July 17, 1998
Air Date: July 17, 1998
J.F.K. Falcons/ Neal Rauch
It's a bird! It's a plane! And they don't mix very well. In collisions between the two, birds certainly get the worst of it. But aircraft have also been damaged , and sometimes humans die as well. It's a worldwide problem. In Israel, more fighter planes have been lost to birds than enemy fire. One way airports have dealt with the problem is to gun down birds who fly into their airspace. But over the last two years, one of the nation's busiest airports has been using Falcons as natural predators to scare sea gulls away. And it's reduced the number of shootings dramatically. From New York, Neal Rauch has this report. (07:45)
LOE Garden Bug Spot
Steve Curwood meets up with LOE gardening expert Michael Weishan at his home in Southboro, Massachusetts. This time the topic is pesky bugs, and various ways to mitigate their intrusion. (05:55)
Wild Animal Rehab/ Amy Eddings
As more and more wildlife habitat gets converted into housing and commercial developments, more and more wildlife are getting hurt or killed by humans. Motor vehicles are especially dangerous, but lawnmowers and chainsaws also take their toll. It used to be that wildlife biologists would say people should leave wounded critters alone and let nature take its course. But a growing number are telling people to contact their local wildlife rehabilitator. From member station W-N-Y-C in New York, Amy Eddings has our report. (05:55)
The Living on Earth Alamanc
This week, facts about.. space trash. (01:30)
Electric Utility Good Shepherd/ Kim Motylewski
Trees are the answer to a lot of problems: summer heat and desertification to name a few. But trees cause some problems, too, especially for electric companies. A falling branch can bring down a power line and a tree that grows too close to electrified cable can ignite. To keep the juice flowing along the broad transmission corridors called rights-of-way, utilities regularly clear the vegetation. Like many companies, Public Service of New Hampshire used to spray saplings in these corridors with herbicides. In 1982 it starting mowing and hand cutting, at a cost of over a million dollars a year. This year it has a new idea: Grazing Power. Kim Motylewski has our report on. (04:55)
Monsanto Ads/ John Carroll
This summer, biotechnology giant Monsanto has launched a $5 million dollar European ad campaign to promote genetic engineering for crops; a technology that's widespread in the U.S. but has been mostly kept out of the marketplace of western Europe. The ads, running in French and British newspapers, stress benefits such as higher yields, fewer pesticides, safety and quality control. Commentator John Carroll says the ad campaign could make Europeans grow even warier. John Carroll is a reporter and media critic for WGBH-TV in Boston. (03:00)
LOE's audience weighs in on recent segments on bear hunting, wild fires, Alaska roads, and snake sounds. (01:30)
Trumpeter Swans: Of Lead, Whirligigs, and E.B. White
Compassion and creativity can be powerful together, especially when you add in some persistence and a sense of urgency about an endangered species. Bob Carty has this story of a device used to scoop gun-shot out of waters where the bullet lead is poisoning Trumpeter Swans. Author E.B. White reads from his book, "The Trumpet of the Swan." and the music in the piece is by Jane Sibbery. (14:10)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Neal Rauch, Amy Eddings, Kim Motylewski, Bob Carty
GUESTS: Michael Weishan
COMMENTATORS: John Carroll
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Some airports just shoot birds that get in the way of airplanes, but at Kennedy International in New York City, they've brought in falcons, and found success.
REPEE: In the last few years, bird strikes have decreased, so I think that we're on the right track. Ultimately, we hope that we can perhaps even eliminate the shooting program.
CURWOOD: And more and more private citizens are getting certified to care for injured wildlife. Some think the animals should be left alone, but others say the critters and their caregivers are benefitting
HARRITY: I think it's the social side of wildlife science that comes into play here. Humans just have that basic, human nature to want to help things that are injured.
CURWOOD: And using plants to send pesky insects packing. Those stories and more this week on Living on Earth. But first, the news.
(NPR News follows)
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's a bird! It's a plane! And they don't mix very well. In collisions between the two, birds certainly get the worst of it. But aircraft have also been damaged, and sometimes humans die as well. It's a world-wide problem. In Israel, more fighter planes have been lost to birds than to enemy fire. One way airports have dealt with the problem is to gun down birds that fly into their air space. But over the last 2 years, one of the nation's busiest airports has been using natural predators to scare seagulls away, and it's reduced the number of shootings dramatically.
From New York, Neal Rauch has this report:
RAUCH: Tucked into a corner of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport is a hawk house.
(Hawks' screeching cries fill the air)
RAUCH: The 20-foot by 48-foot mesh tent, called a "muse," is the home for 10 falcons and 4 hawks that work here.
(Louder screech of nearer bird. Man's voice: "This is Helga. She's a female peregrine-gyr hybrid." Helga screeches again.)
RAUCH: Ron Rollins is project manager for Falcon Environmental Services.
ROLLINS: What we have here is one of her favorites: (Helga screeches again, hungrily) ....leg of turkey.
(Helga munches noisily)
RAUCH: This is the third year the airport has used predators to keep birds, such as seagulls and geese, from colliding with aircraft.
(Aircraft engine revs up)
RAUCH: When it first opened, 50 years ago, as Idlewild International Airport, birds were not as severe a problem. The big propellers on the aircraft of the day took care of themselves. But that changed with the increased use of jets.
