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

March 27, 1998

Air Date: March 27, 1998


U.S. Forest Service: Quiet Reformation / Terry FitzPatrick

History may be in the making in the nation's federal forests. For decades, mining, grazing and especially logging have defined much of the mission of the US. Forest Service. But now, the agency is shifting focus and it's moving toward putting recreation, and the protection of our drinking water supply first. The man picked by the Clinton Administration to lead this change is Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, a former fishing guide and biologist. He's been on the job for a year, quietly making some internal reforms. Now Mr. Dombeck is taking his call for stewardship to Congress and the public. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports. (13:30)

Brazil: Forests Under Fire

Massive fires are sweeping through the drought afflicted rainforest and grasslands of the northern Brazilian state of Roraima. The blazes are also a major threat to the indigenous Yanomami people. The fires come just months after the Brazilian government revealed that deforestation in the Amazon reached a new peak in the mid 1990's due to population pressures and the demand for tropical timber. Steve Curwood spoke with William Schomberg who is a Reuters News Service correspondent in the capitol Brasilia, Brazil. He says the government is taking steps to fix the problems, but the challenges may be overwhelming. (04:30)

Listener Letters

Last week, we asked listeners what you thought of the Sierra Club’s referendum on limiting immigration in the name of the environment. Well, the letters and calls are still coming in, and there’s a pretty even split between those who support the idea and those who don't. (02:40)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about...the history of perfume. (01:30)

El Niño, Frogs & Ponds / Aileen LeBlanc

How does nature benefit from El Niño? This year's storms left the ground along the coasts so saturated that today even brief showers leave pools of water standing on roads and in fields. And as Aileen LeBlanc, of member station WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina reports, certain amphibians are finding this year's weather not only perfect, but essential. (08:50)

Eco-Tents / Steve Curwood

Host Steve Curwood visits an eco-tourism resort in the Caribbean where visitors stay in tents, use solar power, composting toilets, and have unique ways of dealing with garbage; like feeding it to crabs. From St. Johns in the U.S. Virgin Islands at Concordia Eco Tents, Steve has this report. (08:00)

A Harsh Season's Sweet Rewards: Vermont Maple Syrup / Steve Delaney

The sap is flowing in the maple trees of the northern forests, and this year that is not something to be taken for granted. The unusually harsh ice storm that ripped through northern New England and Eastern Canada in January damaged many maples putting many sap farmers out of business, at least for this season. But Robert Horrigan is one of the lucky ones. His plot escaped the brunt of the storm, and so his family's time-honored tradition of tapping and boiling is well underway. Producer Steve Delaney visited the Horrigan farm in Fairfield, Vermont and sent us this report. (06:00)

Water Series Promo

Finally, a programming note about an upcoming special series. A hundred years ago, Americans died by the thousands from waterborne diseases like: typhoid, cholera, dysentery. Today, water treatment has made those epidemics a distant memory. But we still can't be sure that what comes out of our taps is completely safe. Next week, in the first of six stories about America's water supply, we'll look at research suggesting that millions of Americans get sick every year from water that is supposed to be safe to drink. And we may not be equipped to deal with the culprits. That's "The Thirst for Safe Water", a six-part series, starting next week on Living On Earth. (00:55)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Terry FitzPatrick, Aileen LeBlanc, Steve Curwood, Steve Delaney
GUEST: William Schomberg

(Theme music intro)

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

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

The Clinton Administration has a new plan for the nation's Federal forests. Grazing and logging are getting pushed down the list of priorities in favor of recreation and drinking water protection. The man in charge of forging the new path is US Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck, and his ideas are drawing fire from critics.

DOMBECK: I'm almost puzzled sometimes. And I think a lot about why the controversy around natural resource management? Because we value nature so highly. And maybe we just don't talk enough about the benefits. Maybe we need to talk about the importance of clean water, the importance of seeing healthy forests. Because that's really what this work is all about to me.

CURWOOD: Also, more threats to the Amazon rainforest this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.

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(NPR News follows)

(Music up and under)

U.S. Forest Service: Quiet Reformation

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. History may be in the making in the nation's Federal forests. For decades, mining, grazing, and especially logging have defined much of the mission of the US Forest Service. But now the agency is shifting focus. It's moving toward putting recreation and the protection of our drinking water supply first. The man picked by the Clinton Administration to lead this change is Forest Service Chief Michael Dombeck, a former fishing guide and biologist. He's been on the job for a year, quietly making some internal reforms. Now, Mr. Dombeck is taking his call for stewardship to the Congress and the public. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick has our story.

(Ambient voices in a large gathering)

FITZ PATRICK: You might not be able to pick him out of a crowd. Quiet and earnest, he looks like an overgrown Boy Scout.

MAN: Mike Dombeck, Chief of the US Forest Service. Michael.

(The crowd applauds)

FITZ PATRICK: Speaking in public he sounds like an awkward science professor.

DOMBECK: I'd like to share with you where I think we're going and ought to be going with the Forest Service, and I've been in this job...

FITZ PATRICK: But despite his unassuming demeanor, America's chief forester is preaching revolution: reductions in logging and ranching, and greater emphasis on recreation and watershed protection. In early March the Chief unveiled a new Forest Service agenda in a speech beamed by satellite to the Agency's 30,000 employees.

