Air Date: February 20, 1998
Privatizing Central Park?/ Amy Eddings
New York's Central Park, is at the center of a debate about the future of public spaces. A newly signed agreement places management of Central Park in the hands of a private group, The Central Park Conservancy. Over the past decade, this non-profit organization has filled huge funding gaps in the city's budget and restored Central Park. But some worry that the private funding model which has worked so well in the heart of Manhattan could spell failure in other places. From member station WNYC in New York, Amy Eddings reports. (05:30)
Belly up to the Oxygen Bar!/ Neal Rauch
Just south of Central Park, near the corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue sits one of the nation's first oxygen bars. Once as free as the air we breathe, oxygen is becoming a money maker for entrepreneurs pitching products like oxygen facials and oxygen-infused beverages. Neal Rauch took a look, and a sniff, and has this report. (05:20)
Where the Wild Places Are/ David Quammen
Imagine being stuck upside down, underwater, in a kayak on a raging Montana river. For author David Quammen (KWAH-men), it's the perfect time to begin thinking about the fluid dynamics. After all, he’s only doing his job. Mr. Quammen is a veteran writer who has traveled from Montana to New York, from Chile to Tasmania in search of his stories. He writes frequently for Outside Magazine, and his latest book is a collection of essays, titled “Wild Thoughts from Wild Places.” (08:45)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about....On Thursday, February 26th, the western hemisphere will be treated to its last total solar eclipse of the millennium. The best view spots are in Central America and the Caribbean. It’s the first time the view will be fed live over the World Wide Web and available to millions. North America's next total solar eclipse is scheduled for 2017. (01:15)
Riparian Buffers/ Mark Steil
Before the days of dams and levees, great rivers used to overflow from time to time and drop nutrients in their wake. Plants in the resulting flood plains would in turn help purify the water and limit erosion. Today, in Minnesota, there's a federal conservation program in which farmers are being encouraged to turn riverfront cropland into meadow lands. These green buffers take advantage of nature's own water purification and soil protection systems. Minnesota Public Radio's Mark Steil has our report. (05:47)
El Ski-No/ Susan Carol Hauser
El Niño has got weather systems in a tail spin from California to the coast of East Africa, and many places in between. Commentator Susan Carol Hauser laments that El Niño is putting some strange moves in to the traditional northern Minnesota winter. Susan Carol Hauser is author of "Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup." She comes to us from member station K-B-B-I in Bemidji. (02:36)
Murderous British Cat Study
Domesticated house cats love to stalk and capture prey. Some are prized for their mousing abilities, and love to go after birds. In fact, some people are concerned that cats may be responsible for the deaths of millions of song birds every year. And just how many? Well, the Mammal Society of London recently did some research on this very subject in Great Britain. Michael Woods led the project, and he says a large number of cat owners reported how many animals their pets caught and brought home over a five month period. Steve Curwood talks with Mr. Woods, the "Sherlock Holmes" of this murderous puzzle. (04:25)
Bud Moore/ Jyl Hoyt
In the West people are looking for leaders who can bring together traditional westerners, who tend to favor resource extraction, with newcomers to the West, who value undeveloped wild country. At first glance octogenarian Bud Moore may not seem to be a powerful leader, but his down-to-earth approach is the right prescription for one rural western valley. From member station K-B-S-U in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports. (09:20)
The Smell of Home
Essayist Robert Leo Heilman tells us of a favorite summer swimming hole, a place where spring Chinook salmon pause in their long journey home. Robert Leo Heilman's latest book is "Overstory Zero: Real Life in Timber Country." (02:20)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Amy Eddings, Neal Rauch, Mark Steil, Jyl Hoyt
GUESTS: David Quammen, Michael Woods
COMMENTATORS: Susan Carol Hauser, Robert Leo Heilman
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
For some, it's an unquenchable thirst, a longing that's loaded with danger. And it's as old as humanity itself. It's the search for wild places.
QUAMMEN: It's any place where the terms of encounter are not completely predictable, controlled, or guaranteed. And that might mean the middle of the mountains of New Guinea or the backcountry of Tasmania or canyons of Manhattan.
CURWOOD: Also, debate over the private management and cash for the green heart of Manhattan, Central Park. Some say this is not the way to care for public spaces. And one way to try to beat New York's awful air: the new trend in town, the oxygen bar.
ABRAMS: I'm going to hook you up to the oxygen, and in a little while I'm going to give you an oxygen cocktail. And you'll love it.
CURWOOD: That and more on Living on Earth, but first this news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Perhaps the best known landscape architect ever here in the United States was Frederick Law Olmstead. More than 100 years ago Olmstead designed public park systems as places for recreation and education. They were vital centerpieces to provide peaceful outlets for the pressures of city living. Now, New York's Central Park, Olmstead's most famous project, is at the center of a debate about the future of public spaces. A newly-signed agreement places management of Central Park in the hands of a private group: the Central Park Conservancy. Over the past decade, this nonprofit organization has filled huge funding gaps in the city's budget and restored Central Park. But some worry that the private funding model, which has worked so well in the heart in Manhattan, could spell failure in other places. From member station WNYC in New York, Amy Eddings reports.
