Air Date: October 18, 1996
Clinton for President/ John Rudolph
Expectations ran high among environmentalists when Bill Clinton was sworn into office last term. With Al Gore and Bruce Babbitt in his cabinet, many thought that major legislative action would be inevitably and swiftly enacted. John Rudolph reports on what may have been the unrealistic hopes of activist protectionists, and profiles what President Clinton has done so far on timber, wilderness and mining issues, and what he may be expected to do if he wins a second term in office. (13:45)
Enviro Youth Vote/ Liz Lempert
Many recent voter registration drives have been targeted specifically at young people, also known as "the youth vote". Living on Earth producer Liz Lempert examines the habits of the United States' younger voters, how their influence compares to senior citizens and other voting populations, and how much environmental concerns impact their decisions. (06:15)
The Living on Earth Almanac
Facts about... the novel The Yearling. (01:15)
Michael Ray Taylor author of Cave Passages: Roaming the Underground Wilderness talks with Steve Curwood about some of the secrets recently yielded from this mysterious terrain and precautions taken to preserve it. (10:03)
Political Reversals in Washington State/ Jennifer Schmidt
In 1994, Washington State led the charge in electing freshman Republicans to congress. Just two years later, the State's voters appear to be leaning toward representatives who will reflect more of their "green" values. Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU reports on this perceived voter turnaround. (08:18)
Yellowstone's Bear-Herding Dogs/ Robin White
Despite Yellowstone Park's best efforts to keep campers' food from tempting bears, some visitors leave their food out and encourage bears to mingle with humans. Robin White reports on a new program with specially trained dogs from Finland that seeks to set boundaries for tourist territories to become bear-free zones. (06:10)
Copyright c 1996 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Jyl Hoyt, Maria Titze, John Rudolph, Liz Lempert,
Jennifer Schmidt, Robin White
GUEST: Michael Ray Taylor
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood. As the Presidential campaigns head for the final laps, Democratic incumbent Bill Clinton has been touting his environmental achievements. But many say his record lacks conviction.
BECKER: When it came to environmental protection, the Clinton Administration was very good with the shield, but somehow they forgot about the sword.
CURWOOD: Also, people under 30 rate environmental concerns high, but in the past few have shown up at the polls. A drive is now on to mobilize young voters.
TAO: Imagine if you woke up on November 6th, the day after the election, and you saw that young people and senior citizens had voted at the same rate. Suddenly politicians would be tripping over each other to more aggressively protect the environment. Overnight you would transform the political process.
CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth, right after this news.
NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. Air pollution can stunt the growth of babies in the womb. A study of heavily polluted regions of Eastern Europe has found that babies whose mothers were exposed while pregnant to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are born with smaller heads and bodies. The study analyzed how the DNA of each child had been damaged by the hydrocarbons produced when burning fossil fuels. These particles can cause mutations in human DNA and increase the probability of cancer. Researchers writing in New Scientist magazine said children born in urban areas in the West may also be affected. While levels of toxins are generally lower in the West than in Eastern Europe, scientists doubt there is any amount of pollutant small enough not to pose a threat to fetuses. Scientists believe embryos are particularly vulnerable to the effects of atmospheric pollution because they are less able to repair damaged DNA.
Wildlife managers in the American west say a new agreement between a pesticide manufacturer and Argentina could prevent the deaths of thousands of migrating hawks. From KBSU in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports.
HOYT: Scientists say 20,000 Swainsents hawks, about 5% of the world's population, died in Argentina last year. The hawks had eaten grasshoppers poisoned by minocrotefus, a pesticide banned in many countries. Argentinian farmers had sprayed the pesticide on new sunflower and alfalfa fields. That shouldn't happen this year. The Swiss manufacturer Ciba-Geigy promises to remove the pesticide from Argentinian markets located near the hawks' wintering grounds and buy back existing stocks, and initiate a pesticide education campaign on Argentinian radio and TV. Ciba-Geigy convinced 3 of its competitors to take similar precautions. The American Bird Conservancy, which brought the groups together, predicts the Swainsents hawk would have ended up on the Endangered Species List without the new agreement. For Living on Earth I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise.
NUNLEY: South Africa's elephants are being put on birth control pills. The move is an attempt to find an alternative to the annual cull in which hundreds of elephants are killed. The cull evokes outrage from animal lovers but officials at South Africa's Krueger Park say overpopulation leads to destruction of vegetation, which harms other animals in the park. There are about 8,000 elephants in the game preserve and officials usually kill about 600 of the animals annually. They've also tried tranquilizing entire family groups of elephants and moving them to private game reserves, but those reserves have also run out of room. Elsewhere in Africa elephant populations have been decimated by poachers seeking to obtain their ivory tusks.
The state of Utah is suing the Interior Department, claiming the Federal Government wants to set aside areas for wilderness protection without adequate public consultation. From KUER in Salt Lake City, Maria Titze reports.
TITZE: The lawsuit claims the Interior Department is surveying 2.5 million acres of land for wilderness designation without following the procedures outlined in a 1979 law. The land at issue was deemed unworthy of wilderness designation during a survey in the 1970s, but some environmental activists now want the area protected from development for its scenic and cultural value. Utah governor Mike Levitt says the designation would put some Utah school trust lands in jeopardy. Such lands have been set aside for the benefit of school districts with funds from development going toward education. A wilderness designation would severely limit any development in the area. For Living on Earth I'm Maria Titze in Salt Lake City.
