Oysters/ Tom Lalley
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Oysters have long been the cornerstone of the Chesapeake Bay. They keep the bay clean and help support the local seafood industry. But overharvesting, habittat destruction and disease have caused the oyster population to decline dramatically from its harvest highs of the last century. A multimillion dollar restoration project whose goal is to increase the oyster population in the Chesapeake began this year. Tom Lalley reports. (08:00)
Pigs/ Verlyn Klinkenborg
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Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg, who writes about "The Rural Life" for the New York Times contemplates the arrival two piglets that he hopes to raise for slaughter and what it all means for his relationship with the land. (03:10)
Animal Note/ Diane Toomey
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Is walking good for your brain? Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a study that suggests that taking a stroll may be good for your memory. (01:15)
The Living on Earth Almanac
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This week, facts about Underground America Day. About 6,000 North Americans have chosen to make their home not only on the earth, but in it. (01:30)
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Host Steve Curwood talks with author Eric Hansen about his encounters with the floral-obsessed, and his new book, Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love Lust and Lunacy. (09:00)
Fiddleheads/ Sy Montgomery
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Commentator Sy Montgomery ponders the springtime arrival of fiddlehead ferns, and explains why theyre a proven tonic for body and soul. (02:45)
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New developments in stories we’ve been following recently. (03:00)
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Living On Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on what spiny lobsters have in common with virtuoso violinists. (01:30)
Tongass, Part II
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Fifty years of intensive logging and road-building nearly decimated parts of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. And ruined the local timber industry. Now, as producer Guy Hand reports, southeast Alaskans are wondering what to do next. (15:00)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in North America, and its' in trouble. Perhaps the clearest warning comes from the sharp decline in oysters. Oysters help keep the bay clean and they feed the ecosystem, including humans. But today, the oyster catch is almost down to nothing, to just two percent of its glory days of 100 years ago. Over harvesting, habitat destruction, and disease are to blame. Now a multimillion dollar program is trying to restore the oyster population in the Chesapeake. And some hope the next decade could see oyster populations grow tenfold. Tom Lalley has this report from Virginia.
(Ambient voices. A boat engine starts up)
LALLEY: Most people associate the Chesapeake with crabs, not oysters. But as recently as the 1970s, oysters were the dominant species and industry of the bay. Today the oyster is just hanging on. The decline has had a devastating effect on the people who depend on the bay.
BARD: Fish was plentiful. Oysters were plentiful and the crab were plentiful.
LALLEY: Larry Bard is a waterman from Tangier Island, Virginia.
BARD: It was a year-round job. I mean, it was seasonal but you went from one to the other, you know. Crabbing was over, you went to oyster, and right on through the cycles, through the winter. And it was always a job.
LALLEY: These days, Bard and other watermen like him are lucky to work five months out of the year. That's why he's here on this boat, loaded with dignitaries rather than seafood. The gathering includes politicians and the top environmental officials from Virginia. They're here to see the centerpiece of the oyster recovery effort, an artificial reef in the Rappahannock River just off the bay. The boat stops about 100 yards from shore. Rob Brumbaugh is a fisheries biologist with the Chesapeake Bay Society. He points out the thousand-foot reef just under the surface of the water.
BRUMBAUGH: If we drift a little closer, what you'll see is actually an oyster reef that actually sticks up off the bottom of the bay. And that's the way oyster reefs used to look three and four hundred years ago. They were very much like coral reefs in tropical waters. And they were formed by oysters, one generation after another settling on each other and accumulating over thousands of years.
LALLEY: Along with oysters, the reefs were home to as many as 300 other species, like crabs and sea bass. Today there are virtually no natural reefs left. What over-harvesting didn't take, shell mining did. Shells can be used to make concrete. At one time, reefs were mined without even removing the oysters.
TRACY: It used to be, when Captain John Smith was here you could walk across the Chesapeake Bay on these oyster reefs. And imagine the water quality then. They said you could look down 40 feet and see your anchor, and you can't now. You're looking right at it and you can't see.
LALLEY: Dennis Tracy is the director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Tracy has a particular interest in oyster recovery. He's responsible for keeping the state's water clean.
TRACY: Virginia has spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the last few years on removing nutrients from the Chesapeake Bay. One thing about these oysters in the Chesapeake Bay is they filter better than most mechanical systems that we have. So they clean up the bay just by being here, and the more the merrier.
LALLEY: But oyster recovery will take money, as much as $100 million dollars over the next ten years. Much of that money is expected to come from Congress, which hasn't yet committed to spend it. Recovery will also depend on a multimillion overall bay recovery effort that would upgrade sewage treatment plants and reduce farm and urban runoff. Funding for that plan is uncertain. Cuts to the program are proposed in the Bush administration's budget. That's why Republican U.S. Senator John Warner is here, showing his support for the project by dumping a few ceremonial buckets of oyster shells over the side of the boat.
VOICE: Senator Warner, tell us what you're doing here.