DOMBECK: The agenda that I will outline will help us to engage more effectively in what I think is one of the noblest, the most important callings of our generation. Helping people find ways to live within the limits of the land.

FITZ PATRICK: Respecting the limits of the land might not sound like a radical concept, but that simple phrase has touched off one of the biggest debates ever about the future of the American West.


FITZ PATRICK: For the past 50 years, the Forest Service mission has been to "get the cut out"--supply wood for the nation's booming suburbs, jobs for rural communities, and income for the US Treasury.

(Traffic sounds; fade to buzzsaw)

FITZ PATRICK: The logging truck has been the symbol of a timber bonanza, and the logger an icon of freedom, like the cowboys of the old open range.

(Music up and under: "Oh give me land, lots of land under starry skies above; don't fence me in. Let me ride through the wide open country that I love; don't fence me in. Let me be by myself in the evening breeze..." Fade to honking horns and traffic)

FITZ PATRICK: Today the West has changed. The new symbol is the sport utility vehicle loaded with bikes and backpacks. Cities like Seattle, Denver, and Phoenix are the fastest-growing parts of America and their residents pour into the mountains every weekend: nearly a billion recreation visits to public lands every year. Suddenly, the nation's 191 million acres of Federal forests, enough territory to be the fifth largest state, aren't big enough for everyone to have their way.

ANDRUS: There are more people competing for a different use on the public land than ever before.

FITZ PATRICK: Former Idaho Governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus.

ANDRUS: Some of them want to graze cows on it. Some of them want to mine it. Some want to cut the trees down. Somebody else wants to ski on it. Somebody else wants to fish. Other people want to picnic. And you know, the competition is intense.

FITZ PATRICK: The Forest Service was created at the turn of the century to regulate this kind of competition. And for decades, the Agency's motto, The Land of Many Uses, reflected a belief that logging, grazing, mining, and recreation could coexist. This delicate balance has shifted since World War II, with dramatic hikes in timber production. Many observers believe this logging has ravaged the land and squeezed out everyone else. Thomas Power is an economist at the University of Montana.

POWER: Science tells us this, economics tells us this. It's just obvious looking at the land. The forests can't give us what we've been demanding from them. We've overcut the forest. We've destroyed our watersheds. We've destroyed wildlife habitat. And we're now facing the bleeding wounds that have resulted.

FITZ PATRICK: Now, Chief Dombeck says the Forest Service should return to its original philosophy of balance. At a recent forum in Idaho, he confessed the shift won't be easy.

DOMBECK: The constituencies are changing tremendously, and with that change comes conflict. And to work to balance is a tough thing. And I've got to tell you, we're not very good at it yet.

FITZ PATRICK: Already, politicians, miners, and loggers are attacking the Dombeck agenda as a Washington assault on the traditional western way of life.

(Milling voices)

LYNN HENCY: People who live on the other side of the Mississippi River have just as much to say about our public lands as we do, and that's not fair.

LAURA SKAER: What I see happening to this ecosystem management plan is that we're moving toward a land of no use, where we essentially become the amusement park for a few.

JIM ENGLISH: The Federal lands in the past have provided a great deal of our timber, and that is slowly being eroded away. And people are losing their jobs. And it looks like it is a war against us.

FITZ PATRICK: Mr. Dombeck denies his agenda is a war on the West. A more sustainable timber program, he says, can provide a more dependable economic base. It can also protect the water supply of hundreds of communities downstream.

(Flowing water; footfalls)

DOMBECK: As we move into the 21st century...

FITZ PATRICK: Walking along the snowy banks of the Bitterroot River in Montana, the Chief emphasized that healthy watersheds benefit both people and the environment.

DOMBECK: In fact, you can almost view the streams and rivers as the circulatory system, the veins and arteries, of the landscape. The condition of the streams and rivers are really a reflection of the overall quality of management of the whole landscape.

(Flowing water)

FITZ PATRICK: The situation here in the Bitterroot Valley underscores the point. A vast wilderness zone on Forest Service land helps maintain the region as one of the nation's top spots for fishing, which helps Montana's tourist industry. The Chief cites examples like this whenever he speaks.

DOMBECK: I think the most important thing that I can do for natural resources probably has to do with telling the conservation story, because we value the open space and nature so highly as a society. And maybe we just don't talk enough about the benefits. Maybe we need to talk about the importance of clean water, the importance of being able to take our kids hiking, hunting, fishing, all these kinds of things. Because that's really what this work is all about to me.

FITZ PATRICK: It's an open question if Mr. Dombeck can achieve the turnaround he seeks. He ran into a buzzsaw when proposing similar changes as Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Land Management. And he's not the first Forest Service Chief to preach the value of ecosystem protection. His predecessor, ecologist Jack Ward Thomas, was a charismatic advocate for reform. But Mr. Thomas frequently found himself outflanked in Congress with little support from the White House.

THOMAS: Sometimes I jumped up and said, you know, and pulled my saber and yelled, "Follow me!" and got my legs chopped off from under me before I got very far. So I was charismatic and I had the right idea and I yelled, "Charge!" and I didn't do the appropriate homework, and I stepped in a gopher hole.

