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

December 14, 2001

Air Date: December 14, 2001


Bio-weapons Treaty

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United States opposition to enforcement mechanisms forced the postponement of recent biological weapons treaty talks. Host Steve Curwood talks with Edward Hammond of The Sunshine Project about bio-weapons controls. (05:20)

Yellowstone to Yukon / Jyl Hoyt

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The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative is an effort to preserve land connecting national parks and other protected wilderness areas so animals can migrate safely and stabilize their populations. Producer Jyl Hoyt reports. (06:00)

Health Note: Canine Dips / Diane Toomey

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Living on Earth’s Diane Toomey reports on a new study that looks at how insecticides on your dog’s fur could be transferred to your child. (01:15)

Almanac: New World Fur Trade

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This week, facts about the first fur trade from the New World. Three hundred and eighty years ago, a shipment of beaver skins set sail for England. (01:30)

Hawaiian Awa / Heidi Chang

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Kava is one of the top selling herbal supplements in the world. Known for its calming qualities, kava’s roots can be traced to the South Pacific Islands, where it was used for medicinal purposes and in ceremonial gatherings. In Hawaii, kava is more commonly known as awa (ah-va). As Heidi Chang reports, the plant is finding new popularity. (09:00)

Racing Darkness / Verlyn Klinkenborg

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Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg reflects on the coming winter. (03:20)

News Follow-up

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New developments in stories we’ve been tracking recently. (03:00)

Animal Note: Crows Left and Right / Maggie Villiger

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Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on lefties and righties in the crow world. (01:20)

Copper River / Guy Hand

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The Copper River Delta in Alaska is one of the last truly wild places in the country. Producer Guy Hand rafts down river, and tells a story of unexpected personal discovery. (14:30)

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Show Credits and Funders

This Week's Music

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jyl Hoyt, Heidi Chang, Guy Hand
GUESTS: Edward Hammond
COMMENTATORS: Verlyn Klinkenborg
UPDATES: Diane Toomey, Maggie Villiger


CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, it's Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. In the Southeast corner of Alaska there's a place so wild and so majestic, it changes almost everyone who gets a chance to experience its glaciers and its grizzlies.

HICKEY: He was a big guy.

CURWOOD: The Copper River Delta can be a humbling place for humans, especially if you dare to take a raft down the rambling river. Our advice? Watch out for those giant falling icebergs.

LANKARD: In my lifetime I've seen two big faces fall, and it pushed these two women who were standing by the bank 250 feet back into the brush. And when they came to, one of them was in a tree and the other one looked to her right and here was a big, fat salmon flopping, trying to get back in the water. (Laughter.)

CURWOOD: It's a Copper River caravan, this week on Living On Earth, right after this.


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Bio-weapons Treaty


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. With bio-terrorist attacks fresh in the news, the international treaty that bans biological weapons still lacks enforcement provisions. One reason? The United States firmly opposes a verification system that requires each nation to admit international inspection teams. Every five years nations meet to review this 1972 treaty, and at the latest gathering earlier this month in Geneva, American objections led to suspension of the talks.

I'm joined now by Edward Hammond of The Sunshine Project, an Austin, Texas-based bio-weapons think tank that's critical of the U.S. position on the treaty. Welcome to Living on Earth.

HAMMOND: Hi Steve. Thanks for having me.

CURWOOD: Why did the United States object to putting an enforcement protocol into place that would include international inspections?

HAMMOND: Well, they cited two main reasons why they didn't want the verification mechanism. The first was that they feared that there would be spies sent in on United Nations inspection teams who might steal the U.S. bio-technology industry's secrets. And the second objection was that UN inspectors would be troublesome in U.S. laboratories, that they would be a distraction from the work of our scientists.

CURWOOD: The U.S. is one of, what, 145 signers of this treaty. Why did this objection on the U.S. part force suspension of these talks?

HAMMOND: Well, the convention generally operates by consensus. And so, moving forward, creating new mechanisms, requires that all the countries be in agreement. And what the United States did is they said that they would not move forward with any new legally binding mechanisms. And one step beyond that they said that they would remain in negotiations to prevent other countries from moving ahead without them.

CURWOOD: The U.S. did offer an alternative plan to make bio-weapons illegal. Why wasn't this enough for other countries?

HAMMOND: The U.S. didn't want any new legally binding, obligatory international mechanisms to promote inspections of facilities that were capable of producing biological weapons. And that differentiated the U.S. position from that of the European Union or developing countries very substantially, because they favor a new international regime that would include mandatory inspections of bio-technology facilities.

CURWOOD: The Biological Weapons Treaty was promulgated back, what, in 1972 or so. And the American negotiators put a lot of emphasis on their assertion that some countries that signed and subscribed to the Biological Weapons Treaty are violating it. And this summer they were naming names. They said Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and so on. How big a problem is non-compliance?

