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

July 4, 2003

Air Date: July 4, 2003


(stream/download) as an MP3 file


Destructive Airstrip / Leda Hartman

(stream / mp3)

The U.S. military now enjoys what is arguably its greatest public support in recent memory. But apparently, that hasn't made it easy for the Navy to find a home for a new practice runway for jet fighter pilots. The Navy is considering a site in rural North Carolina. But residents say their poor county is being asked to sacrifice too much. Leda Hartman reports. (09:00)

Disappearing Lead / Jennifer Chu

(stream / mp3)

The EPA just released its annual report on industrial toxic releases for 2001. Overall the news is good. But environmental groups say future toxic reporting may not be rigorous enough. Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports. (03:20)

Almanac/Birthday Suit

(stream / mp3)

This week, we have facts about the first bikini. Fifty-seven years ago, the skimpy two-piece made its fashion entrance as 129 square inches of cotton newsprint. (01:40)

Migrant Jaguars / Barbara Ferry

(stream / mp3)

Jaguars, the animal, not the car, used to inhabit the southwestern U.S. And sometimes a few of the big cats that live in Mexico cross the border into the States. The crossing have sparked a debate about whether to re-introduce jaguars to the U.S. From Tucson, Barbara Ferry reports. (12:30)

Animal House / Verlyn Klinkenborg

(stream / mp3)

When you live on a farm, animal housing becomes as important as human shelter. Commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg stays awake some nights worrying about these creature comforts. (03:00)

Emerging Science Note/Wizard Tree / Cynthia Graber

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Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports on a new plant whose name was inspired by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. (01:15)

Healthier Water

(stream / mp3)

Proctor and Gamble has a new inexpensive water purification system that could save millions of lives each year in the developing world. Host Steve Curwood discusses the technology with Janet Raloff, senior editor of Science News, and Greg Allgood, associate director of Proctor and Gamble’s Health Sciences Institute. (06:00)

Dean Florez / Tamara Keith

(stream / mp3)

Tamara Keith of member station KQED explains what happens to a local politician when a rural region comes to terms with its air pollution problem. And what's at stake when one of the causes of that pollution is also a prime economic driver. (06:50)

Commodified Oxygen / Miriam Landman

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Commentator Miriam Landman tells us about her first visit to a new bar in San Francisco – one that serves up oxygen instead of alcohol. (03:15)

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Show Credits and Funders

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Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Janet Raloff, Greg AllgoodREPORTERS: Tamara Keith, Leda Hartman, Barbara Ferry, Jennifer ChuCOMMENTARIES: Verlyn Klinkenborg, Miriam LandmanNOTES: Cynthia Graber


From NPR - this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

The Navy is looking to practice landing jet fighters in a rural part of North Carolina, but residents there call the idea a threat to the environmental and economic security of their community.

COREY: And if the Navy needed this, we’d be plowing up our fields and pushing down the trees and getting ready. But see, that’s not the issue.

CURWOOD: Also, bad air and rising rates of asthma are changing the politics of California’s central valley.

FLOREZ: There's the saying, do nothing and say nothing and therefore get nothing done. That's been our model thus far. We have allowed the industries here to really dictate to many of the politicians exactly what they should be doing.

CURWOOD: Also, we visit an oxygen bar in San Francisco. And before you laugh, remember the first time you paid for a bottle of water. Those stories, and a new plant from the pages of Harry Potter, on Living on Earth, coming up right after this.


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Destructive Airstrip

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stoneyfield Farm.

CURWOOD: Welcome to Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. Some of the most critical weapons in the U.S. arsenal these days are aircraft carriers, the floating military bases which make it possible to fight wars far from home. But back at home, the U.S. Navy is coming under fire because it is considering constructing a training runway for carrier pilots in a poor, rural county in North Carolina. Navy plans to built a so-called outlying landing field, or an OLF, are facing challenges from an array of opponents, who include wildlife conservationists and the mayor. Leda Hartman reports.

HARTMAN: Landing a fighter jet on an aircraft carrier floating at sea in the dark is one of the most challenging military jobs around. Former Navy pilot John Robusto knows. He did it for 15 years.

ROBUSTO: For example, Afghanistan: the Hornets, Tomcats, were flying five, six-hour missions, sometimes up to eight hours. They come back to ship, they’re tired, the seas could be rough, it’s at night. The pilot would usually have to muster up some extra concentration and make a safe landing.

HARTMAN: Robusto says that’s why practicing takeoffs and landings is so important. And the best place to practice, he says, is at an outlying landing field—or OLF— built away from a military base’s main airstrip.

ROBUSTO: At the outlying field, we can turn off the runway lights. So instead of having eight thousand feet of runway lights on, we’d just have a small, thousand-foot, carrier-lighted box there. So it really makes you feel like you’re out at the ship.

A Super Hornet fighter jet.   

HARTMAN: A few years ago, the navy began looking for a home base for 144 new Super Hornet fighter jets. One option the Navy is considering is to divide the jets between the Oceana Naval Air Base in Virginia Beach and the Marine Corps Air Base in Cherry Point, North Carolina. In addition, the Navy wants to find a site for a new outlying landing field it could use to train pilots on the Super Hornet. One of its top choices for that OLF site is Washington county, North Carolina. That’s a farming and timbering community in the northeast corner of the state—halfway between Oceana and Cherry Point.


SANDERS: Roper has about 625 people.

HARTMAN: Bunny Sanders is driving through her tiny town, smack in the middle of Washington County. Roper has two stores, one policeman, and no traffic lights.

SANDERS: People opt to come to a community like this because it’s quiet. And it’s safe. You know, the entire town is their children’s playground.

