Air Date: October 25, 1996
River of Grass: Florida's Environmental Voters/ Sandy Tolan
This year the Everglades is at the center of Florida's politics with a rhetorical battle over an anticipated Everglades clean-up by sugar companies. President Clinton's commitment to tax sugar producers for this effort seems to have the popular edge over Bob Dole's stance of citizen taxation. Sandy Tolan reports on Florida's expected sweet vote for Democrats. (16:00)
War of the Worlds: A Halloween Fright!
Spoofing Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven", Living on Earth presents a scary tale of Halloween eco-horror lampooning some of humankind's worst fears. Included among the spine-chilling spectres is, what else, the political election season. (04:15)
The Living on Earth Almanac
Facts about... the origins of Halloween. (01:15)
Tall Grass Park/ Catherine Winter
Among new national parks recently designated by congressional decree is a protected tall grass prairie in Kansas. With only ten percent of the nation's prairie remaining from what existed a century ago, the new national park is part of a larger plan for prairie preservation. Catherine Winter reports. (07:35)
Time Waits for No One/ Alston Chase
Commentator Alston Chase brings up the point that humans do not live very long compared to boulders and rivers, and questions our capacity for stewardship of these ancient forces in our relatively brief lifetime. (02:20)
Planting Bulbs in the Garden Spot/ Evelyn Tully Costa
This segment of the organic garden spot deals with what's involved in planting bulbs now for next year's harvest. Evelyn Tully Costa shares her advice with Steve Curwood. (06:40)
Oregon Bottle Bill/ Nassem Rakha
Nassem Rakha reports on a bottle recycling initiative in Oregon to expand the variety of containers citizens may turn in for cash. Rakha reports that proponents find it to be a practical progression on what is already in place, while opponents say it will be complicated and cumbersome. (04:15)
Curbside Voter Registration/ Alan Durning
Commentator Alan Durning thinks out loud about some practical ways voter registration might be made easier for green voters in his native Seattle. (03:10)
Copyright c 1996 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.
HOST: Steve Curwood
NEWSCASTER: Jan Nunley
REPORTERS: Terry FitzPatrick, Amy Eddings, Sandy Tolan,
Catherine Winter, Naseem Rakha
GUEST: Evelyn Tully Costa
COMMENTATORS: Alston Chase, Alan Durning
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
As the Presidential campaign nears its end, we take you to Florida, which hasn't gone Republican for 20 years. But this year, thanks to the Everglades and concern about the environment,that may change.
CANE: The issue of the environment is driving people to vote for Bill Clinton regardless of their partisan beliefs. It is the one issue that is making a difference for Bill Clinton in this state.
CURWOOD: Republicans for Clinton include those who speak from a tradition of stewardship.
REED: You walked gently on this earth. You didn't leave deep footprints. You tried to leave it better than when you found it.
CURWOOD: Sugar, swampland, and Florida's changing political landscape. Also, the green goblins of Halloween. This week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.
NUNLEY: From Living on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. California's coho salmon have been declared a threatened species by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports.
FITZ PATRICK: Coho once thrived along the Pacific coast, with runs of 125,000 fish spawning every year in the streams of central California. Now the runs are down to 6,000 fish, prompting Federal officials to list coho salmon as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The listing involves 9 major watersheds along a 300-mile stretch of coastal California, including Santa Cruz and the San Francisco Bay. The action could lead to sweeping restrictions on logging, farming, mining, and construction, in order to give salmon populations a chance to recover. The announcement caps a 3-year battle with sport fishers and environmentalists, who took the National Marine Fisheries Service to court to force the agency to act. A decision involving coho in northern California and Oregon has been postponed until April. For Living on Earth, this is Terry FitzPatrick reporting.
NUNLEY: British scientists have found the first direct evidence of a link between mad cow disease and a similar human brain disorder. The researchers say they found the same markers in people infected with Kreutzfeld-Jakob Disease and animals infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The finding published in the journal Nature comes as a blow to the British government, which has long denied any danger in eating British beef. Scientists at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London also warn that the epidemic is in its early stages and may not reach full scale for many years.
The Clinton Administration says it won't challenge a court order requiring it to dispose of tons of used nuclear fuel. Earlier this year a Federal appeals court ordered the Energy Department to start accepting the fuel kept in civilian reactors in 31 states by 1998 although the government has no place to store the material. Despite the Administration's decision, it is still unclear what the government will do with the nearly 30,000 tons of spent fuel. A decision on the suitability of a proposed storage site in Nevada will not even be made until 1998.
Some reformulated types of gasoline don't burn any cleaner than the fuel they replaced. That's the conclusion of a study in Consumer Reports magazine. From WFUV in New York, Amy Eddings reports.
EDDINGS: Researchers compared 5 of the new fuels with 1990 varieties and found that 4 did a better job at reducing emissions, especially of carbon monoxide. Only one fuel type, the so-called winter oxygenated gas formula, did not perform any better than the 1990 fuels. This gas is supposed to help cold car engines run cleaaner, and it's sold in areas like New York City, where carbon monoxide is a problem. The top performer was California's Phase II Reformulated Gas. Test director Bert Pappenberg wants it to become the nationwide fuel standard to reduce pollution, but says driving habits will have to change, too.
PAPPENBERG: If you add more cars or put more mileage out, then you can negate the benefits of cleaner gasoline.
EDDINGS: Pappenberg says the new fuels did not hamper car performance or fuel economy, issues that caused concern among consumers when the gasolines were first put on the market. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.