WARNER: We're seeding the oyster beds.
LALLEY: The real reseeding work is underway just across the Rappahannock [phonetic spelling], where about 75 tons of oysters is being forced overboard by two high-powered hoses. The water pressure is enough to disperse the shells over the reef. This reef is one of 200 that will be built, seeded with farm-raised oysters, and made off-limits to harvesting. John Paul Woodly is Virginia's Secretary of Natural Resources. He says the idea is that these reefs will produce healthy oysters that will seed surrounding reefs where harvesting will be allowed.
WOODLY: Because of the oysters' inability to move and the need for male and female oysters to be in proximity, the concept is to have the reefs as sanctuaries so that those oysters that survive and therefore show resistance to the diseases will continue unmolested to breed, and to populate the bay over time.
LALLEY: Woodly is confident the sanctuaries will be respected. Around the bay, oyster recovery is strongly supported. More than 5,000 volunteers have helped out in the effort, and millions of private sector dollars have been raised. Jay Taylor is a member of the Norfolk Rotary Club, which has raised nearly $100,000 for oyster recovery.
TAYLOR: I don't know what it is about the oyster. As ugly as that little thing is, that it seems to generate such a heartfelt interest in environmental protection and restoration. It's become a kind of symbol. And it's a good thing it did, because it's so fundamental to the health of the environment.
(Engines up and over, fade to ambient conversations)
LALLEY: Back on the dock, the Chesapeake Bay Society's Rob Brumbaugh says the Rotary Club's money is well spent. He calls oyster recovery the biggest bang for the buck.
BRUMBAUGH: If you think about what a single oyster can do, a single oyster that's three inches long, about the size that you'd see on a plate with some cocktail sauce and a lemon, filters 50 gallons of water in a single day. So, one oyster. And 130 years ago it was estimated that they could filter the bay in about three to five days or three to six days. So when you think of it in terms of both the fishery and the economic return that we get, the filtering ability and the water quality improvement and then the habitat, it's just hands-down, it's really the most important resource in the bay to be devoting energy and time and, frankly, money to.
MAN 1: Stick around. I understand there are some oysters.
MAN 2: Oh, good, I was hoping.
LALLEY: Before the party breaks up, oysters on the half-shell are served. Eating oysters was once a common experience for people around the bay, but plummeting oyster numbers have put many processors out of business. The few hanging on have had to change the way they operate.
LALLEY: Kellum Seafood is one of several companies that now returns all their shells to the bay instead of selling them for concrete. They even bought a boat specially made for seeding oyster reefs. The shells are loaded by a conveyor belt that carries them from a massive, 60-foot-high pile of shells. Tommy Kellum is the vice president and grandson of the company's founder.
KELLUM: Nineteen-eighty-eight, there were ten processing facilities that processed oysters on this tributary we're on, and right now there are only three. The seventies was a heyday. There were probably as many as five tractor trailers of oysters going away from this plant a day. And we're down to about three to four a week now.
LALLEY: It may take years before Kellum gets back to peak production. But preliminary results from the oyster recovery effort are encouraging. Twenty miles north of the Rappahannock is the comparatively smaller Great Wicomico River. Oyster numbers around a pilot reef built a few years ago there showed an increase of nearly 600 percent the year after it was seeded. For Living on Earth, I'm Tom Lalley in Weems, Virginia.
CURWOOD: There's lots you can do living out in the country that's off limits to most city folk. Big gardens are one thing, but writer Verlyn Klinkenborg wants to take his connection with the land one step further.
KLINKENBORG: For the past three months I've been thinking about raising pigs. Ask anyone who knows me. Sooner or later the conversation turns to pigs. I have a small shelf full of books whose titles include the words, "pigs" and "successful." I've even sold, as futures, the four quarters of a prospective pig to friends who have decided to humor me.
At this moment in Montgomery County in New York, a sow is pregnant or "in pig," as the pig farmers say, with a litter of piglets from which I hope to take two in July, when they should weigh about 40 pounds apiece. The sow and the boar who bred her are Tamworths, an uncommon, endangered breed. Lean, gingery, bacon types. Good foragers. Good mothers.
What decided me on pigs was meeting a farmer who still raises pigs on pasture. I have a pasture, I remember thinking. What all this means is that I am giving in to the logic of where I live, and the land I live on. A place like this, a very small farm with pasture, garden, woods, and rock, is always asking of me, "What can you do yourself?" I didn't even hear the question at first. All I meant to harvest was lettuce and metaphors and apples in a good year. And of course bushels of horse manure.
But each added layer of complexity -- reseeding a pasture or keeping bees -- points toward other layers of complexity, like pigs, that lie just a short, logical leap away. I have no illusions of attaining self-sufficiency. The only sufficiency I want is sufficiency of connectedness. The feeling that horses, pigs, bees, pasture, garden, and woods intertwine.