FITZ PATRICK: Mr. Thomas, though, credits Mike Dombeck with something he lacked: highly developed political skills. For a year now, Chief Dombeck has been consolidating his position inside the Forest Service by challenging a generation of staffers who favor timber production.

THOMAS: I don't think you're going to see Mike Dombeck ever decide to charge something that he hasn't gotten all of his ducks lined up. Well, charismatic leadership is one thing. Good smarts on how to operate internal to the government is another one.

FITZ PATRICK: After months of planning, Chief Dombeck launched his first major public initiative early this year. A daring maneuver that attacks the most controversial thing the Forest Service does: building roads that open new terrain to logging. Mr. Dombeck is declaring an 18-month moratorium on new road construction. Environmentalists have been trying for years to kill the road-building program and Sierra Club Director Carl Pope sees the moratorium as one of the boldest things any chief has ever done.

POPE: Taking a breath, and saying, "Let's look at what we're doing with the 30 million acres that are the most valuable lands left on the National Forest unprotected. That's a big step. No previous chief of the Forest Service that I know of would have taken that step.

FITZ PATRICK: The Chief portrays the moratorium as a way to de-politicize the issue, while the Forest Service evaluates where new roads should be allowed. But the unilateral action has infuriated powerful western Republicans, like Representative Helen Chenoweth of Idaho.

CHENOWITH: There used to be an eminent respect for the balance of power, and that is to say that the Congress should set policy and that the Agency should carry out the policy that the Congress set. Well now, this new roadless moratorium is a major change in policy, and it was instituted within the Agency, without an attempt, without a serious attempt at all, of the Administration to work with the Congress.

FITZ PATRICK: Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska is so enraged he's threatened to slash Forest Service funding.

MURKOWSKI: The fact that the Forest Service has chosen this tactic, a moratorium, to buy time for what we don't know, with no specific recognition of the obligation to reduce the overhead, the personnel, there's no justification to the US taxpayer for that.

FITZ PATRICK: Despite this angry reaction, Chief Dombeck hopes the plan might actually appeal to Congressional moderates and rural residents. He wants to shift the emphasis from building new roads to repairing existing roads that are vital to many communities.

DOMBECK: I grew up on one of those roads in northern Wisconsin in the Chequemegan National Forest, Forest Road 164, and it's a bus route, it's a mail route, today it's blacktopped, lots of tourists and recreationists drive down it, and yes, a few logging trucks. And so we need to shift the dynamic of the debate. Forest Service roads are an important part of the transportation infrastructure of parts of rural America, and then we need to provide funding accordingly.

FITZ PATRICK: Whether this strategy works could determine if Mike Dombeck gets a chance to pursue other elements of his agenda. Andy Stahl of the group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics says the struggle could bring the Chief the momentum he needs to win White House backing for bigger reforms.

STAHL: If he shows himself to be attuned to the wishes of the American people, to be wise in the manner in which he deals with Congress, the White House will look to him for advice and counsel. The new roads policy certainly helps him. I think the White House has been waiting to see what he would do during his first year, and he hadn't done much.

FITZ PATRICK: Others expect Mr. Dombeck to propose additional initiatives soon. According to Cecil Andrus, the Forest Service is at an important crossroads, but the Chief's opportunity to make an historic change won't last long.

ANDRUS: Mike's going to have to strike while the iron is hot or he's not going to get anything done. I would say that his proposals will sink or swim in the next, well, 12 months, and if Congress continues in with their bombastic rhetoric, Mike Dombeck will throw up his hands and say, "Hey, I've got a lot better things to do with my life than to take this kind of abuse with no hope of ever getting any help."

FITZ PATRICK: For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick reporting.

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(Music up and under: "I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences, gaze at the moon till I lose my senses. I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences. Don't fence me in.")

CURWOOD: For a transcript or tape of this program, please call 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988 for transcripts and tapes. Just ahead: Brazil seeks new ways to halt rainforest destruction. Stay tuned right here to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

Brazil: Forests Under Fire

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Massive fires are sweeping through the drought-plagued rainforest and grasslands of the northern Brazilian state of Roraima. The blazes are also a major threat to the indigenous Yanomami people. The fires come just months after the Brazilian government revealed that deforestation in the Amazon reached a new peak in the mid-1990s, thanks to population pressures and the demand for tropical timber. William Schomberg is a Reuters correspondent in Brasilia. He says the government is taking steps to fix the problems, but the challenges may be overwhelming.

SCHOMBERG: The logging industry has long been singled out as a villain in terms of deforestation. In the 1970s, the military dictatorship in Brazil encouraged big companies to buy huge tracts of Amazonian lands and basically gave them incentives to cut that down. Those patterns seem to have changed, and what the Brazilian government is now saying is that it is small-scale farmers, families who are being settled under the Brazilian government's land reform program, who are really the new threat to the Amazon. And measures are being considered to change the criteria for the land reform program instead of settling families in the rainforest area, settled them in areas which have already been cleared. It seems an obvious step to take.

CURWOOD: Well, haven't you reported that some of the big companies are involved in this by giving incentives to small farmers to do this burning?