(Bird song, running footfalls)
EDDINGS: Central Park's temperature is used as the city's standard, and today it's 28 degrees. The sky is lead gray, the trees bare. The only sounds are sparrows and the rustle and patter of joggers. At Bethesda Terrace, the architectural heart of Central Park, the huge fountain is empty. Even without the spray of water, the angel figure topping the fountain is a commanding presence, part of the beauty that attracts 20 million visitors to Central Park each year. Karen Putnam, president of the Central Park Conservancy, says the park wasn't always such a draw.
PUTNAM: It was a wasteland that totally deteriorated. And when you look at it now and you see the beautiful green lawns stretching out, you would see yards and yards of dust. It was grim and it was desolate, and where we're standing now, right here, Bethesda Terrace, was vandalized and graffitied.
EDDINGS: In 1980 the Central Park Conservancy stepped in to save the city's crown jewel. It turned to the affluent neighborhoods ringing the park and raised $180 million for capital projects like the restoration of Bethesda Terrace. Today, it currently raises two thirds of the park's $15 million budget. Under the new deal, the Conservancy will manage the day to day operations as well. The amount of city funding for Central Park will depend on how much private money the Conservancy raises. Generally, the deal has been well-received, but some worry about the privatization of a public park. Karen Putnam says that's not what's happened.
PUTNAM: That's a word that is used, and it's not used accurately in this case, because we have a contract to take care of the park. All authority, all policy authority rests with the Parks Department. It always has, and it always will, and it always should, because it is the greatest public space in the country.
(Bird song and jogging continues; fade to traffic noise)
EDDINGS: Across town, sandwiched between the East River and a highway, another once great public space is empty and decaying. Marcia Reiss, Deputy Director of the Parks Council, walks beside the chain-linked fence that circles the decrepit amphitheater in East River Park.
REISS: Duke Ellington played here. Eleanor Roosevelt stood on those steps with Mayor Wagner in the 1950s, opening a concert for the neighborhood. It was fabulous. It's pretty much been shut down and abandoned for decades.
EDDINGS: There's no roof on the amphitheater. The sandstone facade is crumbling, and what's left is covered with graffiti. Ms. Reese applauds what the Conservancy has done for Central Park, but says the same fundraising model won't work for parks in poorer communities like this one.
REISS: People see one park in great shape and parks like this in poor condition, and they wonder why is there this terrible disparity? And the problem is that the Parks Department is not being given enough money to take care of all parks. And I think the Parks Department needs to get some new strategies to help parks in poor neighborhoods. A strategy that goes beyond an affluent community making a contribution of dollars.
EDDINGS: To restore some equity, the city could match the value of volunteer hours donated to East River Park the same way it matches cash contributions to Central Park. But Ms. Reiss quickly adds that volunteers can't conduct the large, expensive restorations that so many parks require. Only city money can do that. So, she's asking the mayor to increase his 1999 parks budget by $17 million. But according to the Trust for Public Land, a national open space advocacy group, many Americans no longer expect such demands to succeed. The trust says he trend is toward more innovative financing. For example, Boston's Norman Leventhal Park is financed by a company that owns a parking garage underneath it. In Manhattan, a group financed by a business improvement district restored and manages Bryant Park. Karen Putnam of the Central Park Conservancy knows these plans are controversial, but says they're worth a try.
PUTNAM: Do you just sit back and watch everything slide down the tubes and say isn't that grim and awful? Or, do you disagree with it heartily and say it's not appropriate and then, that public funds should be used for public spaces, and then get out and do something about it?
EDDINGS: Critics warn that private contributions could displace public ones, leaving parks even more vulnerable during economic downturns. Trust for Public Land says it's too soon to tell if that's a real danger and expects park innovators will be watching the Central Park experiment for lessons they can use. For Living on Earth, this is Amy Eddings in New York.
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CURWOOD: Just south of Central Park, near the corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, sits one of the nation's first oxygen bars. That's right, oxygen. Once as free as the air we breathe, oxygen is becoming a money maker for entrepreneurs pitching products like oxygen facials and oxygen- infused beverages. Now, a purveyor of alternative medicine says that inhaling concentrated doses of oxygen can even counter the effects of air pollution. Neal Rauch took a look and a sniff and has this report.
(New Age music plays)
RAUCH: New Age music, full spectrum lighting, an air purifier, an aquarium with angel fish. That's the atmosphere at the Oxygen Station in midtown Manhattan, certainly a welcome relief from the heavily polluted air and the racket outside. It's part of an alternative health clinic, The Healing Center, which offers such services as ozone therapy, reflexology, colonic therapy, and mind-body-spirit healing. Since July, they've also been peddling oxygen. For 20 bucks you get 20 minutes of concentrated O2.
ROBBINS: We hook them up to an oxygen tank with a little plastic nasal canular, a very delicate thing that just hangs by the edge of your nose, and you breathe.
RAUCH: Howard Robbins is co-owner of The Oxygen Station. Since the mid- 80s, places like this have done a brisk business in parts of Asia, Europe, and Canada. But this is one of the first in the US.
ROBBINS: Fifty thousand years ago, by analyzing fossilized amber, scientists found that the oxygen content in the atmosphere was about 42%.
