Air Date: September 4, 1998
Texas Drought Update/ Sandy Tolan
The rain has finally fallen in some parts of Texas - too much in a few places, like Del Rio on the Mexican border, which got 20 inches of rain in 24 hours late last month. After the deluge, some sheep and cattle ranchers said their herds will get enough grass to see them through the winter. But in west Texas, the rains have been few and scattered, and the drought that began in 1993 is still far from over. As Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan reports, season after season of hot, dry weather has taken its toll on the land, and the people who live on it. (10:20)
Alaskan Reserve Opening for Oil Exploration/ Peter Thomson
One of the most remote and pristine stretches of the United States may soon be crawling with heavy equipment searching for oil. After an 18-month study the Clinton administration says it is opening nearly four million acres of wilderness on Alaska’s Arctic coast to oil exploration. Living On Earth’s Senior Correspondent Peter Thomson traveled to the region, known as the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska. (05:45)
Freeing WIlly/ Terry FitzPatrick
After 19 years in captivity, most of it performing in a Mexican marine park, Keiko the Orca whale, is headed for home. The star of the Hollywood film "Free Willy" has been undergoing rehabilitation in Oregon to prepare him for release back into the wild. This month he’s being moved to Iceland, the country where he was originally captured. A special open-ocean facility in Icelandic waters will allow Keiko’s handlers to assess his behavior in a more natural environment. From our Northwest Bureau, Living on Earth’s Terry FitzPatrick reports. (03:17)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about...E.F. Schumacher. (01:30)
Cormorants Slaughtered/ Brenda Tremblay
Several weeks ago, researchers in New York State made a gruesome discovery. On Little Gallou, a small island off the coast of Lake Ontario, they found nearly a thousand double-crested cormorants shot dead. The mass killing was one of the worst of any federally protected creature in recent U.S. history. Cormorants are relative newcomers to the Great Lakes, emigrating from the Canadian prairie lakes before World War I. With government protection, the population has now soared to over 8000 active nests on Little Gallou alone. Many area anglers who compete with the birds for fish say that's too many. Brenda Tremblay (TRAHM-blay) of member station W-X-X-I prepared our report. (12:15)
In heavily-paved urban areas, a good downpour can quickly overwhelm a municipal sewer system. But an ancient building technique that's popular in Europe suggests a way to alleviate the problem: add a touch of green to the roof. Roof-top vegetation provides insulation, cooling and waterproofing; and it can help prevent runoff, too. Several German cities already require so-called "green roofs" on all new commercial buildings. Here in the U.S., the idea is just catching on. And we found one of its proponents. Tom Liptan is a storm water specialist for Portland, Oregon -- a city where sewer overflows are common. Two years ago Mr. Liptan built a green roof on top of his garage. (05:35)
Industry Waste Swap/ Trish Anderton
Many business managers know that recycling is a good way to reduce their landfill costs and improve their public images, but they don't have the time or the resources to recycle. The "Wastecap" program aims to tackle that problem. It convenes "swap meets" to match up companies that have excess materials with other firms that can give them a second life. New Hampshire Public Radio's Trish Anderton has an update on this initiative that's now up and running in at least eight states, from Wisconsin to Nebraska. (04:20)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Sandy Tolan, Terry FitzPatrick, Brenda Tremblay, Trish Anderton
GUESTS: Peter Thomson, Tom Lipton
(Theme music intro)
CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
The heat goes on year after year without water in West Texas, and ranchers are saying now they probably can't go on.
SCHOENFELD: At this point, this drought, I've been fighting it for 3 years waiting for the elusive rain, and it hadn't worked. And so I made a decision about the 15th of August. You know, if I didn't have some real serious grass growing, I was going to have to just bite the bullet and try to eliminate my herd.
CURWOOD: And Keiko, the star of the film Free Willy, is being moved closer to freedom in an open ocean pen.
HAMMOND: For us to continue to keep Keiko mentally as well as socially engaged, day after day, when he's isolated in a pool here, frankly is getting harder and harder for us to do well.
