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

December 26, 1997

Air Date: December 26, 1997


Presidio National Park / Peter Thomson

The most expensive national park in the country, the Presidio has been given the dubious honor of being the first National Park to have to wean itself from government support. Exactly what that means for the Presidio, as well as for all of the National Parks, is explored by Living on Earth's Peter Thomson in San Francisco. (09:10)

Nature Conservancy

The largest and richest environmental group in the world, the Nature Conservancy has purchased 10 million acres in the US alone. Recently the group has conceded that human activity outside the preserves is affecting life within, and they've begun to change their tactics. Steve Curwood interviewed The Nature Conservancy's president, John Sawhill. (07:27)

Franklin Tree / Lou Anella

The brilliant fall colors of the Franklin Tree inspired two naturalists to collect its seeds and send them to nurseries. Today the tree is extinct from the wild. Does collecting plants and seeds from the wild hasten their demise? Lou Anella comments. (03:29)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about... cryptozoology. (01:15)

Catholic Earth Spirituality / Richard Schiffman

A growing number of Roman Catholics are making conscious connections between linking their faith and their concern for the earth. But as Richard Schiffman reports it's not always easy to reconcile age-old religious traditions and a new environmental consciousness. (12:40)

Modern 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 interesting 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. (05:50)

Garden Spot

In this installment of the Green Garden Spot with Evelyn Tully Costa, Evelyn provides a winter reading list on gardening. (06:45)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Peter Thomson, Richard Schiffman, Nick Van Der Puy
GUESTS: John Sawhill, Evelyn Tully Costa

(Theme music up and under)

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

I'm Steve Curwood. Increasingly the private sector is being asked to maintain open space that benefits the general public. Some as crucial habitat for wildlife, and other areas as recreational space. San Francisco's Presidio is slated to become the first self-sustaining national park.

CLINTON: By establishing a nonprofit trust to manage the Presidio's property, it gives us a blueprint for national parks that one day will be able to sustain themselves without government funds.

CURWOOD: And the world's largest environmental group, The Nature Conservancy, is trying to leverage its vast holdings with controlled development near sensitive habitats.

SAWHILL: If we don't accommodate the needs of people, we're not going to provide for the needs of nature.

CURWOOD: Private stewardship in the public interest this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this summary of the news.

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(Theme music up and under)

Presidio National Park

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood, with an encore edition of Living On Earth.
When the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez sailed north from Mexico to California in 1542, he did not see the narrow opening into the vast San Francisco Bay. Then as now, the Golden Gate was often shrouded in dense fog. It would be more than 200 years before another Spanish party would find it and build a small fort, a Presidio. The Presidio first guarded the San Francisco Bay for Spain, then Mexico, then the Republic of California, and finally the United States. When the US Army moved out in 1995, the Presidio joined the US parks system as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Presidio is unique within the national parks because it is scheduled to wean itself off government funding. As Living on Earth's Peter Thomson reports, that financial arrangement raises important questions about the future of the Presidio and the park system.

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Increasingly the private sector is being asked to maintain open space that benefits the general public. Some as crucial habitat for wildlife, and other areas as recreational space. San Francisco's Presidio is slated to become the first self-sustaining national park.

CLINTON: By establishing a nonprofit trust to manage the Presidio's property, it gives us a blueprint for national parks that one day will be able to sustain themselves without government funds.

CURWOOD: And the world's largest environmental group, The Nature Conservancy, is trying to leverage its vast holdings with controlled development near sensitive habitats.

SAWHILL: If we don't accommodate the needs of people, we're not going to provide for the needs of nature.

CURWOOD: Private stewardship in the public interest this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.


(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
When the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez sailed north from Mexico to California in 1542, he did not see the narrow opening into the vast San Francisco Bay. Then as now, the Golden Gate was often shrouded in dense fog. It will be more than 200 years before another Spanish party would find it and build a small fort, a Presidio. The Presidio first guarded the San Francisco Bay for Spain, then Mexico, then the Republic of California, and finally the United States. When the US Army moved out in 1995, the Presidio joined the US park system as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The Presidio is unique within the national parks because it will have to wean itself off government funding. As Living on Earth's Peter Thomson reports, that financial arrangement raises important questions about the future of the Presidio and the park system.

(Wind, sea, and foghorns)

THOMSON: Stop for a minute on the coastal route just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, and you'll understand why the Presidio became a national park when the Army moved out.

(Foghorns continue)

THOMSON: Stand on the bluff high over the Pacific and watch the bank of fog march in off the ocean, envelop the bridge, and then consume it whole.