RAUCH: Today, about the 20% of the air is oxygen, but hooked up to one of Howard Robbins' tanks you're effectively sucking in about 35% O2. Robbins describes himself as a holistic alternative doctor. He's actually a trained podiatrist, not an MD, and now he's an enthusiastic champion of the gas.
ROBBINS: You can get a feeling of euphoria, very much like a runner's high. Hair will grow longer, stronger, and faster. It aids in digestion. It helps in cramps. Oxygen will wake you up. Most people tell us that they can fall asleep more easily. We know it aids in depression. It's the treatment of choice nationally for migraine and cluster headaches. And since I've been doing oxygen, the gray in my beard has almost completely disappeared, and it slows the aging process down.
RAUCH: How do you know that, that it slows the aging process?
ROBBINS: When a cell has all the energy that it needs, it lives longer because it has the energy it needs to sustain its own life, let alone do its function in the human body.
RAUCH: Hogwash, says the American Medical Association.
NELSON: To the extent that it's used as a social or as an entertainment type of a thing, I think there's no detriment to that.
RAUCH: Dr. John C. Nelson is the spokesman for the Medical Association on this issue. He says there's a limit to how much oxygen your body can absorb.
NELSON: The oxygen carrying capacity of the blood cannot be increased, other by increasing the number of blood cells. So no matter how much oxygen I am exposed to, I can only carry as much as the blood capacity that I have.
RAUCH: Dr. Nelson says only people with heart and respiratory diseases and the like could benefit from extra oxygen, and they should be treated by a physician. Still, many patrons are convinced of the benefits of breathing higher concentrations of oxygen, and Howard Robbins claims a 70% return rate. Among the enthusiasts is Peter Houghtalig, a sinus sufferer who's been coming here twice a week for the last 3 weeks.
HOUGHTALIG: It cleans out my sinuses. It's like the first day of spring that kind of rolls into your body. You taste better, you feel invigorated, and your mind clears up. I try to schedule a session at the gym afterwards, because it really helps with a workout.
NELSON: There's a reason why people seek alternative medicine. And the reason often is that we with traditional remedies are not fulfilling their needs, either physiologically or medically, or most of all, psychologically.
RAUCH: So says the AMA's Dr. Nelson. But the Oxygen Station's Howard Robbins says the results speak for themselves.
ROBBINS: Why don't you try it and find out?
RAUCH: On the house? We're public radio, we have no budget.
ROBBINS: That's not a problem.
RAUCH: Co-owner Lisa Abrams brings in a canister of gas.
ABRAMS: I'm going to hook you up to the oxygen, and in a little while I'm going to give you an oxygen cocktail. And you'll love it.
RAUCH: So just breathe normally.
ABRAMS: Just breathe normally, relax and lie back.
(New Age music plays)
RAUCH: Are any of my gray hairs disappearing?
ROBBINS: (Laughs) Not that fast. You need to be an exerciser or have massages regularly. You need to be taking in all the nutrients that's necessary for hair to grow well.
RAUCH: Wouldn't it be easier just to get some hair dye?
ROBBINS: It might be easier, but it isn't healthier.
(New Age music continues)
ABRAMS: I'm giving you an oxygen cocktail. This is fresh fruit, organic fruit, lemon and lime. This is going to perk you up, a combination oxygen therapy and aroma therapy.
RAUCH: It smells good.
ABRAMS: Relax. Enjoy it.
(New Age music continues)
RAUCH: Well, I did feel as if I had been breathing clean country air. But otherwise, bupkas. nada. nothing. And yes, I did inhale. If anything the aromatherapy gave me a slight sore throat for the rest of the day. But it certainly took less time and money than going to the country. For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.
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CURWOOD: For a transcript or a tape of this program, call toll-free 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. And we're on the World Wide Web at www.loe.org.
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CURWOOD: Our dinner of stir-fried mountain lions stirs up feelings around hunting and wild places. That's just ahead on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Imagine being stuck upside down, underwater, in a kayak on a raging Montana river. Now, for most of us the first thought would be how to get the heck out of there, but for David Quammen, it was the perfect time to begin thinking about the subject of -- fluid dynamics? (Laughs) After all, he's only doing his job. David Quammen is a veteran writer who's traveled from Montana to New York to Chile to Tasmania, in search of his stories. He writes frequently for Outside Magazine, and his latest book is a collection of essays entitled Wild Thoughts from Wild Places. When I caught up with him for a chat, David Quammen told me that his experience with wild places began 25 years ago, shortly after he finished a program at Oxford University, and took to the backcountry of Montana for an impromptu solo hike.
QUAMMEN: I remembered that nobody in the world had a clue where I was or where I would be any time in the next 3 weeks. I was too far out to hike back that night and there were scree slopes and other things between me and my bus. So I stayed in a little derelict cabin with pack rats running across my legs and chewing up my fly line. And the next day I hiked back to where I had left my truck, and as I was hiking I was realizing that a broken ankle or a broken leg, anything like that, in this particular situation, probably would be fatal, because nobody knew where I was. And I mention that because it was my real introduction to the meaning of what a wild place might be.