(Jet takes off)
RAUCH: The jet engine is a very, very sophisticated piece of equipment. Al Grazer is the general manager of aviation operations at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs JFK. He says a jet can easily be damaged when a bird gets sucked into the engine. Nationally there are some 2,200 reported bird strikes a year--always fatal for the birds; occasionally people are victims as well.
GRAZER: The latest incident that I know of was an incident with an AWACS aircraft in Alaska in 1995 where 24 people were killed. It was an ingestion with geese and the plane crashed with loss of life.
RAUCH: Fortunately, human fatalities due to bird collisions are rare, and there have been none at JFK. Nevertheless, there are 100 to 150 strikes a year here. The problem's especially bad because the airport sits right next to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
(Bird calls amidst jet engines)
RAUCH: The refuge is located along the Atlantic Coastal Flyway, a route migratory birds regularly travel. Artificial islands were added to the sanctuary's natural salt marsh during the 1950s to create a refuge with 2 bodies of fresh water. Over the past 40 years, 330 bird species had been identified. Among them is the only colony of laughing gulls in New York State.
(Laughing gulls call)
RAUCH: With black heads and white bodies, the laughing gulls were almost wiped out in the last century because their plumage was used for hats. The birds only started nesting in the refuge 2 decades ago and are still considered endangered. There are some 3,000 nesting pairs, and it's estimated that a couple of thousand more are in the area. Don Repee of the National Park Service is chief of resource management for the refuge. He says although the laughing gulls are one of the worst problems for the airport, it was herring gulls, the white-headed birds you often see on the beach, that forced airport officials to take action.
REPEE: In the 70s a plane had to abort a takeoff because it hit a bunch of gulls. No one was injured but they lost the plane. They put together this bird control unit.
GRAZER: We have dawn to dusk bird patrols with our own staff every day.
RAUCH: Aviation operations manager Al Grazer.
GRAZER: We try to make the airport as inhospitable as possible. And that's as simple as making sure that people don't feed birds, that they control their garbage. We go out and check all the runways in the morning before we start the major operation of the day. We use tapes which make distress calls to try to scare the birds.
(Taped distress call plays; fade to propane cannons)
GRAZER: We have propane cannons which are noisemakers situated all along the bay runway at Kennedy. If they're on the runway they'll drive the vehicle there to scare them. They have blanks, they have cracker shells and all kinds of noisemakers to scare them.
GRAZER: As a last resort they will shoot.
RAUCH: In 1991, 14,000 birds that wandered onto airport property had to be shot. But killing the birds simply made room for others to take their place. So a new or rather a very old strategy was tried.
RAUCH: Ron Rollins takes Helga out of the back of his vehicle.
ROLLINS: Do you want to go fly? Go chase a gull. Come on.
(Helga flies off)
RAUCH: Ron Rollins has been a master falconer for over 30 years, one of about 3,500 certified falconers in the US. He started hunting with the predatory birds in his native Idaho when he was 13 years old.
ROLLINS: She'll range out about 50 yards, both sides, and then she'll turn and then as she comes back, she'll make a pass at the lure.
RAUCH: The lure is a pigeon-sized leather pouch with wings and a piece of raw chicken thigh as bait. Attached to a 6-foot rope, Mr. Rollins swings it over his head, and Helga speeds toward the imitation bird.
ROLLINS: She's coming by about 80.
RAUCH: Falcons can swoop down toward their prey at 120 miles an hour or even faster. Helga takes aim at the lure, and after several near-misses, she grabs it.
ROLLINS: Not bad. Not bad at all. Nice fresh quail. That's what she does. Look at the gulls.
RAUCH: A flock of laughing gulls that had been at the edge of the airport a quarter mile away have taken flight. The idea is not for the falcons and hawks to actually catch and eat or even chase the birds. Ron Rollins says just seeing the predator sends the vital message.
ROLLINS: The falcon just totally alarms the gulls to a visual attack. They're calling out to everybody, all their cohorts, to move out, there's a predator in the area. Seems to work. They're all gone. (Laughs) Oh, yeah, she likes that quail.
ROLLINS: Oh, yummy.
RAUCH: JFK is the only major commercial airport in the US to use falconry, although military airbases employ it as do all types of airports in Canada and Europe. Despite its success at JFK, airport officials still found it necessary to shoot 2,000 birds last year. Ultimately, the Port Authority would like to move the gull colony out of the preserve altogether, but the bird sanctuary's Don Repee is hopeful that JFK's comprehensive bird control program will make such a draconian move unnecessary.
REPEE: In the last few years, bird strikes have decreased, so I think that we're on the right track. Ultimately, we hope that we can perhaps even eliminate the shooting program.
RAUCH: The 14 falcons and hawks will continue their patrols of Kennedy International Airport until the first of November. After that the airport's bird problems ease, as most of the migratory creatures fly south for the winter. For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Coming up: using garden power to get rid of pesky bugs. The Green Garden Spot is next. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's garden expert; therefore, our visits with him usually take place, well, in his garden or the greenhouse, or somewhere in the yard. But we're not starting there today. Nope. We're inside his office right now, because we're going to talk about a way that garden plants can help you control bugs inside your home. Michael, how are you today?