(Foghorns continue)

THOMSON: Walk inland through the forests of Monterey pine, eucalyptus and redwood. Dip down to the San Francisco Bay, to the last remnants of the area's coastal dunes. Stroll through the parade grounds where soldiers were mustered before shipping off to war; many of them are buried, and you'll understand that this place combines dramas of natural and human history as few others.

VENTRESCA: There's essentially a time capsule for the nation in this national park.

THOMSON: Joel Ventresca is a longtime resident of San Francisco. He comes to the Presidio often to escape the crush of the city.

VENTRESCA: The park is full of wonderful things. You can come here and it's a respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life. It's quiet, it's natural. It's historically significant.

THOMSON: Still, as the Army began to pull out, there were suggestions in Congress that the Presidio shouldn't be transferred to the Park Service. Not because it wasn't worthy of Federal protection, but because it's so expensive to run. The Presidio is almost a city unto itself, with roads, bridges, and 800 buildings, including many historic ones which must be lit, heated, and maintained. In fact, when it joined the park system the Presidio instantly earned a dubious distinction.

PELOSI: The Presidio is the most expensive national park in the country. More than Yellowstone National Park or Yosemite or any other park that you can name. Twenty-five million dollars a year.

THOMSON: It was San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi's task to beat back the attempts to remove the Presidio from the Park Service.

PELOSI: It was thought by many of us who treasure the Presidio for its historic and natural resources that we needed to preserve it, but we had to find a way to lower the cost to the taxpayer.

THOMSON: Ultimately, Congresswoman Pelosi helped craft and pass a fiscal plan as unusual as the Presidio itself. It turns the park's liabilities, its buildings, into an asset. Under the management of a new government trust, hundreds of them will be rented to nonprofit groups, professionals, even corporations. In this prime location the buildings will bring premium rents. The income will pay for their upkeep and restoration, and eventually should even cover the cost of running the park's natural areas and interpretive programs. The plan calls for the Presidio to be the nation's first self-sustaining national park. If it doesn't pay its own way, the park will be sold off. The trust plan passed its final vote in Congress last fall almost unanimously. Environmental groups and deficit hawks were behind it, and the President liked it so much that when he signed the bill he seemed to ask for more.

CLINTON: By establishing a nonprofit trust to manage the Presidio's property, it gives us a blueprint for national parks that one day will be able to sustain themselves without government funds.

THOMSON: But many supporters of the Presidio plan shiver at the idea of making other parks self supporting.

NOTTHOFF: We disagree strenuously with the President's statement in that regard. In fact, we think that the Presidio is an anomaly in terms of national parks.

THOMSON: Ann Notthoff is a senior planner with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco. The NRDC backed the Presidio plan, Ms. Notthoff says, because the Presidio can support itself without sacrificing its essential qualities. But she insists it shouldn't be seen as a precedent for running more traditional parks like Yosemite in California, Big Bend in Texas, or Acadia in Maine.

NOTTHOFF: We would lose the very values of those parks that we treasure so much if we imposed the type of self-sufficiency and expectations that we've imposed on the Presidio on other units of the National Park System.

THOMSON: If they're forced to pay more of their own way, most park units might either have to hike user fees exponentially or bring in more and more commercial enterprises to help pay the bills. And Ann Notthoff believes there's reason to be concerned. In an era of crushing debt in Washington, budget cutting and revenue raising ideas that once seemed beyond the pale are now getting a serious hearing. In Congress, for instance, a measure to review park units for possible closure, transfer to states, or even sale to the private sector, received significant support in the House. The effort ultimately failed, but Ms. Notthoff expects more efforts to tinker with the park system.

NOTTHOFF: It's the incremental changes that are harder to fight in the political process. Those same people that came up with the extreme proposals are now, are still in charge of the resource committees in both the House and the Senate, and we fully expect to see more incremental proposals made to whittle away at the integrity of the National Park System.

(Wind and sea, voices)

THOMSON: On the parade grounds of the Presidio, sitting across from a column of trim red brick barracks, Joel Ventresca says he fears too much ground has been given already. He laments that with a mandate established for this one park to pay its own way, the firewall separating national parks from the market has been breached. Mr. VENTRESCA is haunted by the specter of a Presidio under pressure to pay the bills, filling its buildings with shopping centers and corporate headquarters. He's been leading a lonely battle against the trust plan. He testified against it before Congress 4 times and he's not giving up now. He believes there's a fundamental principle at stake.

VENTRESCA: Park areas are supposed to be outside the private marketplace. They're not supposed to sink or swim based on how much money is made. It's a whole different environmental ethic that a lot of people have lost in the context of this debate. But if you introduce market forces into a park area, you're going to have a very strong shift from preservation to development.