NUNLEY: Pope John Paul II has lent his support to Darwin's theory, saying belief in evolution is compatible with Christian faith. The Pope's recognition of evolution as more than just a hypothesis came in a message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The announcement broke new ground by acknowledging that the theory of the physical evolution of man and other species through natural selection and hereditary adaptation appears to be valid. Until now, the theory of evolution was viewed by the Roman Catholic Church as serious but still an open question. Some conservative theologians say the theory of evolution conflicts with the Biblical account of creation.
China has forced nearly 50,000 factories to halt operations in a battle against air and water pollution. A government official says the closed factories were warned to install waste control facilities or go out of business. Figures published in the China Daily newspaper show 49,735 polluting factories were closed after inspection teams found they ignored the cleanup mandate. Of those closed, 1,500 were paper mills, most operating along the filthy central Huwahe River that provides water to 1.5 million residents in 4 provinces.
Sharks get suntans. That's the conclusion of 2 scientists who say that because sharks don't get skin cancer, this finding could help combat skin cancer in humans. Two University of Hawaii scientists put filters on baby hammerhead sharks which cut out ultraviolet rays known to cause tans in people. Sure enough, the sharks tanned, with tan lines showing where the filters had been. Tests on the skin showed melanin, the same chemical that causes skin to darken in humans, increased in the skin of sun-exposed sharks. The results were published in the journal Nature.
That's this week's Living on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Shouting and music)
CURWOOD: A street band pumps up the jam at a hip-hop bash on Florida's South Miami Beach. Sharply dressed 20-somethings stroll past art deco hotels, cell phones in hand. Are these folks worried about the environment and concerned about the state's treasure, the Everglades? Well, all kinds of Floridians, including the ultra cool, love what they call their river of grass.
MAN: I think about a natural habitat, and I think about endangered species. I like animals.
WOMAN: Snakes, swamp alligators. I guess it's an important part of the ecosystem and it should be protected.
MAN: When you mess you clean, right?
WOMAN: Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Yeah.
MAN: You should responsible for doing the cleaning.
WOMAN: That's right. It's our environment.
MAN: Right? You've got to take care of it.
MAN: The Everglades is one of the, you know, one of the last great spaces that we have. I think we should leave it alone for our children and their children, you know?
MAN: Keep it clean. That's about it.
CURWOOD: This year, the Everglades set the center of Florida politics. There's a fierce battle raging over a statewide referendum to require polluting sugar producers to pay a penny a pound to protect the region. Bill Clinton has pledged his support for Everglades cleanup, and pollsters say that is helping the President run ahead of Bob Dole in Florida. In fact, Mr. Clinton's environmental stance in Florida may give Democrats the chance to win the state for the first time since 1976. Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan has our story.
BARLEY: This is the Everglades agricultural area outlined right here in red. And we, as citizens, own the rest of this land. And right now they are using our national park as their sewer system.
TOLAN: She stands before the cameras in a press conference at the edge of the marsh, pointing to a color-coded satellite map. Mary Barley, president of Save Our Everglades, gets ready to lead TV crews on air boats into the glades to document the damage by sugar plantations to the north.
BARLEY: It's time for them to pay for the cleanup of their pollution, so let's go.
MAN: If you look in your briefing kit, you can pick one up now or...
(An engine starts)
TOLAN: Propellers slice through the morning air, and we skim through the place long known as the River of Grass.
TOLAN: It feels like driving through a great meadow, vast, to the horizons. Except that the road is a narrow strip of water with powder-green sawgrass rising on either side, opening at times to still ponds cut by our blades. Here a crocodile pops out of the water. Up there a Great Blue Heron hang glides overhead. Mary Barley sits high in the air boat chair in shades, docksiders, and jeans, hair blown back, the Everglades flashing behind her, cameras rolling. She's carrying on the fight for her late husband George, an environmental crusader killed in a small plane crash last year on his way to an Everglades meeting.
(Propeller continues, then stops)
TOLAN: Now we move deeper in. The glades thicken, a monoculture of cattails narrows our path. The water smells like rotten eggs. Fish and birds are fewer in number.
(The motor stops)
TOLAN: This, says Barley, is an area being killed by the runoff from the phosphorous fertilizer of the big sugar farms.
BARLEY: You saw the water was gin-clear which you were going over, a little algae lying on top, which is good. What's happened here is it's so thick, the nutrients are so heavy, it stops the water flow. It's so think that plant, that animals and the natural plants that used to live here can no longer survive.
FISECHELLI: I'm born and raised here. I've hunted and fished here all my life. And I've seen it go from good to bad. And I want to try to help save it.
TOLAN: An old boat driver steps forward, framed by the thickening cattails behind him. Freddy Fisechelli reaches down to scoop out a glass of funky water.
FISECHELLI: That looks like a lot of decayed matter. [Spills water] It's not normal for the glades. It's not made out of the same stuff. You can smell it. Nothing can live here. You won't find any fish here because there's no oxygen here. If you talk to the scientists says oxygen won't survive where there's cattails. So you have nothing here. You see very little here.
TOLAN: A hundred twenty years ago, a lot of South Florida was nothing but marshes. The Everglades flowed wet and dry with the seasons. Then in 1879 the first ditch went into drain the marshlands around Lake Ocochobee for farm lands. In 1947 the Army Corps of Engineers came in and built canals and levees for flood control. Suddenly, there was a reliable year-round source of water. Big growers, spurred by government price supports, planted sugarcane in the muck. For decades the canals brought the phosphorous runoff from the sugarcane fields right here. Meantime, thousands more acres of glades were being sacrificed for water storage to fuel the South Florida population boom. Now, there are only remnants of healthy Everglades left, but there's a big movement to save what remains. In February, Vice President Gore announced the Administration's support for a huge plan to clean the glades, rework the plumbing of the entire Everglades ecosystem, and go back to a system of more natural flows. It would be one of the largest public works projects ever undertaken, at a cost of at least $3 billion. Save Our Everglades wants the big sugar companies to pay their share of the bill.
