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

May 12, 2006

Air Date: May 12, 2006



Nuclear Renaissance / Bruce Gellerman

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Not long ago, nuclear energy was seen as a dying industry. There hasn't been a nuclear power plant built in 30 years, and the disaster at Three Mile Island all but sealed the industry's fate. But today there are serious moves underway to bring nuclear back, and they are set to begin in the South. Host Bruce Gellerman reports. (07:00)

Going Against the Green

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Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore spent 15 years advocating against atomic power. Then he had a change of heart. Host Bruce Gellerman talks with Moore about his new role as a lobbyist for the nuclear industry. (05:00)

Out to Sea / Ashley Ahearn

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The Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act is up for renewal and there are several proposals on the table. U.S. fish stocks have been steadily recovering since they crashed in the early nineties, and that's leading some fishermen to ask for reduced fishing regulations. But others believe that staying the conservation course will ensure robust fisheries in the future. Living on Earth's Ashley Ahearn reports. (06:00)

Our Fisheries Today

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David Helvarg might be the ocean's biggest fan. He started the non-profit environmental organization, Blue Frontier, back in 2003 and he's been working to make blue the new green ever since. Host Bruce Gellerman spent the afternoon with Helvarg at the New England Aquarium to talk about the state of America's oceans. (10:30)

Emerging Science Note/Lawnmower No More / Emily Taylor

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Genetically modified grass? Emily Taylor reports on what could be the end of lawn mowing as we know it. (01:30)

Hunt for Justice

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As an undercover agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lucinda Delaney Schroeder busted illegal and inhumane hunting operations around the nation. She tells host Bruce Gellerman how she did it. (08:00)

View From the Top – Preserving the Nation’s Fire Towers / Cameron Lawrence

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Once, fire lookout towers symbolized natural resource protection in the United States. In the mid 1900’s, about eight thousand lookout towers housed men and women watching above treetop level for smoke and fires near and far. But technological advances led to the abandonment of most lookout towers in the 1970’s. As Cameron Lawrence reports, there are efforts to preserve the symbols of a fire management era gone by. (08:00)

This week's EarthEar selection
listen / download

Sage grouse and coyote herald the sunrise in southern Idaho.

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Bruce Gellerman
GUESTS: Patrick Moore, David Helvarg, Lucinda Delaney Schroeder
REPORTERS: Ashley Ahearn, Cameron Lawrence
NOTE: Emily Taylor


GELLERMAN: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.


GELLERMAN: I’m Bruce Gellerman. How many nuclear power plants does it take to turn on billions of light bulbs? Try at least 16 new ones. Electric utilities have big plans for nuclear power.

O’DRISCOLL: Oh boy, they do (laughs). They do. The goal is to make nuclear the premier source of power generation, but it’s a very difficult, very politically difficult, very expensive process to get that done.

GELLERMAN: Also, a co- founder of Greenpeace sees the light and it’s lit by atomic energy. And a young boy’s wish sparks an effort to save some of the nation’s last remaining fire towers.

ARGOW: And he asked me what they were going to do with the tower, the lookout. And I said, ‘well, they can’t burn it, Son, so they’ll probably dynamite it.’ And he said ‘Dad, you can’t let them do that.’ And without even thinking, I said ‘I won’t, Son.’

GELLERMAN: Those stories this week on Living on Earth. Stick around.

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


Nuclear Renaissance

GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman, sitting in for Steve Curwood. Coming up, a founder of Greenpeace sees the light – and it’s powered by nuclear energy.

But first: There are 103 nuclear plants operating in the United States. And they generate about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. There were plans for a lot more nuclear plants. Then in 1979 the meltdown of a reactor at Three Mile Island put the kibosh on the industry. But now, like a phoenix, nuclear power is rising out of the ashes. Concerns over the burning of fossil fuels and global warming and the rising price of energy are setting the stage for a nuclear power renascence.

Mary O’Driscoll, a senior reporter for Environment and Energy Daily says the industry has big plans.

O’DRISCOLL: Oh boy, they do. (laughs) They do. The goal is to make nuclear the premier source of power generation, but it’s a very difficult, very politically difficult, very expensive process to get that done.

GELLERMAN: There hasn’t been a nuclear power plant built in the United States in nearly 30 years. Despite past difficulties, utilities are taking steps to build no less than 16 new nuclear power plants over the next decade. Mary Olsen, with the Nuclear Information and Research Service, says three-quarters of the plants will be located in the south.

OLSEN: And, indeed, the southeast is the nuclear heartland of the United States because of the number not only of reactors, but fuel factories, nuclear bomb factories, and all the supporting facilities. And this is already a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority communities in the United States.

GELLERMAN: But recent public opinion polls suggest 56 percent of Americans now favor nuclear power. And many people who once said “not in our backyard” now say, “put it in the front.” So, when Duke Power just announced plans to build two new reactors in South Carolina, Jim Cooke, head of the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce, set out the welcome mat.

COOKE: It is huge news. We were just keeping our fingers crossed. We didn’t want to say, ‘we knew they were looking at several different sites.’

GELLERMAN: Duke chose Cherokee County, population 54,000. The textile mills and peach industries are long gone. Unemployment hovers near eight percent and Jim Cooke says just building the new reactors would put a thousand people to work.

COOKE: The number of jobs that they bring in during construction, and those types of folks coming in, will bring a lot of money in. And tax-wise it’ll be a windfall for our county. I don’t even think we realize the economic impact that it’s going to have here yet.

GELLERMAN: To sweeten the deal, Cherokee County is cutting Duke Power’s property taxes on the proposed 2,000-acre site in half. The company already runs a natural gas-powered plant nearby and seven nuclear reactors around the state.

COOKE: Duke power has been a great corporate citizen here. They’re a good company and they’re not just gonna come in here and go away.

GELLERMAN: Actually, once Duke did come to the county with plans to build a nuclear plant. And it did go away.

