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Bush & The Environment
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TOOMEY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And I'm Steve Curwood. When president-elect George W. Bush takes the oath of office on January twentieth, he'll bring a top team with diverse views when it comes to the environment. Some of the cabinet officers Mr. Bush has nominated - like New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman - are moderates and support continued federal regulation. Others, like former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton, are more conservative on conservation issues, and favor local control and states' rights. Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports.
GRABER: Terry Anderson, head of a conservative environmental think tank, says he was ecstatic when Gail Norton called to tell him she'd been nominated for Secretary of the Interior.
ANDERSON: Most importantly, she is a very reasoned individual who cares deeply about the environment and the resources that are under control of the Department of Interior.
GRABER: Anderson recently served with Norton on an environmental advisory committee to then-presidential candidate George Bush. Norton is an advocate for giving a stronger voice to states and local and private interests on environmental issues. She's received criticism for her environmental record. More than 20 years ago she worked under James Watt, President Reagan's controversial Interior Secretary, for a legal foundation that represented logging and mining interests. Later, as legal staff at Reagan's Department of Interior, she pushed for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Carl Pope is head of the Sierra Club. He says his organization will try to block her confirmation, at least in part because of her belief that there is a large amount of oil in the Arctic that could be tapped as a natural resource.
POPE: Well, there's also a huge caribou herd, a lot of polar bear, a lot of wolves. It's one of America's most important wildlife resources. And the fact that the president seems to have picked in this critical position someone who is unaware of those basic facts is very distressing to us.
GRABER: If Bush's selection of Norton was a bow to the conservative wing of the Republican party, his choice of Christine Todd Whitman as head of the Environmental Protection Agency is a response to the moderates. Whitman is nearing the end of her second term as New Jersey's governor. Her background is mixed when it comes to environmental issues. During her first term, she cut the state budget for the Department of Environmental Protection and eliminated the position of environmental prosecutor. Curtis Fisher of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group says actions such as these earned her a poor report card from New Jersey environmental groups after her first term.
FISHER: And they gave her failing grades on that report card for implementing the state's key regulatory programs, such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and other environmental laws that governor Whitman will have a direct role in making sure it gets implemented now nationally.
GRABER: During her second term as governor, Whitman headed up an initiative to protect one million acres of open space in New Jersey from development. She cleaned up New Jersey's coal-fired plants and was a vocal supporter of the need to reduce emissions from Midwest coal-fired plants. Sierra Club's Carl Pope says this shows she has potential as head of EPA.
POPE: In general, in New Jersey, when she got personally involved in issues, they came out in a more environmental way than when she simply delegated them to her appointees. Additionally, the fact that she did move during her two terms from having a very, very inadequate enforcement budget to a much more adequate one is something which gives us some hope that she does listen and does learn.
GRABER: Bush has selected people with opposing viewpoints for his final cabinet selections. Former Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham was chosen for Secretary of Energy. As Senator, Abraham voted against higher fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, in favor of reduced funding for renewable energy research, and to abolish the Department of Energy. Like Gail Norton, he favors drilling in the Arctic as a way of reducing our reliance on foreign oil supplies. In contrast, Norman Mineta, Bush nominee for Secretary of Transportation, supports higher fuel efficiency and public transportation. The Democrat is currently Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton Administration. Bush's appointment for Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Venemen, was the Deputy Secretary under the first President Bush and Secretary of the Department of Food and Agriculture in her home state, California. She's drawn praise from both Republicans and Democrats for her knowledge and experience on farm and trade issues. President-elect Bush's Cabinet is not only diverse with regard to sex and race, but in opinion as well. It remains to be seen how these views will influence the administration's environmental policy in the next four years. For Living on Earth, I'm Cynthia Graber.
TOOMEY: Regardless of the views held by his Cabinet members, it's George W. Bush who in the end will be held responsible for his administration's environmental policy. For some insight into what we can expect from the new president, as well as the new Congress, we are joined by Republican Senator and chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Bob Smith of New Hampshire. Thanks for joining us, Senator.
SMITH: Thanks for having me, Diane. I'm glad to be here.
TOOMEY: Also joining us is Lynn Scarlett, director of the Los Angeles-based think tank the Reason Foundation. Hello, Lynn.
SCARLETT: Hi, Diane. Good to be with you.
TOOMEY: Lynn, you've worked as one of the environmental advisors to Governor Bush, as a private consultant, not as a representative of the Reason Foundation. What do you think will be at the top of his environmental agenda after he takes office?
SCARLETT: I think that Governor Bush, environment was not at the top of his issues, but I think to the degree he focuses on the environment he is going to look to the states. I think he's going to want to perhaps fund the states for the land and water conservation fund, try to get those appropriations through to the states so that they can actually invest in some land conservation. I think he's going to try and rev up or work with the states to further do some of the innovative, more incentive-based and performance-focused approaches that they've been working on. But I think we're going to see a kind of iterative, low-key, evolutionary kind of environmental policy coming out of President Bush.