BARLEY: If we clean the water and we put some more water back in the system, it's not too late; we can still make a difference here in the Everglades. We can save it.
MAN: How is a penny per pound going to help that?
BARLEY: Penny per pound as a revenue source? We're asking them to pay to clean up their pollution, so taxpayers won't have to. And we're telling our elected officials that we've had enough. The penny a pound will tell them that finally it's their turn now. They have to help us all clean up.
(An animal squeaks. Rustling in the grasses.)
TOLAN: Up north, amidst sugar cane that's high and nearly ready for harvest, fourth generation farmer David Beardsley says he's already paying. A new tax is paying for the construction of marshes to filter out some of the phosphorous runoff. It's working, Beardsley says. More taxes are not necessary.
BEARDSLEY: If we can control the runoff of the phosphorous and that's what we're currently being taxed at, I'm in my third year of an existing tax that's not real easy to pay. That's what we're currently, and that tax program was set up so that we would repay 100% to clean up the runoff from the farming area. Well I'm sorry, but I think that's enough.
TOLAN: Beardsley is one of about 130 growers harvesting nearly half a million acres of cane, or enough to produce about three and a half billion pounds of raw sugar a year. That's nearly a quarter of the sugar consumed in the US. Smaller growers like Beardsley say they're not sure they can hang on if the tax passes. And the industry says there are close to 40,000 people who depend on sugar for a livelihood.
HOWELL: It's the worst thing that could ever happen if they pass the tax.
TOLAN: Adolphus Howell came here in 1959 to cut cane for David Beardsley's father. Now he's a maintenance man at the farm. Standing tall and lanky in his oil-spattered jumpsuit, the Jamaican worries about how he and his boss will get by.
HOWELL: Because, you know, smaller farmers, like where I work, they can't afford a penny tax. Got your money and stand down, now you've got 40,000 people hunting for work. Where they going to go? And this place would be a ghost town, that's what I figure, it would be a ghost town. Be like a hurricane come through here.
TOLAN: No one knows for sure how hard sugar farmers would be hit of the penny a pound referendum goes through. The big sugar companies that mill the cane won't open their books for inspection. But some economists say the industry can survive the referendum just fine. And according to USDA figures, Florida producers average nearly 5 cents a pound profit. That comes out to nearly $130 million a year. The sugar industry carefully projects the image of the threatened small farmer, like David Beardsley and his hired hands. Yet the industry is dominated by 2 big concerns: the Cuban exile Van Huel family and United States Sugar, which together control more than half the sugar produced in Florida.
TOLAN: Up the road in Clewiston, which calls itself the sweetest town in American, Bob Beucker, Vice President of US Sugar, looks hurt when I use the term big sugar to describe his company.
BEUCKER: We really take offense at the label big sugar here. Most people are not in the habit of labeling others in our society. We're an employee-owned company. The average person in this company makes $31,000. We own it.
TOLAN: Beucker says this is an all-out fight to save jobs. He doesn't mention the generations of Caribbean workers who used to cut cane under harsh conditions before automation threw them out of work. He doesn't mention the huge campaign contributions the big sugar companies make to politicians, or the immense political clout the industry has in Washington. Florida sugar companies are spending $7 million on ads in Florida to defeat the penny a pound initiative. Yet Beucker prefers to cast the battle as the little sugar guys, the regular working stiffs against an elite opposition.
BEUCKER: Save Our Everglades was having a fundraiser. It was 2 levels, $1,000 a plate and $500 a plate. And it had printed invitations and elegant outdoor attire. So we asked for permission from the local police to have a dollar a plate hotdog dinner outside the gates of the Fairchild Gardens. And we don't have elegant outdoor attire, frankly, we'd have had overalls.
TOLAN: The fundraiser was canceled and Beucker stepped up his attacks on the elitism of the Save Our Everglades campaign. His favorite target is Paul Tudor Jones, who's bankrolled Save Our Everglades to the tune of at least $4 million.
BEUCKER: He's a commodities trader from Wall Street. He owns a seat on the Sugar Exchange. He says he won't trade sugar any more. He has development interests in Florida and the people that he's aligned with are developers, so I don't know what their motivations are, but it isn't the environment.
TOLAN: Jones says he's motivated by his love of the Everglades and his friendship with the late George Barley, whose wife Mary is president is Save Our Everglades. But when it comes to their environmental record, neither side is pure. In 1989 Paul Tudor Jones had to pay a million dollar fine after his contractor filled in some wetlands in Maryland. And just 5 years ago 8 US Sugar executives pled guilty to felony charges of dumping toxic solvents. That's in addition to their problems with the phosphorous runoff. As the election approaches the fight grows meaner. It's beginning to look like two alligators in a swamp.
JONES: Will you guarantee these people their jobs? You said --
BUECKER: I don't --
JONES: -- you're the ones that are just rolling in money. If you're right there's no risk.
BUECKER: I will guarantee it.
TOLAN: Buecker and Jones tangled recently on Larry King Live, each side accusing the other of being rich.
BUECKER: Now you happen to be a billionaire. You can afford it. Put it in writing. Hire the people if we have to lay them off.
JONES: Yeah --
BUECKER: You can do that. Guarantee it in writing.
JONES: - - Of all the half-truths that he said tonight, and the one thing that I wish he said that was true, was that I was a billionaire. And unfortunately that's not the case. I wish it were the case...
CANE: This is a battle of the elites. This is a battle of the haves, not the have-nots.