CURWOOD: And that is?
QUAMMEN: It's any place where the terms of encounter are not completely predictable, controlled, or guaranteed, and where a person is really cast on his or her own resources, completely. And that might mean the middle of the mountains of New Guinea or the backcountry of Tasmania or the canyons of Manhattan might even be a wild place in that sense.
CURWOOD: I was going to say you could find places within the (laughs) many metropolitan areas where nothing is guaranteed. Now, for some time in Montana, you worked as a guide, right?
QUAMMEN: I did. I worked as a fishing guide for a handful of years.
CURWOOD: Did you like it?
QUAMMEN: I liked it at first, and then quickly I hated it. I got into fishing guiding because I was mad passionate about fly fishing, and because I loved trout. Not just catching them and eating them, not just fishing for them, but I loved them as creatures. They represented to me everything that was wonderful and wild and cold and clear about Montana.
CURWOOD: Could you read from your essay here, I think it starts on page 24.
QUAMMEN: You are floating a petroleum engineer and his teenage son through the final 12 miles of the Smith River Canyon, which is drowsy, meandering water. Not hospitable to rainbow trout, but good for an occasional large brown. The temperature is 95, the midday glare is fierce. You've spent 6 days with these people and you're eager to be rid of them. The engineer says that he and his son would like to catch one large brown trout before the trip ends, so you tell them to tie on marabou muddlers and drag those billowy monstrosities through certain troughs. Fifteen minutes later, the boy catches a large brown. This fish is 18 inches long and broad of shoulder, a noble and beautiful animal that the Smith River has taken 5 years to grow. You kill the fish, pushing your thumb into its mouth and breaking back the neck. Its old sharp teeth cut your hand. Half an hour later the father catches a large brown, this one also around 18 inches. You're pleased for him and glad for the fish, since you assume that it will go free. But the father has things to prove to the wife as well as to the son. "Mm, better keep this one, too," he says, "and we'll have a pair." You detest this particular euphemistic use of the word "keep." You argue tactfully, but he pretends not to hear. Your feelings for these trout are what originally brought you out onto the Smith River, and are what compel you to bear the company of folk like the man and his son. The 5-year-old brown trout is lambent, spotted with orange. Life as an ocelot swirling gorgeously underwater in your gentle grip. You kill it.
CURWOOD: And so then you got out of the guide business.
QUAMMEN: So then I got out of the guide business, yeah, very quickly after that.
CURWOOD: Well, let's talk about the ethic behind all this. I mean, this business of when it's okay to kill other things is something that appears in a number of your essays. You fish sometimes, right, and you kill the fish, right?
QUAMMEN: Well, I don't know if I still fish, frankly, Steve. I may have fished for the last time but I haven't taken a vow not to fish. When I have fished in recent years, I've been more inclined to kill what I catch, eat it, and stop fishing when I no longer am willing to kill for food. So I've admitted that it's a mortally serious form of predation and food acquisition. I no longer tell myself that it's just this innocent game between fisherman and fish. But I'm not a vegetarian, I've never been a vegetarian. I find the whole thing a little bit more deeply freighted with moral responsibility than I used to.
CURWOOD: What do you think of the current split between people who call themselves environmentalists and people who call themselves hunters?
QUAMMEN: Well, I think it's a split that really needs to be healed. It's a costly split in terms of the shared goals that the 2 groups have. Hunters will argue that the conservation movement in America began with hunters. People like Theodore Roosevelt and quite a number of others. And there are books that have been devoted to that subject. It's at least partly true. I don't think it's as true as they claim it to be because there are others like Henry Thoreau and John Muir who were not hunters and who played a very important role in the founding of the conservation movement, too. But in this day and age, when we're losing not just creatures but so much habitat to development, to home in the country fever in places like Montana, to bad logging practices, bad mining practices, it's crucial that hunters and other sorts of conservationists find alliance with each other toward the goals that they do share.
CURWOOD: There's a fascinating story in your book. Actually, there are a lot of really terrific stories. But I have to say one of the most unusual was that dinner that you were invited to that involved stir-fried mountain lion.
QUAMMEN: This was surprising to me, too. I had written an essay about the rarity of mountain lions, and I've lived in Montana, as I said, for a long time, and I've never seen one in the wild. And that led me to conclude a couple of things. One, that they are very rare, which they are relatively. But I also assumed that they were endangered, that their population was suffering from pressure from hunters. And when I published that essay, a fellow named Don Thomas, a physician and a bow-hunter who hunts mountain lions among other creatures, got very angry, got in my face, and challenged me to look at some of the facts I hadn't looked at. And convinced me, along with some other information, that for a big predator, mountain lions are thriving in recent years in the northern Rockies. One of the things that bothered me about the hunting of mountain lions was my feeling that people shouldn't kill game that they don't eat, and I perceived mountain lion hunting to be strictly trophy hunting. This fellow, Don Thomas, showed me that the mountain lion is actually a very edible species. So, one evening at his house in a small town in Montana, he cooked me a dinner of stir-fried mountain lion and proved to me that whatever arguments you might have about the idea of hunting Felice concolor, the American lion, inedibility wasn't one of them.