HARTMAN: Thirty-five percent of the people in Roper live below the federal poverty line; a majority are African American. But Roper isn’t content to stay poor. Driving past little well-kept bungalows and single-wides, Sanders points to new construction— including a technology center with high-speed internet connections. Then, about three miles out of town, she points to something else: a stand of timber where the Navy may build an OLF.

SANDERS: This will kill our community. The downward spiral of our economy – which is already in a downward spiral— will have no chance of lifting out.

HARTMAN: Sanders says Roper’s future depends on attracting retirees and tourists interested in hunting, fishing, and the area’s natural beauty. But who would come, she asks, with fighter jets screaming overhead?

SANDERS: So, this is a fight for our lives.

HARTMAN: On the other side of Washington county, cropduster Donald Stotesberry also points to the proposed runway. His home and business lie near it.

STOTESBERRY: See those houses over there? And those trees? The runway will start right behind those and go back eight thousand feet.

HARTMAN: How far away is that?

STOTESBERRY: Oh, about half a mile.

HARTMAN: And that’s why the Navy would take Stotesberry’s property by eminent domain—if it decided to build the OLF here. Nearly a thousand Washington County residents spoke against the outlying landing field site at public hearings held by the Navy last fall. Others are also speaking out— in their own way.


HARTMAN: Every winter, up to a hundred thousand tundra swan, Canada geese, snow geese and ducks spend the winter at the Pocosin National Wildlife Refuge and nearby Pungo Lake. The area is about five miles from the proposed airstrip. Howard Phillips manages the refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His agency has gone on record opposing the OLF site.

PHILLIPS: The waterfowl, when they’re here in the wintertime, they use this area extensively for feeding. They feed on waste grain that’s left in the crop ground after the crops have been harvested.

HARTMAN: The jet noise would disrupt the birds’ migratory pattern, Phillips says. What’s more, a 20-pound bird with a six-foot wingspan could strike a plane.

PHILLIPS: The experts that I’ve heard talk about it tell me that a bird the size of a tundra swan or snow goose, if they’re sucked into the engine, could bring the aircraft down. If they hit the canopy they could cause enough problems that it would bring the aircraft down.

HARTMAN: The navy says it can address the problem with radar that can detect an individual bird in flight. It might also require nearby farmers to grow crops that wouldn’t attract the birds— an option the farmers say could imperil their livelihood. The Navy hasn’t built a new outlying landing field in more than 20 years. Now it seems difficult to find the right place for one.

CECCHINI: I mean, if we could have found a location with nobody within 10 miles, we would have put it there.

HARTMAN: That’s Dan Cecchini, the man in charge of putting together the Navy’s Super Hornet environmental impact statement. He says coming up with potential OLF sites was harder than he’d thought.

CECCHINI: I tell you, when you do the analysis and you put the constraints on the map— things like tall towers, wetland complexes, population centers— we were very limited in the options that we had.

HARTMAN: Cecchini says a new outlying landing field would mitigate noise concerns for everyone who lives around existing bases in the southeast. But it’s the people near the Oceana Naval Air Base in Virginia Beach who are the most upset. Upwards of 150-thousand people live within three miles of the OLF site there. Several families have filed suit in federal court, asking the government to compensate them for the negative effects of the noise. And the Navy has noticed their complaints. In October 2000, the commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Robert Natter, wrote: “It is precisely because of community concerns over jet noise that we are carefully exploring the establishment of an additional outlying field.” Back in North Carolina, that makes Washington county manager Chris Coudret and commissioner Billy Corey bristle.

COUDRET: It’s not about national defense. It’s about providing relief to a powerful, rich community.

COREY: And if the Navy needed this, we’d be plowing up our fields and pushing down the trees and getting ready. But see, that’s not the issue.

HARTMAN: Corey says if the OLF is sited anywhere in North Carolina, it should be in Craven County 90 miles south, home of the Cherry Point Marine Air Corps base. Corey says that would be fair because Craven County would also get the added income that comes from receiving new jets— and the pilots and families that come with them. But that’s not what’s being offered to Washington County.

COREY: Now if they were saying, Washington County, we wanna put this field down there, and we’re also gonna station these jets down there and we’re gonna build a base down there, then it’d be a different story. But that’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying, we wanna put all this money everywhere else and the only thing we wanna bring you is the pollution and the noise.

HARTMAN: Craven County is, in fact, the Navy’s other top pick for an outlying landing field. But that site contains a lot of wetlands, which means the army corps of engineers would have to approve any Navy plan to build there. Meanwhile, just the idea of the OLF has already started to affect Washington County’s economy. Last summer, realtor Mike Swearingen lost a sale to a retired Navy veteran— a sale that was to be financed by a bank in Virginia Beach— close to the Oceana naval air base.

SWEARINGEN: Right at two weeks before the closings, an appraiser happened to mention the possibility of a threat of this outlying landing field in northeastern North Carolina. And as soon as they, as soon as that lender saw that, they promptly denied the mortgage loan based on this OLF threat. And as soon as I spoke with the Navy veteran and he heard the term OLF, he refused to go to any other lender to even try to come down here.

HARTMAN: If the Navy does choose Washington County for an OLF site, Commissioner Billy Corey says he’ll take his case to the public.

COREY: They’re gonna hear about it, and they’re gonna say, well, gee– there goes the president, for example, trying to pull this rinky-dink mess over them poor people down there, and I’m not gonna let that happen. That’s how we plan on winning this battle.

HARTMAN: The Navy’s final environmental impact statement is due out shortly. After a 30-day “period of review” that will not include public comments, the Navy will announce its decision on where the Super Hornets will go—and where an outlying landing field might be built.