TOOMEY: Well, environmentalists might say low-key means benign neglect.
SCARLETT: No, I don't think we'll see benign neglect. What I think we'll see is an understanding that particularly with this tight election, and in any event, with the deep divisions that have separated industry and environment and Democrats and Republicans on environmental issues, that what is needed is kind of an olive branch, a coming together, attempts at some kind of convergence. And what that means, probably initially, is taking some small baby steps. That doesn't mean neglect. It means understanding that we have an environmental regulatory infrastructure in place. It is not likely to be dismantled. The American public doesn't want it to be dismantled. But it does need some fine-tuning, that under the current system there is a tendency to focus on punishment rather than inspiration and inspiring private stewards. There's a tendency to prescribe outcomes rather that inspire innovation. And I think that you'll see Governor Bush as president trying to nurture innovation and incentives, so that we have a nation of private stewards. But that means using the existing infrastructure and then taking baby steps forward to make it a little more resilient and dynamic.
TOOMEY: Senator Smith, what are some of the environmental priorities for Republicans in Congress this session?
SMITH: As the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I really look forward to working with the Bush administration on these things. I think the Clean Air issue is one. You know, we think in terms of environmental legislation, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund Act. I mean, these are smokestacks. We need to cooperate. We need to have interrelations. You know, we need to interrelate these, to connect these smokestacks and have an environmental policy that works.
TOOMEY: Where are the environmental issues that Republicans and Democrats can manage to muster a bipartisan spirit over?
SMITH: Well, we did it on the Everglades. Governor Jeb Bush, as well as Vice President Gore, as well as Governor George Bush, myself in the Senate, Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana is the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. We passed that Everglades bill on a vote of 85 to one in the Senate, and it passed overwhelmingly in the House. And so that was a big bipartisan victory. Even Bruce Babbitt called it one of the major environmental laws of the last 40 or 50 years. So I think we proved we can do that and I think that we can work together on these issues. I think this is one area where we can get some bipartisan cooperation.
TOOMEY: Lynn, what's your take on the ability of people to reach across the aisle on environmental issues?
SCARLETT: You know, I think there's enormous potential there. It hasn't really happened to the degree that it should or could. But if you go out and look at the various think tanks, Democrat side, Republican side, if you look at what various Congresspersons, Senators and in the House are saying, there are a lot of common themes. Specifically, tremendous interest in turning our attention towards a performance focus. You know, for 20 years we've decided that environmental performance was measured by seeing how many enforcement actions we did, rather than saying gee, by golly, is the air cleaner, is the water cleaner, how are the manatee doing in the Everglades? There's a big focus and interest in developing better performance indicators. I think one could move forward on that so that the nation as a whole has a better sense of our report card, how are we doing.
TOOMEY: The Clinton administration has made some recent environmental pronouncements. One big one was the roadless initiative, where almost a third of the national forest system, I believe it's some 60 million acres, will be closed to new logging roads and almost entirely closed to logging. The timber industry has said the plan spells out bad management for federal land and economic harm to its industry. What might President Bush's response be to this plan? Would he try to overturn it?
SMITH: Well, I think Governor Bush and President Bush would be in total agreement with me on that, that these decisions are best made by the local people, by the forest management plans. There's a very specific layout of how that's done, who's involved in the decision making, from foresters to local community groups, and the various government agencies. So I'm perfectly happy with that. I don't think we need to have the president of the United States with some Executive Order issue a roadless initiative that said we can never cut a tree in a national forest.
TOOMEY: Lynn, you mentioned the national monuments. I believe President Clinton has designated about a dozen of them by law. He did that without Congressional approval. He can do that by law. There's been talk, though, that a Bush administration might revisit those designations. What's your take on that?
SCARLETT: You know, I don't know whether he actually would revisit the ones that have already been undertaken, simply because there tends to be a momentum once a decision is made. But I don't think we'll see President Bush using that national monuments legislation in the way that President Clinton did to kind of autonomously and unilaterally set aside lands.
TOOMEY: Ralph Nader has said that a Bush presidency will galvanize the environmental community as never before. For instance, he says the Sierra Club doubled its membership under James Watt, who was the Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan for a time. What's your response to that statement?
SMITH: You know, I've been on the earth a few years, Diane. I haven't found anybody yet that likes to drink dirty water, likes to breathe dirty air, or likes to sit around the toxic waste dumps and see that they don't get cleaned up. These same environmental groups, and I'm not here to criticize them, but they said the same thing about me, that I was going to be the worst thing that ever happened since, you know, to the environment, in the history of mankind. And yet, I was able to shepherd an Everglades restoration bill through the Congress. I passed a beach restoration bill. We passed an estuary preservation bill, and on and on. So I think, you know, watch what we do and you know, judge us on the basis of what we do, not on what some preconceived notion is.