NUNLEY: Scientists say they found what might be the world's oldest living organism: a 40,000 year old shrub. The plant began life well before the last Ice Age and now occupies 2 secluded river gullies on the island of Tasmania. The shrub lomacia Tasmania, also known as king's holly, is the only known specimen. It covers nearly a mile of the gullies and stands up to 26 feet high. Scientists at first assumed they'd found a community of the unique species, but they've since determined it's a single plant which clones itself. Prior to this find the world's oldest plant was thought to be a nearly 12,000-year-old creosote plant in California.
Australia may try to eradicate its cat population. Member of Parliament Richard Evans wants the legislative body to draw up a program to eradicate more than 20 million cats in the country by the year 2020. Evans says the cats, believed to have been introduced on British convict ships, and by Asian merchants, are the most destructive of non-native species. Evans' request came a week after a virus was released into the wild to try to kill around 150 million rabbits blamed for widespread environmental damage. Wildlife experts say there are as many as 18 million feral cats in Australia and about 3 million others kept as pets.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Ask just about anybody including a politician if he or she is for environmental protection and you'll almost always hear the answer yes. But then if you ask just how much one is willing to do to protect the environment, the answers can be widely different. Take the President of the United States, for example. Mr. Clinton has made the call for environmental protection a key part of his campaign, but his actions during these past 4 years have been scattered all the way across the ecological spectrum from green to brown. Mr. Clinton recently moved to protect parts of the Red Rock wilderness in southern Utah, and he has made sweeping changes in how the government regulates risky chemicals, including pesticides. On the other hand, he cut off a bid by his own interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, to reform grazing on public lands, and he has failed to reduce the nation's energy consumption. All in all, the President's policies have left many people with mixed feelings about his first term. John Rudolph has our report.
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RUDOLPH: September 18th, a picture-perfect day at the Grand Canyon. The colors of the canyon walls seem to vibrate in the sunlight as President Clinton arrives to make what the White House calls a major environmental announcement.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, accompanied by the Vice President.
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RUDOLPH: The President tells the crowd gathered on the rim of the canyon that he's using the powers of his office to create a $1.7 million acre national monument in nearby southern Utah.
CLINTON: Today we are keeping faith with the future. I am about to sign a proclamation that will establish the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
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RUDOLPH: The timing of this announcement was not accidental. It came during a campaign swing through the west. By establishing the national monument, Mr. Clinton put an end to plans for a huge underground coal mine in the middle of a vast wilderness region. The President said the Administration will work to find other land more suitable for coal mining.
CLINTON: While the Grand Staircase Escalante will be open for many activities, I am concerned about a large coal mine proposed for the area. Mining jobs are good jobs and mining is important to our national economy and to our national security. But we can't have mines everywhere, and we shouldn't have mines that threaten our national treasures.
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RUDOLPH: Like many of President Clinton's actions on the environment, his decision to create the national monument in southern Utah was a compromise. Conservation groups want even more of the region protected, while Utah's top elected officials strongly favor developing the state's wilderness areas. Mr. Clinton's supporters say the Utah announcement demonstrates his ability to transform intractable controversies into positive gains for the environment. They point to other examples as well. The recent deal to relocate a proposed gold mine near Yellowstone National Park. The agreements between logging interests and environmentalists over the future of northwestern forests. And the Brownfields Initiative, intended to speed the industrial redevelopment of lands where toxic pollution has been cleaned up. But some voters are disappointed in the President. Even voters who favor his re-election.
RUDOLPH: John Sauter and Joy Mast were in the crowd at the Grand Canyon when the President spoke.
SAUTER: I don't think that the President has had a real consistent environmental policy or has been allowed to have one. If consistency is trying to figure out politically what's feasible, then yes, this is entirely consistent with it.
RUDOLPH: How would you rank your feelings about the President's environmental record? Are you happy with it? You disappointed? Are you --
MAST: I had very high expectations and mostly I expected Gore to help a little more, and Bruce Babbitt. I thought with Gore and Babbitt they'd keep Clinton on line a little more. And more environmental issues would get passed. Certain environmental issues may have even gotten strengthened. And I haven't really seen it.
RUDOLPH: In response to these kinds of complaints the President's defenders argue that when Bill Clinton took office, expectations for his environmental policies were unrealistically high. After all, he picked Al Gore as his vice presidential running mate. As the author of the best-selling book Earth in the Balance, Mr. Gore had impeccable environmental credentials. Another reason may have been the ambitious environmental agenda that candidates Clinton and Gore laid out during the '92 campaign. They promised to pursue a broad range of goals, including reducing solid and toxic waste and air and water pollution, preserving places of natural beauty and ecological importance, exerting international leadership on global environmental issues, shattering the choice between environmental protection and economic growth, and improving energy efficiency.
CLINTON: Many of our environmental problems grow directly out of our energy practices.
RUDOLPH: Mr. Clinton, speaking shortly after he was elected, at an economic conference he organized in Little Rock, Arkansas.
CLINTON: It seems to me we have a real opportunity to revitalize major sectors of the American economy without throwing it into major dislocation with a sustained, long-term commitment to a new energy and environmental policy. One which recognizes that sustainable economic growth and environmental protection are compatible and indeed interlocked.
