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

February 26, 1993

Air Date: February 26, 1993


Monarch's Winter Home Threatened by Logging / Bob Carty

Bob Carty reports from Mexico on the threat to the winter home of the migratory monarch butterfly. The monarchs migrate 3000 miles a year between Canada and central Mexico, but the mountain forests which harbor them during the winter are slowly being felled by logging. (09:01)

Killer Bees Head for California / Stephanie O'Neill

Stephanie O'Neill reports from San Diego on preparations for the arrival of aggressive honey bees slowly moving north from Mexico. The so-called "killer bees" interbreed with conventional honey bees. They threaten both humans and the state's number one industry, agriculture. (05:08)

Bug Lunch / Steve Curwood and Deborah Stavro

Steve travels to New York with Living on Earth's Deborah Stavro to sample the latest culinary delight, insect cookery. People in many parts of the world have always eaten insects, and now some environmentalists say the nutritious arthropods are a potentially significant source of nutrition for millions more. (08:29)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Betsy Bayha, Henry Sessions, Bob Carty, Stephanie O'Neill
GUESTS: Sharon Elliott, Louis Sorkin

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. Since the days of the dinosaurs, millions of Monarch butterflies have migrated back and forth across what's now Canada, the US and Mexico. But now, in Mexico, the Monarch's winter home is falling to chain saws, and the government is only slowly responding.

REYES: Some part of the government is trying to give some productive activities to the people and I think that is the only way to protect the monarch butterfly.

CURWOOD: Also, lunch with entomologists who have their own diet for a small planet.

ELLIOTT: We'll have a lovely assorted worm stir-fry and corn and worm fritters with duck sauce, a nice frittata with worms and crickets.

CURWOOD: And killer bees are on the move towards California . . . this week on Living on Earth, right after the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

The longest and worst drought in California history has ended. State water officials say after a huge winter storm, the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains was measured far above normal levels. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Betsy Bayha has the story.

BAYHA: The heavy winter storms broke a ten-year record in California, bringing good news to all players in the state's contentious water wars. With the drought officially over, many cities are planning to lift their mandatory water rationing programs, which imposed stiff fines on water wasters. Farmers and environmental groups also stand to benefit. Now the challenge is to ward off complacency, according to David Dehar, executive director of the Bay Institute of San Francisco.

DEHAR: The danger with a 'the drought is over' announcement is that people will stop thinking about how impacted our water supply in California really is.

BAYHA: Dehar says farmers and urban water customers can't go back to their old wasteful ways of using water, because he says there's no guarantee how much rain and snow will fall next year. For Living on Earth, I'm Betsy Bayha in San Francisco.

NUNLEY: The US Supreme Court has refused to allow exceptions to the Delaney Clause, a 35-year old law banning cancer-causing chemicals from processed foods. The high court rejected an appeal by a pesticide industry trade group claiming the law is outdated. The association argued modern technology can detect chemicals in foods in amounts so small even the EPA says they pose no risk to consumers. The agency under both the Bush and Clinton administrations has agreed the law should be eased.

In other action, the Supreme Court also left intact a lower court decision requiring the Federal Government to impose strict cuts in air pollution in the Los Angeles area. The EPA has warned that drastic action such as gas rationing and "no drive" days may be required to clear the air.

Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt's selection of two new deputies has raised concerns among loggers in the Pacific Northwest. Henry Sessions of Oregon Public Broadcasting has the story.

SESSIONS: Babbitt has named former Wilderness Society president George Frampton to oversee national parks and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and former Society board member and New Mexico lands commissioner Jim Bacca to head the Bureau of Land Management. Both men have long called for sharp cutbacks in logging on public lands, and have opposed the timber industry on such issues as protecting the threatened Northern spotted owl. Despite misgivings about Frampton and Bacca, resource users say they're pleased with Babbitt's stated willingness to compromise on the issue of how much public timberland should be open to logging. The timber groups say they're waiting until after a Clinton Administration summit on timber issues, promised for this spring, before passing judgment on the new Interior Department. For Living on Earth, this is Henry Sessions in Portland.