HAMMOND: Well, non-compliance is a serious problem. And, in fact, the verification system was intended to address that, but the U.S. has stalled it. The difficulty with the U.S. emphasis on non-compliance right now is that it really needs to be implemented in a fair way across the world so that all countries are subject to the same scrutiny. And the U.S. needs to present evidence. Unfortunately, so far, all they've done is denounce countries that they believe are producing biological weapons, but they haven't presented any evidence to back those allegations up. And it's important that allegations be investigated in a fair way across the world. So, if the U.S. is going to insist that Iraq or Iran or North Korea respond to the allegations that it's made, then the U.S. itself must also respond and justify its own bio-defense activities.

CURWOOD: Where does the United States stand, itself, in terms of compliance with the Treaty?

HAMMOND: There's a certain gray area, because the Convention permits research for defensive or prophylactic purposes. Now, where precisely the line lies between defensive and offensive research is something which has never been defined. I think that the program to genetically engineer anthrax or the activities building the production facility in Nevada and also the United States' promotion of the use of biological agents to eradicate coca and opium poppy in the drug war are all admitted activities on the part of the United States government. The question is how will other countries around the world eventually judge them? And a number of countries and a number of independent experts that work on biological weapons believe that the United States has already crossed the line.

CURWOOD: How do you think the events of September 11th may have influenced the American position negotiating in Geneva on the Treaty? I mean, terrorists aren't going to sign on to this Treaty no matter what.

HAMMOND: Yeah. Unfortunately, it appears to have influenced the U.S., in the sense that it has further backed away from international legally binding mechanisms to prevent the spread of biological weapons. And it's a political solution that's needed, and it's vigilance and inspections which are going to create a system where the political price of developing biological weapons is very, very high.

The U.S. position, which emphasizes spying and which emphasizes unilateral military action as opposed to an international collective cooperation system, is one that I believe will ultimately promote instability. And with the failure of the review conference, because of the U.S. refusal to cooperate, I fear that the signal that's been sent is that there's no consensus against biological weapons in the international community anymore, and that this might, in fact, spark a biological arms race.

CURWOOD: Edward Hammond is the U.S. Director of The Sunshine Project on biological weapons control, based in Austin, Texas. Thanks for talking with us, Mr. Hammond.

HAMMOND: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

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Yellowstone to Yukon

CURWOOD: The U.S. State Department refused repeated requests from Living on Earth for an interview regarding the bio-weapons treaty.


CURWOOD: About eight years ago, conservation biologists got the idea to make a wildlife corridor to connect the western mountain national wilderness areas of the United States and Canada. Known as the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative, conservationists have protected millions of acres since 1995. But, as Jyl Hoyt of member station KBSX in Boise, Idaho reports, there are still plenty of obstacles to completing the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative. Her story begins in northern Montana.


HOYT: Dozens of highways cross this mountainous place. Federal scientists say if builders would design roads with more bridges and tunnels for animals to cross, migrating species like the endangered grizzly bear could recover. A recent study by Canadian scientists found that no female grizzlies crossed the trans-Canada highway inside Banff National Park, and only one male grizzly bear did. That worries U.S. Geological Survey biologist Kate Kendall.

KENDALL: This has huge implications for bears being able to use the habitat in a way that's best for them, and find the resources they need. But it also has implications as far as genetic diversity, maintaining that genetic flow within a population.

HOYT: Grizzly bear numbers are down. But the human population in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming grew by 14 percent the past 10 years, increasing the need for more roads and new homes. Sub-divisions now border protected places like Glacier National Park. Sierra Club activist Brian Peck goes to local zoning meetings to speak against developments. He succeeded in helping to protect several small areas in his neighborhood, but says he can only do so much by himself.

Photo: Karsten Heuer(Photo: Karsten Heuer)

PECK: It's going to take thousands of people, and it isn't going to be just up to, quote, "environmentalists."

HOYT: Environmental activists admit it's getting harder to keep wildlife migration corridors intact with the latest boom in energy development.


HOYT: There are more than 51 thousand oil and gas wells in the Yellowstone to Yukon area, each averaging four miles of seismic lines and two miles of access roads. Here in Pinedale, Wyoming, 80 miles south of Yellowstone, billions of cubic feet of natural gas have already been pumped out, and 900 new wells were just approved. Questar engineer Ron Hogan drives along a bumpy road. He says this field is a great place for getting gas because there's so much in a single place.

HOGAN: A large quantity of gas in a single place, so that we can concentrate all of our efforts. You know, we don't have to spend a lot of money moving rigs to scattered places. They're all pretty well encapsulated right here.

HOYT: It's not only cheaper for the company. It means fewer roads need to be built. But this new gas field is located next to prime wildlife habitat. One hundred thousand deer, elk, antelope and moose migrate through a nearby canyon each winter. Hogan says Questar is grouping five wells into one drill pad to reduce the ground disturbance and protect migrating animals. It's an expensive procedure, but he predicts with the new equipment the Bureau of Land Management will let his company drill throughout the winter.

HOGAN: We'd have an opportunity to study and to see whether or not we have that kind of a major impact or a minor impact on the deer.

