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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

October 8, 1993

Air Date: October 8, 1993


Picking Apart the Forest / Jennifer Schmidt

Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU reports on the booming forest products industry in Washington State. Huckleberry gathering, mushroom hunting, and general forest foraging have evolved from a marginal source of income to a significant part of the local economy. Some are concerned that too many careless pickers will wreck the forest. Meanwhile, competition between pickers has already led to territorialism and occasional violence. (07:35)

Fate of the Northwest Forests

Host Steve Curwood asks analyst Russell Sadler about what lies in store for the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. While Clinton's forest plan may lead to the lifting of injunctions against logging , the region's timber problems are far from over. (05:58)

Salmon Versus Cows / Henry Sessions

Dams are traditionally blamed for declining salmon populations, especially on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. But as Henry Sessions reports from Oregon, trouble also starts further upstream, where grazing cows and lumbering disrupt water flow and spawning grounds for the fish. (07:43)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1993 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or retransmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Alan Siporen, Mary Jo Draper, Charles Compton, Jennifer Schmidt, Henry Sessions
GUEST: Russell Sadler

(Theme music intro)

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

(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Today's show begins our periodic series on the Pacific Northwest.
We'll visit some old-growth forests where there's controversy beyond logging involving pickers of mushrooms, herbs and greens.

NORVILLE: There are people who of course are motivated by the almighty dollar and will go out and rake, they'll rip back moss, they will totally disturb the habitat and in so doing they may well completely wreck that spot.

CURWOOD: Also, a new culprit in the growing endangerment of salmon - it's cattle.

FERGUSON: If we got rid of livestock on public land, there is absolutely no question that we could begin to solve the salmon problem.

CURWOOD: And the fate of the forests after the logging injunctions are lifted. This week on Living on Earth, right after the news.

Environmental News

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

Grazing fees on public lands will nearly double, under an agreement reached between the House, the Senate and the Administration. It could be one of the most significant changes in Federal land management this century, with implications for other activities on Federal lands. The hike is less than the Administration wanted, and the new fees still won't cover costs of maintaining Federal pastureland. But the overall plan will give Washington far more control over Federal lands. Western Senators tried to block the increase, fearing it would drive small ranchers out of business.

The General Accounting Office has issued a searing indictment of law enforcement practices within the US Forest Service. In a report to Congress, the GAO found that agents investigating misconduct and timber theft have been subject to interference and retaliation. From Eugene, Oregon, Alan Siporen reports.

SIPOREN: The report confirms what some Forest Service employees have been saying for years - that investigators who expose wrongdoing are vulnerable to management retaliation. Oftentimes investigators are looking into possible misconduct by the people they have to report to. Many of the alleged incidents were tied to probes of timber thefts in national forests, resulting in annual losses of tens of millions of dollars to the taxpayer. Testimony from Forest Service investigators blames the obstruction of justice on the cozy relationship between the Federal agency and the timber industry. Forest Service chief Dale Robertson responded, saying the agency is making changes so people will not be supervised by the same officials they have to investigate. For Living on Earth, this is Alan Siporen reporting.

NUNLEY: The Clinton Administration has given Norway a reprieve on trade sanctions, until all "good faith efforts" have been exhausted to stop the country from whaling. However, the President has asked officials to draw up a list of Norwegian products that could fall under a trade ban, should those efforts fail.

A new study of children whose mothers were exposed to dioxin has found a high rate of learning disabilities and immune system problems. The privately-funded study was presented at a recent international symposium on dioxin. It looked at the children of former residents of a town contaminated by dioxin in the 1970's. Mary Jo Draper reports from Kansas City.

DRAPER: Researchers tested children whose mothers were exposed to dioxin in Times Beach, Missouri. Rutgers University professor Peter Kahn admits the study group of fifteen children was small, but he says they definitely showed both immune system and brain function abnormalities.

KAHN: And the probability of finding 14 or 15 kids from a small place with this collection of abnormalities, all looking about the same as one another - the probability of finding that is infinitesimally small.

DRAPER: Kahn says the children showed effects nine to 12 years after they were exposed to dioxin. The findings come as scientists are trying to reassess how toxic dioxin is to humans. Times Beach was evacuated in 1985, after a waste hauler sprayed dioxin-contaminated oil on the roads there. For Living on Earth, I'm Mary Jo Draper.

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth.

A US- Canada advisory committee is calling for a complete ban on a group of critical pollutants. The 11 "persistent toxic substances" include PCB's, DDT, dioxin, lead and methyl mercury, all highly regulated in the US, but still in use and accumulating in the food chain. The panel of the international joint commission, which oversees US - Canadian water quality treaties, says the chemicals pose unacceptable health risks. The proposal will be sent on to the US and Canadian governments, if it's approved at a commission meeting later this month.