PELOSI: Well, with all due respect to the few people who object to our proposal --

THOMSON: Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi doesn't share Joel Ventresca's dire vision.

PELOSI: Yes, we have to produce revenue; we have to reduce the cost to the taxpayer. That is the reality of life. But all of that has to be in keeping with the vision of the Presidio as a national park.

THOMSON: The people in charge of the park say this new pragmatism won't bring sweeping changes. Whatever the critics say, whatever even the President may say. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt says that at least for now, the idea of a self-sustaining park starts and stops at the Presidio.

BABBITT: I think that the existing models for running Grand Canyon, the Everglades, Yellowstone, Yosemite are important and correct and time-tested. So no, I don't think this is a model that has much application outside the specific circumstances of where I believe it is a really worthwhile and important experiment.

THOMSON: The Presidio is quiet these days. The Army's gone and the flow of new tenants has barely begun. What this place looks, feels, and sounds like in a generation, whether it will be a sanctuary from the clamor of the modern world or one of its latest conquests is up to the new government board that will run the trust, Congress which will oversee it, and ultimately the people who care about it.


THOMSON: For Living on Earth, I'm Peter Thomson in San Francisco.

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(Foghorns; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Next week, We'll look at how plans to tear down abandoned military quarters at the Presidio has spawned a contentious battle between advoactes for the city's homeless and environmentalists.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: The world's biggest environmental group tries its hand at development. That story is just ahead on Living on Earth.

(Music plays)

Nature Conservancy

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Since the 1950s The Nature Conservancy has been protecting plant and animal diversity around the world by buying land. Lots of land. The group has purchased about 10 million acres in the United States alone. It's the largest and richest environmental group in the world. But recently the Conservancy has had to concede that controlling land isn't enough to save species. Human activities outside its preserves are affecting the life within. And so, under John Sawhill's leadership, The Nature Conservancy has been thinking more about ecosystems that include human beings.

(Music up and under)

SAWHILL: We realize that people live in and around the areas that we're trying to protect. That people have to extract value from the land. We just want that to be done in a way which is compatible with protecting the ecology in the area. So if we don't accommodate the needs of people, we're not going to provide for the needs of nature.

CURWOOD: So you say you work with the people in a community to get them involved in this, the economic aspect of ecological protection. How do you do this? Can you give me an example?

SAWHILL: Well, one of the things we've tried to do at our Virginia coast reserve, that is a 70-mile stretch of barrier islands off the east coast of Virginia that the Nature Conservancy owns, where we've tried to sit down with the community and go through what we call a visioning process. That is, we try to talk with them and understand what they feel their long-range goals and objectives for the area might be. And then we work with them to try to achieve those goals. And so we started a venture capital corporation.

CURWOOD: Venture capital, from Nature Conservancy?

SAWHILL: Venture capital. We raised several million dollars and we said these funds would be available to entrepreneurs who are trying to start new business ventures.

CURWOOD: Okay, so what's an ecological business you've got going?

SAWHILL: Well, let me give you a good example. That area probably represents the cleanest fishery on the eastern coast of the United States. So we decided maybe we ought to start a seafood packing plant. And we could brand the oysters and the clams and the other seafood coming from that area with a brand that would identify it as coming from the Virginia Coast Reserve, and maybe we could even get a little extra markup for that product.

CURWOOD: Well, okay the water's clean right now. But you guys only own the islands. That's an estuary.


CURWOOD: That's a broad bay there. Development continues there, it's going to be polluted as any other part of it.

SAWHILL: Well, no, it won't be, you see, because what we've done is we've bought up a lot of the farms on the mainland, and we've put conservation easements. That's a legally binding agreement not to subdivide the land on these farms. And then we've resold them. So more and more of that land is under conservation restrictions. So it will never experience high-density development.

CURWOOD: Did you feel really welcome in Virginia? I mean, The Nature Conservancy had this reputation that hey, once you guys bought the islands local folks couldn't go there and do some of the things they used to do, and you weren't too popular there.

SAWHILL: We weren't popular when we originally came into the area, and that's another reason why we felt that this community outreach is very important for us.

CURWOOD: Now, The Nature Conservancy is what? The largest environmental organization I think in this country.

SAWHILL: Yes. As a matter of fact, we're the fifteenth largest charity in the United States. The next environmental organization is about 160 on the list. So we're by far the largest environmental organization in the world, really.

CURWOOD: What is exactly The Nature Conservancy model? How does it work to such financial and territorial success?

SAWHILL: Well, I think the best way I can answer that question is to tell you the 3 guiding principles that drive our work. The first is, we believe in good science, and we use the science to tell us what areas to protect and how to take care of them once we get them protected. Secondly, we have what we call the non-confrontational approach, and that is we try to work with the business community to accomplish our objectives. And the third principle, I guess, is entrepreneurialism. We try to be very creative and so that the state directors of The Nature Conservancy have a lot of authority and responsibility because conditions are different in different places.