HOYT: Activists are already convinced that resource extraction and sub-division growth have hurt wildlife dramatically. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a Montana-based environmental group, just filed suit against the federal government, opposing new seismic explorations in the Pinedale area. They fear the new explorations will lead to even more natural gas development.


HOYT: Four hundred miles to the northwest, activists are focusing their attention on protecting the mammal that inspires the most emotion: the grizzly bear. At the top of Logan Pass, in Glacier National Park, Brian Peck points across an alpine meadow where a silver-tipped grizzly bear, his coat glistening in the afternoon sun, ambles out from a canyon.

PECK: The bear's just moving across, and probably looking for ground squirrels and getting ready to dig up some glacier lilies.

HOYT: Grizzly bears once ranged from the Mississippi River to the west coast. But few people see grizzlies anymore. Brian Peck, a former park ranger, is now with the Great Bear Foundation.

PECK: The bears have lost 99 percent of their numbers, 98 percent of their habitat. They've got nowhere else to go. We've kind of backed them to the wall.

HOYT: Grizzly bears used to run freely throughout the vast series of mountains that runs from the Yukon to Yellowstone National Park. But this once intact eco-system has been chopped up into lots of different towns, counties, states, provinces, and countries. Steve Thompson of the National Parks Conservation Association says the only way to preserve wildlife populations in this enormous ecosystem is to think big.

THOMPSON: The key concept behind the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative is that there's a landscape that is larger than our traditional administrative boundaries, our international borders, or the lines on the map. The lines on the map almost always do not define where the eagles soar, where the elk roam, or where the grizzly bears move.

HOYT: Thompson and other Yellowstone to Yukon activists have had increasing success the past few years. The Alberta government recently announced the creation of a wild land park in the province's Bow Corridor. And wildlife migration corridors have been protected in the Yukon.

For Living On Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.

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Health Note: Canine Dips

CURWOOD: Coming up, an ancient herbal remedy makes a comeback in Hawaii. First, this Environmental Health Note from Diane Toomey.


TOOMEY: If you dip your dog for fleas, your child may be getting a dose of insecticides. Researchers at Mississippi State University dipped a dozen dogs, using a commercial, over-the-counter flea dip containing an organophosphate insecticide. Then, to gauge the amount of residue left over, they rubbed the animal's fur for five minutes with a cotton glove. They did this four hours after dipping, and again one, two, and three weeks after the treatment. And this is what they found: based on the residue collected at the four hour checkpoint, the researchers calculated that if a child played with that dog for five minutes, the child could absorb an amount of insecticide equal to or more than the amount the EPA says a person can safely be exposed to every day over a lifetime.

Researchers did find there was as much as an 87 percent drop-off in residue after the first week. But to figure out when it's safe for a child to pet the family dog, future research, they say, should chart this rate of decline in more detail. As for the dogs, researchers say the insecticide suppressed certain important neurological functions that can lead to effects ranging from headaches to coma. So, researchers caution against exposing the dogs to additional pesticides such as those found in flea collars, after they've been dipped. That's this week's health update. I'm Diane Toomey.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

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Almanac: New World Fur Trade

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


CURWOOD: Three-hundred-and-eighty years ago this week, the first shipment of furs from North America was on its way to Europe. In December, 1621, pilgrims in Massachusetts Bay were hunkering down for another hard winter. They'd gotten through their first year by eating corn and cod, but their numbers were down by half. And those 50-or-so survivors were deep in debt to the merchants who had bankrolled their passage from England. So, the colonists traded with Native Americans to get pelts. And when the English boat called The Fortune arrived in Plymouth, the pilgrims loaded it up with beaver hides. Beaver felt hats were so popular in Europe that beavers were almost extinct there. But North America's lakes and streams were full of the critters.

Photo: White Oak Society(Photo: White Oak Society)

That first cargo of beaver fur was worth 500 pounds, or about 200 thousand dollars today, but it never made it back to England. A French man-of-war captured the ship and took the pelts to France. Still, trading fur became a lucrative business for the pilgrims. And by 1640, beaver were seldom seen in coastal Massachusetts. Fur trappers headed west, piling the pelts as they roamed.

By the mid-1800's, though, the winds of fashion had shifted. Fur was out, silk was in, and the beaver was narrowly saved from extinction. And that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.


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Hawaiian Awa

CURWOOD: Kava ranks as one of the most popular herbal supplements these days. It's a member of the pepper family, and was first used in ancient Polynesia, where it was valued for its natural calming effects. Kava was once banned in Hawaii but these days the plant is making a comeback there, in medicine, popular culture, and as a new cash crop. Heidi Chang reports.

CHANG: For 3,000 years, kava has played an important role in South Pacific island culture. Chiefs consumed it as a ceremonial drink, and it was used in social gatherings. Kava was one of the original plants that Polynesian settlers brought to Hawaii over 1,000 years ago. In Hawaii, it is known as awa.

MALY: It was the food, the offering to the gods. But it was also important in family and in daily life.