RUDOLPH: It's been almost 4 years since President-Elect Bill Clinton made those remarks. And today many environmental groups wonder what happened. Dan Becker is with the Sierra Club in Washington, DC. Becker says Mr. Clinton has done very little to improve energy efficiency in one of the most critical areas: the auto industry.
BECKER: There were a series of things that he did agree to that were very damaging to the environment. One of them was helping the auto industry kill off the electric car. Another was allowing, signing the bill that raised speed limits, which will cause not only more traffic deaths but also more pollution on the highways. He agreed to allow the gas tax to go down if Congress got him the bill, and fortunately they never did. And he agreed with the auto industry not to raise the fuel economy standards for America's cars and trucks because the auto industry opposed doing so.
RUDOLPH: Becker gives Mr. Clinton slightly higher marks for his approach to global warming. Becker notes that until very recently, the Administration continued a policy established by President George Bush. The policy advocated voluntary measures by countries to reduce auto emissions and other so-called greenhouse gases that are believed to cause global warming. This summer, however, the Clinton Administration suggested for the first time that it would favor binding targets and timetables for cutting gas emissions. It's a position long advocated by environmental groups and many countries. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt argues that the Administration is writing some important new chapters in environmental history.
BABBITT: If you look at the EPA side, and that is of course air and water pollution, toxics, that kind of thing, there's been a tremendous move to tighten up standards and to find innovative ways to, of bringing, giving industry some incentive by saying if you want to get serious about meeting the requirements, we'll be flexible about the methodologies that you use. We don't want to regulate you unless that's a last resort. On the natural resource side, the progression really began with the President's forest plan, which -- I don't think it's commonly appreciated, the importance of that. We set aside 7 million acres of old growth forest in reserves up in the northwest. People think of the spotted owl, but that plan was really about protecting salmon runs, about trying to find balance in an entire ecosystem.
RUDOLPH: But while the Administration has scored some environmental victories, it has also been criticized for being too timid. In the face of strong Congressional opposition, it backed off a plan to reform laws governing grazing and mining on Federal lands in the West. The Administration has also been faulted for not pushing hard enough to win reauthorization of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, or the Superfund program for cleaning up toxic pollution. All this occurred in the first 2 years of the Clinton Administration, when members of the President's own party still controlled the House and Senate. Ironically, it took the election of a Republican majority in Congress to inject energy into the Clinton environmental program. Again, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
BABBITT: There's no question that the election of a new Congress in 1994 was a wake-up call to all of us. I mean, these people came into town and said we're going to repeal the provisions of the Clean Water Act, we're going to gut the Endangered Species Act, we're going to slash the Interior Department budget, take away EPA's enforcement power. You know, they were even proposing to close down national parks. Well I've got to tell you, honestly, sure, that sent a lot of us to the barricades to say okay, we've got to start explaining what we're doing and reconnect with the American people.
RUDOLPH: President Clinton has been widely praised by environmental groups for vetoing Republican bills that would have weakened environmental protection laws and cut funding for environmental programs. But those same groups also criticized the Administration for not pursuing its own initiatives. Again, Dan Becker of the Sierra Club.
BECKER: When it came to environmental protection, the Clinton Administration was very good with the shield, but somehow they forgot about the sword.
RUDOLPH: Many people are clearly disappointed in the President's environmental record. In some cases they are truly angry at him. Environmental groups are furious at Mr. Clinton for signing a bill permitting what's known as salvage logging in national forests. The measure won approval in the early days of the Republican-led Congress. It permits the removal of dead and dying trees, but critics say it's really an excuse to allow widespread logging on Federal lands that previously had been considered off-limits. There's also anger among conservative Republicans over the President's veto of virtually all the environmental legislation in the Contract With America. Some moderate Republicans express a different concern. They say the environment is clearly not a priority for the Clinton Administration. Congressman Wayne Gilchrist is a Republican from Maryland.
GILCHRIST: The problem with just all this negative rhetoric about how bad Republicans are and how we're going to stop environmental catastrophe is that that's been going on now for too long. We need people that are going to move forward and say we have a problem with biological diversity and here's how scientifically sound judgment is going to be included in finding solutions. Here's a problem with persistent toxic chemicals that have a whole range of damaging effects on people, and here's what we're going to do to resolve that. If all we ever do is react, react, react, and then use the environmental issues as a political soundboard, then nothing is solved. And I think this is Mr. Clinton's record.
RUDOLPH: Finding people who wholeheartedly support the Administration's record on the environment is difficult, but not impossible. Charles Wilkinson is a law professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and an authority on land and water issues. Wilkinson says that by appointing people with a strong land ethic and an environmental ideology, the President has demonstrated his leadership.
WILKINSON: I am an admirer of what has happened over the last 4 years not because you can necessarily point to great bold strokes, and I personally wish there were more of them, but nonetheless I honestly feel that this administration has sent good people out to deal with those problems. They've dealt with them firmly and they have made progress. And progress sometimes comes slow. We've got to be incrementalists.
RUDOLPH: Wilkinson believes that if the President is re-elected, his second term will be marked by continued progress on environmental issues. But others disagree. Bruce McMath heads the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club. He's a long-time observer of Mr. Clinton's environmental policies both as governor of Arkansas and as President.