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt wants to protect Florida's threatened Everglades. Scientists say development and agriculture have diverted fresh water away from the Everglades, devastating the ecosystem and endangering or threatening 16 animal species. At an environmental conference in Florida, Babbitt announced he will form a task force to coordinate state and Federal Everglades policy. Babbitt says he wants the restoration of the Everglades to reflect the new conservation approach of protecting entire eco-systems, not just individual species.

BABBITT: Managing such a extraordinary unique national park and refuge system, sitting right next to one of the most dynamic growth areas in the United States of America, really poses the ultimate test case.

NUNLEY: Babbitt will seek money for a major engineering study of the Everglades that had been authorized by Congress, but never funded.

Environment ministers from 21 former Soviet republics and Eastern Bloc countries have pledged to coordinate environmental protection in their ecologically devastated region. At a meeting organized by the US- based Center for Democracy, the ministers agreed to improve communications among themselves, standardize their environmental laws, and cooperate on cross-border problems. The environment ministers say the cost of cleaning up after decades of virtually unregulated industrial pollution could reach into the trillions of dollars.

The stone-age explosion of a star ten times as big as the sun may have destroyed a fifth of the Earth's ozone layer, causing several years of painful sunburns for ancient humans. Astronomers writing in the British journal Nature say the star, whose pulsar remnant is known as "Geminga," collapsed some 340 thousand years ago. The blast emitted high-energy radiation and a light as bright as the full moon to observers on Earth. Scientists say although the explosion occurred about two hundred light years away, it was close enough to disrupt nearly 20 percent of the Earth's ozone layer.

That's this week's environmental news, I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and under)

Monarch's Winter Home Threatened by Logging

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

One of the most amazing migrations in the animal world is made by an insect that weighs less than 1/28th of an ounce. It's the Monarch butterfly. It's orange, with black stripes and black borders, and it's often seen during the summers in the northern states and southern Canada. Every fall Monarch butterflies trek 3000 miles to their wintering home on the mountain tops of central Mexico. But increasingly, returning Monarchs are ending up homeless. As Bob Carty reports, their habitat is steadily being crushed by the twin pressures of long term poverty and short term profits.

CARTY: To find the winter home of the monarch, you have to climb a mountain path in the Rosario butterfly sanctuary, three hours west of Mexico City. The sun here is warm, and your lungs pump in the thin air at 9,000 feet. The pine forest becomes thicker. Then you begin to see butterflies -- a couple at first, then a dozen, and then suddenly, millions. The wings of one butterfly may not make a sound, but you can definitely hear a million.

(Sound of butterflies in flight)

KNUTTEN: It's incredible. Really beautiful. Especially the sound. It sounds a lot like water, maybe a long distance away, but you can really tell it's close.

CARTY: Sam Knutten is a tourist from Iowa. Around him are rivers of orange in the sky. There may be 30 million monarchs at this one site. They land on your head, your shirt, your shoes. When visitors get to this point, they become quiet, almost reverent. Sam just sits down on the ground to drink it all in.

KNUTTEN: They look like leaves, clumps of orange leaves, hanging on the sides of the trees. The branches are really weighted, they hang down like they were covered with snow. And it's almost blurring to look up into the sky.

CARTY: Native people called the monarchs "daughters of the sun." Although some of them spend the winter in California, by far the largest migration comes to Mexico. No one knows why they come here, or why they choose these trees for a winter home. And the biggest mystery, of course, is how they know how to get here in the first place. After mating in the spring, the female monarch heads north. Some of them lay eggs in northern Mexico or southern US states. The next generation takes up the same southwest-to-northeast heading, as if guided by electromagnetism, until they reach the northern states and central Canada and reproduce again over the summer.

Carlos Gottfried is the director of the monarch conservation group, Monarca. Gottfried says something miraculous happens to the third or fourth monarch generation, the one born in late August or early September.