For Living on Earth, I’m Leda Hartman in Roper, North Carolina.

Related links:
- Roper, North Carolina’s official web page
- U.S. Navy’s Environmental Impact Statement on Super Hornet introduction to the East Coast

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Disappearing Lead

CURWOOD: Each year, industries have to report how much and how many poisonous chemicals they release into the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency collects the data in what’s called the Toxics Release Inventory Report. And this year there is some encouraging news. But as Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu explains, there’s also some question about the integrity of future reports.

CHU: Overall, toxic releases declined by 15 percent from the year 2000 to 2001, the most recent reporting year. The EPA requires power generators, manufacturers, and petrochemical plants, among others, to report pollution data on 650 toxins. In this latest report, one of those pollutants was subject to a change in reporting. In past years, companies were only required to report lead releases over 10,000 pounds. However, beginning in 2001, releases as small as 100 pounds now have to be reported. As a result, lead releases from coal fired power plants, steel smelting, and chemical manufacturing rose by 17 percent from the previous year. Jeremiah Baumann is a researcher with the US Public Interest Group. He says because of the new regulation, there’s been a shuffle in lead hotspots.

BAUMANN: For example, New Jersey, which in the last report was ranked number 26 in the country for the amount of lead released, now becomes ranked fifth, because of the chemical manufacturers who weren’t previously reporting.

CHU: In this latest report, the mining industry was responsible for nearly half of the pollution. But that’s quite likely to change in the future. That’s because that industry recently won a court battle that exempts a major mining process from future toxic inventory reporting. As part of any mining operation, material is dug up and pushed aside to get to the ore underneath. Carol Raulston is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association. She admits this rock and soil can contain pollutants such as lead, mercury, and arsenic.

RAULSTON: If your house was next door to it, and you dug in your backyard, you’d find the same things. And you’d generally find it in about the same concentrations. It’s just that we have to move a lot of rock and soil so our reports tend to be very high and make up a significant portion of what is reported under TRI.

CHU: Tom Natan is research director for the National Environmental Trust. He says that just because this material isn’t processed or manufactured, doesn’t mean that it can’t pollute. He estimates that under the new reporting exemption, the mining industry’s pollution inventory will plummet by as much as 60 percent.

NATAN: And, so, in future years we may see huge decrease, paper decrease, from the mining industry. It doesn’t mean they’re not generating as much waste in waste rock, doesn’t mean that those chemicals can’t leach off the facility and potentially harm people or environment, it just means we won’t know about it.

CHU: For anyone wanting to identify who releases what toxins in their community, the EPA has made the information available on their website, at epa.gov/tri. The database is searchable by zipcode.

For Living on Earth, I’m Jennifer Chu.

[MUSIC: Snares & Kites “Anticipation Proclamation” Tricks of Trapping Inbetweens Records (1999)]

CURWOOD: Just ahead, the jaguar may be making a comeback in the American Southwest. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Badly Drawn Boy “Delta (Little Boy Blues)” About a Boy (Soundtrack) Artist Direct BMG (2002)]

Related link:
Toxic Release Inventory

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Almanac/Birthday Suit

CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Alden Howard “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” Sweet and Lowdown (Soundtrack) Sony (1999)]

On July 6, 1946, a French stripper clad in 129 square inches of cotton newsprint flaunted Louis Reard’s immodest proposal to the fashion world. He called it the bikini, after the Bikini Atoll, where nuclear weapons were tested five days before his skimpy couture exploded onto the catwalk.

The evolution of the bikini began during the Second World War when fabric rationing revolutionized swimwear, and women started wearing a patriotic two-piece to the pool. Reard routed earlier styles by making his bikini, well, teeny. A bikini wasn’t a bikini, he said, unless you could squeeze the whole thing through a wedding ring.

Thanks to Annette Funicello back then, and the swimsuit issues of Sports Illustrated today, it seems you can’t have a beach without a bikini. But as the first half of the bikini century came to a close, scientists issued warnings about sunburn, wrinkles, and cancer caused by UV rays, and people were advised to supplement scant beachwear with sunscreen. And more recent studies suggest that even the strongest SPF factor may not be enough. While sunscreens can prevent sunburn, some scientists doubt their ability to protect us from longer waves of UV light that cause the most lethal skin cancers.

The bikini maven and movie star Esther Williams once said, “A bikini is a thoughtless act.” And I’d have to agree. If you have to think when you see someone wearing a bikini, you’ve missed the whole point.

And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.


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Migrant Jaguars

CURWOOD: When you think of jaguars in the wild, you may imagine a big yellow cat with black spots roaming tropical jungles of Latin America. But many zoologists believe that jaguars’ range used to extend into the southwestern United States. Though they no longer inhabit the U.S., jaguars from Mexico sometimes cross the border into Southern Arizona, where on rare occasions a human will spot one. These sightings are sparking new research and efforts to conserve jaguars in Mexico. They’ve also lead to federal lawsuits, and a debate over whether jaguars could or should ever be reintroduced into the U.S.

From Tucson,Arizona, Barbara Ferry reports.


FERRY: It’s easy to see a jaguar in Arizona. You just go down to the dealership here in Tucson.

MALE: The XK8 is by far one of the most gorgeous vehicles on the road…

FERRY: If you want to take one home, bring about $40,000.


FERRY: But if you want to see a real jaguar— a sleek, beautiful predator whose name means the cat that kills with a one leap, the largest cat in the Western Hemisphere, an animal feared and revered by Olmecs, the Maya, and the Aztecs— if you want to see that kind of jaguar in Arizona, well then you’ve got to be patient.