COOKE: We got our hopes up earlier, back in the – whoo, wow, I was in the service – probably the 80’s. They were gonna build here on this exact site. Matter of fact, there’s an old reactor that they had started and then, for different political and economic reasons, you know, boom, Duke Power pulled out of it. And they sold it to this fella in North Carolina, and he ran a film company and actually made a few films down there…if you recall the film “The Abyss.”


MAN: That there is a bottomless pit, baby. Two and a half miles straight down.

GELLERMAN: The filmmaker of “The Abyss” flooded the unfinished reactor containment vessel and used it for the underwater scenes. Ironically, the movie deals with recovering a sunken nuclear submarine.

MAN: Whatever happens, it’s up to us.

MAN 2: That guy scares me more than anything that’s down there.

GELLERMAN: The site is now a rusting shambles. The cost to build and abandon the reactor: $600 million. But Duke spokesman Tim Petite says times and attitudes have changed and the old Cherokee site is the perfect place to build a nuclear power plant.

PETITE: Well, right now we’re estimating that’ll be somewhere between four and six billion dollars, the initial investment in these.

GELLERMAN: Lot of money.

PETITE: It is a lot of money. These are, you know, very large capital investments just like any large generating station is. But again, as you look at the life of that plant, the fuel costs associated with nuclear is much less than the other generation, and so it pays benefits to the company, the shareholders and the customers over the long-term.

GELLERMAN: To jumpstart the nation’s stagnate nuclear industry, the federal government is providing $13 billion in incentives and subsidies. If there is an accident the utilities liability is largely covered. The licensing process has also been streamlined, and taxpayers will pay half the $47 million application fee. Anti-nuclear activist Mary Olsen says the money is just a down payment on the trillions of dollars nuclear power will eventually cost.

OLSEN: Nuclear power is not cost-effective or competitive. The only way to build new reactors is put tax dollars into it. What if we put trillions of dollars into wind, efficiency and solar? Couldn’t we do it faster? I bet we could.

GELLERMAN: One issue is slowing down the renaissance in nuclear power is radioactive waste. Right now there are 50,000 tons of spent fuel rods at power plants around the nation. The controversial federal repository that was supposed to store reactor waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

To speed things up, the Bush administration has proposed streamlining the licensing process and lifting the cap on the amount of radioactive waste that can be buried at Yucca. Still, energy reporter Mary O’Driscoll says waste remains the industry’s Achilles heel.

O’DRISCOLL: They are paying to store nuclear waste on spent fuel onsite which does not make them happy, doesn’t make their shareholders happy, doesn’t make their rate payers happy. A lot of members of Congress aren’t happy. And so it’s a very difficult situation to resolve, and the feeling is that until you resolve, finally, the Yucca Mountain situation and get it operating and make sure it’s operating, that the future of nuclear power in the United States is really going to be questionable.

PETITE: Well, certainly that’s something we’re taking a look at. We’ll follow that very closely.

GELLERMAN: Again, Tim Petite from Duke Power.

PETITE: We want to see a lot of progress made on that front. And before we decide to go forward with building additional nuclear plants we’ll certainly be evaluating the storage of the fuel before that decision is made.

GELLERMAN: Petite says that decision could be made in a year...maybe two.

Related links:
- Duke Energy Corporation
- Nuclear Information and Resource Service
- The Nuclear Energy Institute
- U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

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Going Against the Green

CASEnergy co-chair Dr. Patrick Moore takes questions from the media. (Photo courtesy of CASEnergy Coalition)

GELLERMAN: One of the leading advocates of nuclear power today was once one of its most outspoken opponents. Dr. Patrick Moore was a co-founder of the environmental group Greenpeace and served seven years as a director of Greenpeace International. Nowadays Moore has teamed up with former EPA chief Christie Todd Whitman to spread the word about nuclear power. Their organization, The Clean And Safe Energy Coalition, lobbies on behalf of the industry.

CASEnergy co-chair Dr. Patrick Moore takes questions from the media. (Photo courtesy of CASEnergy Coalition)

MOORE: Yes, I am very proud to be a spokesperson for nuclear energy, for the technology. I’m not pushing any particular company or any particular group of companies or any particular organization, for that matter, other than the Coalition for Clean and Safe Energy. That’s the only one I’m backing, and the reason for that is because I support the technology.

GELLERMAN: Well, the environmentalists call you a traitor.

MOORE: Well, name-calling doesn’t really help much with the discussion, does it? I think it’s important to get to the issue. And it’s certainly not about me. The whole issue of energy for this world, and the other issue of climate change, which is very strongly related to energy in the form of fossil fuels, which account for about 85 percent of our total energy consumption in this world. These are big issues. One could say that the relationship between energy for civilization and the potential for climate change is the biggest issue we have today. And, from a scientific point of view, perhaps the most difficult.

GELLERMAN: So climate change poses a difficult choice. Is nuclear power the lesser of many evils?

MOORE: If you want to think of everything as evil, like so many of the activists do today. One of the reasons I left Greenpeace was because I had to be against everything all the time. I was really more interested, after about 15 years of being against things every day, I was trying to figure out what the solutions were and figuring out what I was in favor of instead.

And when it comes to energy these days there’s sort of two schools of thought from an environmental point of view. One group, which I think includes Greenpeace and many other of the activist organizations, actually believes that we can phase out fossil fuels and nuclear energy, and at the same time they don’t like hydroelectric dams. That accounts for about 99 percent of all of the energy in the world for making electricity. You cannot propose a solution which eliminates 99 percent of the world’s energy.

So I believe, and I think the second school of thought, would be that the only way to substantially reduce fossil fuel consumption is to have a combination of renewables plus nuclear. Because you have to have a base load; you cannot make base load electricity with wind and solar, which are intermittent and unreliable. They can only fill a certain niche. And the only base load sources of power are hydroelectric, coal and nuclear.