WEISHAN: Just fine, Steve, thanks.
CURWOOD: Now, if you had an army of ants marching across your floor right now, what would you do?
WEISHAN: Well, actually, I did. Every spring we have a problem with ants here in this cabinet, and I just tie a few sprigs of tansy together (opens drawer) and lay them right here on the shelf, which is where they have a tendency to congregate. Tansy used to be commonly found in the garden. It's what was once called a strewing herb. It was tossed on the floor so that when people walked on it, it would release its fragrance. But coincidentally, it happens to have an insect repellent quality. Here, just crush a little and you can see it has a rather strong --
WEISHAN: Yeah. Yeah, the strong scent. You can also, if you have a major problem over a large area, you can take a handful of tansy. And of course that's what the old recipes say; exactly what a handful is I'm not quite sure. But, you know, a goodly portion, a couple of cups, and boil it in a quart of water. Use the diluted spray to spray on floor areas where ants are a problem, and you'll find that it really does repel.
CURWOOD: It's pretty easy to grow tansy?
WEISHAN: It's almost invasive as a matter of fact (Laughs).
CURWOOD: (Laughs) Okay.
WEISHAN: So, one of the problems with growing tansy is that you have a lot of tansy once you start it. But it's a wonderful plant to have in the garden. It blooms in the late summer, very tall, about 4 feet high, with yellow blossoms. So it's a pleasant addition to the perennial border as well as being very useful inside.
CURWOOD: What else do you have in your garden that fights insects?
WEISHAN: Actually we have quite a number of things. So let's take a step outside and we'll go look and see.
(Door opens to bird song; footfalls)
WEISHAN: Here we are out in the garden. The first thing I want to show you is actually one of my favorite herbs, which is pennyroyal. Which is a member of the mint family. You can smell some of that. It's very strong, minty.
CURWOOD: Minty with a funny kind of pine edge to it, almost.
WEISHAN: It smells sort of like Murphy's Oil Soap in a way, if you know what that smells like, yeah. As a matter of fact, it's used in floor preparations and natural mixtures and things as a cleaner. But it also seems to be a terrific repellent for fleas in the house.
WEISHAN: We've actually used it on the dogs and it works pretty well. Once again, you take a handful of pennyroyal. Now this is a low-growing plant that looks somewhat like mint, it's about 6 inches high, so a handful requires a fairly large clump of it. And once again, you throw it in a quart of boiling water for about 20 minutes. Then when it's cooled you can add that water to the pet's bath and it is a natural flea repellent. It seems to do an amazingly good job.
CURWOOD: Okay, Michael; now what other parts of the house can we protect with plants or herbs?
WEISHAN: Well, in the high summer, one of the best things to think aboutis protecting your woolens in the closet. One of the nice things you can do is make herbal satchels with dried herbs, and there is a number that are very effective against moths. One is this one, southernwood. I'll let you smell a little of that.
CURWOOD: Ooh! Almost, almost like a rose with vinegar in it or something.
WEISHAN: Yeah. It's a pleasant scent, but once again it's strong. And they generally mix this with lavender artemisia, which is a member of the Dusty Miller family; most of our listeners will recognize Dusty Miller. And this southernwood. Sometimes pennyroyal and tansy can all be mixed together by just taking a few sprigs and putting them in an old pair of nylons, for instance, and then hanging them in the closet. It actually works rather effectively for a moth repellent.
CURWOOD: There's a woman I know who insists that putting a little tray of beer outside will kill the slugs in her gardens.
WEISHAN: Ah, well (laughs) that's actually true to an extent. We had a question from one of the listeners through the web site about just that. The problem is that what most people do is put down a tray and then wake up the next morning and find they have a tray full of slugs, and it's not very pleasant. What you're supposed to do is actually take a can of beer, open it up, and increase the opening to about half of the can opener, and bury it so that the level is flush with the soil. It's not that the slugs are poisoned by beer, it's that they fall in the can and drown. They're attracted by it and then they meet their demise drowned in beer. Which I suppose there are worse ways to go, right?
CURWOOD: (Laughs) Now does it matter if you use stout, or is a light lager okay?
WEISHAN: I would suggest anything cheap because you know, you're feeding the slugs here. Granted it is their last meal.
CURWOOD: Michael, we've been talking about plants that you can use to chase bugs out of your house. What about plants that chase bugs out of the garden?
WEISHAN: Yeah, there are quite a number as a matter of fact. Here in the herb garden we plant quite a number of different type of marigolds. And what they work against is a small, invasive insect in the soil called nematodes, which are tiny little worms essentially that eat the roots of plants. Now, for a complete eradication of nematodes you actually have to plant the entire surface in marigolds. But for a minor infestation, scattering marigolds in and around the plants that you're growing works tremendously well.
CURWOOD: Has science done the research here to show that beer and tansy and all these things work? Or is this just from the folk literature?
WEISHAN: Well, it all has a basis in folk literature, because that's how western society became knowledgeable of these things. These things have been passed down for generations, millennia practically. But a lot of it does work. For instance, I happen to know that tansy works with ants. I do happen to know that the pennyroyal does work for the fleas. Are they as effective as getting out your can of Raid? Probably not, but it's a lot easier on you and on the environment.
CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.
WEISHAN: My pleasure.
CURWOOD: Michael Weishan is Living on Earth's traditional gardener, and he's publisher of Traditional Gardening. Got a question for Michael, just dial up our web site. It's www.livingonearth.org. And click on the watering can.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: As more and more wildlife habitat gets converted into housing and commercial developments, more and more wildlife is getting hurt and killed by humans. Motor vehicles are especially dangerous, but lawn mowers and chainsaws also take their toll. It used to be that wildlife biologists would say leave wounded critters alone and let nature take its course. But a growing number are telling people to contact their local wildlife rehabilitator. From member station WNYC in New York, Amy Eddings has a report.
(Footfalls through tall grasses)
EDDINGS: An hour and a half's drive west from New York City, in the rural community of Clinton, New Jersey, Tracy Nash gives me a tour of what used to be her garage.
EDDINGS: Over time it's become the Woodlands Wildlife Refuge.
NASH: Okay, we have right here in this cage are 3 little red squirrels that came in. The mom was killed in a tree-cutting incident over the weekend. And the next several cages are gray squirrels of various ages. We have a mother possum in this cage that came in last night after being hit by a car, that has a pouch full of babies. And --
EDDINGS: Ms. Nash is a wildlife rehabilitator. Rehabbers, as they like to be called, donate their time, money, and in Ms. Nash's case their homes, to nurse injured or orphaned wildlife back to health and release them.
(Baby raccoons cry out)
EDDINGS: These cantankerous baby raccoons will be transitioned to outdoor cages in a few months and released into the woods several weeks after that. But a few animals aren't so lucky.
EDDINGS: A possum snores, fast asleep in his cage. He was permanently blinded after being hit by a car, and will live out his life here.
EDDINGS: Saving injured wildlife isn't a line of work people plan on doing. Ms. Nash, like most rehabbers, got involved by chance. She already had a reputation in town as an animal lover when a friend brought her 2 injured raccoons 12 years ago. Today, she has a nonprofit organization that takes in hundreds of wild animals a year, from bobcat, black bear, and river otter, to rabbits, raccoons, and squirrels. The growth of Woodlands Wildlife Refuge is due to word of mouth about Ms. Nash's skill as a rehabber. It's also due to an increase in human encounters with wildlife in the area, which is seeing more development.
NASH: My neighbor's clearing another field. Used to be woods like this for the next 20 acres, but it's clear-cut right beyond this acre.
EDDINGS: In many rural communities across the country, low- density suburban sprawl is gobbling up farm land, woods, and other areas where wildlife thrive. Hunterdon County is the second-fastest-growing county in New Jersey. Twenty years ago three quarters of the county were considered farm land; now, half of it is. John Madden is a local planning consultant.
MADDEN: What's happening is that the wildlife habitat is being invaded by development, and we're consequently squeezing the wildlife out so more and more wildlife have to occupy less and less land. And that wildlife is coming into more and more contact with residences.
EDDINGS: And into more and more contact with cars. Eight thousand deer alone were struck and killed by drivers in New Jersey last year, and that's the fate of most of the parents of the orphaned baby animals that are brought to wildlife rehabbers each spring and summer.
EDDINGS: At Woodlands Wildlife Refuge, volunteer Jackie Cortwright uses a syringe to feed formula to orphaned baby gray squirrels. Another tiny gray squirrel just 5 weeks old was found on somebody's sidewalk.
CORTWRIGHT: Come on.
(Sucking sounds continue)
CORTWRIGHT: You have to go very slow with him because sometimes he takes a lot of breaks. He eats good. Come on.
EDDINGS: Every feeding and every cleaning helps these squirrels stay alive, but it also makes them a little more used to humans and a little less fit for surviving in the wild on their own. Most rehabbers try to keep themselves emotionally and physically distant from their charges. Tracy Nash admits it's hard to do.
NASH: They are not our domestic animals, and we cannot treat them the same as we do with them. And it's a very hard thing to cross over into, because you have to behave completely different around these wild guys.
EDDINGS: Well, wouldn't some people argue that if you really wanted to make that case you wouldn't help these guys out at all?
NASH: Right. But we're not out looking for them. They've already come here because somebody's interfered and brought them here.
EDDINGS: You tell them to let them go, put them on the side of the road in a box.
NASH: Yeah, you tell them. (Laughs)
EDDINGS: That was the message of wildlife officials 20 years ago. Larry Harety is a biologist with the New Jersey Division of Fish, Game, and Wildlife, which monitors the state's 111 rehabbers and oversees their training and licensing. While some biologists think the resources used to help individual animals would be better spent on saving wildlife populations as a whole, Harety says most biologists today are more sympathetic.
HARETY: I think it's the social side of wildlife science that comes into play here. Humans just have that basic human nature to want to help things that are injured.
EDDINGS: Not all rehabbers do a good job helping injured wildlife. Harety says he's had to shut down 7 rehabbers in the last 8 years, some for unclean conditions, others for failing to keep the animals wild. Nationally, 2 rehabbers associations, boasting around 3,200 members, are working to make the field more professional, and to teach people how to live with the animals around them. Some pointers: slow down when you're driving at night. Never move a hurt animals with your bare hands. Wait to see if mom comes back before rescuing what you think are abandoned babies. And don't put a stunned animal in the back seat of your car, unless you have a way to tie it down. If the animal wakes up, you might end up injured, too. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.