CURWOOD: In terms of being friendly with business, one issue we might look at is energy and energy extraction.


CURWOOD: Now, Nature Conservancy, you have lands that people would like to drill for oil on, right?

SAWHILL: Yes, we do.

CURWOOD: So do you let them drill for oil?

SAWHILL: Well, a few years ago we wanted to try to buy from Texaco 35,000 acres that they owned in southeastern Texas. Well, they weren't sure they wanted to sell it. So we came up with a deal where we bought the surface rights, they kept the drilling rights, we agreed on a drilling plan. So they're extracting oil, but their oil extraction does not interfere with the bird habitat we were trying to protect. So we got what we wanted, they kept what they wanted, everybody's happy.

CURWOOD: So, I'm wondering if you could extrapolate that to someplace like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Do you think it would be safe ecologically to drill for oil there? There's a big controversy over that.

SAWHILL: Well, there is a big controversy and I'm really not equipped to know the answer to that question. I do think that you can often, by sitting down and working with people, find out ways to accomplish both economic and environmental objectives. And that's the way The Nature Conservancy tries to work.

CURWOOD: So if we were to start drilling at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with the appropriate safeguards, you wouldn't be alarmed.

SAWHILL: Well, I just don't know the answer to that question. I mean, I can give you another example from another industry, and that is timber extraction. We worked with Georgia Pacific. We wanted to protect an area, and we went to Georgia Pacific and we said we'll buy it from you. Well, they didn't want to sell it. But they did agree to sit down with us and work out a plan for extracting that timber in a way that wouldn't harm the environment, and basically what they're doing is logging by helicopter rather than building roads into the area.

CURWOOD: So far today we've talked about rural, wild areas. Is there any way that your models can be applied to more urban areas, the urban edge where sprawl is such a problem, or the inner city itself?

SAWHILL: Well, you know, we're beginning to work on, in more urban areas. We have a project in Illinois, it's called the Chicago Wilderness. And what we're trying to do is link up the forest preserves around Chicago in a way that can really begin to restore that ecosystem.

CURWOOD: Now, is it worth your while to protect areas that may not be at all original? They may be second or seventeenth growth for all we know, but it is the green space, especially in a city.

SAWHILL: Well, that -- it's important for that to get done. I don't think that's The Nature Conservancy's niche. We establish our priorities by looking at those areas that are habitat for rare and threatened species. And, you know, our resources are so limited that we've got to really keep them focused on the most biologically diverse areas.

CURWOOD: All right. Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us. John Sawhill is president of The Nature Conservancy. Thank you, sir.

SAWHILL: Thank you.

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(Music up and under)

Franklin Tree

CURWOOD: In 1765, John and William Bartram were traveling on horseback through Georgia's Buffalo Swamp when they noticed a group of trees with brilliant burgundy red and orange colors. The father and son naturalist team was so impressed with the tree's fall display that they collected some seeds and sent them to nurseries in England and Philadelphia for commercial production. They called the plant the Franklin tree in honor of their good friend Ben Franklin. But each time they returned to collect more seeds they found fewer and fewer trees until there were no more. Today the Franklin tree lives only in private gardens and arboreta. One has to wonder if the explorers saved it from extinction or hastened its demise. Horticulturalist Lou Anella has some thoughts on that and some advice for gardeners.

ANELLA: The naturalists were the father and son team John and William Bartram. The plants became known as the Franklin Tree named for theBartram's good friend, Ben Franklin. For more than 200 years, the Franklin Tree has graced American and English gardens with its camelia-like white petals surrounding a crown of gold stamens. Yet for almost as long, the tree has been extinct from the wild. So what happened in that Georgia swmap? What caused the tree to disappear? I would hate to think that plant collectors finished off the wild population of Franklin trees. It is more likely the species lost its competitive edge. With its numbers falling, the Bartrams may have stumbled upon the last isolated population of Franklin trees. The forces of nature took it from there, and it is possible the Franklin tree was wiped out in a flood. The story comes with a moral for gardeners. When you buy native or rare plants for your garden, make sure they were propagated in the nursery and not collected from the wild. Although we do not know if wild collecting caused the demise of the Franklin tree, we do know that wild collecting threatens the existence of other native and rare plants.

But how do we know what plants are endangered, and how can we be sure that the plants we purchase are propagated in a nursery and not collected from the wild? One way is to look them up in Nina Marshall's excellent book The Gardener's Guide to Plant Conservation. In it she gives us the history behind plant exploration and collection, advice on how to avoid wild collected plants, and which species are particularly threatened. She also tells us to look for the term, "Grown from cultivated stock." This is especially important when buying bulbs, since bulbs are often collected from their native habitats.