The economic argument for raising vegetables and apples and a couple of pigs is small change. But the garden waste and the windfall apples will go to the pigs, as will pasture grasses and hickory nuts and beech mast and some commercial grain. Meanwhile, the pigs will fertilize the pasture and grub out the underbrush at the edge of the woods. In late Autumn, I'll haul the pigs up the road to a local independent slaughterhouse, which has a smokehouse of its own. I don't know what I will think when that happens. Though nearly everyone tries to tell me how it will be.
CURWOOD: Verlyn Klinkenborg lives in Austerlitz, New York. He writes about the rural life for the New York Times.
CURWOOD: Coming up: The passion and the papilla, the mysterious allure of the orchid. First, this page from the animal notebook with Maggie Villiger.
(Music up and under: Marvin Pontiac, "In A Big Car")
VILLIGER: Don't pity the spiny lobsters. Sure, they don't have the oversized claws of their Maine cousins, but their sharp spines and long whiplike antennae are plenty impressive. And if the spiny lobster's harsh looks aren't enough to scare away a predator, this crustacean has another trick up his antenna. Like a virtuoso violinist, he draws his antenna like a bow across a smooth plate under his eyes, and out comes a loud series of sound pulses aimed at distracting a predator.
VILLIGER: Okay, so virtuoso might be a bit of a stretch, but the principle is the say. Other arthropods like crickets make noise by bumping a hard pick along a grooved surface that's analogous to a washboard. But spiny lobsters rub soft tissue across a smooth surface. It's the friction between the two surfaces that makes the noise, just like if you run your finger over a balloon. And researchers think this mode of making noise has a distinct advantage. Spiny lobsters are most at risk of becoming a predator's snack when they molt and temporarily shed their tough other shell. But since their noisemaking technique works even under these conditions, it may just buy them enough time to escape from a startled predator.
VILLIGER: That's this week's animal note. I'm Maggie Villiger.
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under: John Lurie, "Nose Punch")
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Music up and under: Tom Waits, "Underground")
CURWOOD: If you're worried about energy shortages, you might want to do like Tom Waits and consider heading underground. May fourteenth is Underground America Day, a time to honor the 6,000 or so North Americans who make their homes not only on the Earth but in it. Underground America Day began in 1964, when architect Malcolm Wells came up with the idea. He writes, "I woke up one day to the fact that the Earth's surface was made for living plants, not industrial plants." Many underground homes are built into hillsides with soil covering three walls of the house, letting in light from the fourth, glass-sided wall. This way the Earth acts as an insulator and as a source of heating or cooling, depending on the season. That's because in most of North America, the deep soil is a steady 55 degrees Fahrenheit or so, which is a lot warmer than winter's low. In Minnesota's blizzard of 1978, for example, a study by the Department of Energy showed that underground houses never got colder than 41 degrees Fahrenheit, despite minus 30 degrees outside. And of course in summer, the 55 degrees keeps things nice and cool. Interest in underground houses peaked in the 1970s as the Arab oil embargo drove energy sky high. Since then, demand has dropped, with only 100 earth-covered houses being built at any time nationwide. But there is a version of the underground house that is becoming popular. Instead of putting the whole house underground, you can lay a system of pipes to tap the 55 degrees for heating and cooling, and bring it into the house through a pump. Over the long run it saves a lot of energy and cash. President George W. Bush has installed just such an energy-efficient system at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
(Music up and under. "There's a world going on underground...")
CURWOOD: Sex. Intrigue. Big money. These are the ingredients of one of the most passionate tales of our times, the story of the orchid lovers. Now, if you don't know orchids, you could think I'm overstating the case. In fact, I used to think an orchid was just a flower with some showy petals. But that all ended when I read the book by journalist Eric Hansen called "Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy." Eric Hansen joins us now. Welcome to Living on Earth.
HANSEN: Thank you very much.
CURWOOD: So, Eric Hansen, where does the lunacy come into the world of orchids?
HANSEN: Orchids attract people for a lot of different reasons. A lot of people are just in it for the money. You look in fashion magazines these days and nearly in every interior spread, you will see an orchid. And there's just this allure of exoticism. Here's a tropical plant. I mean, look at this. You know, the plants themselves are quite ugly, but they produce these astonishingly beautiful flowers. And then you've got, really, the true orchid lovers. What they want to do, is they want to get a plant and learn everything about it. It's like you've got a new friend and you want to know what will make them laugh, what will make them cry. You want to know everything about this person. And to learn how to grow an orchid well, you have to sometimes uncover some really obscure botanical secrets. And the more people spend time with orchids, they want to get a more difficult plant to grow and to flower. And I think that's what really is the main hook for orchid growers.
CURWOOD: Tell me, what are some of the symptoms of this obsession?