TOOMEY: Senator Bob Smith is chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. Thanks for joining us today, Senator.
SMITH: Thanks for having me. I'm delighted to have been with you.
TOOMEY: Lynn Scarlett is the director of The Reason Foundation. Lynn, thank you for your time.
SCARLETT: Thank you. It's been fun.
TOOMEY: A new hope for a murky problem: Lake Tahoe is getting millions of dollars to help restore its clarity. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
Now, this environmental health update with Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.
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SOLOMON-GREENBAUM: Noni is an evergreen plant that's part of Hawaiian folk medicine. Despite its foul smell and unpleasant flavor, it's used to treat conditions ranging from arthritis to colds and flu. Noni's all been used to treat tuberculosis. And a new study confirms the plant's effectiveness, at least in a test tube. Researchers found that an extract from noni leaves killed almost 90 percent of the bacterium that causes TB. That compares to a 97 percent kill rate for a drug that's commonly used to treat the infection. But the active compounds in noni indicate that the plant uses a different mechanism to kill TB microbes. That's important, because resistance to TB drugs is growing worldwide. So researchers hope the noni plant will provide an alternative way to fight resistant strains. That's this week's health update. I'm Anna Solomon-Greenbaum.
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TOOMEY: And you're listening to Living on Earth.
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TOOMEY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And I'm Steve Curwood. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. It's right at the border of California and Nevada, and it's so big and so deep that its contents could cover the entire state of California with 14 inches of water. But Lake Tahoe is in trouble and has been for years. President Clinton recently signed a bill pledging $300 million to help clean up the lake. The act marks an end to decades of open warfare between environmental and business groups in the basin. Instead, there's a new collaboration between these same groups to restore what Mark Twain once called, quote, "the fairest pitcher the whole earth affords." Living on Earth's Nathan Johnson reports.
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JOHNSON: Twelve miles wide, 22 miles long, Tahoe is one of the deepest and clearest lakes in the world.
JOHNSON: But the impact of humans is pervasive. The Sierra Club gave up plans to make Tahoe a national park some 80 years ago. They said it was already too spoiled. Environmentalists, ski resorts, and casinos have fought bitterly for decades over whether this ecosystem should be preserved as it is or further developed. But all this is changing.
NASSON: We're coming up here to a site where an old Safeway is being torn down.
JOHNSON: Rochelle Nasson is executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. As we drive along the south shore, she points out old properties, built mostly in the 1960s, before environmental codes were in place.
NASSON: Over there on the right, you see this Swiss Village Motel over here, the yellow and brown motel. This pawn shop here.
JOHNSON: Dozens of these old buildings will be bulldozed to make way for a colossal redevelopment project of upscale hotels, art studios, and a shopping mall. Surprisingly, local environmental groups are supporting the project.
NASSON: What we're going to have at the end, if all promises are kept, we will have an area that has a lot less impact on the lake. Because we'll have water being treated before it runs into the lake.
JOHNSON: A few blocks further along Highway 50 is the cornerstone of this $600 million redevelopment: an expansion of Heavenly Valley Ski Resort, including a two-and-a-half mile gondola stretching from the middle of downtown to the top of the mountain. Stan Hansen is a senior vice president at Heavenly Valley.
HANSEN: It took us ten years to get the project approved, and then we had to build it in six months. We have three distinct general contractors, one at the top doing the top station...
JOHNSON: Environmental groups pushed Heavenly Valley to include water filtration and treatment in the project, because without it snow melt flushes dirt and pollutants directly into the lake. Ultimately, each side had a strong interest in finding a solution.
HANSEN: The environmental community needed us because they needed to generate the revenues to protect the resource. We needed to be able to develop our properties to have a good return on our investment.
JOHNSON: So you both used each other.
HANSEN: You're doggone right. And we used it to benefit the lake.
JOHNSON: President Clinton recognized the historic changes taking place when he visited three years ago.
CLINTON: One of the reasons that I wanted to come here was not only to highlight to the nation the importance of Lake Tahoe but also to show the nation that there is a place where everybody is working together in common cause, recognizing that there cannot be an artificial dividing line between preserving our natural heritage and growing our economy.
JOHNSON: But to get where it is today, Tahoe endured years of legal disputes, and not all legal issues have been settled. Larry Hoffman is a veteran land use attorney and one of the biggest critics of Tahoe's regulatory process.
HOFFMAN: As we walk across through here, you'll see a variety of vegetation. To the agencies, once they see that aspen tree, that's sacrosanct, don't want to touch it.