Why should we be so concerned about collecting plants from the wild? There are probably more Franklin trees in the world now than there were when the Bartrams first discovered it. Haven't we improved its lot? Well, not exactly. Plants are integral members of ecosystems. The Franklin tree plucked from the wild no longer feeds the insect that chewed on its leaves, or shelters the bird that nested in its branches. That doesn't mean we can't have native or rare plants in our gardens. It just means we have to make sure the plants we buy were propagated in a way that respects the plant's continued survival in the wild. The Franklin tree can remind us of how delicate ecosystems are, and how permanent are the consequences of extinction.

CURWOOD: Lou Anella studies at Cornell University's Urban Horticulture Institute, and he's got some growing tips for gardeners.

ANELLA: If you want to plant a Franklin tree, it will flourish in USDA hardiness zone 6 through 8. For the best fall color and floral display, plant the tree where it will receive full sun in a moist but well drained slightly acid soil. The earliest flowers appear while the leaves are still green, but the tree will continue to flower as the foliage turns orange and burgundy red, making a striking background for the beautiful floral display.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living On Earth comes from the World Media Environmental Information Fund. major contributors include the National Science Foundation for reporting on science and the environment, the Ford Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, and Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream. 1-800-PRO-COWs for Stonyfield's Moosletter.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Some Catholics are looking to the Earth for spiritual meaning, that story is coming up. Stay tuned right here to Living On Earth.

(Music plays)


(Theme music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
Most scientists studying animals are concerned with those they know exist or at the very least once existed. There is a field of study, though, that concerns itself with animals that we're not so sure about. It's called Cryptozoology. That literally means the study of hidden animals, and it was first used in 1959. Cryptozoologists stalk previously undescribed--and, some would say, nonexistent--animals. This includes new species of lizards, monkeys, and other ho-hum creatures, but also beasts of mythic proportion: Like the Loch Ness Monster, a giant octopus with tentacles more than 100 feet long; or Mokele-Mbembe, a dinosaur-like animal that reportedly lives in a 50,000-square-mile swamp in the Congo. While cryptozoology has a tarnished reputation in academic circles, its defenders point out that zoology was once essentially cryptozoology, with scientists in the colonies sending novel animals back to London and Paris. And cryptozoologists also like to point out that the gorilla was considered a mythical beast as late as the early 19th century and that the first carcass of the modern coelacanth, a fish presumed to be extinct for millions of years, wasn't found until 1938. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Catholic Earth Spirituality

CURWOOD: A growing number of Roman Catholics, these days, are making conscious connections between their religion and the environment; linking their faith and with a concern for the Earth. But as some Catholics are finding out it's not always easy to reconcile age-old religious traditions and a new environmental consciousness. Richard Schiffman reports.

(Church bells ring)

WOMAN: We confess, O God, that we have not kept your laws, but have abused your gift of creation. (Congregation murmurs a reply) We confess, O God, that we have risked permanent damage to your handiwork...

SCHIFFMAN: At St. Mary's Roman Catholic church in Islip, Long Island, about 50 people gather to discuss a recent leak of radiation from the nearby Brookhaven National Laboratories, a nuclear research facility.

(People milling)

MANISCALCO: Recently, myself, Bill McNulty and a few others, have been having a vigil in front of the Brookhaven Laboratory, and it's kind of interesting...

SCHIFFMAN: Pete Maniscalco is a city planner turned environmental activist who goes weekly to Brookhaven to protest high levels of radiation discovered in nearby groundwater. He tells the audience that his Friday vigil is for him a religious act.

MANISCALCO:... service for us, my going to vigil, and I don't claim that I'm all right. But this is my way of defending and protecting what I see as sacred. Long Island as my sacred mother.

SCHIFFMAN: Brookhaven physicist Mike O'Brien, a Roman Catholic, has been invited to the meeting to give the lab's position.

O'BRIEN: Let me start out by saying that I personally feel very offended by being accused of being an immoral person and crucifying the Earth by participating in the nuclear program. And I'm offended by that because...

SCHIFFMAN: O'Brien feels that Brookhaven's research has been, in his words, a moral boon to humanity, leading to medical breakthroughs which have saved thousands of lives. But it's clear that not everyone in this audience agrees with him.

WOMAN: We're saying that this water that we have is from God. It's a gift, and all life stems from that water. And you're willing to risk it because you think that somehow you're doing more good. And we don't believe that.