HANSEN: The most obvious symptom of this obsession is usually a kitchen table or perhaps a window sill in somebody's house absolutely crammed with orchids. And people will start off with one orchid, maybe, that they buy at a, oh, a flea market, or somebody gives them an orchid. And they get a white one, and then they want a pink one, and then maybe they want a yellow one with red spots. And it's sort of collector's mania. But there's something about orchids; the way they enchant people is very similar to the way they seduce their pollinating insects. And I'm not sure whether it's the color or the shape of the plant or the fragrance that is emitted by some of these flowers. But it's pretty hard to get off orchids. I've seen people whose businesses have failed, whose marriages have ended in divorce, because they are spending all of their time either with orchid people or tending to their plants.
CURWOOD: Ah-hah. There's a point in your book where you sit in on a slide show at an international orchid festival. And I'm wondering if you could read a little from what you observed.
HANSEN: Sure. (Reads) When the lights had dimmed in the conference room, and the first few slides had been projected, I became aware of movement in the audience. All around me people were shifting discretely in their chairs, and I could sense a change in mood. The sounds of floral adoration continued to build in intensity, and as the slide show progressed the room grew warmer. And I thought I could detect the sound of heavy breathing nearby. By this time the flowers have worked their magic. And the audience started making the sorts of stifled moans and grunts that are more frequently associated with the midday crowd at an adult movie house. "Mmm. Luscious," somebody gasped nearby. One slide showed a large, varicolored paphyapavlum modeii-type [phonetic spelling] hybrid. "Wow, Big Red!" came a response from the darkness. "I'm in love!" cried out a woman. "I'll take it!" declared an elderly male voice from somewhere in the back. This celebration of the flowers went on for nearly an hour and a half before the house lights came up, and I looked around at the dreamy, knowing expressions on the face of the orchid people.
CURWOOD: (Laughs) This is an amazing cast of characters in your book. I'm just wondering if you could tell me about the one orchid lover you think best embodies someone who's got a full-blown case of orchid fever.
HANSEN: Probably there's a man that lives in southern California. He's called the Wizard of Oz. And Oz stands for the orchid zone. And to look at him, he looks like a sort of tattooed, fist-fighting, beer-drinking, cigar-smoking biker. And he's got a bunch of Harley-Davidsons. And he is the premiere orchid hybridizer in the world. And I went down to visit him and his orchid nursery, which is 40,000 square feet of table space. And he looks like a thug, and then you see him start to manipulate his flowers and take pollen with a toothpick from one and place it on the stigma of another. I mean, the precision and the delicacy with which he handles his plants, he all of a sudden looks like he's some sort of surgeon.
CURWOOD: I'm wondering, what kind of extremes have people gone to, to get their orchids?
HANSEN: Well, people have ruined their lives trying to get a hold of rare plant material. I know a man in northern California who had murdered his partner. They ran an orchid nursery. And I asked him, I said, "Well, you know, what led up to this?" And he said one night they were just discussing their breeding program, and one man wanted one color to be emphasized in their breeding. The other man wanted another color. And this ended up with one man pulling out a gun and the other man pulling out a length of water pipe, and they had this, you know, ferocious fight to the death. And so, these plants, they can drive people crazy.
CURWOOD: And in other parts of your book you write about people getting arrested in airports, raided in their homes, and of course getting killed over orchids, as you just mention now. What's going on here? Why is this happening?
HANSEN: Well, in the case of people having their nurseries raided, there are very stringent international regulations on the movement of rare plant material from one country to another. And in Germany, I interviewed a man who was working in his greenhouse one morning when the door flew open, and in rush attack dogs, people dressed with bulletproof vests carrying automatic weapons. And they were there to confiscate plants. And in his case, it was a botanist from Kew Gardens who had informed upon him with the cooperation of a fellow orchid grower, who wanted to make sure that this man did not enter his orchids in an upcoming orchid show because he was afraid that he would lose to this man. So we have this sort of joint German-British armed raid on an orchid house for sort of the flimsiest of reasons.
CURWOOD: You write in your book about the orchid police. Tell me about them. Who are they, and how did you first find out about them?
HANSEN: The orchid police, this is a very interesting concept, and I received an anonymous phone call from a lawyer in the Midwest. And he was cautioning me that the orchid police were investigating me. And I thought this is a huge joke. But the more I learned about how the plant world is regulated, especially the orchid world, I started getting very paranoid that, you know, my phone was tapped or people were watching me. And the orchid police basically are a self-appointed group of botanists, lawyers, bureaucrats, and informers. There is a huge network of people who are watching the movement of orchids around the world.
CURWOOD: You read your book, and you have to wonder if some Hollywood agent hasn't called to option it to do sort of a mix of obsession and intrigue.
HANSEN: Well, when I think of orchid fever, I think of it partially as being absurdist black humor. But then there's sort of this quest for the truth. It's, I guess, a horticultural expose is probably the best expression that I can use to sum up what the book is about.
CURWOOD: Do you have any orchids, yourself?