TOLAN: I've asked this independent pollster from Florida Voter in Fort Lauderdale for his assessment of the fight between Save Our Everglades and the sugar cane growers. His name, I kid you not, Jim Cane.
CANE: They've spent $14 million between the 2 of them so far. To educate the public about whether this is good or bad for them.
MAN: We're conducting an important political opinion survey on how registered voters feel about certain issues in Broward County...
TOLAN: And what those callers are finding, says Jim Cane, is that most voters in Florida support the penny a pound referendum. Floridians want to do something to help the Everglades.
CANE: The symbol of the Everglades is one of the most loved symbols in all of Florida. It is the most loved symbol. Whether you live in the panhandle or you live down in the Keys, the Everglades is a kind of national flag for us in Florida. So any issue in which it looks like it's going to help improve what some experts believe is a dying Everglades is going to get some automatic support from the populace.
TOLAN: And this in turn is helping President Clinton. A high-profile lover of the Everglades, the President has pledged to back major portions of the re-plumbing of the system. And he's challenged sugar producers to pay their fair share. Although most voters make up their minds on other issues, Jim Cane says the environment is a critical issue for swing voters, who make up 9% of Florida's electorate.
CANE: These people are more motivated by what's happening in the environmental issue than any other issue we've been able to measure. The issue of the environment is driving people to vote for Bill Clinton regardless of their partisan beliefs, regardless of how they feel personally about the 2 candidates. It is the one issue that is making a difference for Bill Clinton in this state, and in my opinion is the major reason why he's leading against Bob Dole in a traditionally Republican state.
(Soft voices in background of poll-takers)
TOLAN: The Everglades issue and environmental values in general are dividing some Republicans. Many who consider themselves strong conservationists.
REED: My father was a magnificent land steward. My mother was a great gardener. They both had an extraordinary sense of ethics, land ethics. You walked gently on this earth. You didn't leave deep footprints. You tried to leave it better than when you found it.
TOLAN: Nathaniel Reed stands at the edge of his estate on Jupiter Island north of Miami, looking across at the wildlife preserve he and his mother helped create. Reed was an Undersecretary of the Interior under Richard Nixon, and like Jim Cane, he says Bill Clinton could be a big winner in the battle over the Everglades.
REED: When the Vice President came to Everglades National Park and made a strong commitment on the Administration's part, when the President came to Coral Gables and met with us as leaders in the environmental movement in Florida, he made every newspaper in the state.
TOLAN: By contrast, Bob Dole has sent mixed signals on sugar and the Everglades, and lately has been silent on the issue.
REED: The Everglades issue is very dear to an awful lot of people's hearts in Florida. But my party is out of step right now, and it's got to get back in step if it's going to become a party that truly represents, I think, the American people.
TOLAN: If the penny a pound referendum passes, the sugar industry will likely play its trump card. A rival amendment the industry sponsored could totally undercut the Save Our Everglades initiative. If both amendments pass, which seems likely, the 2 sides in this Everglades battle will almost surely wind up in court. By that time Bill Clinton may well have pocketed the state's 25 electoral votes and be on his way to a second term in the white house.
(An animal calls in the Everglades)
TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan reporting.
(The calls continue. Fade to music up and under)
CURWOOD: Gore-y green goblins of Halloween come trick-or-treating, just ahead on Living on Earth.
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VON HOFFMAN: We interrupt this show for some unscheduled satire. Remember, Martians are not invading the Earth.
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CURWOOD: Are you alone? Alone at home? In your car. At your office. Wherever you are, you're sitting in the middle of an ecological disaster area! I'm Sludge Curwood and this is Dying on Earth! (Laughs maniacally) This week on Dying on Earth, you'll learn to recognize all of your surroundings, and the eco terror zone they really are. You'll see that we live in a sinister, hostile land filled with pathetic people-induced pollution problems, a place where no one will ever want to raise their child! A place where each step takes you closer to annihilation by avaricious earth-eating antagonists!!! But first, the news.
(Funky weird music)
NUNLEY: For Dying on Earth, I'm Jan Nunley. The ozone hole will now be called the Ozone Patch. At a conference in Oslo, researchers decided that the hole had grown so big and ubiquitous that it would be more accurate to talk about what little of the stratospheric chemical remains. Sven Svensdaughter is a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization.
SVENSDAUGHTER: I'm looking for a good skin care lotion, something with an SPF of 500 or more.
NUNLEY: Every fur-bearing animal in the nation has been placed on the Endangered Species List. The Environmental Protection Agency says the change in regulations is a cost-saving move because every animal is about to go extinct anyway. While denying the change as an election year gimmick, the EPA points out that it will protect kittens, puppies, bear cubs, and anything else even vaguely adorable.
This just in: we're all going to die! That's this week's Dying on Earth news. I'm Jan Nunley.
VON HOFFMAN: And now, this insult to the memory of Edgar Allan Poe.
(Grade B horror movie music, organ with thunder sounds)
CURWOOD: Once upon a midnight dreary, when spotted owls looked weak and weary, I pondered a dull volume of regulatory lore. (Flips pages) While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping (sound of tapping). 'Tis some enviro, I muttered, tapping at my chamber door. Only this and nothing more. Distinctly I remember, it was in a bleak November when oil spills blighted every shore. As the ozone hole grew wider, Congress had okayed a salvage logging rider (sound of chainsaws) and every disaster clamored for the Army's Engineering Corps. Then came this enviro to my door (sound of thunder and pouring rain). Presently my soul grew stronger, hesitating no longer. Sir, I said, your forgiveness I implore. But the radon was seeping and the acid rain was leaking. With my endocrines disrupted I didn't know what you were here for. But all my pleas the enviro chose to ignore. (A door slams.) From out of the darkness peering, where a Superfund site wasn't clearing, a man in Birkenstocks trod onto my floor. (Ominous footfalls) An Earth Day lapel pin he was wearing and about every dolphin he was caring. He spoke of the fisheries that had failed and of animals that would run or soar. Alleged the enviro (sound of wheezing) -- "Nevermore." He stood there stiffer than an oak, no humor possessed him as he spoke unbothered by the hair shirt that he wore. An endless stream of policies he spouted, always mumbled, never shouted. But I knew I had been deceived when he muttered, "Four more." I started screaming, "Oh no, it's Al Gore!" (A woman screams.) Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore, Al Gore... (More screaming, thunder and pouring rain and heavy organ music up and under.)