SCHIFFMAN: In many ways tonight's forum is similar to environmental debates all over the country. What sets this discussion apart is that it's framed largely in religious terms. The meeting was organized by the environmental prayer group of St. Mary's Parish, a group of Catholics who've thought a lot about the ties between religion and the environment. For the last 2 years they've combined political action with prayer for the healing of the Earth. They meet weekly over dinner.

(Wind and clinking utensils)

WOMAN: We're grateful for the wonderful gifts of Earth that we're being offered to eat, and we pray for the grace to be willing to be food for others. Amen.

GROUP: Amen.

SCHIFFMAN: Tonight, group members talk about their sometimes ambivalent relationship to the church.

WOMAN: I find church difficult. I don't attend all the time. They don't preach that the Earth is spiritual. They don't preach that everything living has a spirituality.

WOMAN 2: You went to the church for sacred things. And then the world was where all the other bad stuff happened.

SCHIFFMAN: But these Catholic environmentalists say they now believe that God and the world are not completely separate, as they once were taught. In their study group they've been learning about a new Earth-based spirituality, which says that the natural world is the primary revelation of God. Anne Ferrara says it's revolutionized the way she understands her religion.

FERRARA: The idea that the universe is the primary revelation. That for many of us was shattering. It was shattering because we were so focused on the Bible, on the Gospel. In other words, that was for us the word of God. One of the suggestions Thomas Berry makes is that we put Scripture and the dictionary on the shelf for 20 years.

SCHIFFMAN: This suggestion is all the more surprising because it's being made by a Roman Catholic priest. Father Thomas Berry is regarded as a modern-day prophet by some and as a maverick by other Catholics. He doesn't reject the Bible or the Church traditions, but he says that the universe itself is telling a story every bit as profound as the account in Scriptures. Only, 20th century humans don't seem to have the ears to hear it.

BERRY: I say that my generation has been autistic. An autistic child is locked into themselves, they cannot get out and the outer world cannot get in. They cannot receive affection, cannot give affection. And this is, I think, a very appropriate way of identifying the generation that's lived through the 20th century in relationship to the natural world. We have no feeling for the natural world. We'd as soon cut down our most beautiful tree, the most beautiful forest in the world. We cut down for what? For timber, for board feet. We don't see the tree, we only see it in terms of its commercial value.

SCHIFFMAN: Father Berry's call for a new creation affirming spirituality has struck a responsive chord with a group of Dominican sisters in Amityville, New York.

(Geese honk)

SCHIFFMAN: There's a flock of geese on the park-like grounds of the mother house: a green refuge within the suburban sprawl of Long Island's South Shore.

CLARK: We've planted garlic, which you can see coming up here. It's doing very, very well.

SCHIFFMAN: Sister Jean Clark points to some newly plowed ground with a few green shoots poking through the late winter soil. Growing an organic garden is just one of the ways the Amityville sisters are reconnecting with nature. They perform outdoor rituals on the winter and summer solstices and the spring and autumn equinoxes: ancient Earth festivals which some Catholics still regard as Pagan. And recently, they passed a resolution which expands the definition of their religious community to include the land and its nonhuman inhabitants.

CLARK: It's really the thought of Thomas Berry, where I first heard about thinking of the other members of the community. The human community is not the only sacred community, but the sacred community really is the community of all of life, including these geese here, the birds you hear singing. The insects. Animals.

SCHIFFMAN: Sister Jean and her fellow nuns are part of a growing chorus of Catholic voices: lay, religious, and ordained, calling for ecological responsibility. The US Bishops' Catholic Conference has started an environmental justice program for parishes, including a video exhorting viewers to become good stewards of the earth.

(Music and dove calls. Child: "We didn't have, like, anything to do with making it, so I think it's the Lord's Earth." Woman: "The Lord's Earth. A beautiful and mysterious environment. Called in a special way to cultivate and care for the Lord's Earth, men and women bear a unique responsibility before God to protect this world, and by their creative labor...")

SCHIFFMAN: Father Kenneth Himes is a professor of moral theology at the Washington Theological Union.

HIMES: The papacy, the American bishops, have all issued important statements on the environment. Probably in just about every parish by now at some point or another in a homily, reference has been made to an environmental issue or an environmental problem. It may not be a steady drum beat every Sunday, but I suspect people are beginning to see that there is or there ought to be a connection between their faith life and environmental awareness in the same way that there ought to be a connection between their faith life and their work place or their faith life and family life.

SCHIFFMAN: Exactly what that connection should be is the subject of dispute among Catholics. Some conservative thinkers, like Robert Royal of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center, warn against the dangers of nature worship.