CHANG: Oral historian, Kepa Maly says native Hawaiians use awa to soothe aches and pains and suppress the appetite to become fit and trim. The root was chewed or made into a drink to calm someone or relieve anxiety. People drank awa socially or after a hard day's work, and it was a sacred offering to the spirits.


MALY: Simply put, "I call to you, this deity, the god that dwells on the mountain, along the mountain ridges and mountain peaks. I call to you, offering you the various awa: .awa lau, awa pu, awa hiwa, awa kea, these different kinds of awa. I call to you to descend and inspire me.”


CHANG: But those traditions ended with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 1820's. Some missionaries influenced the Kingdom of Hawaii to ban awa because it conflicted with their religious and moral beliefs. Eventually the ban was lifted, and exporting awa, primarily to Germany to be made into pharmaceuticals, became a thriving business. That stopped with World War II. It wasn't until the last decade that awa began making a comeback.


CHANG: Here at the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, bio-chemist Mel Jackson grinds the most sought after portion of the plant, the root, which can be made into a powder to drink, or processed into teas, capsules, tinctures, or extracts. He says there's a big demand for Hawaiian awa.

JACKSON: Hawaiian awa is unique. It's been here over a thousand years, and even though it's related to kava down in the South Pacific, it's had time to change. And so the chemotype or the kavalactone content, which is a measure of the active ingredient, is very different from that in the South Pacific. Hawaiian awa contains a lot of kavain, which is a very potent, calming active ingredient. And so it's quite highly prized.

CHANG: In the U.S., awa is considered an herbal supplement, so it is not regulated as a drug by the Food and Drug Administration. However, in Germany, the equivalent of the FDA has approved it for prescription use. There it can be prescribed as an alternative to sedatives like valium.

JACKSON: It's very mildly calming. There's no intoxicated effect or feel from it. If you drink fairly large amounts, then you would feel sleepy. But generally you feel centered and calm.

CHANG: Jackson says awa is not addictive. But he cautions, it should not be mixed with any drugs, herbs, or alcohol. Excessive consumption may impair the ability to drive. To educate more people about the plant, tropical horticulturist Ed Johnston co-founded the Association for Hawaiian Awa. Since he started the first awa nursery on the Big Island nearly a decade ago, he has seen demand for the plant grow.

JOHNSTON: Today, there's such a tremendous renaissance, in part because all that stuff the ancient Polynesians knew, we're defining in the laboratory, we're explaining, you know, to the Western mind how this works, through the active ingredients. And the ancient people knew it all along.

CHANG: Some researchers are now studying the effects of awa as an alternative treatment for depression, insomnia, and addictions, and as an aid for weight loss. A study published last year in The Hawaii Medical Journal looked at several South Pacific countries with low rates of cancer. Dr. Gregory Steiner found that as the amount of kava consumed in a country increased, the cancer incidence rate dropped.

Dr. Steiner stresses this does not prove that kava is solely responsible for the lower cancer rate, and that further study is necessary. In a preliminary study, Dr. Steiner also researched kava as an anti-addiction agent. The results will soon appear in the Pacific Health Dialogue, sponsored by the Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine. It shows kava significantly blocks the craving for alcohol.

Photo: Jim HendersonAwa field at Pu'u O Hoku Ranch, Molokai.
(Photo: Jim Henderson)


CHANG: Here on the Big Island of Hawaii, awa's medicinal value is sparking a dramatic revival in cultivating the plant. The leafy green shrub grows up to 12 feet tall and takes about two to three years to mature before it's ready to harvest. John Cross is president of the Hawaiian Pacific Kava Company, the largest grower of awa in the state. In 1998, the company planted its first 20 acres of awa on former sugar cane land.

CROSS: We're trying to diversify our agricultural base. We are trying new crops, to be coming in after sugar cane. And kava is one.

CHANG: For more than a century, sugar dominated Hawaii's agricultural economy, followed by pineapple. But since the 1970's, sugar has steadily declined because of economic competition elsewhere, making hundreds of thousands of acres of prime land available for farming.

James Nakatani heads the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. He says Hawaii is transitioning into a multi-crop state.

NAKATANI: Pineapples would be number one, and then sugar, macadamia nuts, seed corn, coffee, of course papayas and I think that flowers and foliage would be one of the major crops.

CHANG: Where does awa fit in?

NAKATANI: Awa is kind of up and coming, kind of the new kid on the block, and has a lot of potential.


Photo: Greg Yamamoto/The Honolulu AdvertiserJason Keoni Verity, the owner of Hale Noa,
the first awa bar to open in the U.S.
(Photo: Greg Yamamoto/The Honolulu Advertiser)

CHANG: Experts agree, the most effective way to consume awa is the traditional way: by drinking it. So two years ago, Jason Keoni Verity opened the first awa bar in the U.S., here in Honolulu.


CHANG: Verity wanted to create a place that would help nurture and perpetuate the Hawaiian language and culture, as well as community-based economic development.


CHANG: On any given night, local residents and tourists flock to the dimly lit awa bar called Hale Noa. But not everyone is accustomed to drinking the brew that looks like muddy water.