Hydroelectric, unfortunately, is largely built out to capacity. Therefore, the real choice is between coal and nuclear. And, in addition, nuclear energy does not produce greenhouse gases and does not produce air pollution like coal does. So I don’t think it’s so much the lesser of two evils as, in fact, a very clean choice. And if you actually look at the statistics, a very safe choice for energy production.

GELLERMAN: Hmm. Your old organization Greenpeace reported just in April 2006 that it reviewed NRC, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, documents and found there were two hundred near-misses to meltdowns since 1986.

MOORE: Well, near-misses. You know, there’s actually ten levels of incidence that need to be reported to the NRC. Most of these are very minor. It’s sort of like saying you have two hundred car crashes where nobody was hurt. You know, well, okay, so the cars have to be fixed, but no one was hurt. And no one has ever been hurt by a nuclear reactor accident in the United States. It’s plain and simple. Even the worst accident that ever occurred, at Three Mile Island, did not hurt anybody. So, okay, accidents can happen. Accidents may happen in the future. But you have to weigh the risk against the benefit and in addition to that you have to look at the record.

And the record shows that with the exception of Chernobyl, which was a stupid design, that nuclear reactors have been safe. France gets 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and it has not had a history of accidents that have hurt anybody, whereas 6,000 people die in coal mines every year, 45,000 that die in the U.S. just from car accidents – it’s 1.2 million worldwide – and yet no one is banning the automobile. Why do people have such different perceptions of risk for different technologies? I do not understand this.

GELLERMAN: Well Dr. Moore, I want to thank you very much.

MOORE: Thank you Bruce, it’s been enjoyable talking to you.

GELLERMAN: Dr. Patrick Moore is head of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition and chief scientist of Greenspirit.

Related links:
- Greenspirit Strategies Ltd.
- Clean and Safe Energy Coalition
- Greenpeace, International

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[MUSIC: Pan American “Tract” from ‘Pan-American’ (Kranky - 1997)]

GELLERMAN: Coming up: federal regulations limiting their catch snare commercial fishermen, but no matter how you count them the net result is less. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Tom Verlaine “Depot (1958)” from ‘Warm & Cool” (Thrill Jockey Records – 2005)]

Out to Sea

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman. Back in 1976 when the Magnuson-Stevens Act was passed, it laid the groundwork for managing the nation’s fishing industry. Over the years, the law has been revamped and renewed several times. Still, the stock of fish off our shores continues to collapse. Now, members of Congress, including California Republican Richard Pombo, say it's time to update the law that has fish and fisherman on the hook.

POMBO: Fisheries management requires balance. Having fisheries with no fishermen left to harvest this wonderful protein source is unacceptable. Having fishermen with no fish to catch is equally unacceptable.

GELLERMAN: There are a number of bills pending before Congress that would regulate what fisherman can take out of the sea, and how long they can set their nets and lines. To learn how the government’s plans might affect those who make their livelihood from the ocean, Living on Earth's Ashley Ahearn went to some New England docks.


AHEARN: The fishing vessel Sea Hound docks at the Chatham Fish Pier on Cape Cod, Massachusetts to unload her catch as a huge steel bucket swings down on to her deck.


AHEARN: First Mate Jeremiah Perry fills the metal container with glassy-eyed haddock and codfish. Perry and Captain Peter Taylor are just back from three days at sea. Way out at sea. A thousand dollars in gas round trip, out at sea.

TAYLOR: We were fishing 100 miles offshore. We go out there because that’s kind of the end of the line now. Really the only place to find fish.

AHEARN: But Captain Taylor says Cape Cod fishermen didn't always have to go that far to cast their nets.

TAYLOR: When I started you could fish five miles offshore or you could go up the beach, we call it up off the highlands, and be within three miles off land up there and catch all the fish you wanted. Times have definitely changed in that regard.

AHEARN: Fishstocks in the Northeast dropped drastically in the late 1980's. And as the science caught up with the crisis, restrictions on catches soon followed, forcing many fishermen out of business and creating a lot of animosity between the fish-counters and the fish-catchers. But Captain Taylor knows that if the Northeast’s fish stocks are to rebound, it's time to change fishing regulations.

TAYLOR: New England has been great at stalling, delaying, and that's how it's worked. And this is so short-sighted, the management now. You know, they say they're looking out for the fishermen. Well, how do you look out for fishermen if you put them out of business because there aren't any fish left?

AHEARN: When it comes to regulating commercial fishing, New England does things a little differently. The rest of the nation uses what's called a Hard TAC or Total Allowable Catch system. It sets a scientifically determined quota for the amount of fish that can be caught. When fishermen exceed that quota, they have to catch less of that kind of fish the following year.

In New England, fishermen are regulated by the number of days they're allowed to go out to sea. If they catch too many fish this year, then next year their days at sea are cut. But regulating fisherman by days at sea, says Andy Rosenberg, isn't enough to stop over-fishing.

ROSENBERG: If you overfish while rebuilding, what will happen is that you’ll dig a bigger hole and it will take longer to get out, or you’ll have this slow death by a thousand cuts.

AHEARN: Rosenberg was the regional administrator for New England Fisheries when the government first started addressing the over-fishing crisis in the mid-90's. He says that when fast, strict recovery plans were put in place, fish stocks like haddock were able to bounce back. But with slower, more gradual recovery plans, like the one for cod fish, the results were lacking.

ROSENBERG: For cod we phased it in really slowly. There were big arguments from the industry, ‘oh you can’t make the adjustments so quickly.’ Cod has just never recovered.

KANE: What was Cape Cod named for? Cape cod. Now we call it the cape without the cod. You can’t call it Cape Cod anymore.

AHEARN: Raymond Kane's been fishing out of Chatham, on the Cape for 34 years. And although fishermen have historically been wary of fishery scientists, Kane is starting to put a little faith in the research.