HANSEN: I actually have a couple of old cattaleya [phonetic spelling] hybrids that were given to me years ago. I completely forgot about them. And they're in a corner of the garden, and about a year ago I was looking across the garden and I saw this orange color. And I thought, some kid threw, you know, a piece of paper over the fence or something. And I went over and I looked, and lo and behold here is this orchid that had been abandoned for at least three years. And it had produced this flower. And it's funny, because I looked at the flower and sort of this feeling of pride that, you know, I'd actually managed to flower this plant, was a real thrill. And I thought, yeah, that's orchid fever talking.
CURWOOD: Eric Hansen is author of the book "Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy." Mr. Hansen, thanks for joining us today.
HANSEN: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.
CURWOOD: Some call them fiddleheads now, and will call them ferns later. Botanist William Nelson Clute called them "nature's lacework," and others call them "dinner." Commentator Sy Montgomery says ferns are some of spring's most storied offerings.
MONTGOMERY: They emerge coiled like watch springs. Then, unique among buds, the fiddlehead fern spirals into the world. In early spring their shapes are everywhere. The silvery white heads of cinnamon ferns peep up from bogs. The Christmas fern leans back on rocky hillsides. The croquet hoops of nearly-emerged brackens grace open spaces.
When they first appear, we call them fiddleheads because they resemble the scroll of a violin. And they seem to dance to some inner music. Some grow an inch a day, uncoiling suddenly like tiny green serpents. Others come in curling and twisting like ballerinas.
Eons ago ferns grew in luxurious abundance from the equator to the poles. Many towered 50 feet or more, with woody trunks and six-foot leaves. They dominated the dinosaurs' green world. Ferns reproduce in an ancient way, without flowers or seeds, a fact that confounded botanists for centuries. The microscope finally revealed ferns, just like spores, that can cross oceans, and contain within them plans for creatures totally unlike their parents.
But old beliefs held that ferns did flower and set seed. It was just so rare and brief that most people missed it. The flowers were said to be tiny and blue. The seeds were said to glow in the dark. Throughout Medieval Europe, people foraged in the forest to try to catch the magical fern seed, just when it was set to ripen, at the stroke of midnight on midsummer's eve. If you caught the fern seed, it would confer magical powers. Grab a full handful of fern seed and you could become invisible.
Folks still comb the woods for ferns, but these days it's to make kitchen magic. Steamed like asparagus and served with hollandaise sauce, or sauteed in butter and garlic and topped with sesame seeds. There's nothing more delicious than the unsprouted heads of bracken, cinnamon, and ostrich ferns. No wonder ferns evoke poetic imagery. Beautiful, ancient, and mysterious, ferns reawaken us each spring, re-enchant us with magic, and nourish us body and soul.
Music up and under: Turtle Island String Quartet, "Julie-O")
CURWOOD: Commentator Sy Montgomery is the author of "The Curious Naturalist," and comes to us from New Hampshire Public Radio.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: You're listening to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under: Alison Dean, "Update Theme & Stings")
CURWOOD: Time to update some of the news items we've been following lately.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: The bottled water industry is booming as consumers continue to spurn tap water in favor of the taste, convenience, and presumed safety of bottled water. But what's in that bottle is probably not all that different from what comes from the faucet, and it can cost up to 1,000 times more. That's the word from a new study commissioned by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, and Lisa Hadeed of WWF says bottled water is not a sustainable alternative to safe tap water.
HADEED: There is an important need to keep our rivers clean and to keep our wetlands in good shape, because they are ultimately the source of all of our water however it comes to us, in the tap, in a bottle, whatever, so that everyone can have access to safe water at a fair price.
CURWOOD: And consider this: WWF says bottling that water uses one-and-a-half million tons of plastic every year.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Eighteen Goshute Indians in Utah are suing the federal government for approving a nuclear storage facility on tribal lands. The plaintiffs say dozens of complaints and requests for information have been ignored by federal officials. The Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians is deeply divided. Some say they welcome the waste and the money it will bring to their reservation. Others say the money is not worth running the risks of nuclear waste.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Butt out. That's the word from the Maine House of Representatives. It recently voted down a bill that would have made cigarette butts returnable for a five cent deposit. Representative Joseph Brooks, sponsor of the measure, says a commission is being created to recommend a solution to the problem of cigarette butt litter.
BROOKS: It may not be a returnable butt bill. It may be another mechanism used to try to figure out the solution to cigarette butt litter. I will say this, however. If they don't come back with a solution, I have already promised to bring that bill back. And we will be facing another year of debate on a returnable butt bill.
CURWOOD: Mr. Brooks also hopes cigarette companies will come up with biodegradable filters, which would help the cause.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: The Earth's oceans received another layer of protection last month. The International Maritime Organization approved an accelerated phaseout of single-hull tankers. The 158 member countries of this UN body agreed to replace single hulls with safer double hulls by 2015.
Esso is now the target of a boycott of their petrol stations in the United Kingdom. British celebrities and green groups have joined together to protest the global warming policies of Esso, which is the UK brand of Exxon-Mobil. Stars, including Bianca Jagger, Annie Lennox, and Ralph Fiennes, are angry at what they call Exxon's influence on President Bush and his decision to abandon the Kyoto Protocol. And that's this week's news update from Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: Just ahead: One of the last great places versus the saw mills. First, this environmental health note from Diane Toomey.