CURWOOD: Boo! It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor up and under)
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CURWOOD: More US citizens recycle than vote. The reason why coming up on Living on Earth.
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(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: Halloween goes back to Celtic traditions that started more than 2,000 years ago. October 31st was the last day of the Celtic year, so the holiday served the triple purpose of bidding good-bye to summer, welcoming winter, and remembering the dead. Halloween was little observed in this country until the mid 1800s, when Irish immigrants brought the celebration here. Jack-o-Lanterns are believed to have come from an Irish story about Jack, a man who was expelled from hell for playing tricks on the Devil and condemned to walk the earth forever carrying a lantern. Halloween costumes themselves are tricks. The idea is to fool the evil spirits that the costume wearer is already dead and thus should be left alone. Trick-or-treating started with farmers going door to door to solicit food for Halloween festivities. Prosperity was promised to cheerful givers and threats made against the tight-fisted ones. And for this week that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: In one of its final acts before adjourning, the 104th Congress created a number of new national parks. Among them, the nation's first protected tall grass prairie in the state of Kansas. Less than a century ago, millions of acres of North America were covered with prairie: vast expanses of grasslands that were home to bisons, wolves, and of course prairie dogs. Today, less than one tenth of that prairie remains, and much of it is scattered in isolated pockets. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a plan to buy and protect more prairie land remaining in western Minnesota and northwestern Iowa. Producer Catherine Winter has our report.
(Footfalls through high grasses)
WINTER: On a cool fall day biologist Howard Lipke wades through a field of prairie grasses in northwest Minnesota, climbing to the top of a hill. The grass has turned to its fall colors, purple and orange and red and yellow. It flickers like fire racing down the hill.
LIPKE: That's a big blue stem. Another word for it is turkey foot. Let's see, Indian grass.
WINTER: Tiny yellow flowers.
LIPKE: Mm hm.
WINTER: This is a small island of prairie grass, about 300 acres in an ocean of farmland. And it's not native prairie. The US Fish and Wildlife Service planted these prairie grasses on an old farmstead. Howard Lipke says the field is missing most of the plant species that would be found in a real prairie. But all the same, it's providing valuable habitat.
(Barking dogs, fading to crickets)
LIPKE: Some of the prairie songbird species are beginning to show up. And you're starting to see some of the insect life. And many of those are critical grassland species that are on the downward slide, simply because of the fragmentation and shrinkage of habitat.
(Dog barking continues)
WINTER: Prairie once spread from Texas to Canada, from the Rocky Mountains to Illinois. The first Europeans to reach the Midwest stood in grasses as high as their chests and saw prairie stretching to the horizon in every direction. But settlers plowed the land and planted grain. Minnesota had 18 million acres of prairie when they arrived. Today, only about 300,000 acres are left. About half the native prairie is already owned by conservation groups or the government. The US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to buy some of the few pieces of prairie that remains in private hands. Howard Lipke is leading that effort, the Tall Grass Prairie Project. He hopes to buy about 77,000 acres of prairie and land surrounding prairie remnants in Iowa and Minnesota. On a recent morning, Mr. Lipke went on a scouting mission in small plane to look for land the government might buy in northwest Minnesota.
(Ambient voices, followed by plane engines)
WINTER: Biologists from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources led the trip. From the air, there's little sign across most of the state of the vast grasslands that once covered the area. The land is cut into neat brown and green squares with white farmhouses here and there. But near the Canadian border the landscape changes.
LIPKE (over the roar of the engines): The reddish, purplish color that you're seeing now is the tall grass, Indian grass, big blue stem. Some of this, where you have this interspersion of wet meadows and probably the stronghold for sandhill crane nesting within the state of Minnesota...
WINTER: Prairie like this is important, not just for sandhill cranes but for other rare birds, butterflies, and flowers. And this part of Minnesota, Kitson County, has some of the largest chunks of native prairie left in the state. Prairie that was never plowed because it would have made poor cropland. The Fish and Wildlife Service wants to preserve some of this land, but many local farmers don't want more prairie preserved.
HEWETT: They feel that the Federal Government has enough land for birds and animals and so forth, and that government doesn't need any more land.
WINTER: Kitson County Commissioner Beverly Hewett says her constituents fear if the government owns all the surrounding land, they won't be able to expand their farms. She says ranchers think the government already has too much power.
HEWETT: You can't go out and ride horses and things on DNR land because you might break a stick or something. And people just feel like they can't use it, they can't do anything on it and it's closed to them for so many things that they would like to do. And they feel it's their land and yet they can't do anything on it.
WINTER: The Fish and Wildlife Service's Howard Lipke replies that some of the land the government buys could still be used for haying or grazing, which doesn't destroy prairie. And he says the government won't force anyone to sell land. They'll only buy from willing sellers.
(A door slams)
WINTER: I the remote town of Hallock, the biologists pile into a van to get a closer look at what they saw from the air. During the brief tour, they drive past a moose cow and calf, a bald eagle eating a fox, and a coyote that fools them briefly into thinking he's a wolf.