JOHNSON: Mr. Hoffman has taken me to a small residential lot, formerly owned by a widow, Bernadine Suitham Local regulators told Mrs. Suitham she couldn't build her dream retirement home here because her property was in a stream zone.
HOFFMAN: As you can see, this lot is a typical subdivision lot on a paved street. There is a house on both sides of it. And the only thing that's different about it is that it happens to have some bushes or some shrubs on it that the agencies believe are an indicator of high groundwater. And therefore, they've graded this lot as a stream environment zone lot.
JOHNSON: Mrs. Suitham sued, claiming an unlawful government taking of private property. After ten years of litigation, she accepted a deal from the state of Nevada: $600,000 in return for her property. Because of the settlement, the legal issues were never resolved in court. But a separate takings case, filed in 1984, is still active. And a ruling in favor of the property owners could jeopardize major elements of Tahoe's environmental plan.
HOFFMAN: We're now spooling up to try to take the case to the Supreme Court. And what it involves is the tensions between the Constitution, which says private property shall not be taken for public purposes without just compensation, and TRPA's regulation.
JOHNSON: TRPA stands for Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. The agency has sweeping authority to enforce environmental regulations. For years , the two most powerful business interests here, ski resorts and casinos, challenged its authority.
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JOHNSON: Steve Teshara is executive director of the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance, a group representing the casinos.
TESHARA: It was difficult for most of the businesses in the basin, including the casinos, to accept the whole regulatory structure of TRPA. It was very radical at the time.
JOHNSON: But eventually, businesses began to realize that they, too, have a stake in keeping Tahoe clean.
TESHARA: When I came to the Gaming Alliance in 1991, gaming was in Nevada and in Atlantic City. Now gaming is everywhere, and there are differentiators in business. And our environmental setting is a differentiator for us. This isn't something we have to build or create like they do in Las Vegas and other places. We have it. So why not make sure that in the decades and generations to come, Tahoe has that kind of quality?
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JOHNSON: So why did it take businesses 15 years to act in their own self-interest? Tim Duane, a professor at UC-Berkeley, has written a book about the Sierra Nevada. The way he explains it, TRPA had the authority to enforce a very strict set of environmental standards. This changed the balance of power between environmentalists and developers.
DUANE: So once that changed, the locals then had an interest in collaboration. But in the absence of that change, we would have seen continued destruction of Tahoe. We would have seen no effort at collaboration. Because the short-term economic benefits were seen as worthwhile. They weren't willing to give something up to save long-term economic and environmental values.
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JOHNSON: None of this would have happened if it wasn't for a scientist named Charles Goldman. For decades , no one wanted to believe what he and his team of researchers from UC-Davis were saving about Tahoe's troubles.
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JOHNSON: Today, aboard his research vessel, he continues to warn that if nothing is done the brilliant blue lake will soon turn a brackish green.
GOLDMAN: I think, in a way, it's like feeding a man arsenic. The lake looks beautiful for a long time, but eventually you kill him. What this lake has been getting is essentially small doses of nutrient pollution for about five decades now.
JOHNSON: Tahoe plans to spend $900 million on all kinds of restoration projects. Natural wetlands, road retrofits, and the like. For the first time, Dr. Goldman is optimistic.
GOLDMAN: I think if everything is done that needs to be done, and that the funds from both the state, the federal government, and the private sector, come, we estimate it's about a billion dollar job. Then the lake can actually be saved.
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JOHNSON: There is still some debate about exactly how to spend this money. But as people come to understand their impact on the watershed, a new environmental ethic is taking shape. The people who live here are beginning to define what it really means to live as part of the landscape, rather than isolated from it.
(Water on shore)
JOHNSON: For Living on Earth, this is Nathan Johnson in South Lake Tahoe.
CURWOOD: Your comments on our program are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Once again, email@example.com. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation;
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
TOOMEY: And I'm Diane Toomey. And this is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: When we return: A mystery solved. Why all the fish in a Florida stream look like males. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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SECOND HALF HOUR
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
TOOMEY: And I'm Diane Toomey.
TOOMEY: Winter is in full swing across the northern plains. The winds are blowing, the snow is falling, and trees are a-poppin'. At least, that's what the Lakota Sioux calendar assumes, since this month's moon cycle is called "cha na po pa wee" or popping tree moon.
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TOOMEY: When temperatures fluctuate from chilly to downright freezing, tree trunks can crack in weak spots, and the resulting sound is so loud it's been likened to a rifle shot. It's made enough of an impression, at least on those living in the area, to name a moon after it. Most native peoples in North America divide time based on the number of days from one new moon to the next. There are about 13 new moons every year, and the Lakotas give them names that describe the season and nature's effects. In fact, Popping Tree Moon also goes by the name Frost Inside the Tipi Moon. Not surprising, since average temperatures in the northern plains often hover in the single digits.