CURWOOD: So, is it okay to hunt something that you're willing to eat?
QUAMMEN: Well, it's an interesting question, and I don't know how far we'd be willing to take it. I think that if you're a flesh eater, then the lesson is that you have to be very judicious before you make judgments about what other people kill and eat in the name of sport.
CURWOOD: David Quammen's book is called Wild Thoughts from Wild Places. He joined us from KGLT in Bozeman, Montana. Thank you so much, David.
QUAMMEN: It's been a pleasure, Steve. Good to talk to you.
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CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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CURWOOD: Bringing back the river bank and its powers to cleanse the waters. That story is coming up. Stay tuned right here to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
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CURWOOD: On Thursday, February 26, the western hemisphere is treated to its last total solar eclipse of the millennium. The best viewing spots are in Central America and the Caribbean. Observers aren't wasting any time getting into position. Hotels are booked solid, and an armada of cruise ships is headed to the area to view the spectacular event. Some scientists will even be in planes flying east to west, so that they can stretch the few critical minutes of totality out to an hour. But observing eclipses wasn't always so easy. Back in 1780, with the revolution against the King of England well underway, the first American astronomical expedition to study an eclipse left Boston for British-held Penobscot Bay in Maine. Maybe out of respect for scientific inquiry, the British commander of Penobscot let the group of professors and students land and observe the eclipse unbothered. While the February 26 total eclipse may be the last of this century, it's the first to be fed live over the World Wide Web and available to millions. But, if you still manage to miss the show, stick around: North America's next total solar eclipse is scheduled for 2017. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: Before the days of dams and levees, great rivers used to overflow from time to time and leave nutrients in their wake. Plants in the resulting floodplains would in turn help purify the water and limit erosion. Today in Minnesota, thanks to a new conservation program with the state and Federal government, farmers are being encouraged to turn riverfront crop land into meadow lands. These green buffers take advantage of nature's own water purification and soil protection systems. Minnesota Public Radio's Mark Steil has our report.
STEIL: The Minnesota River had its worst flood in recorded history last spring. The high water carried off tons of topsoil from farm fields, adding to the sediment problem in the state's most polluted stream.
(Footfalls through snow)
STEIL: Farmer Douglas Bandemer says it could have been worse. He walks through his snow-covered field near the Minnesota River and points out tufts of brown grass poking through the crusty snow. He says that grass was the secret to limiting flood damage on his land.
BANDEMER: You can definitely see where the soil was held back by the vegetation. When I walked out in the field after the water went down, I think I gained about an inch of extra soil, just from the filtering effect of the water running over my land. And I think that's quite a benefit to the river, and it's a benefit to everybody downstream.
STEIL: Mr. Bandemer has enrolled much of his river valley land in a patchwork of government conservation programs, which pay him to not farm the fields. But these agreements expire every few years and the cost of the protection accumulates over time. In contrast, the new partnership between the US Agriculture Department and Minnesota will offer farmers a one-time payment roughly equal to the land's market value, and help them convert crop land to grass- and tree-covered meadows for good. The Environmental Defense Fund's Tim Searchinger has been pushing the partnership idea with USDA and a number of states.
SEARCHINGER: My hope is that in the next few years we will get a couple of million. My hope is more than 3 million acres restored. And we will start to see a resurgent movement in the United States toward demanding that government assist in recreating the water bodies that were really part of our natural heritage.
STEIL: Last fall, Maryland became the first state to try this so-called conservation reserve enhancement idea. Land managers believe the riverside green buffers will remove much of the water damaging nitrogen and phosphorus entering Chesapeake Bay. The same types of problems exist in the fertile farm land along the Minnesota River. Mr. Searchinger says water runoff into the river is laden with soil and farm chemicals.
SEARCHINGER: This plan will significantly cut that back, and restore the flood plain and riparian areas around most of the main stem of the Minnesota River and probably half of the tributary areas. So they will serve a very valuable filtering function. The different tributaries of the Mississippi have lost from 70% to 95% of the flood plain areas.
STEIL: But to succeed, the clean-up effort will have to clear a major barrier. Farmers are generally suspicious of government programs that want them to take land out of production.
CANTON: That seems to be a tough bill for most of the land owners to swallow.
STEIL: Kent Kanten farms in the Minnesota River Basin. He also serves on the US Agriculture Department Advisory Committee, which helps shape the river clean-up program. Although participation in the program is voluntary, he says the idea of a permanent agreement exchanging farming rights for cash will be difficult to sell, because land owners don't want to limit what their heirs can do.
KANTEN: Somewhere down the road there is no income and some restrictions on what can be done with the land, not only as far as agriculture but other things. For recreation, too. And most people don't want to be tied to that.
STEIL: But Minnesota officials are counting on farmers like Douglas Bandemer, who dream of returning the river to what it was decades ago.
BANDEMER: When I was a young boy, I used to fish with my grandfather, and the river hardly had any carp in it and it was good walleye fishing and good catfish fishing, and we had croppies in the river. And it was hardly any mud, it was big sand bars. We had a lot of clams down there. Now there's no clams that I know of, and I don't know of any clean sand bars.