CHILDS: All right, we’re at jaguar camera site number 10. It’s located in a rugged mountain range, southeast Arizona.

FERRY: Jack Childs is a patient man.

CHILDS: Well, everything looks in order here.


All right, I’ve got the film rewound. Now I’ll open it up, pull the old film out, put in the new.

FERRY: Childs has been trying to capture jaguars on film for the past seven years. Given how elusive and rare the cats are, it’s a full-time and, some say, impossible job. Childs hunts mountain lions for a hobby and has tramped these rugged ranges all his life. Using his knowledge of the land and of large cats, he has set up an elaborate system of automatic cameras in the mountains south of Tucson. To attract the felines Childs rubs his special potion— a foul smelling substance containing skunk urine— on a rock about 10 feet in front of the camera.

CHILD: Hopefully any predators that come by will smell this and come over and investigate it, therefore posing for the camera.

FERRY: Childs is a researcher for the Jaguar Conservation Team, an organization set up by Arizona’s Game and Fish Department to study cross-border jaguars. But he fell into jaguar research by accident. In August 1996, Childs his wife Anna and group of hunters were out exercising their hounds in the Baboquiviri Mountains south of Tucson. There they had an encounter that would change Child’s life.

CHILDS: Pretty soon the dogs got way high on the slope of a big, bluffy, steep, brushy mountain. We heard them jump this animal and bring it to bay.

FERRY: Childs recently told his story to a captivated audience of ranchers and other locals in a one-room schoolhouse in the tiny village of Arivaca, close to where the encounter happened.

CHILDS: Well, Matt and this other boy were nice and young, and my wife and I decided, well, we’ve seen mountain lions before, we’re going to sit here on the mules and you guys climb the mountain and take some pictures and bring the dogs back.

FERRY: But as time passed, Childs’ curiosity got the best of him, and he went to investigate.

CHILDS: About halfway up the mountain I meet this young fella coming back down and he says, Matt sent me down to get ya. And I say, what’s up? And he’s says we’ve got a jaguar. I said my goodness.


FERRY: Childs ran up the mountain and spent the next half hour looking at the jaguar. He was intrigued and moved by the experience. He retired from his job as a land surveyor and began to spend more and more time in the mountains trying to find another jaguar. Despite predictions that the scheme would fail, in December of 2001 one of Child’s 15 automatic cameras snapped a photo of a young male jaguar. It was the 60th documented sighting of jaguar in the United States in the last 100 years. The jaguar’s photo appeared on the nightly news and the feline became a sort of wildlife celebrity in the southwest.

NEWS ANCHOR 1: Arizona could be home to another big cat…

NEWS ANCHOR 2: Well it’s official, southern Arizona has at least one jaguar.

NEWS ANCHOR 3: This is a picture of a jaguar in a remote location somewhere south of Tucson…

FERRY: Soon the state Game and Fish Department was flooded with calls of none-too-credible sightings. Excitable Arizonans were apparently mistaking everything from coyotes to Labrador retrievers for jaguars.

GLENN: When something like that’s looking at ya, a big old cat like that, it’s surprising how fast you can back up.

FERRY: In a ranch house about 100 miles east of Tucson, Warner Glenn folds his tall, thin cowboy’s frame into an armchair and talks about the memorable spring day in 1996 when he ran into a jaguar. Glenn was leading a lion hunt in the Peloncillo Mountains near his ranch. He thought he was on the trail of a large tom lion but when his dogs cornered the cat, he got the shock of his life. The animal made such a surprising sound, it confused Glenn for a moment.

GLENN: It was deep-chested roar. It wasn’t a growl like a mountain lion growls. It wasn’t a [growl], like that, it was more of a [growl], like that type of a sound. Right there. And that’s why I was a little confused in what that was…

FERRY: Glenn quickly moved closer to pull his hounds away from the jaguar. At that moment the jaguar locked eyes with Glenn and prepared to charge.

GLENN: And when he started to come, he jumped up on a ledge there and the next jump he would have darn sure been right in the middle of me. But I was already starting to run backwards.

FERRY: Glenn got away from the jaguar. The cat also retreated. At the end of the confrontation, Genn had a hound with a broken leg and 17 photos on his tiny point-and -shoot camera. To his and his wife Wendy’s surprise, the photos came out. At that point, Wendy Glenn realized they had to make a big decision.

W. GLENN: We had we had to make the decision of whether we would go public or not.

FERRY: Overshadowing that decision was the history of distrust between ranchers and the federal government. Much of the Glenn's ranch, like most ranches in the West, is made up of leased federal land. Many ranchers fear that if the government declares that land critical habitat for endangered species, then cattle grazing would be banned. Wendy Glenn.

W. GLENN: There were a couple of ranchers that said he should have killed the jaguar and just said nothing. But his answer back was, for what reason? It was most beautiful animal he ever saw, and why kill it?

FERRY: One result of the Glenns’ decision to go public was that an environmental advocacy group, the Center for Biological Diversity, sued the Fish and Wildlife service to have the jaguar listed as an endangered species. The Service put the jaguar on the list in 1997. And that started the political debate of what, if anything, to do about the wandering jaguars.

SUCKLING: The ranchers in southern Arizona are famous for declaring that the sky is falling down on virtually a monthly basis.

FERRY: Kieran Suckling is director of the Center for Biological Diversity, the group that sued to get the jaguar listed. He believes the ranchers’ concerns about losing grazing privileges are exaggerated. To date no critical habitat designation in Arizona has resulted in cattle being removed from federal land— though Suckling says that’s a failure of the system.