McMATH: He's had a real interest in economic issues. He's had a real interest in education issues. But he's never, ever, evidenced a sincere interest in dealing with serious environmental issues of the day. Unless, somehow or another, the environmental community can move this issue to the top of the agenda on the public's mind, in the public's mind. If that were to happen, I think the politician in Bill Clinton would come forth and the environment would become a major issue for him. But absent that is not going to be.
RUDOLPH: In the environmental community today, there is a shared sense of frustration over the President's environmental record. Even so, many environmental groups support the President's re-election, making it clear that despite their reservations, they prefer Mr. Clinton over his main rival, Republican Bob Dole. For Living on Earth, this is John Rudolph.
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CURWOOD: The US electorate is growing up greener. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. And according to a preliminary survey of voter registration data, more people under the age of 25 are eligible to go to the polls now than ever before. As Living on Earth's Liz Lempert explains, the act of participation of the young electorate could have a significant impact on the environmental vote.
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LEMPERT: They're often referred to disparagingly as slackers, or Generation X: teens and 20-somethings with no identity and no ideals. But in the parking lot of a concert pavilion on the outskirts of Boston, these labels don't seem to fit, especially when it comes to the environment.
SMITH: Hi, I'm Janet Smith from Marshfield. I think we're basically, like, killing our own homes. And we need to, like, save that because what's left after this? I mean we're not going to be able to just magically transport ourselves to a new planet.
HICKEY: My name's Ron Hickey and I'm 23. All the big businesses, if you don't watch them they're just going to love to throw all that stuff in the rivers and whatnot, you know?
ANGELA: My name's Angela, I'm 16 and I'm from Newburyport, Massachusetts. My parents don't recycle, so I have to try to do it sometimes.
LEMPERT: Poll after poll suggests young Americans share a deep-seated concern about pollution and over-use of the planet's resources. One survey conducted by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles found that 84% of college freshmen think the government is not doing enough to protect the environment. According to pollster Jeffrey Pollack, although economic and personal security are young peoples' top concerns...
POLLACK: On a second level, once we get past crime and the economy, the environment is right up there. It's as important to young people in many places as education, one of the most important issues.
LEMPERT: This fact is not lost on environmental activists. In May the Sierra Club commissioned a poll of young voters to find out whether their green views translate into green votes. In the survey 18 to 24 year olds were questioned about a hypothetical candidate for Congress. This candidate was a sort of environmental Neanderthal who received money from oil and logging companies, voted to close national parks, clear-cut national forests, and open up Alaska wilderness to drilling. Over 75% of those polled expressed serious doubts about the candidate. Adam Werbach is president of the Sierra Club, and at age 24 a young voter himself.
WERBACH: What we found, which was surprising to us, was that the environment has become such a norm with young voters, more than any other age group, that if a representative actually votes against the environment, that raises more character doubts in young voters' minds than any other single issue. More than crime, more than the deficit, more than the national debt.
LEMPERT: The problem is, whether it's due to cynicism, apathy, or a combination of both, most young people don't vote. In 1992, only 43% of 18 to 24 year olds voted, far below voter turnout in the rest of the electorate. Senior citizens in contrast voted at a rate of 70%. Therese Helitzer says she was once turned off by politics herself.
HELITZER: When I was in college I didn't really respect the democratic process because I felt, like, you know, oh, well my vote really doesn't matter anyway, and look at all this money and how much it costs to run for office. This democratic process seemed really on another level and not really affecting my life.
LEMPERT: Then she realized that elected officials make decisions that impact the issues she cares about. Now 25, Therese Helitzer is president of Campus Green Vote, a national organization trying to move students from the recycling bin to the ballot box. Campus Green Vote is only one of several organizations hoping to increase youth voter registration this year.
(A man shouts: "Register to vote! Rock the vote! Who would like to rock with us today? You can do it right here...")
LEMPERT: A pioneer in the voting is cool campaign is MTV, the rock video music channel. In a concrete plaza on campus, students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst flock around MTV's choose or lose bus, listening to rock music, watching music videos, and filing out voter registration forms.
(Man: "Register to vote today, folks! Allow yourselves to have the opportunity to go to the polls rockin'!")
LEMPERT: MTV, Campus Green Vote, and a coalition of other youth groups have registered close to three quarters of a million young people since January. This year's youth turnout could also be influenced by a 1993 Federal law. Nicknamed "motor voter," it requires states to offer voter registration to people when they apply for driver's licenses. So far, it seems young people benefit the most from easier registration. One recent poll reports that 40% of the 11 million people brought onto the rolls by the law have been under the age of 29. If the efforts of MTV and Campus Green Vote succeed, and if those people registering under motor voter turn up at the polls on November 5th, young voters could have a dramatic effect on the American political landscape. Richard Tao is executive director of Third Millennium, a lobbying group for people in their 20s and 30s.
TAO: Imagine if you woke up on November 6th, the day after the election, and you saw that young people and senior citizens had voted at the same rate. They both, let's say, voted at a rate of 70%. Suddenly politicians would be tripping over each other to figure out how to please young people. They'd be doing everything they could to more aggressively protect the environment. Overnight you would transform the political process.
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LEMPERT: The 43 million potential voters under age 30 and largely uncommitted in their party affiliations could be a potential gold mine for politicians and for the environmental movement. For Living on Earth, this is Liz Lempert in Boston.