MAN: Hey, a timber wolf back there.
WINTER: Sharp-tailed grouse rise up from the road. Sandhill cranes stand tall and awkward in a farm field. The van pulls over, and George Davis of Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources pulls out a map. He shows the Federal biologists where the DNR is preserving native prairie that was never plowed, and where it plans to restore prairie on land that was plowed by re-planting prairie species.
DAVIS: This is Moose Point. We've got about 600, 700 acres that we're in the process of restoring. We'll be another 5 years getting that done.
WINTER: When you say restored, can you ever really make it like it was?
DAVIS: No. Even the stuff that is native is probably not the way it really was, because of miscellaneous disturbances and everything else. We don't know what it was. And number one, we don't have bison, and we don't even know what the burning procedures were that the Native Americans followed. Did they burn in August? Did they burn in June? Have no idea.
WINTER: George Davis says even if they did know, the DNR doesn't have the resources to do all the burning needed. And even if they did have the resources, fragments of prairie will never provide the same sort of habitat vast grasslands once did. But biologists say fragments are worth saving. Robert Dana, an ecologist with the Minnesota DNR, says small plots may contain unique species.
DANA: You know, there's nowhere in Minnesota that you can go and see what the prairie country actually looked like. And that is sad. You know, I keep my hopes up by saying yeah, we are stuck with these little places and we'll never have the bison herds and we'll never have the elk herds, and we won't see the prairie wolf again. But there are still small pleasures, and I think they're important.
WINTER: Still, more prairie disappears every year. It's plowed or dug up for gravel or developers build on it. Robert Dana says the biggest threat to prairie remnants is neglect. Without burning and grazing, they become overgrown and the native species are crowded out. Organizers of the Tall Grass Prairie Project say it may take 25 years for them to buy the 77,000 acres they want. The project is in a race against time, trying to preserve those last patches of prairie before they disappear forever.
(Footfalls through prairie grass)
WINTER: For Living on Earth, I'm Catherine Winter.
CURWOOD: For all that we argue over how best to protect the land, individually we spend very little time on the planet. Even the longest-lived of us may only last 120 years on Earth, barely enough time for a river to shave a boulder. As writer Alston Chase points out, no matter how great our commitment, time will overtake us all.
CHASE: Is loving the Earth enough? The poet Gary Snyder observed that stewardship also requires faithfulness. Before we can take care of a place, he said, we must resolve to live on it 10,000 years.
But such commitment isn't easy. I know. Twenty-four years ago my wife Diana and I gave up our teaching jobs and went to live in an old log homestead in remote Montana, determined to stay there until we died. Our place had no telephone or electricity. The nearest town was 55 miles away and the closest neighbor 10. Alone, we enjoyed the company of wild animals who called this their home, and who always seemed surprised to find us among them.
But despite our intentions, eventually lack of money forced us to sell the ranch. And this disappointment, we learned, was not unique. Our predecessors, too, had planned to stay, but ultimately were forced to leave. In the 1920s this was a bustling ranch community. And earlier, Blackfoot Indians had pitched tipis near the coolie where homesteaders later built the cabin in which we lived. These successive generations breathed life into the land.
But one by one they died, were killed or driven out, got too old or went broke, and the land emptied. By the time we arrived only a handful remained. People come and go and only the earth endures. Returning recently I found that nearly everyone we had known there was gone, casualties of an economy which now has no use for those who live on the land. I wondered: who will be the stewards now?
I hiked into the canyon. Every pebble under my feet seemed exactly as it was in 1972, when our family scampered down the trail for the first time. Shadows of cliffs hung like curtains across the floodplain. I didn't want to leave. Stopping by the river I came on the grass-roofed hut belonging to an old trapper we had known named Scott Allen. It may half-buried in silt by a flood. The earth was slowly reclaiming his legacy. Scott had died more than a decade before, but his pots and pans stood by the stove as though he had just stepped outside for a minute.
CURWOOD: Alston Chase lives and writes in Montana. His most recent book, In A Dark Wood, is published by Houghton Mifflin.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Summer's lush heat and long days are past. Night is slow to leave and quicker to arrive each day with ever-chillier temperatures. Like other mammals making ready for winter our bodies slow down, telling us to eat and sleep more with the onset of longer nights. Our gardens insist on following suit. They wither, they shed their leaves, drop seeds and prepare for the deep freeze ahead. It can be a melancholy time, but luckily, Evelyn Tully Costa, our Green Garden correspondent, has some thoughts on turning the autumn blues into spring color. Hi there again, Evelyn; how's the gardening business in Brooklyn?
TULLY COSTA: Well, actually this is a fabulous time of the year for us. We are running around like giant squirrels trying to cram in as many gardens as we can, and we're working up against kind of a scary deadline of frost, snow, and the winter that's heading our way.
CURWOOD: Okay, now what should this big squirrel do?
TULLY COSTA: Well, I never thought of you as binging on acorns, Steve. But like any other self-respecting mammal, we spend this time of the year getting ready for the spring. So I would recommend to all of us who get sad and melancholy and depressed during the cold, long, dark winter nights, that you plant bulbs, and lots of them.
CURWOOD: Mm. Bulbs. You mean, like daffodils and tulips and hyacinth?
TULLY COSTA: Yeah.
CURWOOD: What about those chores you talked about? You know, that squirrel rushing around?
TULLY COSTA: Right. Well, won't torture you with that here, Stephen, because there's plenty of gardening books that we can get our hands on that will tell us: clean the garden, prune it up, dig in all that organic soil that we've -- I'm sure you've been working on all summer long. But really the best and most fun thing to do this time of year is put in bulbs. It's like an insurance policy. It's like saying spring is going to come again. And it's a little cheaper, I think, than sacrificing a maiden or a lamb.