STEIL: Minnesota officials expect Mr. Bandemer and others like him will retire a third of the flood-prone land in the River Basin, about 100,000 acres over the next 4 years. If the permanent agreements don't sell, the state may offer some shorter-term contracts of 30 years. Illinois is expected to announce a similar program soon. If the idea of farmers restoring streams catches on across the Midwest, the murky-brown waters that feed the Mississippi could one day run clear. For Living on Earth, I'm Mark Steil in Worthington, Minnesota.
CURWOOD: El Niño. It's got weather systems in a tailspin from California to the coast of East Africa, and many a place in between. Commentator Susan Carol Hauser laments that El Niño is putting some strange moves into the usual northern Minnesota winter.
HAUSER: Here in northern Minnesota, we don't rely much on the consistency of seasons. Spring can be late and still long. Fall can be early and short. Sometimes summer hardly comes at all. Temperatures topping out at 70, evenings down to 40 or so. Winter is the exception. It is the season we count on. Short days, long languorous nights, heavy snow cover. Cold that makes even houses creak. We measure the year by the depth of the snow, by the muscularity of storms.
This year, the year of the great California El Niño, the sun of course inched along the western horizon until it hit its southern stop point. But nothing else has been the same. Our thermometer hovers around the 20-degree mark, 20 above zero that is. A few early snowfalls bolstered by a few subsequent flurries still manage to cling to the ground in spite of many days when the temperature inched to 40 degrees -- above zero. But there are no enduring drifts. No plow humps to shoot over when exiting the driveway. My snowshoes hang grimly on the outside wall. I've used them only 3 times.
When it does snow, the flakes are thin and meager and do not hold. It even gets fairly cold now and then, a few degrees below zero. But this winter is ruined for good. The sun is marching north. The riotous colors of seed catalogues scream in the mailbox. The flocks of winter birds that usually crowd our window feeders to sup on single entree black sunflower seeds this year stay down in the far gardens, indulging themselves instead in the buffet of weed seeds that still stand high above the snow. They are already, I think, planning their spring migrations.
Even if we have blizzards and get snowed in, it is too late to settle into a long hibernation of soul with its companion absence of desire. We'll have to struggle through the careless bloomings of spring and the vagaries of summer and fall, with only the memory of long past winters to feed on. And as we do when experience fails us, we'll rely on faith to feed our anticipation of dark, robust, restorative winters sure to come.
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CURWOOD: Susan Carol Hauser is author of Sugartime: The Hidden Pleasures of Making Maple Syrup. She comes to us from member station KBBI in Bemidji, Minnesota.
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CURWOOD: Stewardship of the land, old-fashioned western style, is next right here on Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Domesticated house cats love to stalk and capture prey. Some are prized for their mousing abilities, and it seems that felines savor birds. In fact, some people are concerned that cats may be responsible for the deaths of millions of song birds every year. And just how many millions? Well, the Mammal Society of London recently did some research on this very subject in Great Britain. Michael Woods led the project, and he says a large number of cat owners reported how many animals their pets caught and brought home over a 5-month period.
WOODS: Fourteen hundred people wrote in asking for the survey form. All in all we got just under 1,000 cats' diets for that period.
CURWOOD: And how many animals did these 1,000 cats kill over that summer?
WOODS: Oh, that summer they killed 14,000 different animals.
CURWOOD: Wow, that's a lot.
WOODS: Huge amount, isn't it?
CURWOOD: How many were birds, and how many were other animals?
WOODS: Nearly 4,000 birds, and then the rest were other animals. Lots of mice, lots of rabbits, and invertebrates, and then some snakes and lizards.
CURWOOD: What do you guess how many birds that cats in Great Britain are killing each year?
WOODS: Quite difficult to extrapolate. In this country now we have more than 7 and a half million pet cats. They're the most popular pet. And we had 4,000 birds killed in 5 months by 1,000 cats. So, you know, I can't work it out off the top of my head, but it's a huge number.
CURWOOD: You think in the millions.
WOODS: Oh, I would have thought so, yes. We estimate that there are 200 million creatures killed every year by cats.
CURWOOD: Well, is it something that you're concerned about happening to the ecological balance if cats keep hunting this way?
WOODS: There are a certain number of animals in Britain that are a threat, and those are the very ones that cats also seem to be taking quite large numbers of. So, yes I think there is cause for concern. Not enough to say oh, goodness, maybe we've got to do something about these cats. But certainly worth ringing alarm bells and saying let's look at this whole problem a bit more seriously.
CURWOOD: What about possible solutions here? I mean, a number of people will put bells on their cats to warn birds. Do bells help?
WOODS: No. We found they made no difference at all. But that may be the sorts of bells that we're putting on cats. And we think in the Mammal Society that one of the things that we need to do is to look at designing better bells for cats that are actually more effective.
CURWOOD: This is sort of the flip side of designing a better mouse trap, isn't it?
WOODS: (Laughs) That's right, exactly. (Laughs)
CURWOOD: Now, let's face it. People love their cats. In fact, there are three in my household. What could I do to reduce the number of birds and other animals that the cats in my household kill?