GOTTFRIED: It will become a migrant. This migrant butterfly feeds voraciously, increases its fat content, and then at a certain period flies to Mexico. And it'll know its destiny, it'll know where to go in this pin-point on earth at the right time at the right place. And then it overwinters up to five months, in an area which is safe to it.

CARTY: But that, in a nutshell, is the problem. Every year when the monarchs come back to Mexico, they find fewer and fewer pine trees on the top of these old volcanic mountains. In a good year, 300 million monarchs return to these branches. Last year was average: about 150 million. This year the population is down by about a third, to around 100 million. Homero Aridjis was born and raised in these mountains. He is now the head of the Group of 100, an environmental movement of Mexico's writers and artists. Aridjis believes deforestation is responsible for the declining Monarch population.

ARIDJIS: Always there has been certain kinds of deforestation, but not so massive, not so brutal like in the last years. Then, because the last winter was especially cold, they were exposed to extreme cold and they died. And usually the trees protect them. There were carpets of dead butterflies on the floor.

CARTY: Not everyone blames deforestation. Some experts attribute the deaths to climate or natural population cycles. But there is no doubt that the monarch's habitat is being destroyed. Only one sixth of its total overwintering area is protected by government sanctuaries. Outside the sanctuaries, the mountaintops are being slowly denuded by loggers. Even the protected areas are threatened. Logging is banned in the core of the sanctuaries where the butterflies actually live. But it does happen. At night, poachers take out wood and sell it to local sawmills. Carlos Gottfried says that because of private greed and state inaction, about one-fifth of the Monarch's forest has been destroyed in just the last decade.

GOTTFRIED: The companies' attitude in this case is that if the wooden products arrive at their front door they should be allowed to purchase them without being blamed for illegal cutting of wrong areas.
CARTY: Why doesn't the Government of Mexico stop that?
GOTTFRIED: We're talking about a forestry department that's dramatically undermanned. The locals don't realize they're doing anything wrong. And, uh, policing in our society doesn't have a good record of being successful.

(Sound of rooster crowing)

CARTY: The "locals who don't know they're doing anything wrong" live down the mountain from the Monarchs, raising a few chickens, growing corn. This is another part of the problem -- the pressure of poverty. In this region, 80 percent of the people earn less than the minimum wage. Some are now getting work as butterfly tour guides. But others still earn a little income from cutting wood, legally or illegally.

Sergio Reyes Lujan is the President of the National Ecology Institute, the man responsible for Mexico's environment policies. He admits that in the past, Mexico has not enforced its environmental regulations. He insists that that is changing. In the long term, Mr. Reyes supports programs that wean the peasants off logging and onto other activities, from Christmas-tree farming to eco-tourism. But in the meantime, he'll let them cut some wood inside the sanctuaries, in the buffer zones.

LUJAN: It is not a question that some part of the government is trying to kill the monarch butterfly. Some part of government is trying to give some productive activities to the people. And I think that that is the only way to protect the monarch butterfly. I am trying to convince you only of one thing -- things are changing, but it is absolutely impossible to change from one night to the other.

(Sound of speech by President Salinas: "Esta tarde . . ." fade under )

CARTY: For the monarch butterfly, this is what might make things change for the better. Mexico's President Carlos Salinas de Gortari recently negotiated a North American Free Trade Agreement with the US and Canada. Mexico has adopted the monarch as its symbol for the pact, because the monarch migrates across the three nations. The butterfly is on government letterhead and TV commercials. Mexico has proposed to Canada and the US that they both also adopt the monarch logo.

Novelist Homero Aridjis doesn't like the North American Free Trade Agreement, because it largely ignores the environment. And when it comes to monarchs, he doesn't trust the Mexican government. He says they don't do enough to protect the existing five sanctuaries, and new sanctuaries are needed at seven more sites. Nonetheless, Homero Aridjis supported the choice of the monarch as the logo for free trade. He says it means the government now has to put more effort into saving its chosen symbol. For Homero Aridjis, it's worth saving in itself.