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CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: Would you like to explore someplace where no human has gone before? You can try outer space or the deepest parts of the ocean. Or you could go just a few feet down into the world of caves. That's coming up on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: Somewhere, beyond the sinkhole, past the magnolia, under the live oaks, a boy and a yearling ran side by side and were gone forever. So ends Marjorie Kinnon Rawlings' The Yearling. In the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in the scrub flats of Florida, Ms. Rawlings takes readers to a place most tourists never see and touches us with the story of a boy and his unmanageably growing fawn. It's been 100 years since Marjorie Rawlings was born in Washington, DC. She moved to the remote town of Cross Creek, Florida, in 1928 with a single mission, to write. And she did. She produced 5 novels, some stories, and Cross Creek, a book-length essay of her adopted hometown. In it she wrote, "When I came to the creek and knew the old grove and farm house that once was home, there was some terror such as one feels in the first recognition of human love, for the joining of person to place as of person to person is a commitment to shared sorrow, to shared joy. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. As a college student in the 1970s, Michael Ray Taylor started crawling into dark holes. It wasn't shyness that took him there. It was curiosity. In the decades since, caving has been his passion. He has joined expeditions in the caves of Mexico, Jamaica, China, and of course the United States, as a writer and explorer. Mr. Taylor says that in the Earth beneath our feet lies a vast wilderness, a hidden realm of delicate beauty that deserves our understanding and protection. The quote is from his new book called Cave Passages: Roaming the Underground Wilderness. In sharing some of his caving experiences with us, Michael Ray Taylor began by telling us that cave passages come in all shapes and sizes.
TAYLOR: There are all kinds of passages. There are passages with whitewater rivers rushing through them. There are enormous rooms that would swallow baseball stadiums. There are tiny crawl ways that are challenging and sinuous and interesting to pass through. It's so different from what you experience on the surface. You know, mountain climbers like to say they climb mountains because it's there. Cavers go caving because they don't know what's there.
CURWOOD: And for us non-cavers, I mean let's face it, going down into a dark, dank hole in the ground, it could tumble down on top of you, you know, cave in. There are a lot of tight spots. I mean one reason these places are unexplored is that us humans don't feel very comfortable down there.
TAYLOR: Well, the strange thing about us humans, I think, is that anything that frightens us becomes sooner or later irresistible. If, you know, certainly throughout history caves have been where seers and philosophers would go to reflect, to escape the world that was known and come back changed. And there's some of that primal draw in the cave, the same thing that brought the Neanderthals into the caves in France is certainly acting on me when I go into a dark, scary place. But then of course with experience, the other thing is you find out that caves may be dark, but in fact with the proper training and equipment they're really not so very scary. The danger of a cave-in, for instance, that's something you worry about in mines, which are manmade structures, and caves have been stabilized over thousands of years by the natural forces that shape them. And in fact, if I could pick one place to be in the midst of a strong earthquake, I think I'd pick a cave.
CURWOOD: Okay, you go ahead and try that. (Laughs) I'm not sure I'm ready for that. Who else lives down there, aside from visiting humans?
TAYLOR: Aside from visiting humans, there are bats, there are in-cave lakes and streams, all sorts of fish, sometimes there are surface fish that get washed in and manage to survive in the caves. Other times they are blind whitefish that have evolved and live in the cave all the time. There are various small insects, such as crickets and centipedes. And really not much else. Now, there's a whole new class of life that we're just finding out about down in the caves, some very rare microbes that a few scientists have been studying, that apparently live in cave walls and survive off of the nutrients in the rock itself. They've excited some people at NASA who are looking for similar microbes on the planet Mars.
CURWOOD: So NASA is excited about these. Is there anything special for those of us on Earth?
TAYLOR: There's one particular cave, which I describe in Cave Passages, called Litchegia. It's in New Mexico. It's near Carlsbad Caverns National Park. And it is a sort of a proving ground for scientists studying these microbes. It had been sealed for many centuries. And so, the microbes, which have been discovered in this cave, have been living there without any connection to the surface for a very long time, and one of the guys who was studying them because of the Mars implications has got a major grant to study them as cancer treatment. There is a certain enzyme they secrete which seems to do better against cancer cells than any other known natural substance.
CURWOOD: Hmm. My guest is Michael Ray Taylor. His new book is called Cave Passages: Roaming the Underground Wilderness. And we've been talking about this cave in New Mexico. And what does Litchegia mean?
TAYLOR: Well, it's the name of a plant that grows near the entrance to the cave. It's kind of a spiky member of the aloe family, I believe. And it pokes everyone on their way hiking to the entrance, and so you can't help but notice it, and hence cavers who discovered the cave decided to give it that name.
CURWOOD: Now, this is a pretty amazing cave for some of the things that you can see inside of it.
TAYLOR: Right. It's unusual geologically. Scientists believe that this cave was formed not by water flowing in from the surface, as most caves and limestone are formed, but by water that percolated up from below, through mineral hot springs, and the sulfur that these springs carried helped to carve out the passages in the limestone so that Litchegia Cave, which so far there's 89 miles of passage cavers have found from the single entrance --
CURWOOD: Eighty-nine miles?