SUCKLING: There are many millions of acres of federal land in Arizona and New Mexico that should be managed for endangered species such as jaguars. And this is federal land owned by the American people. It’s not too much to say that that land should be managed in the interests of all Americans, not six or seven ranchers who hold leases on that land.

FERRY: At the crux of the political debate over jaguars in the United States is a biological question. Most everyone agrees that the visitors are coming from a remote area in the Mexican Sierras, about 130 miles south of the border. But they disagree about whether any territory within the United States was ever true habitat for jaguars. David Brown is a wildlife biology professor at Arizona State University and author of a book on jaguars

BROWN: It’s always been a peripheral. The actual occurrence of this animal as a breeding population in Arizona or New Mexico is very much in doubt. It’s not definite one way or another.

FERRY: Brown insists all the fuss and hullabaloo over wandering jaguars is politics and nothing more. Since he believes the U.S. is marginal habitat for them, he says jaguars are unlikely to set up full time residency in this country no matter what anyone tries to do to protect them.

But Kieran Suckling argues that had jaguars not been shot, trapped, and poisoned in the United States, they would be thriving here. He points out that in the 1800s, jaguars were seen as far north as Los Angeles and Colorado. In those days, and even until recently, a jaguar encountered by a human usually ended up as a trophy on a wall.

SUCKLING: It doesn’t breed here now, that’s correct. But the only reason it doesn’t breed here now is because the livestock industry gunned down every jaguar they could find and drive it out of the state. So I think it would be a grave error to say it doesn’t breed here now, therefore it shouldn’t be endangered, when the only reason it doesn’t breed here now is because we killed it.

FERRY: Now that jaguars are legally protected, Suckling envisions a day when they colonize the United States – either on their own or by an active reintroduction program. At this point, reintroducing the jaguar isn’t on any government agency’s agenda. Tucson writer Chuck Bowden, author of books on the natural environment of Arizona, says that although jaguars are not of biological importance in the U.S., we should be working to restore them here.

BOWDEN: So, basically, to bring back them back is like bringing back the wolf in the southwest, of which there were at most probably 2,000 before settlement. It’s a gesture towards restoring a kind of wild world that makes humans feel better. It is not a case of ecological management to make an ecosystem healthier.

FERRY: While Arizonans argue over what should be done for jaguars in the United States, just about everyone seems to agree on one thing. Support is needed to protect jaguars in their home base in Mexico, where they are often still killed by ranchers seeking to protect their cattle. Both ranching and environmental advocacy groups support a research project led by Mexican scientists trying to determine whether the Sonoran jaguar population is stable or in decline. The researchers are also seeking money to buy out cattle ranchers in the area in order to create a jaguar preserve. Biologist Carlos Lopez of the University of Queretero in Mexico leads the project.

LOPEZ: The reason we are trying to maintain this population in Mexico, and get all the support we can from the U.S., is because if people want to see the sporadic jaguar crossing the border, they have to maintain this population. They have to help us conserve it in Mexico. Otherwise, these sighting are just going to be a thing of history, a thing of the past.

FERRY: Though the border between the United States and Mexico may be meaningless to a wandering jaguar, by crossing it and getting captured on film these rare cats may have done something to help save their own species.

For Living on Earth, I’m Barbara Ferry in Tucson, Arizona.

[MUSIC: Paul Simon “Can’t Run But” Rhythm of the Saints Warner Brothers (1990)]

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation, for reporting in U.S. environment and development issues; and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, for coverage of Western issues. Support also comes from NPR member stations; and Bob Williams and Meg Caldwell, honoring NPR’s coverage of environmental and natural resource issues, and in support of the NPR President’s Council; and Paul and Marcia Ginsberg, in support of excellence in public radio.

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Animal House

CURWOOD: On a farm, animal housing can be as important as human shelter. And worrying about these comforts for creatures is what keeps farmer and Living on Earth commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg up late some nights.

KLINKENBORG: When I first moved to the country, more than a dozen years ago, a realtor showed me a grand old farmhouse with an attached barn. The realtor was dreaming to think that I could afford it. But in the way of too-expensive dreams, the memory of that place has stuck with me, especially the thought of walking through what looked like a closet door off the kitchen and being swallowed by the cavernous maw of a beautiful, well-worn dairy barn. The reason I still think about that place is for the simple pleasure of having the animals so close, so collectively, so cooperatively housed.

As time passes here, I notice that we're accumulating a lot of small animal shelters, most of which I have built myself. It begins to look like musical chairs. Until the new pigs come next month, the ducks and geese, which are only a few weeks old, are borrowing the pig house. The old and new chicken houses are vacant now so the winter chicken yard can get some rest. The birds are out on pasture, which they share with the horses.

The first thing I built when we got chickens was a chicken tractor— a small cage designed to be moved daily to fresh grass. I read the books and built what they told me to. It was way too heavy and somehow not very chicken-like. I took it apart the other day and rebuilt it according to my knowledge of chickens, not books. It comes as a surprise to realize that I can now predict what chickens want in the way of housing, but it's true, as far as it goes. I show them just what's in their price range, nothing more. How far down this road I've gone became plain when I realized, with satisfaction, that I'd built the new chicken-tractor entirely out of scrap. The chickens seem proud of it too.

Domestic animals are the ones we build houses for. Wild animals make their own arrangements, consulting only their own needs. The point was brought home to me recently. I'd been waking up in the middle of the night, wondering just how to refashion that chicken tractor. I'd worked up a dozen different versions in my head. One morning last week, my wife and I walked around the garden, just to see what had grown in the night. We stopped to admire a Korean fir she had got me for my birthday last year. Together, Lindy and I looked down into the boughs and there, in a fork near the trunk, was a bird's nest with four tiny azure eggs inside, a demitasse of horse-hair, grass, and lichen, perfectly-wrought, and all from scrap.