MAN: Oh, the taste is just awful. It's repugnant. But it does have a nice euphoric feeling to the whole mood of things.


MAN: For the effects mainly. It loosens up your spirits. It gets you kind of a good, like a buzz/high.

WOMAN: Like, the taste of it, it's one of those things you don't really want to think about. It's sort of a cross between Vicks Vapor Rub and mud, I think. (Laughs.)


CHANG: These days, the native plant that was once banned is also being used again in contemporary Hawaiian ceremonies. For many like Jason Keoni Verity, the revival of awa has become a symbolic part of a Hawaiian cultural renaissance that began in the '70's.

VERITY: The use, the preparation, and the service of awa is really kind of an expression of culture, expression of identity. It's something that connects our cultures, and, I believe, strengthens us in many ways as Pacific Island people.

CHANG: Meanwhile, people in other parts of the world are just beginning to discover the natural healing properties of this ancient plant. For Living On Earth, I'm Heidi Chang.


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Racing Darkness

CURWOOD: As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg has been preparing for the long winter ahead. This year, he says, the familiar routine feels changed.

KLINKENBORG: For some reason, every stage in this advancing season has brought with it a feeling of incredulity. A few weeks ago it seemed unbelievable that the leaves should be turning so soon, and then that they should have dropped so promptly. Now it seems incredible that snow should have fallen out of the goose-gray sky, skidding eastward toward the missing sun.

I wake up thinking "December already," and realize that “already” is a word that's been with me all autumn long, always measuring how far behind the season I feel. The weather has been anything but harsh. Even the few frosts so far have been less than militant. But I seem to be holding back, feeling a reluctance about winter I've never felt before.

Usually there's something purely pragmatic about that feeling: a long list of jobs that still need doing. Nearly everyone who lives in the country feels crowded for time. "Racing daylight" is the phrase I hear, and I hear it from men and women who have been working outdoors this time of year, racing daylight their whole lives. There's something different in the way they say it now. You hear hesitation from the most unhesitant people.

It takes no imagination to stay synchronized with the shifting of the season, with the retracting daylight, or the sudden gathering of a wet morning wind that gets behind your ears and under your hair when you feed the animals. You don't have to pay attention to keep up with the calendar, but you do have to be ready to part with the days that have already passed.

September took far more than a month this year. It probably took two months. The one our bodies lived, and the wholly different month we lived in our minds. Some of the reluctance that comes with this autumn is mere uncertainty, a sense that no one really knows the score. Going into winter takes confidence, even in a normal year-- even if it's nothing more than confidence in one's own preparations. That's not good enough this year.

I find myself wanting the world to be right with itself again, even if only in the wrong old ways. In the heart of the reluctance I feel and hear in the voices of my neighbors, there's a longing for the inconsequential summer we were having not so many weeks ago. Longing is probably too strong a word. Better to say that the memory of what was, for many Americans, an uneventful August exerts a certain attraction right now. But the present is irrefutable. The leaves won't rise again except on a cold wind. Before long, I hope, that won't seem so regrettable.


CURWOOD: Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about the rural life for “The New York Times.” You can hear our program anytime on our website. The address is www.loe.org. And while you're on line, send your comments to us at lettters@loe.org. You can reach our Listener Line at (800) 218-9988. CD's, tapes and transcripts are $15.00. You're listening to NPR's Living On Earth.

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News Follow-up


CURWOOD: Time now to follow up on some of the news stories we have been tracking lately. Awhile back we took a look at the islands of the South Pacific, including the tiny nation of Tuvalu. Each year, Tuvalu's 1,100 or so residents have had to battle an increasing number of devastating tropical storms. Now the island's leaders say the waters around Tuvalu have reached such heights that inhabitants will soon have to abandon their island.

Part of the problem may be a regional shift in sea levels. And Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, says human induced global warming must also share the blame.

BROWN: Tuvalu is something like the canary in the coal mine. Never has a country been forced to, in fact, abandon its homeland because of the actions of others.

CURWOOD: Tuvaluans are consulting with officials in nearby New Zealand as to whether New Zealand can accept 1,500 of the islanders during the next 10 years.


CURWOOD: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has declared that breaching dams along the Snake River in Washington State is not necessary for the restoration of salmon populations. Lonnie Mettler, Project Manager for the Army Corps study on the Snake River dams, looked at four alternatives to bring back salmon, including tearing down the dams.

METTLER: Dam breaching could make some improvements. But nobody was able to say that dam breaching itself would bring back those fish.

CURWOOD: Mr. Mettler says economics also played a part in the decision. He says it would have cost the government about a billion dollars to breach the four Snake River dams.


CURWOOD: On the wind and energy front, there's a study out that contends Scotland alone has 23 percent of Europe's total potential wind and wave power. That's enough to supply its own needs and also help out the rest of the United Kingdom. According to Ross Finnie, Scotland's Environment Minister, wind and wave power currently comprise only 10 percent of Scotland's renewable energy sources.