SCHOMBERG: There is increasing evidence that some of the big logging companies in the Amazon region are providing credit to small-scale farmers and settlers. In return, the small farmers pay back their debts by giving over trees, and this enables the international and Brazilian logging companies to say, "Look, we don't use, we don't have any land, we don't chop down any trees." But very quietly, they're buying timber cut down unofficially, outside the law, from these small-scale farmers.

CURWOOD: How much of the logging in the Amazon right now is illegal?

SCHOMBERG: It's difficult to say exactly, but last year eyebrows were raised when a Brazilian newspaper published a report of a document which it said had been leaked from the government's intelligence outfit, which suggested that as much as 80% of the timber felled in the Amazon region was cut down illegally.

CURWOOD: The Brazilian government is taking some steps to deal with the deforestation problem. President Cardoso has signed, what, it's called the Environmental Crimes Act, that takes effect on March 30th. Is that going to help? What does it do?

SCHOMBERG: The new Environmental Crimes Law sets down a whole new range of fines and jail sentences for crimes against the environment. Previously, the punishments, the fines, were only set down in ministerial dictates which didn't stand up in court. The government says that this new law is a good law, it's a strong law, and it will stick. Environmentalists agree. They say that it is a big important step forward. The big concern, however, is that the government doesn't have the physical means to actually make this law stick in the majority of cases.

CURWOOD: I'm wondering how Brazilian politics influence policy in the Amazon. For political reasons, is this not a very high priority for President Cardoso?

SCHOMBERG: It's not a high priority for Cardoso as much as it might be if he was president of a western state. Brazilian public opinion is concerned about the Amazon, but nothing like to the extent in the United States or in Europe. Cardoso's hands are also tied when it comes to laying down new rules for the Amazon by a very strong and very vociferous group of Congressmen who come from the region who are often linked to logging companies or to big farming interests or to mining interests in the region. The Brazilian government has been very careful not to lose support from these groups, while it has been trying to push through very important structural reforms of the civil service and the social security system. The votes of these guys from the Amazon are crucial.

CURWOOD: William Schomberg covers Brazil for the Reuters News Service. He spoke with us from the capitol, Brasilia.

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(Music up and under)

Listener Letters

CURWOOD: And now it's time to hear from you, our listeners. Last week, we asked you what you thought of the Sierra Club's referendum on limiting immigration in the name of the environment. Well, the letters and calls are still coming in, and it's a pretty even split between those who support the idea and those who do not. Among those who oppose immigration limits is John Bonell, who hears us on New Hampshire Public Radio.

BONELL: If there are statistics that the United States consumes a disproportionate amount of energy and creates and disproportionate amount of waste, we should welcome people from Third World countries coming into our country so that we might change our old habits. To somehow think, though, that we should keep them out so that we can preserve our own consumerism and our own mismanagement is very elitist, very nationalistic, and is not thinking globally.

CURWOOD: But Ward McCartney, who hears us on KUFM in Missoula, Montana, disagrees.

MC CARTNEY: This isn't a racist issue. This is simply a numbers issue. When my 12-year-old is 65 years old or around there, she's going to be living with half a billion fellow Americans. And I don't want to leave the country to her in that form. That's just too many people. It's just irresponsible for us to leave our children with that burden of humanity.

CURWOOD: Will Richan, a listener to WHYY in Philadelphia, has another perspective. He wonders how the vote could affect the Sierra Club's credibility.

RICHAN: The Sierra Club's poll of its members on the immigration issue is a classic case of an organization getting off-message and allowing a faction to turn its special agenda into a debatable issue. The departure of 1,000 members over this issue should serve as a warning to the leadership. The anti-environmental forces must be cheering the potential demise of a great organization.

CURWOOD: And finally, Jacqueline Wood wrote from Seattle, where she hears us on KUOW. She felt that our discussion left out some important points. "Nothing was mentioned," she writes, "about the positive effects of immigration. For example, foreign scientists, engineers, and other professionals who immigrate to the US provide invaluable assistance in researching and resolving a variety of concerns facing our nation and the planet." And she adds, "I'm certain most Native Americans would prefer to live in the America that existed prior to the arrival of Europeans. Just about all of us are immigrants."

You can reach us by calling our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or you can e-mail us at LOE@NPR.ORG. You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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(Music up and under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; Jennifer and Ted Stanley; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity; www.wajones.org; and The Bullitt Foundation.

(Music up and under)

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: How nature benefits from El Niño. That's coming up in just a minute right here on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund, and Stonyfield Farm, makers of pure all-natural organic yogurts and ice cream. 1-800-PROCOWS.