WOODS: One of the things that we are very concerned about is the fact that certainly in Britain cats are allowed out, they go out and they hunt and they wander wherever they can. The only pet that's allowed to do that. And what we're suggesting is that (a) we're looking at better bells, but the second thing is that we feed birds in open areas, people who feed birds in their gardens, or feed them on the special bird tables that we have in Britain, which are cat-proof. They're like a flat board on the top of a post, to keep the cats off. Because it's not fair to invite these things in and then sort of set the cats on them, as it were. In Australia, for instance, you have to keep your cats in at night. And in some parts of Australia, if you let the cat out it has to go out into a run, a specially-made run. It's not allowed to run free. We're not asking to go anywhere near as far as that, but we are just raising the point that cats do kill an awful lot of things, and it could easily be that they are putting a number of species which are becoming more scarce in Britain at threat.
CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today.
WOODS: You're very welcome. I've enjoyed it.
CURWOOD: Michael Woods is a member of the Mammal Society of London. He recently directed a study on the effects of cats on wildlife.
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CURWOOD: In the West, people are looking for leaders who can bring together traditional westerners, who tend to favor resource extraction, with newcomers to the west who value undeveloped wild country. At first glance, octogenarian Bud Moore may not look like a powerful leader, but his down to earth approach seems to be the right prescription for one rural western valley. From member station KBSU in Boise, Idaho, Jyl Hoyt reports.
(Steps into water)
HOYT: Bud Moore's place in western Montana's Swan Valley is like one of those calendar pictures. Spectacular snow-covered mountains that encircle a pine forest with glistening ponds full of water birds.
MOORE: Good to see you, I've missed you.
MOORE: Yeah. When you came over the other day.
(A dog barks, pants)
GRAHAM: What is that white bird that is absolutely gorgeous? A white hat.
MOORE: Well, a little duck.
GRAHAM: Yeah, smaller sized.
MOORE: Yeah, the one that's a little duck, that shows white and he's got a white bob on the back of his head, that's a bufflehead...
HOYT: The Moore home is a welcoming place, not just for birds. Neighbors like Jeff Graham are always dropping by to visit the lean and muscular octogenarian and to pick his brain on everything from local wildlife to house building.
(Dog panting in the background)
GRAHAM: I've got a question for you: do you nail on the tongue or do you nail on the groove?
MOORE: Oh, you nail on the tongue.
GRAHAM: Nail on the tongue.
HOYT: Old-timers often don't get along with all the newcomers moving to Montana. When the old-timers grew up, taming the wilderness and extracting its riches were the dominant values. While newcomers tend to be conservationist who aren't fond of mines and clear-cuts. But the newcomers also have been carving up the woods and riverbanks in their frenzy to capture a piece of the great outdoors, making old-timers shake their heads in disgust. Bud Moore wants the civil wars between the two groups to stop. He welcomes the newcomers.
MOORE: But I also say I'm going to bug you to till you understand our values here, too. And then we can work together on this place and try to keep it nice. And we can do it. We can do a lot.
(Metal clanking sounds, a drawer)
HOYT: Bud packs away a set of tools he's been using and heads inside. Like the Native Americans who used to burn the prairies to make the grasses more nutritious for the bison, he says people today need to find ways to work with the land rather than subduing it.
MOORE: We must draw sustenance from those ecosystems. But we need to do it in a sustainable way where we can have generation after generation having something like we've had in the past.
(Bending grasses, footfalls)
HOYT: Bud Moore's philosophy developed over decades of living and working in the woods of Montana and Idaho. He was born and raised about 100 miles south of here, on a farm at the edge of the Bitterroot Mountains that straddle the Montana/Idaho border. His family, like most homesteaders of that era, lived on what they grew in their gardens and hunted in the forests. They killed for food, not for trophies.
MOORE: When I went hunting, if I brought back home a big, big mule deer buck, for example, big rack, my dad would probably take me to the wood shed. He didn't want anything like that around. He wanted something that was real good to eat. That's what we were, meat hunters.
HOYT: In the 1930s, when he was 12 years old, Bud Moore quit school and went to live in what locals call the “Lochsa Country.” A national forest with no towns that is watered by the Lochsa fork of Idaho's Clearwater River. He spent the next 25 years there, trapping coyotes, fox, and beaver in the winters and learning outdoor skills.
MOORE: It was where I matured from boyhood to near-middle-age. And so I was pretty well formed, a lot of my principles that I live by, right there in the Lochsa with those mountain men and the great wild country that demanded self-reliance. It made you humble.
HOYT: But his lessons in humility were challenged when the US Forest Service hired him to be District Ranger in the Lochsa. The 1950’s were a time of enormous economic growth, and like other rangers Bud Moore encouraged private timber companies to cut as many trees as possible to fuel America's booming home-building industry.
MOORE: We went in and we tried to inventory these wild lands, this great country, and find the things that were useful to humans. And from that, we decided we could take so much out. What we didn't understand fully was the connections between all these, these parts of the ecosystem.
HOYT: But Moore began to see those connections when he discovered a spruce bud worm infestation in a section of the Locksaw. He sprayed DDT to kill these pests. Several hours later, he found dead trout floating in the streams.