KANE: Andy Rosenberg told us back in ‘88 and ’89 that there was something wrong with the stock. And, of course, back then I didn’t want to believe him, but, in retrospect, along with myself and other men my own age, we started talking amongst each other saying ‘there is something wrong here.’


AHEARN: In Gloucester Massachusetts, one of the oldest fishing ports in the nation, there’s a different view about just how many fish are in the sea.

CROSSEN: The fish are out there, we're just not allowed to catch them.

AHEARN: Captain Billy Crossen is aboard his ship, the Odessa, tied up at Fisherman's Wharf. He's been fishing out of Gloucester for 29 years and is frustrated by mounting regulations.

CROSSEN: If I was free to go fishing now the way I fished twenty, thirty or even 15 years ago, I would make myself very, very wealthy in a very short time.

AHEARN: Crossen and other Gloucester fishermen don't want to abandon the days at sea system for quota regulations because they think the science that sets the quotas isn't completely in touch with the actual numbers of fish to be caught on a year-to-year basis.

Vito Giacalone, who works with the Northeast Seafood Coalition representing fishermen, agrees.

GIACALONE: We have very good science here for giving us trends, something to look at. We do not have the kind of science that’s ready to deliver this kind of precision to allocate the fish. It’s gonna be unsafe for the fish stocks and it’s gonna be unsafe for the fishing communities.

AHEARN: Ten years ago, 14 of the 19 commercial stocks in New England were over-fished. Now it's down to eight. So while some fish stocks may be recovering, scientists say more regulation and protective measures are crucial.

There are varying opinions among New England fisherman about how best to manage the Northeast fishery. But one thing they all have in common is a certain degree of stubbornness and determination. The kind that keeps fishermen like Captain Taylor of Cape Cod hanging on to his boat in the hopes of smoother, more fish-filled waters ahead.

TAYLOR: I don't want to switch now. It's one of those things. Midlife crisis and what do you do? I bought a motorcycle instead. (LAUGHS)

AHEARN: For Living on Earth, I’m Ashley Ahearn in Chatham, Massachusetts.

Related links:
- The Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fisherman's Association
- The Northeast Seafood Coalition
- U.S. Ocean Fish Recovery: Staying the Course

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Our Fisheries Today

A community of penguins chills out at the New England Aquarium. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn)

GELLERMAN: The world’s oceans may seem infinite and eternal, but they’re limited, and, says David Helvarg, they’re dying. In 2003, David Helvarg created the Blue Frontier Campaign. It’s purpose: to raise awareness about environmental threats to our seas. His latest book is called “50 Ways to Save the Ocean.” One of the ways is to visit an aquarium. So I asked Helvarg to meet at the New England Aquarium in downtown Boston.


GELLERMAN: Well, David, thank you for coming to the aquarium. I really appreciate it.

HELVARG: Well, it’s great to be here. Almost as fun as the ocean. Let’s enjoy.

GELLERMAN: What are you showing me first?

HELVARG: Well, let’s see what we find. It’s always a mystery what you’re going to run into.


HELVARG: Let’s go in.


HELVARG: Penguins.

A community of penguins chills out at the New England Aquarium. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn)


GELLERMAN: We’re looking at three scuba divers, and they’re feeding these little penguins with these very bushy eyebrows.

HELVARG: Yeah, these noisy fellows are Rockhoppers, like one of, what, 17 species of penguins. Slightly spoiled. You see three people hand-feeding them fish. You’ve got a penguin colony. It like combines the ambience of a heavy metal rock concert and a cow barn.


GELLERMAN: David, now you’ve got 50 ways to save the ocean, basically, and I was interested in number 41, which is “visit an aquarium.” Why visit an aquarium?

HELVARG: Because they’re changing. When I was a kid they were pretty much just medium-security fish jails. Now they’re very engaged. A number of aquariums have gotten engaged with marine education and conservation. And, you know, it’s education for action. I think aquariums are a great way for millions of Americans to get engaged and turned around to become citizen advocates for the oceans, what I call “seaweed rebels,” marine grassroots activists.

David Helvarg (right) with host Bruce Gellerman. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn)

GELLERMAN: I was reading your book, and you quote Jim Watkins, who’s a retired admiral in the U.S. Navy. He says that the U.S. Commission on the Oceans policy warns that we have five to 10 years left to save the oceans before it’s too late?

HELVARG: He believes that there is a tipping point and that we’re very close to it, and if we don’t start to turn things around – not in our lifetime, but in this decade and the following – that it may simply be too late. When you reach a certain point – we’ve seen it in localized areas, you know, cod off Canada. They stopped fishing it but it didn’t come back. We realized they only reproduce in aggregations of certain areas.

You see it with a lot of sea life. We lost 90 percent of the large pelagic fish, the top predators in the open ocean, since 1950. And they’re beginning to see where the genetics change, where you take out so many big fish that the ones that come up behind them are smaller. There’s a scientist in Oregon, Mark Hixon, who talks about fat old females in a positive sense. Fat old females are the most productive and fecund fish. They produce more viable fish and, I mean, more viable eggs, and more of them.

So if you start taking out the big fish at the top you’re weakening the whole system. And we used to think we knew what we were doing in the ocean. We used to say when we take out the big fish small ones grow up behind them. Then we discovered groupers are transsexual; all the small groupers are females and they convert to males as they get bigger. You take out the big fish and now you’ve got a bunch of lonely bachelorettes looking for a date.

GELLERMAN: Well, David, let’s go here. This is where they have a tank with a grouper, I guess. Wow, look at this fish! It’s looks like a rock. It looks like a boulder!

HELVARG: Yeah, a big Goliath grouper.

GELLERMAN: Look how humongous it is!