(Theme music up and under)

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

(Music up and under)

The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Spring is here, on the calendar at least, and as the wave of green surges north, the fragrances of flowers are not far behind. Now, for those who can't wait there's always the local perfumery. The modern art of perfuming dates to the days of the Queen of Sheba, when ancient Egyptians anointed their bodies with cinnamon, honey, and lily petals. Today, commercial perfuming is a competitive, multi-billion-dollar, and highly scientific industry. Essential oils are produced from plants like lavender, sandalwood, and rosemary. Perfume fixatives like musk, ambergris, and civet, traditionally derived from animals, are now made synthetically. Still, interest in natural perfuming and aromatherapy is growing, in part because some people are allergic to synthetic fragrances. In the past year there's been an explosion of scents for even the most obscure olfactory tastes. You can now get alternative perfumes like fig. And for the really adventurous, there's the Smell This label, which markets fragrances like smoke, cake batter, and -- yes -- dirt. The Queen of Sheba, we imagine, would not be impressed. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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(Music up and under)

El Niño, Frogs & Ponds

CURWOOD: The arrival of Spring signals, at least officially, the winding-down of the most extreme El Niño season on record. California and the Southeastern US were especially hard hit by tornadoes and record rains that left death and destruction in their wake. The storms also left the ground along the coast so saturated that today even brief showers leave pools of water standing on roads and in fields. People are not pleased by this turn of events, but as Aileen LeBlanc of member station WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina, reports, certain amphibians find the weather not only perfect but essential.


LE BLANC: The woods on the backside of the island of Carolina Beach are dense and thick with underbrush. A few downed trees from our last hurricane lie across the path. It's quiet and undeveloped here, a real contrast to the boardwalk and the beaches on the ocean side. Herpetologist Andy Wood leads the way toward a remote wetland: the breeding ground for a whole community of amphibians.

WOOD: We probably should see a couple of snakes, too.

LE BLANC: Really?

WOOD: Because it's nice and sunny, first good sunny spring day.

LE BLANC: Along the way the naturalist teases this city dweller.

They're coming out to sun themselves?

WOOD: Well, that and look for stuff to bite just because they're in the spring are really foul-tempered. You've got to get rid of that extra venom that's been packed up in there. Go ahead and see, there goes one.

LE BLANC: He's joking about the snakes, thank goodness. Besides, we're not here to find snakes. We're looking for frogs and salamanders, which thrive in springtime ponds called ephemeral, or vernal, pools. Andy Wood runs education programs at the nearby North Carolina Aquarium. He spends his spare time dipping nets into these tiny temporary ponds wherever he can find them. For 14 years he's been recording the ebb and flow of vernal pool populations here. He says thanks to the El Niño rains, this is a bumper year for his amphibious friends.

WOOD: For the past 10 years that I've been coming out here, this is only the second year that there's been water in here. And that last year it wasn't nearly as deep as this. In here are animals that have waited since 1989 to reproduce. And I was in here last week looking and seeing what was going on, and sure enough I found some marbled salamander larvae.

(Splashing water)

LE BLANC: The pond is about an acre and a half across and way deep, says Andy. Three-and-a-half feet deep in the middle. Though it's still early, the day is warm and there are buds and flowers on the bushes and overhanging trees. My boots stop below my knees, but Andy wears thigh-high waders, so he takes a long-handled net out into the pond and dips for marbled salamander larvae.

WOOD: Now, there's not a lot in here. It isn't like there's a gazillion larvae. You'd really have to look, you have to work the pond. Well, there's one. (Laughs) Maybe there is a bunch.

LE BLANC: The salamander larva looks kind of like a large tadpole with teeny feet. Around what I would call its neck floats a willowy thing like a feather boa.

WOOD: And that big collar of feathery structures, those are the gills. In the larval stage these guys get oxygen from water. As an adult they get oxygen from air.

LE BLANC: Vernal pools provide safe haven for many amphibians: the barking tree frog, the Maysbees salamander, fairy shrimp, spring peepers, and the marbled salamander. These animals, Andy Wood says, can't reproduce in year- round pools because the fish in those waters would prey on the small tadpoles and larvae. Few predators live in vernal pools. But the critters which breed here take a chance each year on the rain.

WOOD: As summer winds down and the air temperature starts to cool, the ground temperature starts to cool. Then we start getting some fall rains. That stimulates the females to start migrating to these low depressions. It's their natal pool; it's where they were spawned. And when conditions start to feel right for her, she'll lay her eggs and curl around the eggs and stay with them. And then around November into December, when we start getting the good winter rains, then the water starts to pool up in the bottom of the pond. The soil saturates, starts to pool. The eggs hatch. But not until there's really a lot of water in this pond. If there's not enough water in the pond, it will dry out before the larvae can transform into adults.

LE BLANC: Thanks to El Niño, a warming Pacific ocean current, much of the Southeast has been drenched this winter, many places receiving 30 to 300% more than normal rainfall. Wilmington is at the high end of that scale. Andy Wood believes that some of the amphibians in the pools he watches are in synch with El Niño.

(Flowing water, bird calls)

WOOD: It may be that El Niño plays a distinct role in the reproductive cycle for certain populations of marbled salamanders and other ephemeral pool inhabitants.

LE BLANC: These marbled salamanders, Andy Wood says, may have learned to wait for El Niño's rains. The adults, he believes, live up to 15 years, so they can afford many a dry year in between the wetter ones. But what if the females return to their natal pool and find that it has been replaced by a house or a parking lot? In most states ephemeral pools receive no wetlands protection because frankly, they're often not wet, or they're too small or nobody knows about them. The animals which have adapted to the fickleness of nature have no defense against the bulldozers. Andy Wood believes that habitat loss has reduced many populations of vernal pool breeders in this area, and some species are threatened with extinction.