(Music up and under: His Name Is Alive, "Across Every Fjord")
TOOMEY: New research may have women taking to the streets to keep their wits about them. Scientists from the University of California were looking for a possible link between physical activity and mental function. So they tested the cognitive abilities of nearly 6,000 women aged 65 and older, and then monitored their levels of exercise. Six to eight years later they tested the women again. Researchers accounted for differences such as age, smoking habits, education, and estrogen therapy. They found that of the women who walked the least, just a half-mile a week or less, 24 percent experienced significant mental decline. But of the women who walked the most, nearly 18 miles per week, just 17 percent experienced a similar decline. Twenty-four percent of them did so compared to 17 percent who walked the most. Other moderate physical activities like tennis and golf had similar beneficial effects. The researchers aren't sure why exercise might produce this result. They theorize that physical activity might keep brain neurons healthy. Or perhaps women who exercise are less likely to get diseases such as hardening of the arteries that could affect cognition. That's this week's health note. I'm Diane Toomey.
Music up and under)
CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
(Music up and under: Bela Fleck, "Black Forest")
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The Tongass National Forest, America's largest, is a land of both biological wonder and stunning environmental damage. For nearly a half-century, large-scale logging ruled southeast Alaska. Big federal subsidies and few restrictions allowed the industry to cut hundreds of thousands of acres of prime old growth forest. But then came antitrust convictions, clean air and water violations, and intense criticism by environmental groups. U.S. forestry officials eventually canceled the logging contracts. And today the Tongass timber industry faces economic collapse. Producer Guy Hand has found the people of Alaska are now only beginning to understand what decades of clear cutting has done to the Tongass.
(Flowing water, bird calls)
HAND: It's hard to imagine there's trouble in Paradise when you're hiking through a stunning stand of southeast Alaskan temperate rainforest. Ancient trees burst through a carpet of green. Bird song fills the air. Rivers flow as clear and bright as crystal. But the Tongass has another side.
PILOT: We're looking at Prince of Wales Island here, which has the most logging and roading of all the islands in southern southeast Alaska.
HAND: And for a time this island harbored both the largest logging camp in the world and the most magnificent stand of old growth forest in all the Tongass. Now they're both gone. What remains is transformed by clear-cuts and logging roads.
(Footfalls on snow)
PERSON: These right here are wolf tracks.
HAND: On a rare sunny day in March, Dave Person and Amy Russel, wildlife biologists with Alaskan Fish and Game, are hiking a logging road covered in crusted snow. They're on Prince of Wales in part to study how this aggressively-roaded landscape is affecting wolf populations.
PERSON: And so, this is kind of like the worst-case scenario with respect to trying to balance logging and development with those wildlife concerns.
HAND: As the snow-covered road gives way to dirt, Dave and Amy find more sign of solves. Amy Russel.
RUSSEL: This is a little area that we think the puppies were active digging on. There's a little hole in the tree over there.
HAND: Oh yeah.
RUSSEL: Everywhere you go, there are bones chewed up and lots of sign of wolves all over the place.
HAND: Dave and Amy's work is revealing that logging roads, like the one we're following, have a big if indirect impact on wolves.
PERSON: The road itself is not an issue for wolves. In fact, there is this playground right here that puppies use. But it's not the road. It's the access it affords. And what people do once they get there.
RUSSEL: It's largely from people driving the roads, encountering animals, and shooting them.
HAND: Although hunting has always been important to Alaskans, hunters once traveled mainly by boat, working the coastal fringe and riverways.
PERSON: The center parts of these islands were essentially refugia for a lot of wildlife species, because they just weren't accessible. In the past, probably any hunting, trapping, didn't really matter very much in terms of effect on the population. But the potential now with roads is much greater.
HAND: Dave and Amy are looking at another after effect of industrial logging, the clear-cuts themselves.
PERSON: Shall we walk up?
HAND: In the rainy, fertile Tongass, clear-cuts don't remain clear for long. In fact, they spring into second-growth forest too well. Their unbroken, even-age canopies shut out the light. Little grows on the forest floor. And in winter, that's a big problem for deer.
RUSSEL: There's absolutely nothing to eat here. Not one thing.
PERSON: And this condition lasts for perhaps 150 to 200 years. It is basically an area where a deer would have to pack its lunch in order to find anything to eat here.
HAND: In the next 40 to 50 years, these forested deserts, bereft of food, will spread across the land as young trees replace clear-cuts. And although the forest will appear to be recovering, its biological diversity will be much reduced. Deer numbers will fall. And when they do, Dave Person predicts wolves will pay the price.
PERSON: When we see declines in deer, most people are not going to sit there and say oh my gosh, look what we did to the habitat, look what happened to the deer, what can we do to fix it? A lot of folks around here are going to blame wolves.