HELVARG: They’re big. They get bigger, too. You leave them alone and they grow to six, eight hundred pounds. People in the South Pacific, early divers, got really nervous about being swallowed by these guys. And there are stories of it. When I was on a dive trip in Australia one of the crew actually was killed. He was free diving and they found him dead on the bottom, and they suspect he was knocked unconscious by one of these big groupers, what they call Potato Cod over there.

And the problem was that when you go down and dive…at the time they had a bucket of fish they would feed these giant three, four hundred pound behemoths, and they started associating people with food. I almost got knocked over by one.

But this big is probably a “he.” A lot of grouper species, they start out small as females and as they get larger they transition to male. And so you have to have the big ones there to keep the species going. We’re learning it just as we’re destroying it, and we’re destroying it at a tremendous rate. Right now, we’re taking about 80 million tons of wild biomass out of the oceans every year.

I visited the USS Dennis, landed on the aircraft carrier doings ops off San Diego. This is like one of these monster ships, you know, you’re on a four-acre flight deck, they’re doing night ops, and it’s very impressive. I’m up on the bridge with the captain and we’re talking, and I realize every year we’re taking the equivalent of 900 aircraft carriers of living weight out of the oceans. That’s how much fishing we’re doing.

I mean, we used to have natural sanctuaries for fish called too far and too deep. And then after World War II we developed all these military technologies like Lorans and sonar and radar. And now we use satellites to chase fish into the deep oceans, and we’ve got rock-hopper devices to troll rocky bottoms, and there’s no refuge for fish unless we create them. We need to create national parks in the ocean. We need to stop using military technologies to catch fish faster than they can reproduce.

GELLERMAN: Look at that!

HELVARG: This is beautiful. Sea Dragon.

David Helvarg checks out the Aquarium’s seadragon, a close relative of the seahorse, which uses its leafy appendages to hide in seaweed and kelp. (Photo: Ashley Ahearn)

GELLERMAN: Oh my gosh! Look at that! It looks like –

HELVARG: Like a princess should be riding it.

GELLERMAN: Gosh, it’s like a sea horse with wings! Look at its gills in the back moving so fast!

HELVARG: And it’s about a foot long, and when it goes back into that kelp it disappears. It’s magical. I mean, when I was a kid I was angry, really, that I look up to the stars and think I was a generation too soon to explore alien worlds. When I first put on a snorkel and starting seeing things like Sea Dragons I realized there’s alien life right here.

GELLERMAN: What’s inconceivable to me is the amount of difference in the ocean, how many of these varieties and species, and just completely different from anything you’d see on land.

HELVARG: This is the wonder. We talk about the world being 71 percent ocean, but that’s just the surface – 97 percent of all the living habitat is in our seas. From, you know, the surface where sea turtles are munching on jellyfish and the dorsal fins of the sharks are floating, to seven miles down in the Mariana Trench where you have, you know, fish and deep thermal vents. That we used to think photosynthesis was the basis of life – it’s even hard to talk when you’ve got a couple Sea Dragons cruising by. They’re just wondrous.

GELLERMAN: You have a recommendation in the book: get married on the beach.

HELVARG: Get married on a wild beach.

GELLERMAN: On a wild beach!

HELVARG: Because, you know, get married on any beach you love because the things you associate with love and commitment, you’re more likely to go back and commit yourself to. I mean, you know, my life’s love, I remember, first kiss in a sandstone beach in a tide pool in Moss Landing. A lot of people both love and loss associated. I mean, I had a memorial at the beach for a loved one. You look out, it was a feisty day, you know, the wind was blowing, it was kind of – it reminded me of her.

And sometimes you feel like, you know, you still feel a part of something larger even when large parts of your own soul is torn away. We all come from water, salt water, at both an individual and evolutionary basis, and I think that connection’s vital. You know, we’re spending billions to go into space to Mars or other planets and what’s the first thing we look for? Water.

GELLERMAN: Let me ask a cynical question. Why should I care? I mean, you know, I can come to the aquarium and see penguins. I’m never going to Antarctica. What does it matter to me?

HELVARG: Well, this is what people say. What’s the ocean and ocean life matter to me? But we’re a water planet. Life derives from the ocean and we’re dependent on it. We’re dependent…the air we breath, I mean, the oceans are – we talk about the rainforests are the lungs of the planet, it’s really the algae in the ocean that’s absorbing that excess carbon and turning it into the oxygen we need to survive.

If you’re living in Iowa, if you’re a farmer, the ocean’s what drives the weather and climate. Depending on how the oceans act depends on the rain you’ll need for the fields to raise your crops. We also depend on the ocean for recreation, for transportation, for trade, for protein. And also just that spiritual connection, that sense of wonder and awe that so many of us feel when we get there on the water’s edge.

GELLERMAN: So David, here we are in front of this small submersible submarine. It’s about two bathtubs long, it’s painted yellow – yellow submarine.

HELVARG: Yellow submarine.

GELLERMAN: Would you ever get into a submarine like this and go to the bottom of the ocean?

HELVARG: I’d love to. At least as far as it’s depth-qualified for.

GELLERMAN: Well, if you go, take me along.

HELVARG: Okay. You drive.

GELLERMAN: (Laughs) David Helvarg is president and founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign. His most recent book is “50 Ways to Save the Ocean.”

Related link:
Blue Frontier Campaign

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[MUSIC: Jean Michel Jarre “Oxygene 2” from ‘Oxygene’ (Dreyfus - 1993)]

GELLERMAN: You can hear our program anytime on our website or get a download for your personal listening device. The address is loe.org. You can reach us at comment@loe.org. Our postal address is 20 Holland St. Somerville, Massachusetts 02144. And you can call our listener line at 800-218-9988. CDs and transcripts are 15 dollars.

Just ahead: targeting illegal hunters. A rare women federal agent sets her sights on poachers of endangered species. First this Note on Emerging Science from Emily Taylor.