(Spring peepers)

LE BLANC: Bolstered by our success with the marbled salamander, we decide to poke around in another vernal pond near Sunny Point Military Terminal. A male chorus of spring peeper frogs fills the night air with their mating song. This area is a buffer zone for the military base and therefore completely undeveloped.

(Splashing water)

LE BLANC: The pond is wide and dark. We train our flashlights into the gin-clear water as we wade in, and lots of tiny tadpoles swim through the beams. We whisper out here because we're intruders: two huge booted humans with bright lights in the middle of a nursery.

WOOD: (whispers) Oh, look! Oh, look!

LE BLANC: (whispers) What?

WOOD: (whispers) Oh, look! Do you see that frog?

LE BLANC: (whispers) I sure do.

WOOD: (whispers) Oh, man! That's about as significant a find as we could hope for. That is a Carolina crawfish frog. Which is an endangered species. And this is its home. This is its only home. How neat. Not many people get to see one of these.

LE BLANC: What's he doing sitting there just underwater?

WOOD: Hoping that we will pass by. (Laughs) Hi, there. See how wide the head is? Kind of a mottled body color. It's -- it's not a dashing animal, but they are so neat. They're just a -- they burrow into the ground, they inhabit these pools as their breeding site. They're very secretive. And, you know, I guess for somebody who is interested in birding this is like seeing a rare bird. And being able to put it on your life list.

LE BLANC: Andy Wood says he's only seen a handful of the Carolina crawfish frogs in his 38 years of looking. The crawfish frog is endangered, he says, largely because so few ponds like this one are left. One of the pools he used to visit is now a mega-store parking lot on what used to be the edge of town. He visited that site at mating time and watched the frogs hopping about on the pavement, confused. But at least for this year, El Niño has filled these vernal pools to overflowing.

(Footfalls and spring peepers)

WOOD: Bye, peepers. Don't do anything I wouldn't do.

LE BLANC: It's been a blessing for spring peepers, marbled salamanders, Carolina crawfish frogs, and all the others who have been waiting for the rains to come. For Living on Earth, I'm Aileen LeBlanc in Wilmington, North Carolina.

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(Spring peepers, fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Coming up: for some folks spring can't come fast enough so they're trying the tropics in an eco-friendly resort. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)


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


CURWOOD: A while ago I took a trip to visit some family in the US Virgin Islands, and dropped by a resort on St. Johns that is surprisingly inexpensive even though it has a prime location.

SELENGUT: Off to our right is Salt Pond Bay Beach, which is a lovely protected bay with some of the best snorkeling on the island...

CURWOOD: We're getting the lay of the land from Stanley Selengut, the owner and developer. And he can keep his prices low because his resort keeps people literally close to nature, in tents.

SELENGUT: Living within the Earth's resources is something that we, you know, we have to do to survive as a race. And the resort industry can be a very interesting place to start from, because we deal with some of the most fragile properties. In fact, we're probably one of the most popular resorts in the Caribbean, because there are a growing number of people interested in this issue and these problems.

CURWOOD: Mr. Selengut started his concept with the now-popular Maho Bay Campground. Now he's taken it further with a smaller facility at Concordia State that uses what he calls Eco-Tents. Like the dwellings at Maho Bay, the Eco-Tent is built on a wooden platform with cloth walls and wood frames, with wooden walkways in between to protect the hillside ecology. But as their developer explains, the Eco-Tents go beyond simplicity to include the latest in high-tech sustainability.

SELENGUT: They function sort of like a spaceship. They catch their own water into a cistern and heat the water by solar. They create their own energy with photovoltaics and wind. And this cell electricity runs a small refrigerator.

CURWOOD: Let's go take a look.

SELENGUT: All right.


CURWOOD: This is the way here?

SELENGUT: Yep, right down here.

(Footfalls on wood)

SELENGUT: We're fortunate here because we, there's a couple staying in it, so you can get their experiences.

CURWOOD: Here we are. My name's Steve Curwood. I'm with the National Public Radio show Living on Earth. Hi.

CARLAIN: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Can I ask your name, sir?

CARLENE: Yes, I'm Lance Carlain, and my wife Debbie's down in the lower deck here.

CURWOOD: This is quite a little set-up here.

CARLAIN: This is. I was impressed. I heard we were staying in a tent, and - - is this your idea of a tent? (Laughs) This is more like a canvas cottage.

CURWOOD: Uh huh.

CARLAIN: With 3 stories.

CURWOOD: Okay. Where is your wife? Where's she hiding out.

D. CARLAIN: I'm here, in the living room.

CURWOOD: Hi, my name's Steve Curwood.

D. CARLAIN: Hi, Steve. Nice to meet you.

CURWOOD: And your name is?

D. CARLAIN: Debbie Carlain.

CURWOOD: And what's your impression so far?

D. CARLAIN: Oh, it's just simply beautiful. The harbor is breathtaking. We love our little hermit crabs down on the ground there, they're cool, we feed them our leftovers and they take care of that, so we don't have a garbage problem.

CURWOOD: Wait a second. You throw your garbage over the rail?

D. CARLAIN: Yeah. And the animals take care of it all. We have hermit crabs, we have a few lizards down there, and once in a while the cats stop by.