(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 Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: An electric power company tries sheep instead of pesticides to keep power lines clear of vegetation. That's coming up in the next half hour, right here on Living on Earth.
SECOND HALF HOUR
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Stonyfield Farm Yogurt: if the planet's health isn't our business, whose is it?
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Two years ago on July 24, satellite monitors spotted a chunk of an old rocket colliding with a French military satellite, severely damaging it. This was the first time such a collision was observed, but space trash has been dinging, denting, and disabling space equipment for years. Over 10,000 humanmade objects have been tracked in orbit, and 95% is junk. And when you count bits smaller than 4 inches, which can't be detected by radar, there are probably tens of millions of pieces of debris. But even those tiny fragments pack quite a punch. Because they can travel up to 30,000 miles an hour, they can hit with the force ofspeeding bullets. In fact, space shuttle cockpit windows have had to be replaced after being pitted and fractured by zooming paint flecks. In addition to all the junk in orbit, there's a fair amount of litter on the moon and on Mars and other planets. Among the objects that have been left behind are old rovers, antennas, cameras, and golf balls. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Trees are the answer to a lot of problems: summer heat and desertification to name a few. But trees cause some problems, too, especially for electric companies. A falling branch can bring down a power line and a tree that grows too close to electrified cable can ignite. To keep the juice flowing along the broad transmission corridors called rights of way, utilities regularly clear the vegetation. Like many companies, Public Service of New Hampshire used to spray saplings in these corridors with herbicides. But in 1982 it started mowing and hand-cutting at a cost of over $1 million a year. And this year it has a new idea: grazing power. Kim Motylewski has our report.
(Engines; tree branches crunching)
MOTYLEWSKI: People who live beside Public Service of New Hampshire transmission corridors recognize the rumble of the brontosaurus. Every summer the big yellow tractor with a long neck and a head of spinning blades chews bushes and trees down to the ground. But this year, some abutters hear a gentler sound along the right of way.
(Someone whistles, then yodels, in the rain)
MOTYLEWSKI: Shepherd Josh Moody is moving 500 rain-soaked sheep into a portable corral beneath towering power poles.
MOTYLEWSKI: On the shepherd's command, 2 Border Collies race behind the herd, urging it forward.
MOTYLEWSKI: Dick Henry helps, too. He's Josh Moody's boss, and he runs an environmental consultancy called Bellwether Solutions. Mr. Henry convinced the utility to hire him to graze his sheep on this right of way. The flock will munch greenery until October on a 13-mile test plot of sloping, rock-strewn terrain in the southeastern corner of the state. Dick Henry says the animals are doing the job.
HENRY: We're real pleased that the sheep have adapted to the woody plants as well as they have. I mean they really like the oak and the cherry. Still have to convince them on the poplar and the maple, but they're getting there.
O'DONNELL: Believe me, there are a lot of people who laughed when they heard this project. But we stuck with it, because it sounded like it made sense.
MOTYLEWSKI: Ellen O'Donnell is an environmental analyst for Public Service of New Hampshire. She says the company wanted an alternative to mowing its 1,800 miles of power line corridor. And with sheep, she saw environmental benefits.
O'DONNELL: And the nice thing about the grazing project is when the sheep pass through, they eat the vegetation but they do it slowly. So any animals that live in the area can easily get out of the way and come back. The other nice thing is that the sheep don't eat everything. As they move along they're hitting the species that we need to get rid of, the trees that grow tall and go into the line. But they leave the shrubs that are good cover or some of the smaller mammals and the insects, or birds that might be nesting in them.
MOTYLEWSKI: Another benefit: sheep are quiet, and neighbors have taken to the critters and the bucolic scene they set. But Ms. O'Donnell says grazing costs must compare favorably with mowing costs, about $300 per acre, if the project is continue.
MOTYLEWSKI: Dick Henry says the flock will browse the test acreage twice this summer. Whatever saplings the animals don't eat, the shepherd will clip by hand. Then botanists will determine how well the team of man and beast killed off undesirable trees, and how resistant to reseeding grazed areas are compared with mowed ones.
HENRY: That's a big test, and it will take us 2 or 3 years before we see whether this technique is more effective than other techniques.
MOTYLEWSKI: So far the flock is munching about 3 and a half acres a day. The machines do about 5. And even if the sheep outperform the mowers in some ways, grazing won't work everywhere. The animals don't eat the soft woods like white pine, which cover about a third of the company's rights of way. Still, Dick Henry dreams of reviving sheep farming nationwide. There are hundreds of thousands of miles of utility corridors, ski slopes, and other open spaces to be kept clear. And Mr. Henry envisions a huge new demand for sheep as grazing machines.
HENRY: Instead of looking at an agricultural product as a commodity, it's an agricultural product as a service. And that's kind of a different way of looking at using livestock. But potentially a good business opportunity.
MOTYLEWSKI: If Public Service of New Hampshire is satisfied with Mr. Henry's sheep service, the project will continue next spring. And the company may soon be looking for a few more good flocks. For Living on Earth, I'm Kim Motylewski in Nottingham, New Hampshire.