MOORE: So the warnings came to us real hard then. Boy, this is bad stuff. That was a big turning point for me, because up until that time I was pretty naive. I had such great faith in our way of life, our culture, my superiors, that somehow I thought that everything that was legally right was also morally right, you know, that sort of thinking. I just didn't think that we were doing anything wrong.
HOYT: He saw other things go wrong after he took an administrative job at the Forest Service in Washington, DC. He realized that forests were being cut faster than they could grow back. Even in his lush beloved Lochsa.
MOORE: I walk now through the upper brushy fork and through there, the country to me is just darn near empty.
HOYT: Ultimately, he moved home to Montana, where he has spent the past quarter century trying to do things differently.
(A motor starts up)
MOORE: This is my sawmilling operation. It's the centerpiece for Coyote Forest Management. We manage our own forest here and the centerpiece is this little mill. And I take the forest all the way from planting the trees the sawn board.
HOYT: Bud Moore's timber company manages his own 400 acres, plus 800 more acres of his neighbors' land. He does selective cutting of different species, leaving behind a mix of species and ages. And enough trees for the needs of wildlife and healthy streams.
MOORE: And this thing we're calling ecosystem management, I think that's a pretty good show, you know, a good way to go. And so, we've been doing a lot of this sort of thing for a long time, but we didn't have the vocabulary of ecosystem management we've got now. So it's easy for us to fit in.
(Motor sounds fade out)
MOORE: Hey, hey! How's it going?
HOYT: As we're talking, another neighbor drops by. Eric Pack, a long-haired, thick-muscled newcomer from Vermont, who raises sled dogs, wants to ask about sharpening saws. When he complains about the mosquitos, Bud offers Eric something to think about.
MOORE: Mosquitos are -- they're a barometer of a rich ecosystem. So when they're biting you good, just tell yourself that boy, I'm in a beautiful place. Got to be with this many mosquitos.
PACK: I'll tell you what, I'm moving back to Vermont then.
MOORE: (Laughs) You do that. He's got the rich ecosystem without...
(Footfalls, a creaking door)
HOYT: Inside his workshop, Bud Moore takes inventory of his iron traps, snowshoes and pack. He's taken the past four winters off to finish writing a book about the Lochsa. Now, at 81, he hopes to get back out for a few more seasons of trapping.
MOORE: I know I'm not as strong as I was 3, 4 years ago. The Lochsa story took a lot out of me because if you don't maintain that strength that you need to go across the passes and do it, then you can't get it back. It's hard to get it back, at my age especially.
HOYT: What will endure long after the trapping season has passed is Bud Moore's link between generations. His generous spirit. His willingness to share time, knowledge, and wisdom with both the young and old, so they can learn how to work together to solve the rifts of the rapidly changing west. For Living on Earth, I'm Jyl Hoyt in Boise, Idaho.
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CURWOOD: Two hundred miles up the South Umpqua River, the water pours through a narrow channel between gray basalt rock faces into a deep, still pool. It's a favorite summer swimming home for essayist Robert Leo Heilman, and it's a place where spring chinook salmon pause in their long journey home.
HEILMAN: The salmon know the smell of home, the scent of jasper, basalt, porphyry, quartz, agate, and tufa, carried by the waters from the gravel beds they were hatched in. Patiently, they work their way against the current, returning home from the Aleutian Islands. Here, they wait out the long summer months when the river slows and the water grows warmer, never eating, living on the fats stored in their huge bodies.
On summer mornings you can see them from the cliffs above, silvery ghost shapes in the sun-dappled waters below, moving in a slow, solemn circle dance. They are a bruised and battered lot, bearing the marks of their passage. Old wounds from seal bites, fish hooks, nets, and the scraping of rocks encountered in the riffles of the home stretch. Their flesh, once firm from the Arctic feeding grounds, grows soft in the warm river water. Fuzzy white patches appear on their scaly sides. The mark of infection and a sign of approaching death.
They are prisoners here for a white, holding in a handful of deeper pools along the upper reaches of the river, rising in the cool quite morning hours, and hiding in the depths when the afternoon brings heat and the campers and bathers who splash about on the surface. Evening comes and the humans leave. Black-tailed deer come down to drink. The firs and cedars cast long shadows across the pool. Silence returns to their watery world with the night.
There's a quite joyfulness to their languid circling: not the exuberance of their leaping struggle through whitewater on their way up here, but a deeper joy made of patience, survival, and expectation. Their long journey is nearly over, the uncounted thousands of miles behind them.. Soon, the rains will come and they'll swim upriver on the rising waters, as their ancestors have always done, to dig their nests on gravel bars and lay their eggs in the waters of home.
CURWOOD: Writer Robert Leo Heilman's latest book is Over Story Zero: Real Life in Timber Country.
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CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Liz Lempert, George Homsy, Jesse Wegman, Terry FitzPatrick, and Daniel Grossman make up our production team, along with Julia Madeson, Peter Christianson, Roberta de Avila, and Peter Shaw. Chris Ballman is our senior producer. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. And Kim Motylewski is our associate editor. We had help from Miriam Landman, Dana Campbell, Jeremy Jurgens, and Vanessa Melendez. Our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky. Michael Aharon composed the theme. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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