(Beeps and static)
HAND: Dave and Amy are picking up the signal from one of the radio-collared female wolves they've been studying.
PERSON: I think she's over here, and I don't know quite how far yet.
HAND: The three of us walk deep into a forest of stumps and settle on a ridge.
PERSON: I think this would be a good vantage point.
HAND: Dave cups his hands together, tilts his head back, and howls.
PERSON: (softly) Okay, we sit and wait.
HAND: We wait for several minutes. Then off to our right, on a tree-covered ridge, wolves begin to call.
(Wolves howl in the distance)
RUSSEL: The interesting thing, I don't know if you could hear, is just how musical the howling is. It's something that other people really aren't familiar with, working with wolves elsewhere. They're used to the traditional kind of siren-like arooo, like that. But these are like (sings). It's crazy.
PERSON: I could never understand why people get frightened by that sound. It's a very musical sound.
HAND: Yet, there are many left uninspired by the musicality of wolves. Many, who prefer the sound of falling timber.
(An engine revs up)
HAND: And all it takes is a plane flight over Prince of Wales Island to see whose taste won out.
(The plane takes off)
HAND: From a couple thousand feet I can see clear-cuts running away in every direction, logging roads slashed across whole mountainsides. What I can't see are the more subtle ways 50-some years of industrial logging have changed this island. The delicate limestone caves damaged by wastewater and logging debris. The plants, animals, insects, fish, who have lost their habitat. The native peoples who have lost their traditional hunting grounds and homes. K.J. Metcalf was a Forest Service naturalist during the heyday of big timber on the Tongass.
METCALF: There were some terrible management practices going on in the field, where streams were being ruined. Thousands of acres were being clear-cut at one time. No consideration for wildlife habitat, and the only real consideration was whatever the logger wanted, the Forest Service seemed to accommodate.
SEVER: To me it's a shameful page in Alaskan history.
HAND: Longtime Tongass resident Florian Sever.
SEVER: And it's a shameful page in American history.
HAND: At the time, he was working at the Alaska Pulp Company's mill in Sitka, he saw red liquor, a byproduct of the pulping process, flowing into once pristine waterways.
SEVER: I have videos of the wake of a boat going up Silver Bay, where the water in the wake is absolutely red from red liquor.
HAND: Florian says dioxin-tainted fly ash was also pumped into the water.
SEVER: And for a six-month period, Alaska Pulp Corporation illegally and criminally flushed every bit of that out to Silver Bay, through illegal piping that was in the mill.
BALLARD: I was the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 in the eighties.
HAND: Ernesta Ballard is now a board member of the Alaska Forest Association.
BALLARD: It would not be my conclusion that either of the pulp mills were abusive. The people 20 and 30 years ago were doing what they thought were best practices at the time. We have a higher standard today. But the fact that there is a higher standard today doesn't mean that the earlier standard was abusive or deliberately harmful.
HAND: Nor does she believe logging roads have left a legacy of environmental damage.
BALLARD: If you look at the fish data, if you look at the slide data, if you look at any data you want, there just isn't a substantiation that the roads are a hazard to any macro- or micro-ecology. It just is not substantiated that building roads causes harm.
HAND: Yet the roadless initiative was supported by numerous scientists and land use policy makers. They say logging roads are responsible for landslides, siltation, stream degradation, and more. Yet the timber industry sees a road ban as just one more nail in the coffin of commerce. Ron Wolf, corporate forester for Sea Alaska Corporation.
WOLF: The Clinton administration and these recent rulings have done a good job of basically putting our Alaska timber industry on its knees. I mean, this is an ailing industry that is struggling for its absolute very survival. Mills throughout southeast Alaska have closed down. They are not in business. They are gone away. And those communities are literally devastated because there is no other economy there.
NELSON: People might blame conservationists for the movement against clear-cut logging. But that's to put the blame in the wrong place.
HAND: Alaskan writer and environmental activist Richard Nelson.
NELSON: Clear cutting in southeast Alaska is what created the resistance to clear cutting in southeast Alaska. Industrial logging nurtures its own demise by what it does to the forest.
HAND: Richard says he has nothing against falling timber.
NELSON: I am a wood user. I've cut down lots of trees in my life. I believe that loggers ought to have a place out there in the forest. It's noble work, it's honorable work. I don't have any problem at all with a stump in the forest. But what breaks my heart is a forest of stumps. (Footfalls, voices)
VALENTINE: Here's a nice pile of logs on my truck, about 1974.
HAND: Dave Valentine is one of hundreds of Alaskan loggers caught in the middle of this Tongass timber debate. He shows me, at this kitchen table, snapshots documenting a life in the woods.
VALENTINE: Here's a picture of my son when he was about four, standing in a shower of sawdust near that fellow's sawmill.
HAND: In a kind of timber town baptism, Dave's son beams in the photograph as sawdust sprinkles down on his head.