MOODY: (Shouts, yips) hey hey hey hey hey!
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CURWOOD: This summer, biotechnology giant Monsanto has launched a $5 million European ad campaign to promote genetic engineering for crops, a technology that's widespread in the United States but has mostly been kept out of the marketplace of western Europe. The ads, running in French and British newspapers, stress benefits such as higher yields, fewer pesticides, safety, and quality control. Commentator John Carroll says the ad campaign could make Europeans grow even warier.
CARROLL: To the average American, Europeans seem a bit well, eccentric about what they eat. The British, for example, don't freshness-date their food, they carbon-date it. The French, on the other hand, refuse to eat anything that hasn't been harvested or eviscerated within the past 24 hours. As for the rest of the European Community, they can't even agree on the definition of cheese. So it's really no surprise that Monsanto has had trouble promoting genetic food products in the European market. Monsanto wants to sell biotechnology-enhanced seeds to farmers and get European consumers to eat their genetically-engineered soybeans and such. But the general populace, mindful of the British beef scare of several years ago, apparently fears an outbreak of mad corn disease.
That's driven Monsanto to adopt the weapon of last resort with an uncooperative public: advertising. Monsanto's European newspaper ads are decidedly more low-key than what Americans are accustomed to seeing. One French ad takes the form of a quiz, offering multiple-choice answers to the question: What is genetic engineering of crops? The answers, loosely translated, are: the production of blue oranges, the study of plants that dance to techno-music, or and this is the correct one, the science that improves vegetables by giving them new properties. Not exactly final Jeopardy, but certainly tougher than asking the French why they prefer gum surgery to American tourists.
The British campaign, not surprisingly, is less playful. The kickoff ad says, "Food biotechnology is a matter of opinions. Monsanto believes you should hear all of them." The text of the ad promises that the company will publish ways to contact Monsanto's most vocal critics. And another ad does include phone numbers and web sites of biotechnopponents, only one of which actually opposes genetic crop engineering. But that one, Friends of the Earth, is a doozie, offering briefings such as "Genetically Engineered Oilseed Rape," and "Public to be Force-Fed Frankenstein Food Propaganda." With enemies like that, who needs the French? Then again, the whole point of the campaign is to seem balanced while loading the dice in Monsanto's favor. Odds are the company doesn't expect many people to go to the trouble of checking out the critics of biotech crops. We're just not genetically engineered that way.
CURWOOD: John Carroll is a reporter and media critic for WGBH-TV in Boston.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Andrew Scott of Blanchard, Idaho, hears us on KPBX in Spokane, Washington. He says a recent commentary on the proposed bear hunt in New Hampshire wrongly equated hunters with those people who feel bears are a nuisance that should be gotten rid of.
SCOTT: No hunter in their right mind would ever want to see a bear population brought to extinction. A lot of the recovery of the black bear in North America is directly responsible to hunters' dollars that have been generated through taxes on firearms and other hunting equipment, and many ethical sportsmen, including myself, have paid for that and are proud to see that the black bear populations are recovering.
CURWOOD: Steve Hiltner of Durham, North Carolina, says our interview on Florida wildfires missed an important point. "In Florida's pine forests," he writes, "a distinction must be made between destructive wildfires and the low-level periodic fires that play a vital ecological role. Suppression of all fires leads to fuel buildup, which in turn leads to destructive wildfires."
Last week we spoke with the manager of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska about a Congressional proposal to cut a road through the area. Nancy Zemirah of Aloha, Oregon, who's worked in emergency medical services on the Alaska peninsula and Aleutian Islands, sent us this: "Unless you have been there, you cannot comprehend the isolation. When the weather is bad, there is no transportation out of the villages, particularly those that do not have an airport."
And Thomas Stock of Silver Spring, Maryland, wrote, "I wish the piece would have included the opinions of someone in favor of the road. The interview left me with many more questions than answers. And frankly, if such a road saved even one human life, I would have to say let it be built. On the other hand," he writes, "I simply loved the piece on snake sounds. It brought back a very pleasant memory of an encounter I had with a hognose snake in the company of my father, who was deathly afraid of snakes. He was thoroughly spooked by the hognose's antics, even after I faced the critter down and showed Dad how obsessively the snake plays dead, repeatedly rolling on its back after I'd flip it over."
Let us know what you think about the stories on our program. You can call our listener line any time at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or e-mail us at LOE@NPR.ORG. Again, that's LOE@NPR.ORG.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Coming up: a story of a book, a bird, and some bullets. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Compassion and creativity can be powerful together, especially when you add in some persistence and a sense of urgency about an endangered species. Bob Carty has this story.
CARTY: I remember some years ago introducing my son to his first chapter book. It was The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White. Three full weeks of delightful nightly bedtime reading. Which is why, when I heard a story about trumpeter swans, I decided to drive out to a swamp in the middle of southern Ontario to see some people who are trying to make that book come alive.
(Guitar and E.B. White narration: "They all swam downwind to the end of the pond. They pumped their necks up and down. There was a tremendous commotion: wings beating, feet racing, water churned to a froth. And presently, wonder of wonders, there were 7 swans in the air." Fade to a running brook or stream)
CAMERON: Look right over there. You see 5 birds coming in? That's the prettiest sight you've ever seen. These free-flying birds, man, coming in, and they just come right over top, like a concord and they're calling.