There's a new plan to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Weapons Plant. The deal between Federal officials and the state of Washington delays the treatment of high-level nuclear wastes. Northwest Public Radio's Charles Compton explains.

COMPTON: The revised agreement comes just four years after the original was signed by the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Washington State. That agreement said construction of a glassification plant for high-level nuclear wastes was to begin this year. The plant will stabilize wastes by trapping them inside glass logs. But it's been plagued with technical problems and the Energy Department asked for a postponement. The new agreement grants a ten-year delay and switches the emphasis to low-level nuclear waste. State officials like the agreement, because those wastes make up 90 percent of Hanford's problem. Low-level wastes will now go into a second, simpler glassification plant. Nuclear watchdog groups say the new agreement is more detailed and has clearer deadlines than the original, plus it has better protections for the Columbia River. State officials expect light opposition and hope to sign the new agreement this winter. For Living on Earth, I'm Charles Compton in Richland, Washington.

NUNLEY: Peregrine falcons may join the bald eagle, whooping crane, and gray whale as species rescued from the edge of extinction after being put on the Endangered Species List. The falcons nearly succumbed to the effects of DDT and other pesticides in the food chain 20 years ago. A ban on DDT, and the adaptation of the peregrine to city life, are credited for the bird's comeback. Peregrine pairs are now successfully nesting on bridges and skyscrapers across the country.

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

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(Theme music up and under)

Picking Apart the Forest

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

The Pacific Northwest - home to big trees, big mountains, and big disputes over the use and value of our natural resources. Today we begin a periodic series of shows about the Pacific Northwest, and we start with the forests. We'll examine the fate of the ban on logging on Federal lands in light of President Clinton's forest plan, and how the forests themselves may change over the next generation . And we'll hear about the growing debate over the impact that logging and grazing on public land is having on salmon populations. But first, we head into some lush old-growth US forests near Seattle, where local folks are making a living despite the current logging bans - picking wild mushrooms, moss, huckleberries and even medicinal herbs from the forest floor. As Jennifer Schmidt of member station KPLU reports, it's becoming a lucrative business, but the picking isn't as easy as it once was.

SCHMIDT: Mason County, on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, contains some of the best mushroom-hunting grounds in the entire state. During the fall the county's rural roads are lined with makeshift buying stands. Each afternoon, pickers arrive and dump buckets full of mushrooms onto sturdy metal scales.

(Sound of mushrooms being weighed)

SCHMIDT: Until recently, mushroom picking in the Northwest was mainly a hobby. But speak to pickers these days, and most will tell you they go into the woods out of economic necessity.

PICKER 1: Too many people are unemployed, that's what the problem is. Too many people have got no jobs, can't make any money.

SCHMIDT: According to the US Forest Service, there are now about 8,000 commercial mushroom pickers in the Northwest, up from just a few hundred in the late 1980's.

(Sound of walking in forest; "Here's a mushroom right here . . .")

SCHMIDT: Just a few miles from the mushroom buying stands, off an old logging road, Lenny Morris walks through a stand of 80-year-old Douglas fir trees. At his feet, patches of golden Chanterelle mushrooms, with their elegant fluted caps, adorn the ground. But Morris pays no attention. He makes a living gathering and selling huckleberry, beargrass and other greenery for floral arrangements. As he pushes through the undergrowth, Morris reaches out and snaps off the stems from bushes of leafy green celown (sp?).

MORRIS: The old leaf has got to be stripped off, so that you only have this year's growth on it. It's a matter of holding it in your hand and stripping and clipping it at the same time. There we go, we've got a bunch of, bunch of floral greens.

SCHMIDT: Morris and his wife started harvesting greenery full-time in the early 1980's. A few years later the couple opened a small wholesale packing company. Morris now divides his time between harvesting in the woods and managing the company's ten full-time employees. His business is one of a growing number of wholesale companies in the Northwest that sell everything from native herbs to decorative wreaths made from woodland plants. The special forest-products industry is now estimated to generate about $175 million dollars in annual sales. Just a few years ago, it was considered a nearly-invisible cottage industry. The industry's explosive growth worries Lorelei Norville, a mushroom researcher and doctoral student in botany at the University of Washington. She says bad harvesting practices are beginning to take a toll on the forests.

NORVILLE: There are people who of course are motivated by the almighty dollar and will go out and rake, they'll rip back moss, they will totally disturb the habitat, because they're looking at it from a one-shot deal, and in so doing they may well completely wreck that spot.