[MUSIC: Tony Trischka & Bela Fleck “Ruben’s Wah Wah” Solo Banjo Works Rounder Records (1992)]

CURWOOD: Verlyn Klinkenborg writes about the rural life for The New York Times.


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Emerging Science Note/Wizard Tree

CURWOOD: Coming up, a cheap fix to make dirty water fit to drink. First, this note on emerging science from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: J.K. Rowling’s best selling Harry Potter books have won the affection of millions around the world. Now, the author’s influence is extending into the realm of science. Researchers at Rutgers University have taken a term from Harry Potter to help name a newly discovered plant. Two researchers from Rutgers traveled to southern Ecuador searching for unknown plants. Specifically the scientists were looking for gentians – a kind of flowering plant that grows on all continents and is used in herbal remedies.

The two researchers drove through the mountains, carefully examining the lush vegetation. Suddenly, they saw a patch of strange plants that resembled a particular genus of gentians called Macrocarpaea, but there were no flowers and they needed to find a blooming plant to confirm the discovery.

Then, just before darkness fell, they saw a flowering gentian. It stood as tall as a small tree, about twelve to fifteen feet high. And it had yellowish-white, bell-shaped flowers, perfect for night-time pollination by bats and moths. In Harry Potter, when wizards magically come and go, Rowling says they “apparate.”

And since the scientists thought the plant had suddenly “apparated” in front of them out of nowhere, they named it “Macrocarpaea apparata.”

That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Cynthia Graber.

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

[MUSIC: Parlour “The Live Beginning” Octopus Off-Broadway Temporary Residence (2002)]

Related link:
Photos of Macrocarpaea apparata

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Healthier Water

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve Curwood. And coming up, a hit of fresh air at the oxygen bar. But first, more than five million people die each year because they lack access to clean water. Simply cleaning up existing water supplies could prevent most of these diseases. But that can often be an expensive undertaking. Now the company Proctor and Gamble has created a water treatment system that can purify dirty water to U.S. standards, and do it cheaply. Science News editor Janet Raloff wrote about this new technique in a recent issue of the magazine. She joins me now. Janet, how does this water treatment work, and how is it different from what’s currently available?

RALOFF: Well, in the past, especially in developing countries where these diarrheal diseases are killers, people have thrown chlorine in the water to disinfect it. But a lot of the gunk that’s in the water, that discolors it, gives it nasty smells and flavors—this includes dirt and stuff like that— it can bind the chlorine and basically deactivate it, so it doesn’t do the kind of disinfection job you really would like. This new process basically takes all that nasty, smelly gunk out of the water, if there was any, and makes it into a sediment that drops to the bottom of your jug or bottle, whatever. And then you come out with clear water, and this clear water can then be effectively disinfected by some residual chlorine. And this is all done by taking a little packet of chemicals—this is a packet about the size of those ketchup containers you get at the drive-through hamburger joint— and you just pour it into the water, stir it for five minutes, let the gunk settle to the bottom, pour that water now through some fabric to collect the sediment, and let the water sit for another 20 minutes.

CURWOOD: What exactly can this treatment get out of water to purify it?

RALOFF: Well, first of all, it disinfects the water. And when tests were made where they threw a bunch of germs into the water, and then ran this batch of chemicals on it, it would remove all but like a hundred millionth of the bacteria that were present, or a ten thousandth of the viruses. It also removed all but a thousandth of the parasites. And they tested typical, like, parasites you might find even in the United States, cryptosporidium and giardia. But, more surprising, I guess, is that it was also useful at removing metals, like lead, some kinds of organic compounds, like DDT, and presumably other pesticides as well. And it took out more than 99 percent of the arsenic, which is a big problem in certain parts of the world, including parts of the western United States, and Bangledesh.

CURWOOD: So you’ve got a packet that you put in—how much water? What does that cost?

RALOFF: They tried to bring the cost down to something that many people in the developing would be able to afford. And so they did some pilot tests in Guatemala, and asked what kinds of things would you be willing to pay for every day. And people there pay ten cents for an egg everyday. And so they tried to peg it for that dime-a-pack price. That will clean ten liters of water, so we’re talking a penny a liter.

CURWOOD: What about the long term use of the chemical to disinfect. What evidence is there that it could perhaps have any harmful effects?

RALOFF: Well, I think we’re the example of whether it would have a harmful effect, because basically they’re using the same kinds of compounds, in very small quantities, that are used to disinfect U.S. water supplies.

CURWOOD: Now you’re a science journalist, and you see companies come and go with all kinds of amazing claims. How do you feel about this one?

RALOFF: Well, you know, I was really dubious. It sounded like another new product, and we at Science News don’t cover new products. Interestingly, when we talked to the Centers for Disease Control—which has a big outreach program for cleaning up drinking water throughout the world— and asked them about it, they’d run some tests, and they said there is literally nothing else like this. That sort of got our attention.

CURWOOD: Janet Roloff is Senior Editor of Science News. Thanks for taking this time.

RALOFF: Thank you Steve.

CURWOOD: We turn now to Greg Allgood, Associate Director of Proctor and Gamble’s Health Sciences Institute. Hello, sir.

ALLGOOD: Hi. Glad to be with you.