CURWOOD: That and more this week on Living on Earth, coming up right after this news.
(NPR News follows)
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The rain has finally fallen in some parts of Texas, too much in a few places like Del Rio on the Mexican border, which got 20 inches of rain in 24 hours late last month. After the deluge, some sheep and cattle ranchers said their herds will get enough grass to see them through the winter. But in West Texas, the rains have been few and scattered, and the drought that began in 1993 is still far from over. As Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan reports, season after season of hot, dry weather has taken its toll on the land and the people who live on it.
(Western music plays. "Baby, keep that fire burning...")
TOLAN: Driving south toward Big Bend country just north of the border, you see a batch of green next to a swath of dirt and twisted mesquite. Then more good grass, followed suddenly by a field of curling brown grass. It's like someone's painted lines to mark where the rain is supposed to go.
(Clinking silverware and ambient conversation)
CHANDLER: We used to get right out here to raise fat cattle. It's just disappeared the last 10, 12 years.
TOLAN: Al Chandler sips coffee at the Ponderosa in Alpine. He's run cattle in this ranch country for the last 30 years.
CHANDLER: Just because we've got rain right now, we made a little grass for winter, we've been in a drought for 5 years. So if it rains again for another 5 years, real good, prices really get up, we'll break even in a 10-year period. You know, we're not going to come out of this drought just because we've got 1 good rain here, what it's rained 2-1/2 months now? That don't mean nothin' here.
TOLAN: The rain is too late for many ranchers here, says Mr. Chandler.
CHANDLER: Guys that own the country, they just sold out, most of them, or cut way, way down. You know, in this country here you don't have...we probably lost 65% of our cattle in Brewster County. The ranchers sold off, just left the ranches. A lot of them retired, quit. There's other things. I got another job; I couldn't do it ranching.
TOLAN: As we talk, Al Chandler reaches back, absently fidgeting with his spurs. It must be pretty stressful, I say. He looks at me funny, shakes his head, pushes back his straw cowboy hat, points at his scalp.
CHANDLER: I used to be black-headed about 3 years ago. Now I'm thoroughly gray. Yeah, you worry about prices, it's stress on everybody. You get up in the morning, you look outside and there's not a cloud in the sky and it stays that way year after year after year. You're feedin', you're fightin', you doing everything you can do to make a living. And then you get some rains and you get to hopin' again, but that's just part of the ranching life out here. It's just hard.
(More ambient conversation and clinking; fades to church organ and preacher on microphone)
McCRAW: While we continue to pray for our land, indeed for rain, it seems such a mixed bag with the supports of our communities getting too much. And all across, we still suffer because there have been those who've been without rain for so long. Pray for them, unselfishly...
TOLAN: At the First Baptist Church in Alpine, Pastor Philip McCraw.
(More organ music)
McCRAW: So we pray this morning for renewal, for revival, for the types of showers that might make us want to worship you more. It might make us zealous to serve you more effectively...
(Fade to piano playing)
TOLAN: After the service, Betty Tanksley, a ranch mother, visits on the church steps. Her son has taken a second job, too, in another part of Texas. He comes home on the weekends.
TANKSLEY: Yesterday, I sat down and figured the rain totals that we had had. We've got rain gauges in probably about 8 or 10 different places scattered out over the ranch. The highest total that I showed in any rain gauge was 5.1 inches for the year. And that's not very much rain.
TOLAN: What's the lowest of those gauges?
TANKSLEY: The lowest was under 2 inches, 1.75. They say the yearly average in this area is supposed to be around 15 inches.
TOLAN: No rain and no grass means skinny, hungry cattle, and ranchers paying out of pocket to keep the cows alive.
TANKSLEY: We have been supplementally feeding. You can only afford to feed so long. Then it becomes economically not possible, but of course cow prices are so bad right now you can't afford to sell out, either.
(Creaking sounds, gates, barking dog)
TOLAN: But now the cattlemen are beginning to sell out, bringing their cows to these stock pens for the 5-hour ride to the auction in New Mexico. The going price now is about 60 cents a pound. Ranchers say that's about what it was 30 years ago, when a pickup truck cost less than $2,500, not $25,000. As ranchers sell their stock, cattle flood the market, driving the price down.