TOOMEY: And that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: Stunted sexual development in alligators. Egg proteins produced by male fish. These are examples of the effects of hormone disrupting chemicals in our environment. Most research has focused on pollutants that mimic or interfere with estrogens, the female hormones. But now for the first time, scientists have identified an environmental androgen. Androgens are chemicals that work as male sex hormones. Janet Raloff covered the story for "Science News" and joins me now. Hi, Janet.
RALOFF: Hi, Steve.
CURWOOD: Janet, set the scene for us now on this research. Let's say we were to go down to Florida, to the Fen Halloway stream, where the substance was first identified. What will we see?
RALOFF: You'd see a beautiful, shady stream. The only thing that might catch your attention is it's a bit stinky. It has a bit of a chemical smell. But not too out of the ordinary for some of the swampy streams in the area. The most notable thing is that the water is the color of espresso coffee. You put your hand under the water and you probably won't even see it. Visibility is about an inch or two.
CURWOOD: Wow. And this is because?
RALOFF: It turns out this was right downstream of a pulp and paper mill. And this particular mill uses so much of the water from the stream that at times 100 percent of the lower Fen Halloway is effluent from the pulp and paper mill. So we're dealing with basically straight paper mill wastes.
CURWOOD: Who can live in this kind of place?
RALOFF: Well, the scientists who were down there suspected nothing could live in there. But they dipped in their nets and they found lots of little fish. Mostly something that's called mosquito fish. These are tiny fish that you can find all over the southeast. They get their name because they eat mosquitoes. If they look hard enough, they can find some other fish, too. It's not a real broad range of fish. But there are things that live in there, and they actually seem to like it.
CURWOOD: How did they know that they had found fish that had their hormones affected?
RALOFF: Every single fish seemed to look like a male. Males have different fins than females. They have, on the bottom side of the fish there's a long, elongated anal fin, which is used in copulation. It's called the gonopodium. And all of these fish seem to have it. And that just didn't make sense, that every single fish was a male. And then they realized that one of the fish they caught had a black spot on it, and that black spot usually connotes a female that's pregnant. Sure enough, there were more like that, and they realized that many of these male-looking fish were actually pregnant females. And they looked some more, and over the next basically 20-something years, they've been showing that there are lots of males and females, but all of the fish look like males.
CURWOOD: So, what exactly is causing these kinds of changes in the fish?
RALOFF: It turns out, after much probing, that there seems to be a series of androgens, or male sex hormones, in the water. The primary one that they found is something called androstenedione. It's better known as andro. It's the thing that Mark McGuire used to sort of boost up his muscle tone and that sort of thing when he was on his home run hitting streak.
CURWOOD: So this isn't actually a hormone mimic. It's the actual hormone itself that's in the water.
RALOFF: It's the real thing. Only in this case it doesn't come out of a bottle.
CURWOOD: How would something like this get into the water from a paper mill?
RALOFF: Well, it doesn't directly get into the water from the paper mill. The paper mill is putting out some other compound, probably a cholesterol-like substance that's from its bark. And in the water, and probably in the sediment, there are bacteria that convert this plant sterol into androstenedione. So, you actually have the activity of bacteria in the water that are making this hormone out of some kind of ordinary pulp mill waste.
CURWOOD: Now, aside from making girl fish look like boy fish, what other effects do you get from androstenedione?
RALOFF: There are behavioral changes. The females, for example, try to mate with other females. They seem to recognize a masculinized female across the stream from them as looking like a real female. They don't seem to recognize that they themselves are females. So there is this inappropriate sexual behavior. In addition, while they are fertile, they produce far fewer babies than would ordinarily be the case. The males are far smaller than usual, extremely stunted. And the females, at least in some related species that are in the same rivers, are turning amazingly aggressive. In fact, one scientist who'd studied them described them as little sharks. He put, like, a little paper into a beaker with these fish in it and they'd chomp holes right through the paper.
CURWOOD: Janet, you've covered this issue of hormone disruptors, endocrine disruptors, for a number of years. What do you see here as the wider implications of discovering andro and these other androgens in a body of water?
RALOFF: Well, the first thing is that nobody knew they were there. They didn't even know to look. And if they're there, you've got to wonder, what other things have we been missing over the years? The second thing is, you've got very hardy fish that have survived in this water, but in more dilute concentrations other fish and aquatic life might also survive. And what kinds of subtle effects might you see in them? Because hormones tend to have pretty similar effects on all vertebrates, including humans. But I think maybe one of the most interesting things that it makes you think about is that what these fish are being impacted by are not the paper mill wastes directly, but by something that's been transformed by bacteria. So in other words, these ordinary microbes in the water and sediment are playing an active role in changing the pollutants to which we're exposed and the effects that it'll have.