SCHMIDT: Observers say damage to the woods could be reduced simply by teaching pickers better harvesting practices. But there's another potential problem that worries some even more. Scientists know very little about commercial harvesting and its effects on moss, mushrooms and other products. Ken Russell, Washington State's forest pathologist, says until scientists can determine sustainable harvesting levels, there's a chance these products will unknowingly be overharvested, which could jeopardize the long-term health of the entire forest. Mushrooms, he says, are a good example.

RUSSELL: Mushrooms are vital to the survival of trees. No tree worldwide can grow without fungi in their roots; it's a symbiotic relationship. It's like humans must have bacteria in their intestines to help digest food. So it's the damage that we could do to the ecosystem that we have a great concern about.

SCHMIDT: There are studies now underway, but most are long-term. In the meantime, private, state and Federal land managers are enacting new regulations to strictly control what comes out of the woods. In most areas, pickers must now purchase permits or lease land on which to harvest. Ken Russell calls the new rules inevitable and necessary.

RUSSELL: It's the price you pay for more people, and when there weren't so many people here it really didn't matter. But the day of the free lunch is over, even in the woods.

(Sound of people weighing in mushrooms)

SCHMIDT: After a day's harvesting, a group of mushroom pickers gathers at one of the roadside buying stands. Many here resent that the woods are no longer open to them, and continue to trespass onto land that's been leased or permitted to someone else. As a result, violent confrontations are on the rise.

PICKER 2: I carry a gun and nine times out of ten I have a big black Lab with me that does not like other people.

SCHMIDT: This mushroom hunter, who didn't want her name used, says even pickers who stray onto restricted land accidentally risk getting into trouble. She says that's what happened to her when she ran into two other pickers out in the woods.

PICKER 2: These two guys stood there and said, you come on our property, we're going to shoot you. Nobody knows where their land is. If somebody pulls a gun on me, I'm going to pull one back. I am not going to stand there and get shot.

SCHMIDT: Two commercial mushroom hunters were shot and killed in the woods this past year, and local sheriff's departments are reporting an increase in the number of incidents involving firearms in the woods. Despite the problems, both environmentalists and timber workers have expressed support for the special forest-products industry. Environmentalists say they like it because it allows people to make money from the woods without tearing them down. Timber groups say special forest-products will help diversify rural economies while still allowing displaced loggers to continue working in the forests.

(Sound of walking in forest; "whoop!)

SCHMIDT: Back in the woods, floral greens harvester Lenny Morris says he welcomes the attention the industry is receiving, and hopes it will lead to growth and more jobs for local residents. But Morris says it's not just economic incentives that bring him and others to the woods. As he heads back to his truck, Morris pats his dog Huckleberry and says as a workplace, the forest is hard to beat.

MORRIS: This is a real nice office out here. It's peaceful, it's quiet, and every day is different. It's just a real nice feeling to be out here. It just, there's nothing like it in the world.

SCHMIDT: For Living on Earth, I'm Jennifer Schmidt reporting.

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Fate of the Northwest Forests

CURWOOD: In March of 1991, US District Judge William Dwyer blocked logging in much of the Federal old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest because of what he called "a deliberate and systematic refusal by the Forest and Fish and Wildlife Services to comply with laws protecting wildlife." Of course the judge was speaking specifically about the endangered Northern spotted owl. Well, not long ago the new Administration came up with a plan to protect the owl as part of a broad Northwest forest package, and by the end of the year Judge Dwyer is expected to decide whether the logging injunctions should stay or go in light of the President's plan. To find out how the judge might rule, we caught up with forestry analyst and syndicated columnist Russell Sadler at member station KSOR in Ashland, Oregon. I asked Sadler for his predictions.

SADLER: Predictions are dangerous, but as a practical matter the legal people I talk to say that Dwyer no longer has any basis to issue an injunction. He issued his original injunctions between, because of the disparity between the narrative in the forest plans and the amount of logging that was allowed. The Clinton plan is quite different. Although the environmentalists don't like it, and the timber industry doesn't like it, because neither of them get what they want, the plan is grounded in some science, and there is some justification between the narrative and the cutting level, and it's going to be very difficult for Dwyer to maintain that the Federal Government isn't obeying the law any more.

CURWOOD: So now if Dwyer decides to let the injunction lapse, what happens here? Who do you think are the big winners and who are the big losers?