(Footfalls in pens, man shouts, "Whoa, whoa!")
TOLAN: A trucker with an electric cattle prod moves a dozen cows forward from pen to pen, and up a metal ramp into the back of a semi.
TOLAN: Business is up for the shippers and for the slaughterhouses and the giant meat packers, who mark up the 60 cent beef until it reaches a few dollars a pound in the supermarket.
(A motor revs up, fidgeting cows on metal)
MOORE: The traditional rancher, we believe, is slowly being driven out of the marketplace and out of business.
TOLAN: David A. Moore, president of the First National Bank in Alpine.
MOORE: So, we're going to see a liquidation. They'll probably sell an awful lot of cows this fall. Those that are fortunate enough to have some grass will carry over some calves until the spring in hopes of a better market. But there are not going to be a lot of those that have that luxury.
TOLAN: The ones who do have that luxury are the oil men and investment bankers and CEOs from Houston and Dallas, who are buying up the ranches as locals go under, converting the land to dude and hunting ranches and places to watch wildlife. If the land's not making any money, they can get a healthy tax write-off, too.
MOORE: Over the last 5 years or so, we in West Texas have seen a dramatic change in the type of ownership of our ranches here.
TOLAN: The Nature Conservancy has bought prime ranch land as well, and that land is getting rain, bringing good grass back as other ranchers look on with longing.
MOORE: We have one customer who unfortunately, because our rains have been very spotted, very isolated in areas, his ranch has been totally missed. It looks like the top of my desk, it's so dry, and he will be liquidating.
SCHOENFELD: At this point, this drought, I've been fighting it for 3 years waiting for the elusive rain, and it hadn't worked. And so I made a decision about the 15th of August that, you know, if I didn't have some real serious grass growing, I was going to have to bite the bullet and try to eliminate my herd.
TOLAN: Twenty miles north of the bank, Roddy Schoenfeld sits in his truck cab surrounded by hungry cows.
(Truck engine, lowing cow)
SCHOENFELD: Cause, as long as I've got them, I've got to keep them watered and fed, and at this point that's what we're doing right here.
(Wheels over pebbles, scratching sounds)
TOLAN: Roddy Schoenfeld eases his pickup down a dirt track, yanking a rope connected to a feed dispenser in the back. Hard pellets scatter on hard earth. The cows run up to greet them. They move across the ranch this way, looking for cows, driving over land in parts so dry that cactus are dying. So overgrazed it looks like a parking lot. The cows beat up the land pretty good. With the next rains, the rivers could run with topsoil. Roddy held too many cows out of the market for too long, just waiting, watching it rain all around him. But now, the waiting will stop.
SCHOENFELD: I got to take a load a day, was telling a guy I've got to allow them to go out. And he said, "What are you going to do, Roddy?"
TOLAN: Mr. Schoenfeld sits at the kitchen table in his log house, beneath a mounted buffalo head flanked by giant flags of Texas and the USA.
SCHOENFELD: And I said, "Well," just jokingly, about half-serious, I said, "Well, I guess go to town and pump gas." I got about halfway from town without having a ranch and I started grinning and I thought, "Well, you dummy," (laughs) "the heck, there aren't any fools, who's going to hire you to pump gas? There isn't any fool service gasoline stations any more, you know? You'll have to figure out something else to do now, you know."
TOLAN: For years he's cooked around a campfire for cattle roundups. Now he's beginning to take that talent to some of the new landowners and their ranches, and the tourists who come there.
SCHOENFELD: That may be my salvation. That may be the only way I can spend the rest of my years in a semblance of what I used to do, is by working for one of these outfits that's doing something like that, you know? Tourism.
TOLAN: In the next few months, Roddy Schoenfeld will sell off his last cow and wait for the rains to return and the grasses with them. It's hard to imagine grass coming back on some of that rock, but he says the land is resilient. When it does, if it does, maybe he'll have the cash to buy some cows back, or maybe he'll be catering to the rich, hauling his chuck wagon to a nearby tourist ranch, singing songs around the campfire while the grass grows back on his own land, green and vacant.