ROYAL: There are no ways to go back to a kind of a divinization of nature that will solve the difficulties that we living in modern 20th century industrialized societies have. I think it's a pipe dream to think that there's going to be a rollback of industry and technologies. And I think that the very spiritualization of nature that many people call for not only is ineffective but is quite dangerous, because it distracts people from the really hard thinking and self-examination that they would have to do if they truly want to engage what are going to be the environmental problems over the next 40 or 50 years.

SCHIFFMAN: Royal also feels that in their love for the natural world, Catholic environmentalists sometimes give short shrift to human needs like jobs and economic development. The US Catholic conference talks about putting humans back into the environmental picture. They've been especially aggressive in advocating for poor Americans who suffer disproportionately from pollution and other ecological abuses. Their environmental justice program makes seed grants to local projects throughout the country, which address a wide range of environmental ills.

(Paul Winter Consort's Missa Gaia opening: wolf howls, man echoes: "Kyrie Eleison")

SCHIFFMAN: Ritual forms are changing, too, as Catholics make the connections between their environmental work and the ways they pray and worship. The legendary friend of wolves and birds, St. Francis of Assisi, has been declared patron saint of ecology by Pope John Paul II. St. Francis's feast day in October is a kind of religious Earth Day in many churches, including a yearly ecumenical celebration at New York's huge Episcopal cathedral of St. John the Divine. Here, Episcopal and Roman Catholic bishops in their finery, ochre-robed Hinduswamis, and Zen Buddhist monks parade down the aisle with the real stars: a veritable Noah's ark of elephants, llamas, chimpanzees, even bluegreen algae, marching or lovingly carried past the great stone altar to be blessed.

(Missa Gaia continues)

SCHIFFMAN: The mood in the world's largest cathedral is exalted during the soaring Kyrie of Paul Winter's Earth Mass. Religious environmentalists say that how we worship has a big impact on what we think and how we act in the world. And they hope that the moral force of church teachings together with the power of new life-affirming rituals like this one will help inspire the faithful to cherish and protect the Earth. For Living on Earth, I'm Richard Schiffman.

Back to top

(Missa Gaia up and under)

CURWOOD; Next week, we take a look at environmental theology in Judaism.

The garden may be fallow, but that doesn't mean your mind has to be devoid of fertile thoughts. Books that celebrate the passion of gardening are coming up on Living on Earth.

(Music plays)

Modern 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 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. Ya know 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, it feels 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. They see this kind of hunting as brutal and unnecessary. But Briggs defends the types 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 can 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 and 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's what does it to him.

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 you know I 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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(Music up and under)

Garden Spot

CURWOOD: "Summer fading. Winter comes. Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs. Window robins. Winter rooks. And the picture storybooks." That from the beginning of Robert Lewis Stevenson's children's poem, "Picture Books in Winter," that bodes a time for all of us living in colder climates. A time when spending time indoors is an opportunity to reflect on the summer's past and the garden's future. To think, to really imagine greener, warmer days, is what many gardeners do when the ground is frozen over and sunlight is scarce. And here with a winter reading list is Brooklyn based gardening guru, Evelyn Tully Costa. Hi, Evelyn, so nice of you to visit.

TULLY COSTA: The better to see you with, Steve.

CURWOOD: So, you're not only digging all spring, summer, and fall, but reading about gardens all winter?

TULLY COSTA: Yeah, well, what could be nicer than getting a pile of books, curling up in a comfy chair and actually absorbing some material? I can only fantasize about during the crazy growing season.

CURWOOD: So, what kind of books do you read?

TULLY COSTA: Mm, mostly during the growing season I read how-to books. But the best thing for me is to read about garden literature. I mean it's romantic, it's passionate, and I can sort of get into the heads of other people who share my own passion.

CURWOOD: So, Evelyn, what's on your list for listeners this winter?

TULLY COSTA: Well, I have 3 books. And the first book on my wish list is called Some Flowers by the novelist, poet, and plants woman Vita Sackville-West. She was one of the most controversial and talented gardeners of our century. She was famous, not only for gardens that she created in Sissinghurst Castle in England, but her connections with the Bloomsbury literary crowd. She had a rather well-known affair within certain circles with Virginia Woolf, and this inspired Virginia Woolf to model her character Orlando on Vita Sackville-West.

CURWOOD: Boy, what a fascinating character.

TULLY COSTA: Right. And guess what? The book is gorgeous, too.

CURWOOD: Oh yeah, I see.

TULLY COSTA: It's a reprint, and it was written, first written in 1937, and it's called Some Flowers. It features the watercolors of Graham Rust, and the beauty of this book is its simplicity. What she did was she chose 25 of her favorite flowers. She described their appearance, where they're from and their characteristics. She then gave instructions on their care in a really elegant and readable fashion, and there's nothing outdated about this book. It's really a perfect marriage between words and images.