FINNIE: Our target is to take that to at least 18 percent by the year 2010. And indeed, we're now beginning to think as to whether we could not take that higher.

CURWOOD: Talks are currently underway to construct one of Europe's largest wind farms in Southwest Scotland. When up and running at full capacity, the 70-turbine facility will produce enough electricity to power 60,000 homes.


CURWOOD: Finally, a Miami man faces federal charges for allegedly smuggling 44 melodious birds into the country from Havana, Cuba. The birds were songbird finches, worth $350 apiece on the pet market. Pet smuggling isn't a rarity in Miami, but this particular method was. When a suspicious customs agent stopped to question the man, he found all 44 birds wrapped in small cardboard tubes, strapped to his legs. And that's this week's follow-up on the news from Living on Earth.

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Animal Note: Crows Left and Right

CURWOOD: Just ahead, a trip through Alaska's Copper River Delta. Nothing much has changed there for the last 10,000 years except the people who visit this magnificent ecosystem. First, this page from the Animal Notebook from Maggie Villiger.


VILLIGER: When you throw a ball, use a fork, or grab a pencil, chances are you use your right hand. Scientists think this is because we developed language. Language ability usually resides in the left hemisphere of the brain. As a consequence, the left half of our brains are beefed up, and one of the functions it controls is motor ability on the right side of the body. That's why 90 percent of us are right-handed.

Now scientists report that crows may have this same kind of handedness in their actions, even though they don't have hands or language. Crows in New Caledonia make a variety of tools to help them pick and probe for food in the treetops. They craft one tool by cutting and ripping a long, narrow triangle from a leaf. Researchers noticed that the birds chose to rip the left side of the leaf twice as often as they rip the right. There's no obvious advantage to a left or right-sided tool, since once they're made, the tools look exactly the same.

So, why do the majority of crows make their tools this way? Just as the left hemisphere in humans is responsible for language skills, researchers think in crows the left hemisphere holds the blueprint for these complex tools. And when crows are working on the left side of the leaf, it's their right eye, the one that's connected to that strong left hemisphere of the brain, that's looking at their handiwork. That's this week's Animal Note. I'm Maggie Villiger.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

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Copper River

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. There are few places left in the world as majestic as Alaska's Copper River. This is a watershed bordered by massive glaciers. And the Copper River Delta forms the largest undivided wetland on the entire west coast of North America. Each spring its skies grow dark as millions of shore birds and water fowl return. And so do millions of salmon.

Producer Guy Hand went down the Copper River on a raft and found that facts and figures amount to only a fraction of this river's story.


HAND: As a journalist, especially an environmental journalist, I often write about loss, about lands that have been diminished or even destroyed. But this assignment should be different. The Copper River, although it's threatened, is one of the most pristine waterways in the world. And I see another difference. My 12 raft-mates don't look like the scientists, policy-makers and hard-headed pragmatists I'm used to.


HAND: We've all been invited to the river by the Eyak Preservation Council, a conservation group based in Cordova. None of us know each other. It's a kind of six-day blind date.


HAND: David Grimes, an old hand at Copper River rafting, welcomes us to fast, frigid water.

GRIMES: By great miracle we have all survived in our lives long enough to be here together today for a life-changing adventure. As a friend of mine has said, at the end of the river trip you're not the same person that you were at the beginning. So, think about what it is you might want to-- how you might want to be different or what you might want to be like when you're done at the other end.

HAND: David's got the long hair, mischievous eyes, and mystical flourishes of a shaman. And I'm suddenly wondering if we're headed into the terrain of natural history or some druidic form of self-improvement.

GRIMES: But this is one of the world's great wild salmon rivers that still remains. As you know, down the coast a ways, they're going extinct, and up here they're still thriving. And that's because there hasn't been so many rascal humans around here so much. And one of the reasons we invite you all here to this home country is so that you will fall in love with the salmon and the bears and the water, and you will become more like salmon and bears, and so that we can take care of this precious place.

HAND: Reporters struggle to keep a certain emotional distance, not only from the people they interview, but from the places they report on. That's why I often find it easier to work with botanists and biologists than poets and philosophers. Scientists describe nature through facts, figures, things a reporter can dive into without drowning.


ALL: One, two, three!

Photo: Guy HandA raft drifts toward Child's Glacier.
(Photo: Guy Hand)

HAND: We divide ourselves among three rubber rafts and lug them to the water. Once on the river, my worries fade a little, as the sheer power of this place begins to sink in. The current pulses past alder forest at a fast clip, and soon we're lost in the kind of country that few people ever see or even imagine exists. It's so remote, only a handful of mountains have names.


HAND: So what's this mountain?

GRIMES: Spirit Mountain, which as we were saying, is the only named mountain for the next 80 miles on the river. It is a spiritual place. And spiritual in a very physical sense, too, because you're different when you get out in places like this. You go onto river time, and pretty soon you don't really remember when you weren't on the river.

HAND: After a few hours, I begin to see that David, an accomplished songwriter and musician, may lean toward the mystical, but it's grounded in real, hands-on experience. He's floated the Copper for years. And soon I realize that no one can read its shifting currents better.