TAYLOR: Eighty-nine miles and still growing every time anyone goes in there to map. And all of it bristles with very gorgeous and stunning formations, things like gypsum chandeliers that hang down from the ceiling and, you know, rooms that are pure white like Superman's house in the movies. And then you also have very delicate latticeworks of aragonite and other types of crystals. And also many formations which have been seen just nowhere else on Earth. Formations for instance called sub-aquaceous halactites, which look like strange fingers or strands of spaghetti that reach across pools.
CURWOOD: Now what happens when people go in there? These formations are pretty delicate; don't people pose a problem?
TAYLOR: They're extremely delicate, and actually, you know, it's always a big philosophical question when you're a caver and you discover a place where no human footstep has been, you know you're going to change that room forever when you step across it. And the question is, how do you protect it and its pristine state? Some of the things Litchegia cavers have done is whenever they discover a new room, they will carefully lay a path with plastic survey tape. And everyone who walks through the room stays in the same place so that after a few crossings that path is very well worn. Yet 2 feet off of the path the floor looks exactly as it has for centuries. And beyond that, one of the things cavers have done in Litchegia is simply limit the amount of exposure the cave has. Right now, after 10 years of exploration, the cave is in the midst of a 1-year shutdown to just give it a little rest from the hundreds of eager explorers who have been finding those 89 miles of passage over the last decade. And a couple of science teams are going in to try to determine just how much impact do we cavers have on such a pristine and wonderful place.
CURWOOD: In the back of your book there's a picture of you wearing a helmet with a light on it and you've got on gloves and glasses. And your body is, like, squished between these 2 rocks.
CURWOOD: Seems to me that a lot of caves must have some difficult spots. And I'm wondering if you could tell us of a story of a place where you faced a tight challenge, maybe even tighter than that chimney, and pushed the limits of your nerves.
TAYLOR: Well, Steve, I'll bet you're talking about the Devil's Pinch, which I describe in the book as the tightest single cave passage I've ever been in. It's in West Virginia and it connects to otherwise unconnected and once thought of as separate caves called Bone and Norman. And the Devil's Pinch is nasty, because not only is it tight but it has a thin knife ridge of hard rock running down the center of it.
CURWOOD: Oh boy.
TAYLOR: So it's just barely tall enough or a person to crawl through and you've got this blade of knife digging at your chest trying to cut it open as you move through. And I went into that cave a few years back with a group of friends. We went through the cave from one direction to another and decided to call our trip a little bit early, and rather than going out the other entrance, which was still some distance away, we came back through Devil's Pinch. And I somehow got myself stuck coming back.
CURWOOD: Couldn't go forward, couldn't go back.
TAYLOR: Couldn't go forward, couldn't go back. I knew that I'd been through it, I knew I could go through it again. So what I did was just try to relax and exhale, and when I exhaled I could scoot forward an inch or two. And then I'd inhale and I'd feel the roof and the floor compressing my chest. And, you know, I started thinking well what if I squeezed myself in to where I can't inhale at all? And so I backed out and took off my coveralls, which gave me just a little bit more clearance. And so in my underwear I lay down in this passage, I threw my coveralls and my pack ahead to the guy who'd been through the passage ahead of me, and exhaled completely, slid forward, and sure enough I was stuck again. Couldn't inhale, but I knew I was nearly past the really nasty part, and so my friend Lee grabbed my arm and yanked me, and with 2 inches I could breathe again, and then I scooted forward and a little bruised and scraped but none the worse for wear. I was out of the pinch. But it's all part of caving. If you want to see the truly wild places, then you just have to work yourself through those tight spots one way or another.
CURWOOD: My guest has been Michael Ray Taylor. His book is called Cave Passages: Roaming the Underground Wilderness. And he teaches at Henderson State University in Arkansas. Thank you, Sir.
TAYLOR: Thank you, Steve.
(Music up and under: Theme from Batman)
CURWOOD: A pro-environmental backlash in Washington State against the Republican revolution. That's coming up on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Two years ago Washington State led the Republican Congressional sweep. Disgruntled voters ousted more Democrats from office there than anywhere else in the nation. The Republicans who took over promised less environmental regulations and decreased governmental control. But it now appears Washington voters don't like the results. Republican efforts to weaken the nation's environmental laws apparently clash with a deep Green ethic among many Northwest voters. And now the state's freshman delegation is scrambling in the face of an assault from environmental activists. From Seattle, Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU reports.
SCHMIDT: High in the Cascade Mountains, dozens of campers bundle up in wool sweaters and stoke campfires to fight off the evening chill. They're here for a weekend of grassroots organizing. After settling in, the group gets down to business.
WOMAN: Do you want to be part of the legislative update? Stay in this site here. And citizen monitoring of timber sales over that way.
SCHMIDT: There are plenty of seasoned environmentalists at this gathering and a few unexpected newcomers. Like Joanne Wood, a grandmother from suburban Seattle. Wood has started volunteering with her local Sierra Club chapter and says she also plans to make her voice heard this year at the ballot box.
WOOD: Now I will be voting for candidates who are concerned about our environment, definitely.
SCHMIDT: Do you typically vote Republican or Democrat?
WOOD: Republican. But I don't know if that's going to be the case. We did enact laws for a reason, and I don't like to see my party overturning the very laws that we put through with a great deal of effort, and I'm not for that.
SCHMIDT: Neither is camper Peter Ilian with the group Christians for Environmental Stewardship.
ILIAN: The environment's a paramount issue for me, and growing in a paramount issue for a lot of my Christian friends. And the only Christian response to environmental issues is one of stewardship. You know, we're not against using resources. But when species go extinct, you know, we're sinning.