CURWOOD: (Laughs) So I'll just go outside and plant some bulbs. And I really do prefer outside, you know, because I'm allergic to them for when they grow inside.
TULLY COSTA: All right, Steve, so go get those gardening catalogues. They're more than happy to show you these sort of really gaudy pictures of what spring's going to look like in 3 months if you buy their bulbs. You could have beautiful snowdrops, for instance. They're about 4 inches high, they look like miniature daffodils, they're a little bit droopy, and they will come up in late February, early March. They come up through the snow. So that's the most positive sign of spring. You can have fertilaria, for those who like unusual types of bulbs. They have petals that look like checkers. They have checkerboard patterns on them. And other -- and other types, too -- they're really a magnificent bulb. There are daffodils of a zillion different types, and there are also tulips. I prefer the classical varieties that have some of the ruffled edges. So really, the choices are endless.
CURWOOD: So I can just put any kind of bulb out in my back yard and it'll go --
TULLY COSTA: Mm, well, no, actually, because you live in a northern climate so you have to put hearty bulbs outside that need a 3-month dormancy or cold period to gather their strength and get ready for the summer, the spring and the summer. People living in Florida, for instance, don't have daffodils and tulips. If you can imagine spring without that --
TULLY COSTA: No. We can't. But then we don't have amaryllis, which is a very tender bulb that can only grow in warmer climates.
CURWOOD: So how do I handle these hearty bulbs, then?
TULLY COSTA: All right. Well, once you've made your selection and the bulbs have arrived, you go out in the back yard and you figure out where you want to put them. And instead of poking them in one at a time, which is kind of time consuming and it doesn't look as good, dig out the entire area. The instructions will tell you how deep. Generally speaking, the bigger the bulb the deeper the area, but follow the instructions on the depth, that's important. Then you place the bulbs right on the ground in a random pattern. This will have a beautiful, natural clustered effect come spring. You can even mix daffodils and tulips up, so this will be quite beautiful. Cover it over, mulch it up, and then wait for spring.
CURWOOD: And what about the littler bulbs, like the crocuses?
TULLY COSTA: Right. You can poke those in with your thumbs, in a random pattern of course, and there's one more thing for people living in cities. Squirrels, remember, are rodents and they will do anything to get food in the fall as they're getting ready for the winter, including eating up all your expensive tulips.
CURWOOD: Oh, no!
TULLY COSTA: So I would recommend heading over to an Agway or a good garden shop and getting some predator urine, such as bobcat or fox urine, and sprinkling that all over your garden, and that should take care of not only the squirrels but you, your neighbors, your cats -- you can look at your garden but you can't go in it. (Curwood laughs.) And hopefully the squirrels will instinctively remember that, you know, maybe a couple of hundred years ago they were being hunted down by bobcat and fox.
CURWOOD: Now, not everybody is allergic to these things, and so what about people who want to have them inside to have a little bit of spring flowers?
TULLY COSTA: Well, then they can force them, that's easy enough. You order your bulbs in time, you have to have a 3-month lead period. Anybody in the country with a refrigerator can do this. You get your bulbs, you put them in a sandy, kind of loose soil, you bung them in the vegetable bin for about 3 months, and hopefully you have back-timed this. So that come January or February you take them out, you put them on warm window sill, and in 2 to 3 weeks, there you have it: beautiful bulbs.
CURWOOD: And so when they're done I can just plant them outside?
TULLY COSTA: Yeah. But don't expect them to bloom again this year. They will bloom the following year. So take good care of them, put them in the ground at the proper depth, and the following year they will come back for you.
CURWOOD: Ah. Okay, so now what do I do next?
TULLY COSTA: Well, what I would do is get my hands on a wonderful new handbook that's just been put out by the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, called Bulbs For Indoors: Year-Round Window Sill Splendor. So y'all can get the book but I got to go put some more bulbs and bobcat urine out in gardens in Brooklyn. So, till next time -- bye!
CURWOOD: Okay, Evelyn. I'll be reading, and thank you. Tips on surviving the winter from our Green Garden correspondent Evelyn Tully Costa.
CURWOOD: And if you'd like to find out how to get a hold of that book, or details on anything else Evelyn has told us about today, contact us for our resource list. Try us on the World Wide Web at LOE.ORG or send us a self-addressed stamped envelope to Living on Earth, Green Garden Spot, Post Office Box 639, Harvard Square Station, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: Cash for beverage trash. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
Ps Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Each year Oregonians recycle more than one billion beer and soda containers, thanks to the passage 25 years ago of a bottle bill. Like measures enacted in many other states, Oregon's anti-litter bottle law requires all carbonated and malt beverages to carry a refundable deposit. Two years after the law was enacted, roadside trash in Oregon was reduced by 80%. In November, Oregon voters will decide whether they want to expand the program to include a wider variety of containers. Supporters of the initiative say it's a logical next step in the recycling movement. But opponents say it will make recycling in Oregon too complicated. Nassem Rakha reports.
(Traffic. Bottles and cans spilling)
RAKHA: Dwayne and his partner Gwen carry a large box filled with empty beer and pop containers to a nearby store. Their load comes from an afternoon of what Dwayne calls dumpster diving and road gliding, essentially scouring the streets for cash-paying trash.
DWAYNE: Me and a friend of mine, if we're driving down the road or whatever, and you know, or we just happen to be somewhere waiting for somebody, we'll walk around the neighborhood or whatever, walk around the parking lot. And if we find anything we'll stick them in this trunk, and he always recycles. And this is another way of making, you know, helping recycle and making a few dollars.