CURWOOD: Greg, we just spoke with Science News editor Janet Raloff, about how this new technology works and why it’s important. I’d like to ask you about some of the business and financial issues here. More than a billion people in the world survive on less than a dollar a day, so ten cents may not seem like a lot to us here in the West, but it’s a good piece of someone’s income in these communities. How is Proctor and Gamble working to ensure that the people who desperately need this water treatment will be able to get access to it?

ALLGOOD: We’re doing a couple of things. One of the things we’re doing, in order to reach the people who need the product the most, is providing the product at no profit for providing emergency water. We’re providing pure water purifier, for example to the International Rescue Committee, and they’re taking it into Iraq. We’re also looked at working with groups such as John Hopkins University, to go into other countries, and are seeking U.S. government funding in order to do that.

CURWOOD: How much of a trailblazer do you think your company is in terms of getting the finances to work on this. This has been a conundrum for the world. We have good technologies, and yet the poorest people don’t have access to them.

ALLGOOD: A lot of our large companies, U.S. based and Europe based, are trying to learn how to develop products which can sustainably serve people at lower incomes. We call it the bottom of the pyramid, because, actually, they’re the foundation. More than four billion people in the world are generally not consumers of the large companies in the U.S. and Europe. What we believe is that if we can develop products which are affordable, and meet a real need of these people in the developing world, is that we can develop sustainable businesses. Which will be important to our growth, but, more importantly, will be able to help them get out of the poverty cycle.

CURWOOD: Greg Allgood is Associate Direct of Proctor and Gamble’s Health Sciences Institute. Thanks so much for taking this time with me today.

ALLGOOD: Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.

[MUSIC: Moby “Porcelain” Winter Chill 2 (2001)]

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Dean Florez

CURWOOD: Fresh tomatoes, grapes, lettuce and other produce have dominated the economy and politics of California's vast central valley for years. But now, due in large part to pollution from agricultural practices, residents there are coping with some of the dirtiest air in the nation. As Living on Earth reported last year, children in the central valley are being diagnosed with asthma at nearly three times the national rate. Tamara Keith of member station KQED reports the prevalence of respiratory illness is starting to change politics in this part of California.

California State Senator Dean Florez (D)   

KEITH: Forty-year-old state senator Dean Florez doesn't fit the profile of an environmental crusader. He's a conservative democrat representing a district where agriculture is king. In his first four years in California's statehouse, Florez consistently voted against environmental legislation. Lately, though, he's been hearing from voters about the region's polluted air.


FLOREZ: Whether it's school district officials that tell us that our children are missing more days today than they were ten years ago because of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, whether it's the kids themselves that tell us breathing in this kind of air is like sucking through a very narrow straw— all of the stories that I hear in this air battle come from real people.

KEITH: Health officials estimate 300 thousand children here suffer from asthma. Florez's two kids don't have the disease, but he's seen the affect it's had on one of his son's friends, a boy named Michael Tuck.

FLOREZ: He's stayed at our house. We've seen what it's like for him to have an asthma attack at two in the morning and have his mom come to our house to pick him up because we can't take care of it. And you know those memories are in my head every single time I do a hearing and I think about his breathing and his ability to live in the valley and not having to move away. He's a real living example of the reasons we're doing this.


KEITH: What Florez is doing is taking on the region's powerful farming interests with a package of legislation more aggressive than anyone would have predicted. Florez's ten bills would end an exemption from air quality rules enjoyed by agriculture for decades. As he explains that farming contributes 25 percent of the valley's air pollution, he sits in a country-style family restaurant in his hometown of Shafter, near a display of plastic potatoes and onions. Florez admits he is now waging a battle that he and other California lawmakers have spent years avoiding.

FLOREZ: There's the saying, do nothing and say nothing and therefore get nothing done. That's been our model thus far. We have allowed the industries here to really dictate to many of the politicians exactly what they should be doing.

KEITH: Florez's sudden vigor for improving air quality surprised many in the state capitol. Last year when he was in the assembly, environmentalists criticized Florez for missing a key vote on a bill that made California the first state to restrict greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. Bill McGavern is a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

MCGAVERN: In December we sat in this office and talked about who was going to be our champion for central valley air quality, and wasn't it a shame that none of the elected officials from that region were willing to take the lead. And not long after that Dean Florez emerged as someone who was willing to take the lead, and was willing to do that even when it alienates the powerful agricultural interests in his district.

KEITH: Fresno air quality activist Kevin Hall says he used to be disgusted with Florez's positions on environmental issues. Now he can't help but compliment the senator.

HALL: It's hard to describe or to understand this kind of turnaround other than to say I know he's a very intelligent, well educated person. I think he gets it. I think he understands it.

KEITH: Florez's turnaround marks a shift here in the Central Valley. The region seems to be coming to terms with the fact that despite its rural lifestyle, it now faces environmental problems worse than most major cities. In a recent poll valley residents listed air pollution as their top concern. And with one in five kids carrying asthma inhalers to school every day, Kevin Hall says it's no wonder people are demanding change.

HALL: Everybody knows somebody who suffers. If it's not you or a relative of yours, it's an immediate friend. And as people get more and more in touch with this as being common place, the anger grows.

KEITH: The scope of Florez's legislation also caught farmers and their representatives off guard. The bills would not only make farms obey clean air rules, they would force farmers to change the way they do business and cost millions of dollars. One bill would ban the practice of burning agricultural clipping and other waste in the fields. Another would force dairies to go through a strict approval process before being built. Even the state farm bureau was oblique in its criticism of Florez. California Farm Bureau environmental affairs director Cynthia Cory.

CORY: I'm just afraid with this many different issues on the table at once, it makes it more complex. And I'm worried it may not be as thoughtful of solutions.