CURWOOD: Janet Raloff is senior editor at Science News. Her article, "Macho Waters," appears in the January sixth issue of Science News. Thanks for filling us in, Janet.
RALOFF: Thank you, Steve.
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CURWOOD: Just ahead: What to do when noisy neighbors keep you up at night, and those neighbors may be the world's noisiest frogs. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
Now this environmental technology update with Cynthia Graber.
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GRABER: Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have developed a new "plastic" wrap made entirely out of fruits and vegetables. The simple recipe: Take the fruit or vegetable of your choice, puree, add water, spread it paper thin, and let it dry. Fruits and vegetables contain long chain molecules called polysaccharides, which bond to create a thin film when the puree and water mixture dries. The sugars in the produce help make the wrap flexible. In low humidity, the fruit or veggie wrap keeps out as much oxygen as plastic wrap does, protecting food from spoiling. This technique could provide a new use for produce now too small to be canned or sold fresh. And the film retains the color and the flavor of the original material. So as Marie Antoinette might say: Let them eat cake, and the wrapper, too. That's this week's technology update. I'm Cynthia Graber.
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CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth. You can hear our program any time on our Web site. The address is www.loe.org. That's www.loe.org. And while you're online, send your comments to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once again, email@example.com. Our postal address is 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And you can reach our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. CDs, tapes, and transcripts are $15.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
TOOMEY: And I'm Diane Toomey. Hawaii officials have a new hotline, but it's not for reporting crimes or UFOs. It's for reporting frogs. The targeted amphibians are native to the Caribbean. They're commonly known as the coqui and the greenhouse frog. They got to Hawaii in potted plants about a decade ago and they've been spreading rapidly ever since. The frogs are putting pressure on native bugs and birds, but it's people who are starting to crack. In chorus, the ear-piercing creatures produce a noise that's causing some Hawaiians to lose sleep. Earl Campbell is a biologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He's been trying to reign in the ruckus. Dr. Campbell, what's it like to be out in the field with these frogs?
CAMPBELL: It's pretty astonishing. I never thought that frogs could get that loud. It's basically a wall of sound. We have people complaining because they can't sleep at night or they can't show their houses at night, because it's so loud nobody would buy the property.
TOOMEY: How loud can it get?
CAMPBELL: At its loudest, the frog calling can be at a level that, if a staff member and I are standing about eight feet apart, we basically have to yell at each other to carry on a conversation.
TOOMEY: But no earplugs.
CAMPBELL: No earplugs.
TOOMEY: I understand that you have a tape of a recording of these frogs. If you could play that for us now, so we can hear what these guys sound like.
TOOMEY: Okay. I had to take my headphones off. That's pretty piercing. (Laughs) Okay. Dr. Campbell, if these creatures are native to the Caribbean, why aren't people in places like Puerto Rico being made deaf?
CAMPBELL: One of the things to make clear is, we have no native amphibians in Hawaii. So our ecosystems developed without having amphibians as a component. Essentially, the things that hold the frogs in check to some level or keep their populations at a certain level, many of those mechanisms, for instance predation, competition, or disease, aren't present in Hawaii.
TOOMEY: Over the past few decades there have been more and more invasions of non-native species into areas around the world. And for the most part, attempts to stop them have been pretty unsuccessful. But you're trying something new. It's a spray made from caffeine.
CAMPBELL: Yeah. The population levels are so high that hand-capture is absolutely ineffective. The traps that have been used for these things aren't effective. We worked with state and federal agencies to screen, what about chemicals that we know may effect frogs? We tested 30 different chemicals that have been known to potentially have effects. And it turns out that nothing that's registered works well on frogs. The only thing that worked was caffeine.
TOOMEY: Tell me how the caffeine works. Why is caffeine a poison to frogs?
CAMPBELL: We don't know the actual mechanism that causes mortality in frogs from caffeine. If you look at the literature on caffeine and its effects, for instance, on human beings, the few cases where there have been human mortality from somebody that just drank absolutely too much coffee, one of the things that's seen is heart failure. So that could be one of the ultimate causes of an application of caffeine.
TOOMEY: Dr. Campbell, do you have any stories that you've heard from residents who live near these areas of infestation that might help us understand just how bad things can get?
CAMPBELL: We've had people try to light their yards on fire. You know, one or two cases, where an individual basically doused her yard with something that would light on fire.
TOOMEY: So this person was so desperate that they set their back yard on fire?
CAMPBELL: They attempted to set their yard on fire, yes.
TOOMEY: Did it work? Did it get rid of the frogs?
CAMPBELL: No. (Laughs)
TOOMEY: Earl Campbell is a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Thanks for joining us today.