ARIDJIS: If you compare the monarch butterfly with the planet Earth, probably planet Earth is as small and goes in this migration route in the universe as a butterfly, and it's so fragile in the universe as a butterfly. We have to consider the value of this life, this fantastic life, even if it's very small and fragile.

(Sound of butterfly flight)

CARTY: It may be small and fragile, but the Monarch butterfly does have staying power. It's been around for 70 million years. A decade ago, a harsh winter caused a large kill-off of monarchs, but over the next ten years they recovered. They could do it again, but they won't have a chance, if they lose their winter home. For Living on Earth, I'm Bob Carty with the monarch butterflies in Michoacan State, Mexico.

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(Sound of butterfly flight fade under)

Killer Bees Head for California

CURWOOD: In a relentless genetic juggernaut, Africanized honey bees are slowly making their way from South and Central America into the United States. Some swarms of these so-called killer bees have already interbred with hives in Texas, and now as Stephanie O'Neill reports, southern California is bracing itself---both for the threat to public health, and to the state's top industry, agriculture.

(Sound of fire captain on radio)

FIRE CAPTAIN: San Diego Engine 8 is at scene, person down in field, appears to be a swarm of bees around, we're going to have the paramedics stage to the rear two blocks to the north of us and we'll advise.

(Fade into fire engine)

O'NEILL: For the past year, the 900 firefighters in the San Diego City Fire Department have been staging mock rescues like this one, and attending special killer-bee briefings to ready themselves for the imminent arrival of the aggressive Africanized honey bee. To protect themselves from the attacking swarm of insects, they wear full safety gear -- including heavy coats, boots, air masks and hoods. And before going near the bees, they tape down their sleeves and pant legs with gaffer tape, closing off any passages for the bees. Then, armed with water hoses, they move in for the rescue -- washing the bees off the victim.

FIRE CAPTAIN: OK, open it up. Steven, cover us. (Sound of water)
Doin' fine, let's move up a little closer, a little closer, little closer -- come on, knock 'em down. Pressure, Dave, pressure . . . (fade under)

O'NEILL: Several hundred people in South America have died in killer bee attacks since the late fifties, when a few dozen were imported to Brazil from Africa and then accidentally released. The bees are a sub-species of honey bee and are very similar in appearance to the European honey bee we find in our backyards. Their venom is no stronger than the European bee, and like them, they can sting only once. But the behavior of the Africanized bee is radically different. They aggressively defend their hives. If a person or animal comes too close, hundreds of bees -- not just a handful -- will begin attacking the intruder, chasing them for up to a half mile. Some victims have suffered up to two thousand stings. Still, Captain August Ghio, who oversees the killer bee training for the San Diego Fire Department, says they're relatively easy to avoid.

GHIO: If somebody is in an area where there's a bee hive that's attacking, run. Bees are slow-moving insects, and if you can run at a half mile and it doesn't have to be a sprint, you will outrun the bees.

(Sound of bees buzzing)

O'NEILL: But the danger of the bees is of secondary concern to Alan Michaledge, a beekeeper and president of the California Beekeepers Association. Here in a neatly plowed freeway-adjacent field just north of San Diego, Michaledge keeps up to two million bees.

(Sound of bees up and under)

O'NEILL: On this particular afternoon, he shoots puffs of smoke into the hives.

MICHALEDGE: We've smoked the hive so that we can open it. The bees sense that possibly their hive's on fire, so they want to gorge themselves full of honey and it's hard for them to get out their stinger to come out and sting you.

O'NEILL: Michaledge makes some money from the honey these bees produce, but the real income for beekeepers comes from renting the bees to farmers for crop pollination. However, when the Africanized bees arrive, it may mean an end to such service. That's because the killer bees will share hives and interbreed with the docile honey bee. Initially experts believe the interbreeding would lessen their aggressiveness, but so far, it hasn't. Beekeepers, meanwhile, fear health concerns associated with the bees will prompt officials to impose quarantines on hive movement. Michaledge says that could devastate the beekeeping industry.