Emerging Science Note/Lawnmower No More

TAYLOR: The grass is always greener, right? Well, thanks to recent research at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland, you may soon be able to have green grass and get rid of that noisy, polluting lawnmower to boot.

Researchers led by Joanne Chory were able to map the signaling pathway of a crucial hormone in plants that regulates growth and development, thus creating grass that stays green and never needs mowing. Now they believe they can manipulate the pathway and control a plant’s stature and its yield. The group of hormones the team examined are called Brassinosteroids, and they act as a chemical messengers of plant development. Without them all plants would be infertile, tiny dwarves.

By limiting the effect of brassinosteroids, Chory and her team believe they may be able to create a genetically modified strain of dwarf grass that stays green all the time. And by enhancing the amount of the steroid they may be able to create types of plants that would yield greater amounts of seeds.

Other studies have shown that brassinosteroids can regulate their own expansion in nature, allowing plants to adapt to their growing conditions in a particular environment. The mainstream effects of this new research could drastically change the face of horticulture in the future, producing sturdier, more fruitful crops.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Emily Taylor.

Related link:
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Press Release

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

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[MUSIC: Ozric Tentacles “Iscence” from ‘Erpland’ (Snapper Classics UK - 2003)]

Hunt for Justice

The fly-in hunting camp owned and operated by Bob Bowman--located on the Ivishak River in the Brook Range, Alaska (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Lucinda Delaney Schroeder is five foot two with eyes of blue, a wife and a mother, too. But don’t let her small size and demeanor fool you. For thirty years she worked as a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where she would frequently go undercover to track down some of the most despicable of species: bloodthirsty hunters who kill for fun, care nothing for the animal, and less for the law. She’s written a book about her experience as an undercover wildlife agent called “A Hunt For Justice,” and she joins me. Ms. Schroeder, welcome to Living on Earth.

SCHROEDER: Thank you Bruce, I’m delighted to be here.

GELLERMAN: Back in 1974, you were one of the first women at the Fish and Wildlife Department’s law enforcement arm, is that right?

SCHROEDER: Yes, I was.

GELLERMAN: How could that be just about 30 years ago they didn’t have any women?

SCHROEDER: Because prior to 1971 it was illegal for women to carry firearms in federal service. So they weren’t hiring women until just shortly thereafter.

GELLERMAN: Had you fired a firearm before entering the federal service?

SCHROEDER: No, I hadn’t.

GELLERMAN: So what would make a nice woman like you want to take up a firearm?

SCHROEDER: Well, I had a degree in criminology. I graduated from the University of Maryland in 1974. And I really wanted a job as an investigator. I wanted a job where I could go out and find bad people doing bad things. And the Fish and Wildlife Service attracted me because it was a job where I could do something with a cause. One of the things that I liked to do in my career was find the very worst, the very worst of the wildlife violators out there who were doing the most damage.

GELLERMAN: A goodly part of the book is you find them in Alaska.

SCHROEDER: Yes, I do. My book concentrates on one case because it is so dramatic and it does show what tremendous damage a small ring of international poachers can do to wildlife.

GELLERMAN: It’s not so much that these guys are hunters as herders. They’re using snowmobiles and airplanes to basically channel animals into a killing field.

The fly-in hunting camp owned and operated by Bob Bowman--located on the Ivishak River in the Brook Range, Alaska (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

SCHROEDER: That’s exactly right. When I was there, small airplanes that are called “supercubs” were used to herd animals into shooting range of the hunters. The animals were primarily grizzly bear. Many people may not realize this, they’re one of the easiest animals to herd, and they can be corralled and they can be herded in almost any direction. And this was happening day after day while I was at the camp. In fact, the grizzly bear hunt usually takes three to five days. The airplanes were cutting these hunts down to 15 to 30 minutes, from three to five days.

GELLERMAN: Not much sport there. What were these people after?

SCHROEDER: The hunters that I encountered were not interested in sport. They were living by what I call “the creed of greed.” They were just simply interested in the trophy. Their only ammunition was their checkbook. They went to the camp knowing full well that there was going to be some very serious violating going on, and they went there and they killed their animals very quickly and went home with their trophies.

GELLERMAN: A lot of these hunters aren’t good ol’ boys, they’re international bankers and politicians – these are people with big bucks.

Lucinda with an illegal overlimit of waterfowl. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

SCHROEDER: The hunters that I met in Alaska were indeed wealthy individuals. They used their money to buy easy, sure, quick and guaranteed hunts. They had prestigious positions in Europe and they cared nothing about the sport and they cared nothing about the actual challenge of the hunt. They used their money to come to the United States and steal our wildlife.

GELLERMAN: The organizers in this operation want you to go after Dall sheep. And they’re on the cover of the book, they’re magnificent animals, but why Dall sheep? Why not grizzlies or…

SCHROEDER: Well, Dall sheep are one of the premier animals for trophy hunters, and they’re also one of the most difficult to hunt. The trophy hunters who go to Alaska really like to hunt Dall sheep and the outfitter wanted me, a woman, to hunt a Dall sheep so he would have a photograph to put on his brochure for the upcoming hunting season. But the Dall sheep that I ended up shooting was shot on a national wildlife refuge without a permit and it was an illegal sheep.

And after I shot that sheep – I was forced to shoot it, I had no choice in the matter – and after I shot the sheep I was very upset. I was very angry. But I vowed that this sheep would not be shot in vain, and that this sheep would be used to make sure that this never happens again, this camp would be shut down, and that this outfitter would pay the price for killing all the animals that he had killed.

GELLERMAN: In going after these bad guys it sounds almost like James Bond. You have secret tape recorders and you have to have an alias. You go as “Jane.” It is dangerous, isn’t it?