SCHMIDT: Washington environmentalists are heartened by the presence of moderate Republicans and Christian conservatives at their gatherings. The Sierra Club's Julia Reitan says it shows that efforts to educate state voters about Congress's environmental record are paying off.
REITAN: Our sense is that the environment is consistently talked about as an issue of grave concern to a lot of the public, and an issue that will have an impact on this election.
SCHMIDT: The Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters are banking on a belief that environmental protection can be a vote getter this year. These groups are pouring millions of dollars into unprecedented ad campaigns aimed at unseating what they call anti-environmental extremists in Congress. One of their targets in Washington State is freshman Republican Randy Tate.
(Woman's voice-over with suspenseful music: "Congressman Tate voted 4 times to limit your right to know about new toxic chemicals released into our air and water." Man: "The Clean Water Act." Woman: "And Tate voted to weaken the Clean Water Act that protects Puget Sound from sewage and industrial pollution.")
SCHMIDT: The ads seem to be striking a chord with voters, and have put Randy Tate on the defensive.
(Music: "I Miss You Like Crazy." A knock on the door.)
SCHMIDT: As he canvasses his district, passing out campaign literature, one resident challenges Tate on his environmental record.
TATE: Mr. Schock.
TATE: I'm Randy Tate.
SCHOCK: Oh, how about that, I voted for you.
TATE: Hey, well thank you very much.
TATE: I wanted to drop off one of my flyers and let you know I'm running, and that I need your help again. And the brochure covers a bunch of different issues trying to cut taxes for working people, to saving Medicare for senior citizens, to trying to clean up Congress which has been corrupt.
SCHOCK: What about clean water?
TATE: I'm for clean water.
TATE: Yes, sir. Absolutely. In fact I -- as a lifelong --
SCHOCK: What about that negative advertisement I heard on the radio? That said you voted against clean water.
TATE: No. A couple of points that I would make on that is, I'm born and raised in this area. I live in Puolock. My daughter drinks water every single day, I drink the water --
SCHOCK: ...we have good water around here.
SCHOCK: What about --
SCHMIDT: Tate stands behind his votes to increase logging and national forests and slash the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency. He says he's taking a balanced approach.
TATE: I've tried to focus in on common sense environmental issues that have broad support and take a reasonable, moderate stand on environmental issues, stay away from the extremes, and try to do things that really improve people's lives and their quality of life.
SCHMIDT: Tate isn't the only Republican Congressman on environmentalists' hit list. They've also kept the heat on freshman Rick White. White represents a fiscally conservative suburban Seattle district with a strong environmental bent. Many of his constituents work in the software industry, and typify a new breed of Washington resident: people who say they've come to the northwest for the quality of life and who spend their substantial discretionary income on outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and sea kayaking. White seems to have gotten the message. After towing the party line early on, these days he's considered the most environmentally friendly of the state's Republican delegation. He's even backing a $100 million plan to tear down 2 Washington dams to restore salmon runs. During an interview in his Olympic peninsula office, White dismisses those who say he's recasting his environmental image for political gain.
WHITE: I just have to chuckle when I hear that. I mean, you know, I've lived here all my life. I've climbed every single peak and you can look out this window and see 7 of the 8 peaks that I've climbed over the last 5 years. There's no way in the world I ever would have done anything to jeopardize that, and it's something that I started out with. Now, there may be some people in the party who have seen the light here in recent months, but I started out knowing that we needed to change these laws, but knowing that we had to change them in a way that would improve the environment. And really what's happened is, I've been making that argument in my party.
SCHMIDT: Just how important the environment is to voters is unclear. Nationwide polls have found that support for environmental protection is widespread. But in Washington State the environment may not be the number one agenda. In fact, state polls suggest protecting the environment ranks below such issues as taxes, education, crime, and the deficit. In small Washington communities like Goldbar, once a thriving timber town northeast of Seattle, anger over environmental regulations still runs deep. Long time resident Stephanie Vaughan says such regulations have devastated the local economy.
VAUGHAN: People have lost jobs. You know, states try to re -- you know, to help with programs, setting them up. But it's pretty hard to train 40-year-old men, retrain them and whatever, and it's devastated families, it's -- I've seen families move away, divorce, I've lived out here for 22 years so I -- it was definitely a timber community and now it isn't.
SCHMIDT: The stakes in this election are high. Republicans need these seats to help maintain control of Congress. Environmentalists are banking on their high visibility, high priced ad campaign to help elect lawmakers more sympathetic to environmental protection. They're looking at the northwest as a key testing ground for their new strategy of attacking candidates directly rather than pouring funds into challengers' campaigns. Washington pollster Stuart Elway says it's hard to tell how effective the environmental attack will be, but he says Washington State is a good place to find out.
ELWAY: We are historically an independent voting state. We split the ticket all the time. So I think both of those things make Washington a real good test case. And if an environmental group can't sell an environmental message in Washington and Oregon, they're sure as heck not going to sell them in Wyoming or New Jersey.