MICHALEDGE: One of our main concerns is that the state or Federal government might impose a quarantine on us to where we're not able to move the bees for pollination. A lot of these colonies get moved to three, possibly four pollinations in a year, besides being moved for honey.
O'NEILL: So what could that mean for you and the beekeeping industry in the state?
MICHALEDGE: We could be out of the bee business.
O'NEILL: And what could that mean for the state in terms of agriculture and things like that?
MICHALEDGE: It could pose a real problem.

(Sound of office)

O'NEILL: David Kellum, a killer bee expert and supervising entomologist with the San Diego County Department of Agriculture, agrees. Kellum says California has about half the number of bees it needs to pollinate all its crops. That means farmers here must bring in out of state beekeepers to make up the difference. A quarantine could force them to stay away.

KELLUM: We have about 600,000 colonies in the state year-round, and we need another 600,000 to do the pollination for California alone. If pollination is not available, then you will see increases in the prices for a lot of the produce and food that we produce in California.

O'NEILL: And that could translate into higher produce prices nationwide. State officials, who are besieged by the pesky Mediterranean fruit fly, have yet to take action. Texas, which has been battling the bees for more than two years, requires all hives be certified killer-bee free before beekeepers can move them. Those housing the aggressive bees are destroyed. And so far, no human has been killed in a bee attack there. But David Kellum of the San Diego Department of Agriculture says such efforts can only slow the bees. Nothing will stop them from spreading to warm regions of the nation. With that in mind, San Diego is focusing on public education because learning to live with killer bees is the key to safety. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in San Diego.

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(Music up and under . . . fade to street noise)

Bug Lunch

STAVRO: Sharon, it's Steve and Debra.

(Sound of opening door)

CURWOOD: At Living on Earth, we'd always heard that New York was the capital of gastronomy. So when caterer Sharon Elliott invited us down for lunch, Debra Stavro, our director, and I jumped in the car and drove down to sample some of her newest and tastiest creations.

(Stavro: Hi -- Curwood: Hi -- Elliott: How ya doin'? Stavro: We finally made it. Elliott: Come on in . . )

CURWOOD: Smells pretty good in here. What's cookin'?

ELLIOTT: Well, we're going to have a lovely assorted worm stir-fry, and corn and worm fritters with duck sauce, and a nice frittata with worms and crickets, and some trail mix, and if the butterworms get here we'll have orange butterworms.

CURWOOD: Yes, you heard right. Insect cookery has been a staple of many diets in most of the world, but it's still in its infancy as a food movement in the United States. In much of the world now, nutrition is a result of a lack of total calories, so the high protein content of insects is an invaluable resource of food. We decided to sample what the rest of the world has known for years: that bugs make good eating. Now, what's under this wok here?

ELLIOTT: I'm just going to heat this up while I'm doing this. We have our nice assorted worms over here marinating for the stir-fry later.

CURWOOD: Hmmm. The marinade is . . .?

ELLIOTT: Soy, rice-wine vinegar, sake, scallions, ginger, garlic. To give 'em a little extra flavor.

CURWOOD: Now these I recognize. There are some scallions here . . .

ELLIOTT: Some mushrooms, red pepper, and grated zucchini. Make a nice, wonderful little frittata . . . (sizzling sounds)

CURWOOD: Mmm. That smells awfully good. What did you just put in that?

ELLIOTT: There's nice garlic butter and then I sautee the worms in garlic butter and then we will do the vegetables and finish it off.

CURWOOD: And with us is entomologist Louis Sorkin, he's with the American Museum of Natural History. He's also the treasurer of the New York Entomological Society. So why do you eat bugs?

SORKIN: Insects actually are very good protein, carbohydrate, fat, certain mineral -- good source for almost all those essential requirements people need to grow.

CURWOOD: I've heard some advocates of eating insects say it's good for the environment as well as good for their tummies. What do you think?

SORKIN: Well, I agree with that statement. In the world now, where people worry about using too many pesticides, such as, let's say, the case where locusts in Africa travel, instead of spraying to kill them, some entomologists have advocated collecting them for food. And in fact a lot of the natives, of course, do.