SCHROEDER: It can be very dangerous, especially since all the work is done in remote areas and there is no backup. In my investigation I didn’t take any tape recorders with me because I couldn’t run the risk of having one found on me. And I didn’t take a handgun with me. I had a rifle, of course, because I was posing as a hunter, but I didn’t have firearms, I didn’t have identification, I didn’t have anything. I had no way of contacting any other agents or other backup while I was in the Brooks Range for help. So I was strictly on my own, and I had to rely on my wits every moment.

GELLERMAN: What would they have done to you had you blown your cover?

SCHROEDER: It’s hard to say. Obviously, the worst thing they would have done is left me on the tundra, considered me a lost hunter. They might have killed me outright. It’s just impossible to say but it would not have been good.

GELLERMAN: In the book, in the investigation that you conducted in Alaska – I mean, some of these animals are so magnificent. I’m thinking of these nine-foot grizzly bears. In the end, when you catch these bad guys and they get some time in prison, it’s not much time, a year or two, and a couple thousand dollar fine. What kind of justice is that?

SCHROEDER: For the most part wildlife violators don’t serve a lot of time in jail, and they get back out in the woods and they’re back to violating again. But in the case of my investigation I was fortunate enough in that the camp was closed down completely. All of the violators who participated in the violations that I investigated are no longer in the field. They’ve been out of business for many years. So it was a very successful investigation from that standpoint.

GELLERMAN: The Fish and Wildlife Service, the portrait that you paint, is of some very dedicated people, dramatically under-funded. How many agents were there in the United States?

SCHROEDER: Right now there’s about 230 for the whole country. It’s always been between about 210 and 230. The numbers are pathetically low. It doesn’t get the support that it needs, it has a huge job, the agents are all overworked, and, as the years go by, their jobs are getting more and more difficult.

GELLERMAN: I mean, you’re literally out-gunned.

SCHROEDER: Absolutely.

GELLERMAN: Is the problem getting better or worse? Are people toeing the line? Obeying the laws?

SCHROEDER: It’s hard to say because most wildlife crime goes undetected. So, it’s hard to say if it’s getting better or worse but there’s no indication that it’s getting vastly better. There are still violators out there. They still need to be caught. And the American public can do an awful lot by reporting wildlife crimes.

GELLERMAN: Ms. Schroeder, are you still hunting?

SCHROEDER: A little bit. I’m busy with a lot of other occupations so it’s difficult to get time to hunt, but I do a little.

GELLERMAN: Ms. Schroeder, than you very much.

SCHROEDER: Well, thank you. I’ve enjoyed talking to you very much.

GELLERMAN: Lucinda Delaney Schroeder’s book, the true story of a woman undercover wildlife agent is called “A Hunt for Justice.”

Related link:
"A Hunt for Justice" website

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[MUSIC: 16 Horsepower “Flutter” from ‘Folklore’ (Jet Set Records – 2002)]

View From the Top – Preserving the Nation’s Fire Towers

Hickory Flats Fire Tower. (Photo: D. Cameron Lawrence)

GELLERMAN: Once, there were 8,000 fire lookout towers in the United States. From these vantage posts generations of men and women kept a watchful vigil over the nation’s forests. But today, with fewer than 2,000 of the towers left, there’s a movement underway to protect those that remain. Cameron Lawrence has our story.


LAWRENCE: There’s an easy camaraderie among the members of the Route 377 Volunteer Fire Department located among the rolling ridges of northeastern Kentucky, near Morehead. Most of the men working at the firehouse on a spring Saturday grew up nearby and have a deep commitment to the region.


Hickory Flats Fire Tower. (Photo: D. Cameron Lawrence)

LAWRENCE: Forty-one year-old Dowe Blevins is the fire department’s chief. For years, as he drove area roads, he’d spot the abandoned Hickory Flats Fire Tower, an 80-foot skeletal structure capped with a small lookout, sitting atop a hill high in the 700,000 acre Daniel Boone National Forest. On one of those drives through the country, Blevins hatched an idea.

BLEVINS: We come back one night, and I just took my hat off and said ‘hey, guys, we gotta buy a fire tower.’

LAWRENCE: Blevins says that in the past, Hickory Flats was a big part of community life. People often hiked to the tower and visited with the lookouts. But after decades of abandonment, it was falling apart. That bothered Blevins.

BLEVINS: It’d probably been 20 years since I’d been up there. And we walk up there, and it’s all grown up and trees as tall as it is. You know, some of them. But we went up there and we said, ‘well, this is doable.’

LAWRENCE: The first part of the effort was raising the money to buy the tower.

BLEVINS: So what we done is we just added another fundraising night.

LAWRENCE: Danny Blevins is Dowe’s older brother and the department’s training officer.

DANNY BLEVINS: We raise funds for trucks and equipment, so we decided we would start have a couple of fundraisers just for the fire tower, and that’s what we’ve done. We were able to raise a little bit of money from a fish fry and then some donations to help put into the tower.

LAWRENCE: Diving into historical research, the men discovered that Hickory Flats was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 and that it was among 180 other fire lookouts that once stood in Kentucky.

Route 377 Volunteer Fire Department in front of the cabin or "ground house" they are restoring. Fire chief Dowe Blevins is front-center, Danny Blevins is second from left. (Photo: John Gregory)

In the 1980s, no longer using the tower, the U.S. Forest Service had traded it to private owners for other land the agency wanted. The men of Route 377 tracked down the tower’s owner. They bought it for 400 dollars. Next, the men put in a driveway and started restoring the cabin and tower. Danny Blevins says the work has been worth it.

DANNY BLEVINS: When you get in the tower you don’t take anything for granted. The beauty is spectacular. It really wakes you up to what you’ve got at your own back door.

LAWRENCE: The Route 377 fire department is among a growing cadre of enthusiasts around the country working to save the nation’s fire towers. It’s a story whose beginnings go back to the early days of natural resource management in this country.