CAMERON: Listen to this, you'll hear sounds coming now.
CARTY: That's beautiful.
CAMERON: Unreal, eh?
CARTY: Mary Cameron is the swan keeper at the Wye Marsh Wildlife Center, about an hour and a half north of Toronto. And beside her is a trumpeter swan named Sidekick. Sidekick has deep black eyes, a black bill, and snow white feathers everywhere else, and she almost comes up to Mary's face. This is North America's largest water fowl: 5 feet tall with a wingspan of almost 7 feet. Wings that are so powerful that an angry trumpeter swan can beat a man to death. But the bird beside Mary is gentle and playful. Mary nods her head. Sidekick bobs her 3-foot-long neck. Mary makes a noise and the bird imitates.
CAMERON: You can talk, too? Okay. (Makes swanlike sounds)
CAMERON: If you're interested in the inside works of a swan, they have a extra loop in their windpipe and that's what gives them the trumpet sound. Almost like a French Horn sort of thing.
CAMERON: They have a great repertoire of sounds and everything and everything has a meaning. And I just wish I understood it all.
CARTY: The author E.B. White wrote his book about trumpeter swans in 1970, in part because at the time they had almost disappeared. The Wye Marsh is one of several locations where conservationists like Don Foxhall and Kim Gavin are trying to reintroduce the bird.
GAVIN: Wye Marsh is a cat-tail marsh. You can easily see muskrat, beaver, blue-wing teals, mallard ducks, snapping turtles, a whole array of wildlife. Traditionally, both the Huron and the Iroquois Indians were in this area. One of the reasons we got into the trumpeter swan reintroduction program was archaeological studies had shown that there was bones from trumpeter swans, and that perhaps that may have been one of the main diet sources for the Huron Indians.
CARTY: Native people may have hunted trumpeter swans, but they didn't threaten the species. Trumpeter swans have been known to be able to fly even with an arrow stuck in their bodies. So until 200 years ago, the North American population of trumpeter swans numbered in the hundreds of thousands. But then, as Don Foxhall explains, a new weapon came to the marshes.
FOXHALL: They declined primarily because of the advent or the introduction of firearms, and a trade in their skins. And that would include the large primary feathers and the down. By 1937 trumpeter swans were considered on their way out, because they could find less than 100 in North America. The gene pool was so low they felt that they weren't
going to survive.
CARTY: Trumpeter swans were put on the Endangered Species List, and they might have gone the way of the carrier pigeon. But then, a separate population of trumpeter swans, previously unknown, was discovered in Alaska. Since the 1950s conservationists have been breeding those Alaskan swans with the remaining stock in central North America.
FOXHALL: Wye Marsh got into the trumpeter swan reintroduction program in 1989. We first released trumpeter swans in 1991; in ‘93 we had the first wild nesting swan in Ontario in over 200 years. That's a free nest. That was a big day for us when we had wild produced trumpeter swans.
CARTY: But then things went terribly wrong. The trumpeter swans were sick and dying.
FOXHALL: They weren't flying. They're not eating and they're very lethargic and they gape a lot, like their bill's opening and closing a lot. We would take them over to the local vet service and they would subsequently X-ray them. And it became obvious on the X-ray plates that they had ingested lead. There was lead in their gizzards and you could
actually see the pulse on the X- rays.
CARTY: Where's the lead from?
FOXHALL: This is a hunting area, and lead was, is from spent shotgun shells.
CARTY: Shotgun shells. Before the wildlife area was created, the Wye Marsh was a favorite spot for duck hunters. Every shotgun shell contains up to 260 lead pellets. And most of those pellets don't hit their target but fall into the swamp and settle on the bottom. And lead kills. Ironically, all of this was foreseen by the author E.B. White. In his book The Trumpet of the Swan, the father cob introduces his young cygnets to the swamp and to its hazards.
(Guitar and E.B. White narration: "Welcome to the pond and the swamp adjacent," he said. "Welcome to water. Welcome to danger, which you must guard against. Beware of lead pellets that lie on the bottom of all ponds, that's there by the guns of hunters. Don't eat them. They'll poison you." Fade to gurgling water.)
CARTY: But the trumpeter swans of Wye Marsh haven't read E.B. White, and Kim Gavin says his warnings have proven all too true.
GAVIN: During the spring there's obviously not a lot of plant material available, so the swans will dig for things such as fingernail clams. And a lot of times they'll also pick up pellets, mistaking it for grip to help aid in the digestion of their food. Consequently, this goes into their gizzard, where it's broken down and moves into their bloodstream, causing neurological damage, not eating at all, and eventually going to secluded areas where they will fall prey to either scavengers or die.
CARTY: The trumpeter swan reintroduction program was in trouble. Forty percent of the birds were dying because of lead poisoning. Hunters had been prohibited from using lead gunshot in the area for years, but decades of earlier hunting had left maybe millions of lead pellets in the swamp sediment. It was a problem that defied simple solutions. Kim Gavin.