GRIMES: Let me spin the boat around here or we're going to fetch up on the bar here.

HAND: I tilt my head back, staring up at Spirit Mountain some 7,000 feet high, and realize I spend way too much time with reading glasses grafted to my face, focusing on facts no further than a foot away, forgetting how big the world really is.

GRIMES: You know, in places the valley's a couple miles across, and you can see a long ways.

WOMAN: Yeah!

GRIMES: You get the knife okay?

HAND: At camp we catch a salmon.

WOMAN: It's a beautiful one.

LANKARD: Every time we catch these beautiful fish, it's an honor to just have them a part of our lives. You're able to feed everybody that's with you.

HAND: Dune Lankard, an Eyak native and another of our guides, grabs a knife to clean the fish. Dune has become one of the area's most vocal proponents for keeping the Copper River watershed in its natural state.

LANKARD: My Eyak name is Jamachakih. And Jamachakih means "the little bird that screams really loud and won't shut up." And I received that name shortly after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

HAND: The Exxon Valdez ran aground just west of the Copper River Delta in 1989. It devastated the local fishing economy but created a community dedicated to protecting this place from future environmental tragedy. Salmon like the one Dune holds in his hands and begins to scale are one of the most obvious reasons he's gone from fisherman to activist. Salmon are the fragile cornerstone of an ecosystem that feeds not only people, but bear, seal, eagle, otter, and many others. Salmon are reason enough, Dune believes, to fight development that threatens to chop this watershed into pieces.

LANKARD: Right now, you have just a whole bunch of development ideas from people that are sitting back deciding how they're going to compartmentalize this whole region and not look at it as one whole ecosystem. Right now, the University of Alaska is trying to choose land up around Long Lake and they want 20 percent of the Copper River salmon spawning habitat so they can clear-cut it and build sub-divisions.

You've got the Chugash Corporation that wants to build a gold mine on the Bremner River. Then you have the governor, who of course wants to build this 65-mile trail so he can bring at least 100,000 to as many as a million-and-a-half users annually down the river.

HAND: There's also talk of oil drilling, remote resort lodges, and a deep water port that would draw large commercial vessels and cruise ships to the delta. Pro-development groups believe the Copper River communities need to expand their economic bases beyond fishing. They cite the Exxon Valdez incident as a perfect reason to diversify, to not shrink from development, but embrace it.


HAND: As we settle around the campfire and Dave sings one of his songs, I realize we haven't seen a sign of other people all day long. The sky is a forest of stars.


HAND: But as we break camp one morning, a sign that we're sharing this place with other creatures is everywhere. Joe Hickey, from Lexington, Kentucky, woke up in the middle of the night.

HICKEY: I heard something. I didn't know whether it was a bear or not. But it didn't sound like a human. But I didn't realize that he was this close to the tent.

HAND: In the sand, inches from Joe's tent, are huge grizzly prints.

HICKEY: He was a big guy.

HAND: In spite of these close encounters, Nana Borchert is glad to be here.

BORCHERT: Having lived in Lapland for quite long, in Northern Sweden, where the nature's also very beautiful, but where all the rivers have been dammed, it's so amazing to see that here salmon can still spawn and live, and, whereas, in Lapland none of the fish can spawn anymore because of the dammed rivers. And all the people have disappeared there too, that lived there, from fishing for subsistence. It just feels very good to know that people still can fish here and that the fish have their home here too.


HAND: Back on the Copper, maybe it's our fourth or fifth day now. My earlier worries of suffering a week of eco-mysticism have faded away. I recorded lots of conversations about the science of this place. But even the most hard-nosed reporter would soften, surrounded by all this water, all this wilderness. We float past a sandstone cliff and throw a few echoes over the river.


HAND: Around noon we hit the beach.

MAN: The ground is just covered in bear tracks.

WOMAN: It's like a beach party.

WOMAN: It's incredible.

HAND: And soon we see more than tracks.

HOLLAWAY: You are too far right. Go left a little more.

Photo: Guy HandSunrise over the Copper River.
(Photo: Guy Hand)

HAND: Megan Hollaway tries to help Andy Woods zero in with binoculars on a couple of grizzlies as they fish for salmon on the far shore.

HOLLAWAY: So, go to the water, and then just at the edge of the water, where the current spins right there, there's a momma and cubs.

WOODS: Oh, yeah!

HOLLAWAY: And you have to...

WOODS: I got him, I got him, I got him!

HAND: You see him?

WOODS: Yep. My first ever bear.

HOLLAWAY: Grizzly bears.

WOODS: Grizzly bears.

HAND: Dune smiles. Andy's bear-sighting is exactly the reason he brings people on these trips.

LANKARD: Because once they get here and they see this place, they'll never go all the way back home. They'll figure out how to help us save this place.

WOODS: I'm standing here naked with a pair of binoculars on, and I could die happy.