CAMPBELL: Thank you very much.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Just south of Sudan in Central Africa is a paradise of dense jungle and grassy plateaus called the Chinko River Basin. The region was once habitat to large numbers of elephants, lions, and hippos. But poachers have been operating in the area for decades, killing the animals for ivory and meat. Today, the once-great herds are nearly gone. Still, some conservation groups call the Chinko River one of Africa's last great hopes for wildlife protection. A group from the U.S. recently conducted perhaps the first detailed biological assessment of the area. Recording engineer Brian Whitlock went along with the expedition. His audio journal is narrated by Brent Runyon.
(Plane engine, ambient voices)
RUNYON: The enormity of what we're about to do is sinking in. We're flying about as far as you can get from civilization. From the air, I've only seen two villages in two and a half hours. Below me is true wilderness. Rolling savannah, dappled with acacia groves. Lush forests along the creeks and rivers. But this is a lawless landscape, where poachers are free to set massive grass fires that drive big game into their sights. The Central African Republic doesn't patrol this frontier because it can't afford to. A spate of coups has scared away foreign investment and commerce. Even the capital is crumbling, filled with dilapidated chateaus that look like ghosts of the French Colonial occupation. The dirt streets erode a little more with every rain, as if the city itself is melting. Our mission is to attract international conservation projects to the Chinko River. It's the only way to protect it. We need to show that despite the decades of poaching, there still are animals here whose populations can recover. We're on a hunt for the Chinko River's last survivors.
(Footfalls and machetes through tall grasses; buzzing bees)
RUNYON: The audacity of what we're doing becomes clear as we approach water's edge. We're going to run 300 miles of uncharted river. Three weeks without any outside contact or support. Just to get to the river, we have to machete a path through razor-sharp grass ten feet high. The temperature is in the 90s. It's unforgivingly humid, and the air is alive with bees. Swarms of them everywhere. When we first encountered the bees, we scrambled for long-sleeved shirts and head nets. Actually, that got us stung. By moving calmly and quietly, we're learning it's possible to work while covered with bees.
(Bird calls; movement through water)
RUNYON: It's better when we're out paddling on the water. The river is fast-flowing and muddy, but gentle for now. Altogether, there are 12 of us traveling in three inflatable rafts and three kayaks. A local guide begins to explain the poaching situation.
KOLAGA: (in French)
TRANSLATOR: Surely, at least 50,000 elephants have been killed since this started over the years. This was the river of elephants, and he doesn't think that he's exaggerating.
RUNYON: Toma Kolaga was once the premier game tracker along the Chinko. He looks the part: quick and lean. But the hunting safaris, which killed only a few trophy animals each year, are now gone, driven out by relentless poachers.
KOLAGA: (in French)
TRANSLATOR: He would like to see poachers killed if it would stop them from coming here. These people come and they take life away, and what are we going to do for our children? How are we going to explain to them that life once existed here and now it doesn't exist any more, because people took it away? This is nature. You can't kill nature. You have to protect it.
RUNYON: One of the members of our expedition is Randy Hayes of the U.S.-based Rainforest Action Network. He tells me that in many parts of Africa the ecosystem itself is under assault. But that's not the case here, which makes him hopeful the region can rebound.
R. HAYES: You don't have logging. You don't have roads. You don't have mining projects. Right now it's a wildlife issue.
RUNYON: And it's not like the Chinko lacks any animals. The river banks are buzzing with monkeys and birds. It isn't long before we spot hippos, too.
R. HAYES: You've got all your major mammal species here. You've got rhinos. You've got a lot of the antelopes. You've got the hippos. You've got the crocodiles. All of that can come back into the sort of plenitude that it once was, if we can stop the poaching.
(Animal calls up and under; fade to walking through grass)
B. HAYSE: Hey, Thomas? What's that noise? That bird?
RUNYON: Thomas is uncomfortable in our rafts, but he melts into the jungle with natural ease. To him, every track or sound or broken branch reads like a story. Our expedition leader, a conservationist and adventurer from Wyoming named Bruce Hayse, is especially impressed.
B. HAYSE: We are fortunate to have Thomas along, who is able to tell us with tracks and sounds and scat and trampled vegetation, lots of different signs he does see as to the relative abundance of the animals, that's made this a worthwhile trip. Without him, we'd be pretty stuck, since we've had only minimal sightings ourselves.
RUNYON: This is our morning routine. Walking side creeks and tributaries in the thick understory. The places where animals tend to congregate. Today, we're at a natural salt lake on the Cavaga River. The ground is covered with tracks. Thomas whispers the names of the animals that made them.
(Thomas whispers. Someone says, "Leopard.")