KEITH: Behind the scenes, the industry is lobbying hard against the Florez bills, and other farming groups haven't been so careful with their words. Off-mic, one prominent valley ag leader angrily called Florez's legislation an ambush motivated by political ambition. Florez, a Harvard MBA, has said he may want to run for state treasurer and someday possibly even governor. Barbara O'Connor is a political scientist at Cal State Sacramento.

OCONNOR: The machiavellian observers argue that he's picked the issue because it's a salient issue, people really care about it, it polls well. I would like to give him a little more credit than that.

KEITH: So far Florez's package of air quality bills has done well in the state legislature, but they still have a long way to go before landing on Governor Gray Davis's desk. And even if they are signed into law, these bills are only the beginning of what will likely be a long process. The American Lung Association ranks the valley’s cities of Fresno, Bakersfield, and Visalia as the second, third, and fourth smoggiest in the country. For Living on Earth, I'm Tamara Keith in California's Central Valley.

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Commodified Oxygen

CURWOOD: Hindsight, the say, is twenty-twenty. And for critical issues such as air quality, commentator Miriam Landman hopes hindsight and foresight will win out over our typically shortsighted perspective. She brings us this wake-up call from the future.


LANDMAN: It’s a typical morning in the year 2020. I get ready for work by climbing into my full-body bubble suit. I zip it up and glance in the mirror to make sure my oxygen tank is on straight. Sound absurd? Well, we already buy bottled water, and we pay more for it than for gasoline. And on smoggy days we reach for our inhalers. And now, some of us even duck into an oxygen bar for a 20-minute hit of pure, unadulterated air.

The first time I heard of an oxygen spa, I was skimming through a magazine. There was an ad featuring a model with clear plastic tubes inserted into her nostrils. The ad was for the “O2 Spa Bar,” a stylish Toronto salon offering "oxygen sessions" for $16 a pop. The ad stated: "It may sound weird at first. But think about how much smog and car exhaust you breathe into your lungs every day."

Well, that certainly is something to think about. Unfortunately, instead of actually solving that problem, oxygen bars have sprung up all over the world— first in smoggy Asian cities like Tokyo, where there are also coin-operated oxygen booths on the streets, and later in Europe and North America. So when an air bar opened up in my fair city of San Francisco, I just had to go check it out.

[ MUSIC: Telepopmusik “Breathe (Extended Mix) Breathe {CD-Single} Emi Int’l (2002)]

It was a long, dimly lit room that felt like a cocktail lounge. Twenty-something hipsters were lounging around on pleather couches, while a DJ spun ambient techno music. I sidled up to the bar and perused the menu of aromatherapy oxygen blends with names like Euphoric, Release, and Relax. I ordered a dose of Release from the bartender, and I asked him if I was about to get high. “I wouldn’t put it that way,” he said. “It just makes you feel better. And it lasts longer than the feeling you’d get from drinking a beer.”

Soon, I was hooked up a tank of the herbal oxygen concoction. There was a tube in my nose. I can’t say I felt as glamorous as I would had I been holding a martini, and I can’t say it actually did anything for me - other than inject the scent of Lavender into my nasal passage. But that’s not surprising, since there’s no sound evidence that oxygen spa treatments are at all effective in cleaning pollutants out of our lungs.

The original website for Woody Harrelson's Los Angeles oxygen bar declared: “Up your nose with a rubber hose” and “join the rest of society who laughed at the idea of bottled water.” It is hard to take oxygen bars seriously, but the implications are serious, as serious as a heart attack. Medical studies have found that breathing dirty air can actually trigger fatal heart attacks in people with cardiac problems. And roughly 17 million people, in the U.S. alone, suffer from asthma. That’s three times as many as there were twenty years ago.

Recently, I read a magazine blurb about a new high-fashion jacket that came equipped with a smog-filtering mask attached to its hood. Jackets with breathing masks and oxygen-hocking establishments, to my mind, belong in a bleak, futuristic, sci-fi world. But while we were sleeping, the future arrived. The surreal is now the real. So I can’t help but wonder: What’s next?

CURWOOD: Miriam Landman is a freelance writer, and a green building consultant with Simon & Associates in San Francisco.


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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week…


Take that you dirty rat.

Actually, that’s not a rat, it’s a nutria, a beaver-like critter from South America that was brought to the U.S. to spur a fur trade but has wound up eating away wetlands and evading scientists’ best effort to get rid of the invasive pest.

MALE: We have a pretty good sense for how to go out and trap nutria. We don’t have a very good sense at all about how to control a population.

CURWOOD: Outfoxing the nutria - next time on Living on Earth. And remember that between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to livingonearth.org. That’s livingonearth.org.

[ANIMALS SOUNDS: Sarah Peebles “Revolving Life” Suspended in Amber Earth Ear]

CURWOOD: We leave you this week in Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto. Sarah Peebles recorded the subtle ambience of an outdoor temple there. She calls it "Revolving Life."


CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. You can find us at livingonearth.org.

Our staff includes Andy Farnsworth, Elizabeth Klein, Tom Simon, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, Nathan Marcy, and Liz Lempert. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. Our interns are Carolyn Johnson, Julia Keller, Taylor Ferguson, and Mary Beth Conway.

Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar.

Our technical director is Al Avery. Ingrid Lobet heads our western bureau. 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.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science, and Stoneyfield Farm—organic yogurt, cultured soy, and smoothies. Ten percent of their profits are donated to support environmental causes and family farms. Learn more at stoneyfield.com. Support also comes from NPR member stations and the Annenberg foundation, and Tom's of Maine, maker of natural care products and creator of the rivers awareness program to preserve the nation's waterways. Information at participating stores or tomsofmaine.com.


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