CURWOOD: So it's a beautiful how-to from a pretty spicy gardener, huh?


CURWOOD: What other gardening books have you got with you?

TULLY COSTA: Okay. Well, the next book that attracted my attention was because of its cover. It was this luminescent picture depicting a sort of a lush forest in silhouette against the dusk.

CURWOOD: Ooh, yeah, look at this.

TULLY COSTA: And the title, yeah, the title is Heaven's Embroidered Cloth. And it's a really wonderful blend of poems and paintings by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats. And a few landscape artists, including his own brother Jack Butler Yeats. And here's one I thought you might find interesting. It's called The Wheel. "Through winter time we call on spring and though the spring and summer call, and when abounding hedges ring declare that winter's best of all. And after that there's nothing good because the spring time has not come, nor know that what disturbs our blood is but its longing for the tomb."

CURWOOD: Oh, dear, it's kind of depressing. I guess it's in keeping with winter, but --

TULLY COSTA: Yeah, well, okay. But (laughs) Yeats might be a little depressing, but he's very heartfelt and connected to the landscape, you know, like a lot of gardeners.

CURWOOD: Um, let's see, what else is in this book? Aah, "The Cap and the Bells."
The jester walked in the garden. The garden had fallen still. He bade his soul rise upward and stand on her window sill. It rose in a straight blue garment when owls began to call. It had grown wise-tongued by thinking of a quiet and light footfall. So, this is all about landscape and gardens?

TULLY COSTA: Well, it really blurs those lines, so I mean, Yeats was really rapped up by the forces of nature and the paintings also express this by using gardens that have grown out of the wild.

CURWOOD: There's a wonderful painting of The Heath by Charles Thomas Burt walking up, and then this Intimate Garden Path by Mildred Ann Butler. A bypass, she calls it.

TULLY COSTA: Right. And it's got daffodils in it. It's obviously spring time, and very evocative. I mean, the paintings and the poems really do go very beautifully together.

CURWOOD: And where do I get this book?

TULLY COSTA: Well, both the Vita Sackville-West book and the Yeats books are distributed by Trafalgar Publishing, and they can be obtained at your local bookstore. Even at your library.

CURWOOD: So we've got poets, we've got Orlando's inspiration. What about, you know, the nitty gritty of gardening?

TULLY COSTA: Well, I also have a very beautiful reference book.


TULLY COSTA: A just gorgeously illustrated and written primer on native plants, Carol Oddison's Native Plant Primer, which is put out by Harmony Books. And what makes this book so readable and such a pleasure to look at is that it's color coded and it's broken down by region. Anybody living in the southwest, the northeast, the Pacific northwest, the mountain regions, have plants that are very special to that region that have been there for thousands of years. What Carol Oddison has done has broken down in very clear and easy and beautifully photographed ways these regions and what grows in them.

CURWOOD: So it's regionally divided. What if I just want to look up an annual?

TULLY COSTA: Well, after the regional divisions, then she breaks the book down into chapters on perennials, annuals, grasses, ferns, water plants, vines, shrubs, and trees. I mean, all reference books should be this easy and exciting to get through.

CURWOOD: Ooh, this is really beautiful.

TULLY COSTA: Right? And I don't want people to forget the index, which has fantastic resources of nurseries, gardens, and botanical institutions, all of which deal with native plants. And I think we should all find space in our gardens for these plants and bring the wild back into our gardens.

CURWOOD: So this would help people distinguish between what is and what isn't an indigenous plant?

TULLY COSTA: Yeah. And it also gets us to focus on what might actually do better in our gardens. And it also encourages our friends, the birds and the insects, to come back into our gardens. And I just found the gardens in this book so beautifully presented that it actually changed my mind about what I use in my own designs, and so far none of my clients have complained about this. So I hope that these 3 books can get you started, Steve.

CURWOOD: Evelyn Tully Costa is a gardening specialist based in Brooklyn, New York. If you want to contact us for our resource list and how to get the books we talked about today, check out our web page at www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. and just click on the watering can. Or send us a self-addressed stamped envelope to Living on Earth, 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. That's Living on Earth, 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138.

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(Music up and under)

And for this week, that’s Living On Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production team includes: Jesse Wegman, Daniel Grossman, George Homsy and Liz Lempert, Peter Christianson, Roberta de Avila , Peter Shaw and Julia Madeson. Kim Motleweski is our associate editor. Peter Thomson heads our western Bureau. Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky. Michael Aharon composed the theme. I'm Executive Producer, Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation; supporting efforts to eliminate environmental threats to children's health, www.wajones.org. , the Surdna Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture, and the Geraldine R. DodgeFoundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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