RUNYON: Thomas is ecstatic to see so many signs of wildlife. He thought the Cavaga's animals were poached out long ago.
RUNYON: Walking through a swampy tangle of kapok trees and hanging vines, we come to another clearing. Thomas begins making a noise that he hopes will attract a small antelope, called a duiker.
RUNYON: After several minutes, a duiker scurries through the vines. It stops to peer at us, and in a twitch it's gone. Our expedition is turning out a bit differently than I'd imagined. We're not seeing the big animals directly. This isn't a game park where you drive up in a Land Rover to a pride of lions and snap a roll of film. Here the signs of the wild are subtle.
RUNYON: In the afternoons as we float along, Thomas entertains us with animal calls.
MAN: Another hippo.
(Thomas makes a hippo call; fade to rain)
RUNYON: It's the end of the second week and it's been pouring rain almost every night. Everyone is starting to break down. The tsetse flies and mosquitoes have ripped us to pieces. Half of us are on antibiotics. One person had a bad reaction to malaria medicine and is suffering a complete psychotic breakdown. I haven't been dry in six days, and there is a staph infection on my ankle. We've all taken on the permanent color of mud, and we're losing weight at an alarming rate.
RUNYON: So far, the Chinko River itself has been tame. We've come during the rainy months to avoid getting killed by poachers, who do their dirty work during the dry season. The rains have swollen the river, covering up most of the rapids. But now, we're facing a boiling 30-foot drop.
(Several voices at once)
RUNYON: Nobody agrees how to get past the rapids until leader Bruce Hayse makes the decision.
B. HAYSE: Basically there's three islands here. The easiest run is probably to the far left, just to sneak right down there...
RUNYON: Bruce looks like the kind of guy you trust in situations like this. A quiet country doctor with the rough edges of a mountain man. But the only thing he cherishes more than wilderness is dangerous wilderness. He says it fosters reverence for nature and keeps people humble. The rapids are too risky for everyone to run, so the expert boatmen will go it alone with our food and gear. The rest of us gather on a cliff to watch.
MAN: Oh, it's brutal.
RUNYON: The last boat takes a beating and flips, but nobody's hurt.
(Yelling, laughter; fade to sounds of dragging)
RUNYON: It's our final day, and as we unload our rafts at the village of Rafai we discover there's a human side to the poaching story. Rafai is a small collection of grass huts with a few mud brick buildings. The people are very friendly. As evening falls, they bring us Ngouli, a liquor made from the casava plant. It tastes like vodka with dirty laundry in it. But Randy Hayes seems to like it.
(Several voices at once)
RUNYON: There used to be many more villages on the Chinko. It was once a happy place. But settlements have largely disappeared because many people are afraid to live here now. With the frontier unprotected, roving bands of poachers have easily taken control. They've not only slaughtered the wildlife, but enslaved the local people. We learn about this inside the home of a Rafai [phonetic spelling] villager named Jacelin Goni.
GONI: [in French]
TRANSLATOR: The poachers come and take our people away and force them to be porters carrying the poachers' supplies on their heads. They take the women to bed and use them. It's not good.
RUNYON: The campaign to end the poaching here will be more than a struggle to protect exotic animals. It will be about protecting people, too.
(Local music and conversation)
RUNYON: It's night and the village is filled with music and dancing. The Ngouli liquor is flowing like a river, and a community meal is being prepared over open fires. The melody is coming from a 12-foot instrument that looks like a xylophone. It's carved from split papaya logs. The Central African Republic faces a daunting challenge in putting an end to poaching. But the people in Rafai seem to appreciate our efforts in documenting their situation. We're spending our final night along the Chinko River with them in celebration.
(Music and singing continue)
CURWOOD: A Chinko River Journal was written and recorded by Brian Whitlock and narrated by Brent Runyon. Thanks to the African Rainforest and River Conservation Group and the National Geographic Society.
(Music and singing continue)
TOOMEY: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Next week: Grapes grow well on California hillsides. Why not another Mediterranean mainstay, olives? Sore, but monosaturated proponents of the tiny fruit are singing its praises.
WOMAN: (sings to the tune of Shenandoah) For one small bottle of olive oil on the hills of El Retiro I broke my back before lunch break. Away, let me get away to my chiropractor. (Laughs with others, who applaud)
TOOMEY: An ode to the olive next week on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our production staff includes Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, Maggie Villiger, Nathan Johnson, Jennifer Chu, and James Curwood, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Carly Ferguson, and Milisa Muniz. We had help this week from Stephen Belter and Terry FitzPatrick.
TOOMEY: Alison Dean composed our themes. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Liz Lempert is our western editor. Eileen Bolinsky is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Diane Toomey.
CURWOOD: And I'm Steve Curwood. 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 W. Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to sustain human well-being through biological diversity: www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
(Music up and under)
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