Keith Argow is a former district ranger with the U.S. Forest Service and president of the National Woodland Owners Association, a group of non-industrial private forest landowners. He says when the Forest Service was founded in 1905, there were just a few fire lookout towers in the country. But that would soon change.

ARGOW: Gifford Pinchot, of course, was the first chief of the Forest Service, and he witnessed the tremendous 1910 fires.

LAWRENCE: Those fires were the largest in American history. Called “When the Mountains Roared,” the inferno raged across three million acres of northern Idaho and western Montana. The blaze led to a call for a national fire lookout system. By the end of the 1930s, with major help from the Civilian Conservation Corps, more than 5,000 lookouts housed tower men and women watching for smokes in the distance.

MAUK: You had Hickory Flats, Triangle, Tater Knob…(FADES UNDER]

LAWRENCE: Eighty-six year-old Joe Mauk recounts the towers that once stood in this part of Kentucky. During a 40 year career with the Forest Service, he oversaw fire protection efforts in this region. Mauk says in western forests, lightening strikes are one of the major causes of fires. But in eastern forests, it’s usually people who are to blame.

MAUK: Back at that time we had a lot of tobacco farmers around the country. In the spring, they’d built plant beds, pile brush on them and burn them to fertilize the tobacco beds. Quite often while they were burning them a wind would come up and blow out and start fires. And then people burning stuff around their homes at that time, started quite a few fires.

An alidade used to locate fires. From an old Kentucky fire tower, donated by a private collector to the Route 377 Volunteer Fire Department. (Photo: John Gregory)

LAWRENCE: Mauk says each lookout had an instrument called an alidade, a device that took location readings. When a tower man or woman spotted smoke, they took a reading and called the information into a dispatcher, who’d get readings from other towers and pinpoint a fire’s location.

It was the same system used in all of the nation’s lookouts. But by the 1970s, most lookout towers were abandoned as state and federal forest agencies turned to aerial surveillance, satellite detection and other high-tech methods. Again, Keith Argow.

ARGOW: It was a very sad period which I witnessed as a district ranger at the time, and on my unit, I fought hard to maintain all of my lookouts. But they’re all gone now.

LAWRENCE: For liability reasons, agencies burned, dynamited or toppled most towers. Others were vandalized. More than 25 years ago while hiking in Mt. Hood National Forest, Argow decided to try to save the nation’s remaining fire lookouts.

ARGOW: I had taken my son up to one that was a stone structure built in the Civilian Conservation days, and it had been abandoned. And he was only five years old, and he was sitting up there at dusk, and asked me what they were going to do with the tower. And I said, ‘well, they can’t burn it, son, so they’ll probably dynamite it.’ And he said ‘Dad, you can’t let them do that.’ And without even thinking, I said, ‘I won’t, son.’

LAWRENCE: That promise led to an eight-year effort to establish the National Historic Lookout Register, which does research on old lookouts and now lists more than 672 of them.


LAWRENCE: I definitely have the white knuckle thing going on!

DOWE BLEVINS: We almost got it whipped now!

Hickory Flats Fire Tower.
(Photo: John Gregory)

LAWRENCE: On a warm spring day, brothers Dowe and Danny Blevins take me to the Hickory Flats Fire Tower. Next to the tower is a cabin where the lookouts lived and that the men are restoring. On the tower itself, there are eight flights of see-through metal steps. It helps not to look down. At the top, a trap door leads into a small wooden cab, about seven feet square and 80 feet off the ground.

DANNY BLEVINS: This is a big time tree house!

LAWRENCE: The view is an expansive 360-degree panorama of wooded ridge tops, delicately decorated with the pink of redbud trees in bloom. Dirt logging roads cross some of hillsides. Small farms nestle in the valleys. From this high post, it’s easy to see how a lookout could spot smoke in the distance. Again, Danny Blevins.

Looking out from the top of the Hickory Flats Fire Tower. Both privately-held land and the Daniel Boone National Forest are in view. (Photo: John Gregory)

DANNY BLEVINS: And if you think about this, here it is 2006, I’d be willing to bet that we’re the only four people in the state of Kentucky sitting in a fire tower. And that’s pretty neat, that you’d be able to experience this.

LAWRENCE: Many of the nation’s fire lookout towers out west that have been restored are available for overnight rental to hikers and backpackers. The Route 377 Volunteer Fire Department hopes that soon Hickory Flats will be the first fire lookout tower in the East open for overnight guests. For Living on Earth, I’m Cameron Lawrence near Morehead, Kentucky.

GELLERMAN: Our story about the fire tower watchers of Kentucky was co-produced by John Gregory.

Related link:
Forest Fire Lookout Association

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[MUSIC: Shelby Merchant “Fire Tower Road” from Sweet Tea (James Shelby Music – 2005)]


GELLERMAN: We leave you this week near the Owyhee Mountains in southern Idaho, just before sunrise.

GELLERMAN: Jeff Rice recorded these sage grouse strutting and puffing up their chests as part of their spring mating ritual, while two young coyotes call in the distance.

EARTH EAR: “Sage Grouse & Coyotes” recorded live by Jeff Rice (Owyhee Mountains, Idaho – 2006)]

GELLERMAN: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu, Ingrid Lobet and Jeff Young - with help from Christopher Bolick, Kelley Cronin, and James Curwood. Our interns are Bobby Bascomb and Emily Taylor. Our technical director is Dennis Foley. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find us at LOE dot org. Steve Curwood returns next week. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; Kashi, maker of all natural cerials and snacks for health and wellness. Kashi, seven whole grains on a mission. And Stonyfield Farm. Organic yogurt, smoothies, and milk. Ten percent of profits are donated to efforts that help protect and restore the earth. Details at Stonyfield dot com. Support also comes from NPR member stations, the Ford Foundation, the Town Creek Foundation, and the Saunders Hotel Group of Boston's Lennox and Copley Square Hotels. Serving you and the environment while helping preserve the past and protect the future, 800-225-7676.

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