CURWOOD: And you don't have a problem? Mr. Manager, this works for your hotel?

SELENGUT: The hermit crabs are probably one of the best garbage disposal things you can imagine. At Maho Bay, where we have 114 units, that's not practical, but here with only 5 Eco-Tent units the hermit crabs do a good job.

CURWOOD: When you heard that this was an Eco-Tent, you know, ecologically friendly, what did you think?

L. CARLAIN: My wife is more concerned with that than I am. I, I think it's cool, but I usually wouldn't make an effort to be all that ecologically sound. But even someone that doesn't pay attention to this like myself, it's pretty impressive. Our power's all generated by a solar cell right behind you, and they catch all the runoff from their roof and reuse the water. It's neat living in a place that's its own power generator, and that's kind of fun to anyone, I think.

CURWOOD: All right. Do you want to show me around the eco-features of your little cottage here?

L. CARLAIN: Sure. First one we're close to is this solar panel in the back of our tent, which you have to lean over to see. We don't pay much attention to it, but I guess it provides all our power.

CURWOOD: Okay. So I'm walking into -- looks like you have 2 good-sized twin beds in here.

(Birds singing in the background)

L. CARLAIN: Our tap here has two faucets. One's for filtered water.

CURWOOD: Can I have a taste?

L. CARLAIN: Sure. Oh, when you run the water, the lights will dim a slight bit.

CURWOOD: Let me try this. Ooh, very pure, very sweet water. Not like city water at all. Mmm. Thank you.

L. CARLAIN: I think our favorite part is the deck out here with the breeze that never ends. Bug-free. And we've enjoyed it a lot.

CURWOOD: How do we get out here?

L. CARLAIN: Right here.

CURWOOD: Okay. Whoooo, look at this! You're out here overlooking the whole south corner of this island. You can look into two different bays. And we're up, how many feet would you say we're up here?

SELENGUT: I would say probably about 110 feet maybe.

(Footfalls on wood)

L. CARLAIN: And this is our shower and outhouse.

D. CARLAIN: We have a composting toilet. You flush it for no more than one second, and it's usually a very good flush and it uses a minimal amount of water. And your own water helps. And then we have the shower overhead. It's like a shower bag basically, but it's a 55-gallon drum instead that's painted black. And it heats up the water.

CURWOOD: Well, do you run out of hot water?

D. CARLAIN: I haven't run out.

CURWOOD: With how many of you here?

D. CARLAIN: There were 4 of us here and I was the last one to take my shower, so -- (laughs)

CURWOOD: Guilt-free shower, use it as long as you want.

D. CARLAIN: That was my idea. They already had theirs, and I'd waited a long time (laughs).

CURWOOD: All right, well thank you very much.

L. CARLAIN: Our pleasure.

(Footfalls on wood)

SELENGUT: There's a secondary purpose to these dwellings. It's not just to have them work well, it's also to have them function as a teaching machine. I mean, like the couple we interviewed, they hardly even knew they were being interpreted. The young man said in the beginning that he wasn't an environmentalist, yet he was lecturing you about how his unit worked. I mean, I guarantee you he'll go home having his perception changed a little bit about sustainable issues.

CURWOOD: How does that work for people who are on holiday? Somebody might come here and say, "Look, I don't want to worry about whether I'm going to have enough hot water or enough electricity, I just want to have a good time."

SELENGUT: Well, I think a resort really can try to be all things to all people, but eco-tourism appeals to a little bit of a different kind of person. A person who's a little more experimental, a little more adventurous, willing to put up with some hardships in exchange for a new experience.

CURWOOD: Have you ever had people come and say, "Oh, I just can't handle this," and they've got to go?

SELENGUT: Not so much here. We only have 5 of these and they're very, very hard to get into. We, you know, they're very popular. And the people who come here so far mostly are people vitally interested, but at Maho sometimes we get somebody that comes in and starts screaming, "My goodness, there is a lizard in our tent," or something like that, and you know you really have to get them another place to stay. (Laughs)

CURWOOD: Mahoe Bay and Concordia State Eco-Tents owner and developer Stanley Selengut. He says his next projects, in conjunction with the National Park Services, are to bring the Eco-Tents to national park areas in California and Hawaii.

SELENGUT: It's almost like painting Tom Sawyer's fence. You almost seduce people into enjoying climbing stairs and (laughs) doing their own thing and pumping water and conserving. You know, it becomes a pleasure rather than a chore, if you can get them over the first couple of days.

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(Footfalls, fade to music up and under)

A Harsh Season's Sweet Rewards: Vermont Maple Syrup

CURWOOD: The sap is flowing in the sugarbushes of the northern forests and this year that is not something to be taken for granted. The unusually harsh ice storm that ripped through northern New England and eastern Canada in January damaged many maple trees and put many farmers out of business, for this season at least. But Robert Horrigan is one of the lucky ones. His farm escaped the brunt of the storm, and so his family's time-honored tradition of tapping and boiling is well underway. Producer Steve Delaney visited the Horrigan farm in Fairfield, Vermont, and sent us this report.

(Echoing metal sounds)

DELANEY: The sap is running in the sugarbush, and so the Horrigans are in the woods turning tree juice into Vermont maple syrup.

