists tell us, there will only be 350. So this kind of condensation which is of such concern to linguists is also paralleled in so many ways in the condensation to monoculture and to the destruction of biological and cultural diversity. He still was able to live and be with many different cultures among whom he lived almost as the first outsider they've ever seen. And this kind of -- is a moment of innocence which will never again be possible.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Wade Davis is author of One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest. Thank you, sir.

DAVIS: Thank you.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Julia Madeson, Susan Shepherd, Constantine Von Hoffman, Liz Lempert, and Peter Shaw. We also had help from Colin Studds and Jesse Wegman. Our senior producer is Chris Ballman. Peter Thomson heads our Western bureau. This week's program was edited by Jennifer Schmidt, who is heading back to Seattle after spending the winter with us. We'll miss her behind the desk, but we're looking forward to hearing more of her reports. Living on Earth 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. Thanks for listening.

(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlitt Foundation; Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream. 1-800-PRO-COWS for Stonyfield's Moosletter; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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