GAVIN: People obviously set out first to excavate the lead pellets. You can't go into a wetland and start excavating large areas. The environmental damage to that is just too large to even imagine. The other recommendation was that you use a large magnet to pull the pellets out. Well, lead is not magnetic, so therefore we had to rule that option out as well. We had to find a solution that was going to be the least environmental damage to the surrounding wetland.
CARTY: Kim Gavin and Don Foxhall began scouring the Internet, looking around the world to see how others had solved the lead pellet problem. And they found nothing. So they began their own experiments. If they couldn't take the lead pellets out of the swamp, they wondered if it was possible to make them sink deeper. Trumpeter swans usually feed in only the top 2 inches of the sediment. If the pellets sank below 4 inches, the birds couldn't get at them. At first they experimented with a system of air injection but that disturbed the sediment too much. And then they came up with a totally novel idea.
CARTY: To see the way they solved the problem, Don and Kim took me for a 20-minute motorboat ride out to the far end of the Wye Marsh where, floating on top of the water, beside the cat-tails, was a small barge. And on top of it, a very odd-looking machine. The only one of its kind in the world.
FOXHALL: We call it the whirlygig, after an aquatic beetle that screws around on the surface of the water, is specially adapted to live at the water's surface. On the end of the barge there's a mini-excavator arm mounted. And at the end of the excavator arm there's a device we call it's a lead-sinking device, and it's a vibrator. It's 3 feet wide and approximately 5 feet long and it has a series of tempered metal rods 28 inches long. It looks similar to a hairbrush, with very wide tines.
CARTY: For a very big head.
FOXHOLE: For a very big head, yeah. (Laughs) It would be kind of brutal combing your hair with it. (Laughs with Kim)
CARTY: Can you show me how it works?
FOXHALL: Yeah. (Engine revs up) We're just repositioning the vibrator device. We'll put it down into the sediment. The vibrator for probably 8 seconds, lift it back up, move it over, and treat the area in an arc at the end of this boom. (Engine continues) And our research and testing has proven that this device and the technique that we're using is extremely effective in moving lead pellets below the reach of trumpeter swans. (Clanking sounds along with the engine sounds)
CARTY: Kim, you have a big smile.
GAVIN: Yeah, I'm pretty excited about this, actually. This is the first time I've had a chance to come out and actually see it remediating a site. We've been working on this project since 1994, and to think that something so simplistic is doing something that hopefully will be beneficial in the long run, for the health of marshes.
CARTY: So, what do your friends say when you tell them that you're out in a swamp with a vibrator?
GAVIN: (Laughs) I get it all the time. That's what I mean, that's why we like to use the word whirlygigs for the vibrator. (Laughs)
(Engine and clanking sounds)
CARTY: The vibrator, or the lead pellet sinking device, is slowly covering the hot spots in the swamp: the places where the swans nest and where there used to be a lot of hunting. So far it seems to be a great success. Some birds still have low levels of lead in their blood, but the number of lead poisoning deaths is down from 40% to 5%. And the company that developed the vibrator has taken out a patent and is hoping to use it in remediating other wetlands across North America. A story with a happy ending, almost. As an independent charity, the Wye Marsh Wildlife Center has had some financial difficulties. It had to lay off many of its staff. There will still be some funds to continue the lead sinking program, but the people who have come to know and love the swans have received layoff notices. Mary Cameron is finished in 30 days. She's thinking a lot about her birds, and the experiences she has had with them: experiences right out of a children's book.
CAMERON: When you sit on the shore and have an adult male sit beside you, and you're sitting watching his cygnets hatch out in the nest, and you're accepted 2 days later when the little babies are off the nest, and you walk in and sit amongst the family, and they just sit there and watch the babies and watch you and you're totally accepted. And (sighs) yeah, next month I'm done.
(A swan trumpets)
CAMERON: But that's okay, as long as the birds are looked after. That's all that matters. If I ever come back to Wye Marsh again, I hope to see 6- and 7-generation swans living here at marsh or around the area. I'd like to come back here and I would like to see thousands of birds flying over giving this call. That's what I would like to see happen.
(Guitar and singing: "Neck white and eager, my trumpeter swan. Gliding through the first of fronds..." Fade to E.B. White narration: "And if you had looked up you would have seen, high overhead, 2 great white birds. They flew swiftly, their legs stretched out straight behind, their long white necks stretched out ahead. Their powerful wings beating steady and strong. A thrilling noise in the sky, a sound like the sound of trumpets." Fade to singing: "We feel your love, oh trumpeter swan. Oh, live on. Oh, live on." Fade to swans trumpeting.)
CURWOOD: Our report on trumpeter swans was produced by Bob Carty, who tells us that the lead remediation program is continuing this summer despite the financial difficulties at the center. Wye Marsh now has 61 free-nesting birds, just about a sustainable population. The late author E.B. White was recorded reading from his book The Trumpet of the Swan. The music is by Jane Sibbery.
(Music up and under, with trumpet solo.)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production team includes George Homsy, Jesse Wegman, Terry Fitzpatrick, Daniel Grossman, Liz Lempert, and Miriam Landman, along with Peter Christianson, Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director, Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau, Joyce Hackel is our senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer. We had help from Jim Frey, David Winickoff, Elsa Heidorn, Jodie Kirshner, and Rebecca Sladek-Knowlis. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
(Trumpet music continues)
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