RAKHA: But there are many bottles Dwayne and Gwen won't pick up because they don't pay. Currently only carbonated and malt beverages like beer and soda have a deposit. Yet up to 15% of the drinks sold in the state don't fall into that category. Chris Taylor, the coordinator for the campaign to expand the bottle bill, says these so-called New Age drinks, like fruit juice, ice tea, sports drinks, and water, should be included in the bottle bill. Mr. Taylor says people like Dwayne and Gwen need an incentive to pick up and return bottles, and so do consumers who often buy these single-serve drinks while away from home.
TAYLOR: As it gets thrown out of the window of your car, that's what gets thrown on the side of the river when people are out on their boats, and that's what gets left on the beach. Talk to the people who are out there trying to clean up this mess. They'll tell you that they find thousands and thousands of these non-deposit containers.
RAKHA: Opponents of the expansion, which include the state's largest newspaper, the industry group United Grocers of America, and drink manufacturers like Quaker Oats, maker of Snapple, say the initiative could harm Oregon's current bottle bill by making it too confusing, complex, and costly. To make the point, Jill Thorne, a spokesperson for the campaign opposing the expansion, pulls out 2 similar bottles of Sutter Hill wine. Under the new bill the regular wine would continue to be exempt from the bottle bill, while the other, a new alcohol-free wine, would require a deposit. Ms. Thorne says there is no need to expand the bottle bill because Oregonians already use the state's curbside recycling to return 45% of non-deposit bottles.
THORNE: Well right now, we just take the stuff out and leave it at the curbside. It's easy. You don't have to stand in line, you don't have to take the stuff back to the grocery store and find you've made the wrong decision and then what do you do with it?
RAKHA: But supporters of the initiative say it is the current law which confuses consumers, who see no logical reason to exclude juice and water bottles that come in virtually the same containers as beer and soda. They say a deposit would improve recycling rates. Yet grocers say more bottles mean more expense to them and eventually to consumers. They say the expansion of the bottle bill would force stores to double the labor and space required to collect and store bottles. Under the current bill, merchants are not paid to collect beverage containers. Though most agree that customers generally end up spending their bottle refund at the store. The campaign for the expansion of the bottle bill has raised $33,000 while their opponents have raised more than a million dollars to convince Oregon voters that the expansion is bad for the state. Over the past 25 years, this kind of big spending has defeated bottle bills in 30 states. Advocates for the expansion hope Oregon won't be the 31st. For Living on Earth, this is Nassem Rakha.
DURNING: If this is a typical presidential election, more of us will recycle our trash than will cast a ballot. In states like Washington and Oregon, regular recyclers outnumber regular voters 2 to 1.
CURWOOD: Commentator Alan Durning is wishing he could do with his November ballot what he does with his trash.
DURNING: The familiar explanation for low voter turnout is that Americans are apathetic. But I don't think so. If we were apathetic, we wouldn't recycle the way that we do. I think we're just busy. So maybe we've got to do for voting what we've done for recycling.
(A truck motor, beeping, recyclables being spilled)
DURNING: Imagine this: curbside voting. You get your ballot in the mail, fill it out and drop it -- in the recycling bin.
(Recycling sounds continue)
DURNING: If voting were as easy as recycling, I think more of us would do it. And if more of us were to vote, mainstream citizens instead of political ideologues would decide elections.
(Recycling sounds continue)
DURNING: Remember the days when you had to go out of your way to recycle? Store up your pop bottles and deliver them to a Boy Scout troop on the second Saturday of the month? Only diehards recycled then. Now, thousands of cities have curbside recycling, and millions of regular folks have hopped on the bandwagon. The people who run our elections could learn a lesson from this. To vote, you still have to stand in line at a school gymnasium on the first Tuesday in November. Many Americans don't bother, including many card-carrying members of environmental organizations. In my state, Washington, fully half the people who write checks to environmental groups are mysteriously AWOL come election day.
That brings me to another suggestion: instant voter registration at places like this: the REI Sporting Goods Store in Seattle.
(Sounds of milling)
DURNING: This place was swamped during its recent grand opening. Imagine if every sales clerk were a deputized voter registrar. The people who renew driver's licenses can register us to vote. Why not the people who sell us hiking boots? Almost anything that boosts turnout would be good for the environment because overwhelming majorities of Americans are strongly pro-environment. But the anti-environment minority often does a better job of showing up at the polls.
DURNING: Some day, voting and registration may become as simple as buying a lottery ticket at a local convenience store.
(Sound of ticket being dispensed)
DURNING: Far more Americans play the lottery than vote, which brings another idea to mind: get the lottery boards involved in elections. They'd know how to increase turnout. Imagine a ballot that's also a lottery ticket. The ads would be irresistible. "Remember to vote in Tuesday's Jackpot Election! You'll choose the next President, and you might win a million dollars!"
CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Alan Durning directs Northwest Environment Watch in Seattle. His commentary is adapted from his new book, This Place on Earth, published by Sasquatch Books.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our senior producer is Chris Ballman. Dan Grossman edited this week's program. Our production team includes George Homsy, Kim Motylewski, Liz Lempert, Constantine Von Hoffman, Jan Nunley, Terry FitzPatrick, Susan Shepherd, Julia Madeson, and Peter Shaw. We also had help from Michael Giammusso, Kim Chainey, and Jason Kral. Our engineers are Frank DeAngelis and Mark Navin at WBUR, Jeff Martini at Harvard University, and Jane Pipik at WGBH. Thanks to KPLU in Seattle. Michael Aharon composed our theme. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with WBUR, Boston, and Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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