VALENTINE: Here is a picture someone took of me sawing a nice spruce. That's what I'd like to be doing right now. It's more fun than eating ice cream. (Laughs) More fun than kissing pretty girls. (Laughs)
HAND: The question conservationists are asking on the Tongass isn't how to stop logging. Not a single activist I spoke to suggested that. The question is how to cut trees without killing forest.
(An engine revs up)
HAND: Mike Sallee might have an answer.
SALLEE: Let's see, we're going to be headed out to my sawmill, of which that's one of about three different resource-extracting activities I do. I'm also a harvest diver and a deck hand on a long-line fishing boat, which fishes for black cod and halibut.
HAND: Mike's sawmill can only be reached by water. Prior to big corporate timber, that wasn't unusual. Loggers took advantage of the waterways that connect the thousands of islands that make up the Tongass. Logs were stored and transported on water. In fact, many of the sawmills themselves floated on water. As we approach Mike's mill, a tidy collection of cut timber and equipment nestled on a ridge, Mike idles toward a raft of logs. He'll soon winch them onto shore to cut and mill.
SALLEE: See, this is a log that I just got across the canal here. It's, shoot, I don't know, 30-some feet long. This came off of a landslide someplace...
HAND: Marcel LaPierre, a burly bear of a guy, is helping Mike lasso logs into position.
LAPIERRE: The small-scale logging wouldn't really be affected by the roadless initiative at all because, for instance, like Mike here, he salvages most of his wood off the beach, either from slides or logs that have gotten away from booms and so forth. You can't go on any of these beaches in southeast Alaska here and not see hundreds, thousands, millions of logs. So Mike salvages those. And that's a good thing.
HAND: Other independent loggers keep busy harvesting timber near existing roads, in areas the big operations missed or deemed unprofitable.
LAPIERRE: There's thousands of board feet of timber that are still available right alongside the roads.
SALLEE: Okay, yeah, I'm probably going to have to move that out of the way, too...
HAND: Marcel, Mike, and many others believe the future of timber harvesting on the Tongass lies in its past, before the era of industrial logging.
LAPIERRE: Certainly if you look at the past 40 to 50 years, you will see that there's been tremendous over-harvesting with little regard for the environment. If you look further back, you'll see that there was a timber industry here for 50 years prior. I could take you into areas and you wouldn't even know that trees had been taken out of there. I think we can go back to that to some degree.
HAND: In fact, studies show that harvesting less timber but finishing it locally, designing and making furniture, for instance, could create three times the jobs generated during the pulp mill era.
SALLEE: Okay, hang on, I'm going to jerk this log off the bigger log.
HAND: Still, we Americans aren't a people who like to look to the past for answers. Suggesting an about-face on a march toward the future sounds naive at best. But then, there's the Tongass.
SALLEE: Okay, hang on.
HAND: When it comes to something as ancient as an old-growth forest, our faith in modern industrial logging might be the most naive notion of all.
SALLEE: That's fine. No, right there's fine. Just take a wrap around the hemlock and tie it there.
HAND: For Living on Earth, I'm Guy Hand.
SALLEE: Logs have a nasty habit of breaking loose when they're left for long periods of time. Just like that one up there on the beach. It will roll down the beach and it will pull a staple out or break the line.
CURWOOD: The Bush Administration was set to implement the Clinton ban on building new roads in national forests fule on May 12th with some modifications. But now a federal district judge in Idaho has blocked it altogether. Judge Edward Lodge said the rule would do - quote "irreparable harm" - to the timber industry; and local and state officials charged with managing the forests. The White House has not said whether it will file an appeal. But environmental parties to the case promise to take it to appeals court anyway. The Forest Service says if it gets the greem light it plans to build more roads in the Tongass and open new areas to substantial logging.
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: Lobsters are nocturnal animals who love really cold water. That makes them difficult to study in their natural environment except for all but the hardiest researchers.
WOMAN: This happens to be my favorite place on earth. This scatter of rocks right through here. Because this has the highest density of lobsters, juvenile lobsters, anywhere that's been found. So it's a very special place, and I'm hoping we'll find some tonight.
CURWOOD: Meet the lobster lady of Maine next week on Living on Earth.
WOMAN: I found one! Yes. Hello, lobby! Do you see it?
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CURWOOD: We leave you today with an offering from one of the world's premiere recorders of the sounds that birds make. Lang Elliott captured these voices one morning near a watering hole on a western prairie. It's called "Sora Dawn.".
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, and Milisa Muniz. We had help this week from Steven Belter. Our interns are Evie Stone and Dawn Robinson. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of Earth Ear. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Diane Toomey is our science editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
(Music up an under)
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supporting reporting on western issues; the Oak Foundation for coverage of marine issues; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, promoting new economic approaches to advance environmental protection and human prosperity: www.wajones.org ; the National Science Foundation, supporting environmental education; The Educational Foundation of America, for reporting on energy and climate change; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change; Town Creek Foundation; and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
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