SADLER: These are people's lives and there aren't winners and losers. There's a basic fact of life out here - this is the last of the virgin forests in the United States. Some old-growth has been set aside in wilderness areas, and then there is what is left that is in dispute now, and the Clinton plan does two things with it. Some of it it puts in forest reserves, where there's very little logging, and others, there's forest reserves where some logging is permitted, is what got the environmentalists upset. There are not enough trees for the timber industry and there is some logging and the environmentalists don't like that.

CURWOOD: Now, Clinton's plan didn't deal with that part of the Pacific Northwest forests that lie east of the Cascade Mountains. What's the latest on those lands?

SADLER: That's land that's seriously in trouble for reasons that are very different than the Douglas fir region on the west side of the Cascades, from northern California all the way up to the Canadian border with Washington. The stuff east of the cascades has been logged by the book over the years, and it turns out now, they're rather sheepish about it, but the foresters are admitting the book was wrong. And what they did was take out the Ponderosa pine and the other commercially-valuable species and leave lodgepole and what-have-you, which turned out to be far more disease-prone than they imagined, and there are all kinds of bug kills sweeping those forest. They're going to have to deal with that in a different way, and it will be a very different sort of a cultural prescription for managing either side of the, the far side of the mountains.

CURWOOD: I need some more predictions, Russell. For one thing, can you tell me what you think the forest will look like there in another ten years?

SADLER: Well, there'll be two kinds of forests. There'll be Federally-owned forests, some of which will still look like virgin forests, just like when Columbus bumped up on the East Coast of this continent, okay? There'll still be some biological diversity, and those areas will be used as gene pools, as the scientists want them. The rest of the Federal forest is going to be a second-growth forest where trees will probably be allowed to grow to a hundred to a hundred and fifty years old before they're logged again. Private lands are going to look very different. Private lands are going to look more and more like Southern tree plantations. Right now because of this injunction on logging on Federal lands out here, the timber industry is cutting private reforestation that's only 30 and 40 years old.

CURWOOD: That's pretty young.

SADLER: It's very young. Experienced timbermen of my acquaintance just look at those logging shows and cry, you know, it's too early, it's too early, they say. This is what we need for the next generation. And of course we won't have it because we're cutting it now. And that is going to cause serious disruption in the transition of the Pacific Northwest timber industry from its old-growth economy to a second-growth like it is in the rest of the country. Trees are so valuable out here right now that in metropolitan areas like Portland and Seattle, people can send their children to college by logging five or six trees from their suburban five acres. And they're doing it, they're going into these neighborhoods and taking these trees out and a good straight 150-foot-tall, two-foot-around Douglas fir tree's worth $5 - 8,000.

CURWOOD: That's pretty amazing.

SADLER: Its practical problem, of course, is that we're cutting our seed corn, we're cutting the stuff that we need ten and 20 years from now and that's going to put pressure on logging on Federal lands ten and 20 and 30 years from now.

CURWOOD: And what will the timber and labor situation be like at that time?

SADLER: The industry will be smaller, it will employ fewer people, it will much more resemble the timber industry in Minnesota and Maine and Arkansas now, because we will be a second-growth industry rather than an old-growth industry. We were the last in the country. There's a little of it left on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and then that's it. That will be the last of the large-scale virgin forests in North America.

CURWOOD: Russell Sadler is a syndicated columnist for print, television and radio in the Pacific Northwest.

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(Music up and out)

Salmon Versus Cows

CURWOOD: As the pace of development and economic activity increases in the Pacific Northwest, pressures are growing on the region's ecosystems, especially in the waterways. Four species of salmon native to the Columbia and Snake Rivers are now either threatened or endangered, and some scientists are predicting that many more fish species could join them. The debate over saving salmon is becoming more intense. For years the huge Columbia River dams and their lethal turbines have been blamed for the loss of fish, but increasingly ecologists are also looking past the dams, upstream, to the impact of siltation from logging - and grazing. Henry Sessions has our report.

(Sound of water)

SESSIONS: More than 300 river miles from the Pacific Ocean, in the Middle Fork of the Jonday River in eastern Oregon, a Chinook salmon floats lazily in the shallow water. She'll lay her eggs in the gravel beds and then die. Her offspring will head out to sea, but the chances of them making it back here have dropped dramatically since European settlers arrived in this area 150 years ago. Denzil Ferguson is a zoologist who retired to a small house along the Middle Fork. Standing on a stretch of the river across from his house, he says he has no doubt about who the culprit is - cows.

FERGUSON: If we got rid of livestock on public land, there is absolutely no question that we could begin to solve the salmon problem.

SESSIONS: Much of the land, that salmon spawning area here, is public, and much of that area is leased to ranchers. Last year, Ferguson based an unsuccessful run for Congress on his crusade to get cows off of public land. His views have brought him dozens of threatening phone calls. Undaunted, Ferguson drives around the back roads of Grant County in a rusty Ford Pinto, looking for places where cows have hurt streams.