SCHMIDT: Environmental groups say they'll continue running their ads up till the election. Meanwhile, conservative groups have started counter-attacking with their own ads defending Washington State's besieged Republican delegation. For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt in Seattle.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: This summer a group of young boys camping with their leaders in Yosemite National Park became frightened and stoned to death a bear that had wandered into their campsite. The incident was a sad example of the worst that can happen when bears lose their natural suspicions of humans and become addicted to the food scraps that people leave around in the wilderness. In an attempt to make bears less willing to go near humans, Yosemite officials have embarked on an unusual program that, as Robin White reports, uses that ancient rival of the bear, the dog.
WHITE: Perched at eight-and-a-half thousand feet, Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows Campground is too high to be natural black bear habitat. But bears come here anyway, attracted by food left out by humans.
MAN: We're around the fire, and the bear was right here. That's about what, 30 or 40 feet away from the campfire. And we looked up and heard a strange noise, and someone said, "There's the bear," and it was at 40 feet away and it had its muzzle up on the table. And we found a mutilated carrot the next morning.
WHITE: Aside from the carrot, these campers had their food properly stored in a bear-proof box. Yosemite has placed the steel boxes in every camp site at a cost of a million dollars. But teaching thousands of campers to keep food stored at all times is a mammoth task. Ranger Ginger Burley says some campers even leave food out deliberately.
BURLEY: Johnny wants to see a bear and so his dad sort of smilingly leaves a can of bacon grease by the tree. And it doesn't take many of those kinds of rewards. And there aren't enough rangers to check every campsite every night.
WHITE: Bears foraging for food at campsites are more than just a nuisance. They do $250,000 of property damage in Yosemite each year. Now the Park Service is trying a new experiment to keep bears and humans apart.
WHITE: It's evening in the campground and the smells of outdoor cooking fill the air. A group of campers draws close to their blue smoke fire. Nearby, work is just starting for Carrie Hunt and her 3 black and white Corellian bear dogs.
HUNT: Duffy, come! Great! Great! Cassie, let's find the bear. Reo, let's find the bear. Duffy, let's find the bear.
WHITE: A bear biologist from Utah, Hunt has developed methods to teach bears to stay away from humans. She invented a red pepper spray which is supposed to stop a charging bear and recently she's been working with Corellian bear dogs. Corellians are a bit smaller than a husky and have black masks like raccoons. They're specially bred in Finland to be friendly to humans but aggressive to bears.
HUNT: This whole concept of aversive conditioning and repellents and deterrents works on the premise that bears have evolved a social hierarchy where the most dominant bears get to go where they want when they want and the less dominant bears have to work around that. And so I figured that we could find things that would make us, the humans, the big bear, that our places and where we are could be places that bears would learn you don't go to.
WHITE: Each night Hunt runs the dogs through the campground with help from an off-duty ranger and the volunteer campground host.
HUNT: Jim, you want to go on up, like, through group? Maybe we'll -- and then up in the horse cabin?
JIM: Yeah, because --
WHITE: It doesn't take long for the dogs to find the trail of a bear. They strain at their leashes, circling through campsites with surprised campers cheering the chase.
(Panting dogs, ambient voices)
WHITE: Then the runners catch sight of the blue shine of a bear's eyes in their flashlights as it turns to look at them. The bear is a small tan-colored adult. It bolts up a tree and the dogs surround the base.
(Hunt: "Good! Good!" Dogs bark. "Good dog!")
WHITE: Hunt pulls the dogs back and waits.
HUNT: I know. I know.
HUNT: Same bear. She came right back into where she'd just gotten food before we spooked her out. And so the important thing is to, you know, get her -- I mean the best thing we could do tonight is to get her every time she comes in, so that she learns that she's going to be hassled every time she comes into the campground.
WHITE: The bear appears content to spend the night in the tree, so after waiting Hunt moves the dogs on to chase another bear out of the campground. Hunt says she'd like to step up her aversive conditioning by using rubber bullets to teach bears a more painful lesson. Rubber bullets haven't been authorized by the park and using them may seem cruel, but biologist Steve Thompson, who oversees the bear dog program, says the park has to kill up to 4 bears a year because they grow too aggressive with campers.
THOMPSON: Our goal is not to keep the bears happy. Our goal is to keep them natural. I'm sure that a bear that has his head in an ice chest is a happy bear, but yet that's a bear that's on the road to destruction. So when we are chasing him out of the campgrounds, when we're removing unnatural human food sources, when we're hitting him with rubber bullets, that bear immediately is an unhappy bear, but ultimately it's a bear that's going to live longer than one that's foraging in a campground and isn't being kept from doing that.
WHITE: According to Thompson the bear dog program saved three bears' lives this year. A sow with two cubs was becoming so aggressive that all three were destined to be killed by lethal injection. Due to the dogs the bear has become more intimidated and the family's had a reprieve. The bear dog program is also a huge success with the public. Thompson expects that if funds can be found it will be extended next year into other regions of the park. For Living on Earth I'm Robin White at Yosemite National Park.
CHILD: He stand on the table.
MAN: Really. This table here?
MAN: Wow, the bear stood on the table. Wow.
CHILD: And he ate a carrot.
(Laughter. Music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our senior producer is Chris Ballman. Dan Grossman edited this week's program, and Liz Lempert was our director. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Susan Shepherd, Julia Madeson, and Peter Shaw. We also had help from Michael Giammusso, Kim Chainey, and Jason Kral. Our engineers are Frank DeAngelis and Mark Navin at WBUR, Jeff Martini at Harvard University, and Jane Pipik at WGBH. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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