HORRIGAN: You can't tap too early. You've got to tap at the right time, and then you've got to be ready to work with Mother Nature.

DELANEY: Mother Nature and the Horrigans of Fairfield, Vermont, have been partners in maple sugaring for 142 years. Robert Horrigan is the patriarch of a sugaring clan that operates the old-fashioned way. Boil the sap down to syrup over a wood-fueled fire, no oil. Gather the sap in buckets and pour it into horse-drawn vats, no tractors.

(A horse is saddled. A man yells, "Ho!")

HORRIGAN: The horses seem to work out good. They don't disturb the soil and cause erosion or anything like that, and so I guess there's a place for them.

(A man calls to horses)

DELANEY: There's a big place for horses in Danny Horrigan's heart. He's been sugaring behind Queenie and Blondie for 10 years. He says nature provides the sap, but the quantity and the quality depend on the spring weather, on cycles of warm days and cool nights.

D. HORRIGAN: This past week has been an excellent week. We've got a good snow cover. And that helps your -- the color and it helps keep the sap cool. It all works together, it's got to stay cool. Right now it looks good. We're hoping it'll last a few weeks. (Calls) Ho!

(Sounds of sloshing liquid)

DELANEY: In the Horrigan clan, young men are in the woods from mid-morning until can't-see-time at night. Over Robert Horrigan's lifetime, that has taken a toll.

R. HORRIGAN: Well, the hills get steeper, the hills get steeper, yeah.

DELANEY: So the old men are in the sugar house turning maple sap into Vermont gold.

(Sounds of steam)

DELANEY: As Robert Horrigan explains, it takes 35 gallons of sap and a lot of hard work to make one gallon of syrup.

R. HORRIGAN: Which president was it? I think it was Jefferson suggested that every state that had the temperature, the climate, should produce maple syrup, because it was something that wasn't produced with slave labor. (Laughs) But I question that a little bit. (Laughs harder; fade to steam and clanking) You certainly heard this said that old sugar makers never die, they just evaporate. So that's what it amounts to; you evaporate the water, and have the goodies left.

DELANEY: Sounds very simple.


DELANEY: But there's an art to it, I trust.

R. HORRIGAN: Oh, there's a big art to it. My gosh, there's a -- because it's really, some people can stand right there and look at the pan and see it burning and not know what's going on. But let's see, the art is to be able to anticipate that so that you don't get to that crisis.

DELANEY: Sugar making keeps dairy farmers busy in the season between seasons, but the Horrigans are more involved than most. It takes a thousand gallons of sap to produce a 33-gallon barrel of syrup, and the Horrigans produce about 6 barrels a day, each worth about $800. But when you ask about money the chuckling Irishman in Robert Horrigan struggles with the cautious Yankee.

R. HORRIGAN: If you've had a good year, maybe you can buy a new piece of equipment or something, and if you have a poor year, well, you break even.

DELANEY: Are you having a good year, or are you having a bad year?

R. HORRIGAN: Well, it's too early to tell. Actually, I'm optimistic. To quote Yogi Berra, it's not over till it's over.

DELANEY: He has talked of easing up a bit, of slowing down, a little. But quitting is out of the question. Maple sap runs in Horrigan veins. And there's a new generation to teach about tapping, and horses, and boiling, and all the family skills. After all, there's a tradition to keep up. A legacy of sugaring that's been the symbol of spring in maple country, ever since the legendary discovery of sweet sap.

R. HORRIGAN: Indians were -- supposedly threw his tomahawk against a tree and it started bleeding, and the squaw caught the sap to cook his meat in and he was a happy chief. (Laughs)

(Sounds of splashing)

DELANEY: And so is Robert Horrigan, surrounded by his horses, his sons, and the fragrant mist of his sugar house.

(Splashing; fade to music up and under)

CURWOOD: Our story on maple sugar came to us from producer Steve Delaney, who lives and works in Milton, Vermont.

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(Music up and under)

Water Series Promo

CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth -- but before we go, a programming note about an upcoming special series. A hundred years ago, Americans died by the thousands from water-borne diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery. Today, water treatment has made those epidemics a distant memory, but you still can't be sure that what comes out of your tap is completely safe. Next week, in the first of 6 stories about America's water supply, we'll look at research suggesting that millions of Americans get sick every year from water that's supposedly safe to drink. And we may not be equipped to deal with the culprits.

MAN: Cryptospiridium is an organism that wasn't recognized as recently as 10 or 20 years ago, and it's resistant to chlorine. It's as if you designed something that can get through a drinking water treatment system.

CURWOOD: That's the Thirst for Safe Water, a 6-part series starting next week on Living on Earth.

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(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. George Homsy, Jesse Wegman, Terry FitzPatrick, Daniel Grossman, and Liz Lempert make up our production team, along with Peter Christianson, Roberta de Avila, Peter Shaw, and Julia Madeson. The senior producer is Chris Ballman. Kim Motylewski is our associate editor. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. And our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky. We had help from Jeremy Jurgens, Vanessa Melendez, and Miriam Landman. Michael Aharon composed the theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the Ford Foundation for reporting on environment and development issues; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment; and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for coverage of sustainable agriculture.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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