FERGUSON: Every time a cow goes down, if there's a bank there and the cow goes down over the bank, the last step she takes before she goes over the bank, she causes the bank to crumble in, and the next time the water comes up it washes that amount of stuff downstream. And just imagine thousands of cows going into streams thousands of times a week, and you're talking, it's like putting gravel into the stream with a steam shovel, you know, every time a cow just walks to get a drink.

SESSIONS: As the banks collapse, streams widen. The water gets shallower and warmer - too warm for salmon. Two species of salmon have already disappeared from the Middle Fork and one of the two species left is declining. Until recently much of the debate over salmon has focused on the huge dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, where young salmon often get ground up in turbines on their way out to sea. But Ferguson says the real problem is upstream. Along with the grazing, heavy logging in national forests has lead to soil and debris washing into dozens of salmon streams. And ranchers have drawn huge amounts of water out of rivers to irrigate fields to grow feed for cows.

(Sound of pickup truck, male voice: "My daughter's cow.")

SESSIONS: Rancher Ron Burnett drives his pickup into the middle of the 2,000 acres he leases at below-market rates from the US Forest Service. The Forest Service made Burnett build several miles of fence on public land to keep his cattle off stream banks. But just downstream, on private land, his neighbor's cows walk right into the stream, munching the juicy sedge grasses on the banks. Burnett resists the notion that cows are hurting fish.

BURNETT: I don't think anybody can say cattle have widened the streams out. The stream, for the lack of elevation, Middle Fork drainage is comparatively deep, and cattle have been there for a hundred years.

SESSIONS: Burnett says he'd take his cows off public land, if he saw proof they're contributing to the salmon's decline. But with so many interests - dam operators, ranchers, irrigators, fishermen, and loggers contributing to the problem - that proof is hard to come by.

BAKKE: We don't have a health plan for salmon.

SESSIONS: Bill Bakke is executive director of Oregon Trout, which has been pushing the Federal Government to protect the salmon.

BAKKE: There's no way to practice preventative medicine so that the runs don't get sick. The agencies, the Federal agencies typically don't get worried about anything unless somebody files a petition under the Endangered Species Act. And what I'm hoping we get to is a point where the agencies are working together to solve the problem before we get to the point where we have to take drastic, excessive action to recover a species that otherwise might be lost.

SESSIONS: Bakke's group has been lobbying for more coordination between government agencies that affect salmon. Right now, dozens of state and Federal agencies are involved, but they often end up working at cross-purposes. A perfect example is the Federal Bonneville Power Administration, which runs several Columbia River dams. Because the dams block the salmon runs, the BPA is responsible for funding and running programs to help fish. But if BPA spends too much on fish, its electric rates will go up, it could lose power customers, and thus lose revenue to help fish. And BPA administrator Randy Hardy says so far, electric rate payers don't have much to show for their contributions to salmon recovery.

HARDY: We're spending $300 million dollars a year, that's double, that's bigger than the entire national budget of the National Marine Fisheries Service or the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We are running the biggest fish program in the country, period. You know? And the irony of that is, we don't know what results we're getting for it.

SESSIONS: The BPA is now funding studies around the region to find out exactly which salmon are in danger of disappearing and why. And in a sign the Federal Government is starting to coordinate policies, President Clinton's plan for Northwest forests includes extensive protections for rivers and streams. Also, there's a move afoot in Congress to ask the Clinton Administration to appoint a "salmon czar" who'd have the power to come up with a salmon plan that all agencies would have to stick to. Environmentalist Denzil Ferguson thinks a solution to the salmon crisis just takes common sense, which he says has been lacking so far. A few years ago a construction crew arrived in front of his house, drove a tractor right up the middle of the stream, and dropped some logs and boulders in. It was a Forest Service project to recreate salmon spawning grounds in an area badly damaged by cattle grazing.

FERGUSON: When you stop and think about it, if you went to Portland and stopped 12-year-old kids on the street and got five of them in a group and said, how would you fix a stream that has been abused by cattle stomping on the banks, how would you mend that stream, do you think they would come up with that? Even children would say, hell, no, you get the cows off the stream, right?

SESSIONS: But even the simplest changes to grazing and logging practices will mean getting the cooperation of powerful and well-entrenched interests. Many of the region's major economic interests may have to sacrifice for fish, and that means many more salmon may end up on the endangered list before the biggest changes start to happen. For Living on Earth, I'm Henry Sessions in Portland.

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(Theme music up and under)

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