HAND: The Copper River watershed lies within the Chugash National Forest, the second largest in America. Ninety-eight percent of it is still un-roaded, untouched. Yet, few laws stand in the way of development. Not a single acre is protected as wilderness.


LANKARD: The glacier behind us is Miles Glacier, and all these icebergs that we're going to be coming into here are pieces that break off.

HAND: Dune is paddling us toward a massive, frozen river that the Copper has cut into a four hundred foot cliff. Luminous shards of blue ice, some of them the size of office buildings, drift by. When the light hits them just right it breaks into rainbows. But we soon learn that just because this land is beautiful, it isn't benign.


HAND: Chunks of ice are calving off the glacier face in the warm August sun. So far, they're small. But if a large piece falls, a tidal wave could form.

Have you guys ever been here when a big hunk calved off?

LANKARD: On this glacier, no. In my lifetime, I've seen two big faces fall.

HAND: One year, a 30 foot wave came off a glacier near here.

LANKARD: And it pushed these two women who were standing by the bank 250 feet back into the brush. And when they came to, one of them was in a tree, and the other one had big icebergs laying all around her, and she heard this flopping. And she kind of leaned over and looked to her right, and here was a big, fat salmon floppin', trying to get back in the water.


HAND: Small pieces are breaking up all over one section of the glacier.


LANKARD: There it goes. Oh my God!

HAND: Suddenly, the whole face seems to break free. It falls in slow motion. And as it disappears, water explodes from the river, shooting hundreds of feet in the air.

LANKARD: Okay, that's going to be a big wave.

GRIMES: We're going to get a big wave.

LANKARD: Okay, get your paddles ready.

HAND: The horizon seems to lift up. Hundreds of displaced gulls launch into the air, and we grab for our paddles.

LANKARD: And if it's pretty high-- do you see a lot of ice moving? Then turn your heads this way so--

HAND: At this point, I turn my recorder off and stuff it into a bag I’ve tied to the raft. But then you see that the wave is rolling at an angle, the worst of it moving to our left. And all we get is a gentle rise and fall.


HAND: We set up camp just west of the glacier. Nana accompanies Dave on fiddle as we quietly eat soup around the fire, lost in a kind of near-miss euphoria. Leah Rachocki from Anchorage.

RACHOCKI: I thought today was unusually spectacular. I've never really had a day like today. Four hundred feet of ice fell into the water, and magnificent waves came, and we survived in a little rubber raft. (Laughs.) And now the stars are out and I saw a shooting star, and it's lovely.

HAND: In the distance, blades of ice are still falling into the river, and if that isn't enough, the northern lights begin to lick across the sky in cool blue flames. It's a kind of thunder and lightning I could never have imagined. It's stunning.

Okay, it's easy to slide over the top, trying to describe the sublime in nature. That's why I mostly stick to the measurable. But on this last night on the Copper River, I can hear in the voices of those around me something else. E.O. Wilson calls it "biophilia", a biological need, if not downright love, for the natural world. He says we humans are hard-wired off it. I'll just call it wonder. And how do you measure that?

WOMAN: Wow. That was the nicest shooting star I think I've ever seen in my life.

HAND: For Living on Earth, I'm Guy Hand.

Back to top


WOMAN: Wow. And it left a trail.

MAN: Are you seeing things again?

WOMAN: Yeah. It might have been the mushrooms I ate earlier. I wasn't sure if they were hallucinogens or…


CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. Next week, join us for our holiday storytelling special in cooperation with Latino USA. This year we'll hear tales of celebration from Cuba, Panama, and Mexico. Special guest, Maria Hinojosa, host of Latino USA will tell her story about the Day of the Dead in Mexico and how she helped to bring the festival to Nueva York.

HINOJOSA: So, when I moved back to New York from Tijuana, and I realized that the Mexican presence was growing in New York, I came up with an idea, with a cultural worker that I was friends with, that we wanted to bring el Dia de los Muertos into New York City. We thought a lot about doing public events. You know, could we do it in Grand Central Station, could we do it at the Port Authority Bus Terminal? Some place where the tradition would be seen, visible, witnessed by many, many, many people. Of course, they weren't going to let us light candles and put food out in, you know, Grand Central Station. So, the next best thing was an art gallery.

CURWOOD: Don't miss the Living on Earth storytelling special, Celebrations in Latino Landscapes, next week on Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: Before we go, you might wonder what elephants do when their bellies are full and the sun is going down. Well, like many animals, they go to sleep. And when they sleep, some of them snore. Chris Watson caught the action, or should I say the lack of it, with his microphones on the grassland in Kenya in the middle of one night. Listen to "Elephant Slumber."


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, Jennifer Chu, and Gernot Wagner, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, and Milisa Muñiz.
Special thanks to Ernie Silver. We had help this week from Jessica Penney and Jonathan Waldman. Allison 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. Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living On Earth.

And-- shhh, don't wake the elephants-- I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living On Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Educational Foundation of America for reporting on energy and climate change; the Ford Foundation for reporting on U.S. environment and development issues; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, supporting efforts to better understand environmental change.

ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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