CURWOOD: So instead of having to pay people to go out and kill them, you can encourage people to go out and catch them and eat them, and that's their pay.

SORKIN: Or eat them, or also dry them and prepare them for sale to other countries.

CURWOOD: Ah, the export market for locusts.

SORKIN: And that's been done already in Africa with a mopani worm, which is a caterpillar, and some of the insects in Mexico are prepared and served at restaurants.

CURWOOD: Okay, I guess we have to come over here. What are you up to now, Sharon?

ELLIOTT: We're frying our worm fritters. Right now we're doing the small mealworm and the corn fritters, and we'll separate them out. We'll do some waxworm ones, and some large mealworms.

SORKIN: Some people actually eat spiders too. Tarantulas, down in South America, I know of, but in some Pacific areas too. And they catch the spiders that have like a ten-inch leg span, and simply grab the rear end in a banana leaf and break it off and squeeze the insides out onto another leaf, and it's a paste, at that point -- but use the front end, which has the legs attached, and all the muscle is really there -- those you throw into a fire, that burns all the hairs off. Then they just crack open this tarantula cephalothorax and eat it like you would crabmeat, because it comes out very firm, white flesh. And you take the fangs off, which are about an inch or so in length, and you can use those as toothpicks.

CURWOOD: Now if I want to go back to Boston and experiment with cooking insects, is it all right if I go out into my yard and turn over a few rocks, or . . .?

SORKIN: Well, it depends on your yard. In certain areas, of course, let's say in the larger cities, you might have a lead paint problem, and sometimes if you've had things sprayed to control insect pests in your yard, you wouldn't want to get the insects there. But you can very easily go into forests and collect insects or have them delivered, because they're reared by many companies who supply insects to zoos and pet shops.

CURWOOD: How's it coming, Sharon, are we almost ready to eat?

ELLIOTT: We're almost ready. Once you sit down, we'll start on the, start with the stir-fry and the frittata.

STAVRO: What are you trying first?

CURWOOD: Well, she cooked the frittata first, and it looks just gorgeous, it's got this thin layer of cheese over the top of it, and you can see the shredded green vegetables in it, and it (sniff) smells heavenly, and out of the top is sticking a -- worm. Well, here goes, the wave of the future. (Sound of munching) Mmmm, it's kind of nutty, a little on the dusty side. Let me try the stir-fry now. Mmm, this is really delicious. Sauce is great with these. It's like going to a Chinese restaurant, there's the stir-fry -- I know it's rude for me to talk with my mouth full, but we're running out of time here -- So I thank you. My guests, entomologist Louis Sorkin, of the American Museum of Natural History, and our chef, Sharon Elliott, of Orlando and Elliott Caterers. Thank you both for this delicious meal. Let me try some of these fritters here now . . . (crunch) Mmmm. Living on Earth is directed by Debra Stavro -- Debra, you want to try some of these fritters here?

SORKIN: The waxworm fritters or mealworm fritters?

STAVRO: Oh, all right. Here goes. (Crunch) Hmmm. They're delicious.

CURWOOD: Well, I guess we should bring back some of this, some of these mealworms and waxworms and everything to our coordinating producer George Homsy, and producer and editor Peter Thomson, they should like these. Along with our production team of Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Colleen Singer Cox and Chris Page and Reyna Lounsbury, and of course our engineer Laurie Azaria, she'd like some of these. We'll save some for Michael Aharon, who composed our theme.

SORKIN: What do you like best?

CURWOOD: I think these waxworms, Lou, believe it or not.

SORKIN: That's one of my favorites too.

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. If you have any questions about eating insects, or Living on Earth, you can write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Or call our listener line at 617-868-7454. Transcripts and tapes -- and recipes -- are available for ten dollars. I forgot to ask you guys -- what kind of wine do you recommend with insects?

SORKIN: Sharon and I decided a Chablis would go nicely with this meal.

(Funding credits up and under)

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