SCHOENFELD: No, it's not a bad deal. It's not the end of the world. But I'm going to go screaming and kicking.
(A guitar twangs)
TOLAN: For Living on Earth, this is Sandy Tolan in Alpine, Texas.
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CURWOOD: For a tape or transcript of our program, please call any time, 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-99-88 for tapes and transcripts. Coming up: the Clinton Administration moves ahead with a plan to drill for oil on Alaska's wild lands. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. One of the most remote and pristine stretches of the United States may soon be crawling with heavy equipment searching for oil. After an 18-month study, the Clinton Administration says it's opening nearly 4 million acres of wilderness on Alaska's Arctic coast to oil exploration. Living on Earth's senior correspondent Peter Thomson traveled to the region, known as the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, with Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt as the study began. Peter's been following events since then and joins us now in the studio. Peter, was this decision a surprise?
THOMSON: Well, I don't think many people who watch the process closely were surprised by it. Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the Interior Secretary, who is responsible for the decision, told me last year that his mind was not made up on this and wouldn't be until the review process was done. But I don't think that once the question was asked of whether we should go in there and drill that, there really could be any other answer than yes.
CURWOOD: Why do you say that?
THOMSON: First and foremost, there's no need for this oil right now. World oil markets are flush, things are pretty stable in the Middle East, about as stable as ever, anyway. And prices are very low. There's no compelling need for this oil. Also, there was no real push to lock this place up as wilderness. Nobody even really knew about this place until they started studying it. So, in absence of a real national debate on this place, the only real answer is political.
CURWOOD: Okay, so what are the politics that are coming into play with this one?
THOMSON: Well, one is the politics of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is the big area to the east, which the Clinton Administration has been adamant in keeping off-limits to the oil industry. There's some speculation that this is a bone that they're throwing to the oil industry to sort of keep the heat off ANWAR. But there's something more transparent going on here, and that's Alaskan politics and the role of Alaska in national politics. It's a small state but it's very powerful. It's got 3 representatives in Congress, and they are all in key leadership positions in the GOP Congress. The only breathing Democrat of any stature in the state is Governor Tony Knowles. He happens to be up for reelection this year. Now, Knowles asked President Clinton 2 years ago to open up the National Petroleum Reserve. Clinton said that he would ask Babbitt. Babbitt scheduled a study. The decision just happened to be due just as Tony Knowles was going to be heading into the stretch run of his reelection campaign. Now, it doesn't take a 5-year-old to connect those dots. The irony, of course, is that Tony Knowles is immensely popular in Alaska and probably will win, anyway. But there may be some calculus here that if Knowles can get reelected comfortably, that somewhere down the line he can challenge one of those Senators or Congressmen and steal one of those Republican seats in Washington.
CURWOOD: Hm. Now, you said that many environmental activists had no idea of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and its wilderness value. But I guess now they're pretty unhappy that Babbitt has said let's open this up to drilling. What are they worried about?
THOMSON: Well, I mean, that's another irony. Virtually every scientist who has studied this place says that it's just as important for wildlife as the Arctic Wildlife Refuge itself is. It's home to migratory caribou, migratory birds from all over the hemisphere down to Argentina, grizzly and polar bears, fish. It's chock full of lakes, it's got Alaska's largest lake. Aesthetically it's incredibly beautiful and bizarre landscape. And like ANWAR, it's almost entirely untouched. So, the only significant difference between the 2 stretches of land is a political one. One was set aside for wildlife, one was set aside for oil.
CURWOOD: Okay. Now, Babbitt says that he can have the oil companies operate in this area sustainably. Do you think that's possible? And what will it look like once the oil starts flowing?
THOMSON: Well, first of oil, it's not completely certain it's going to flow. The environmentalists hope to be able to challenge the decision. But provided that it goes through, and it probably will, it's going to look pretty different than the big fields at Prudhoe Bay, for instance. And this was one of the selling points for Secretary Babbitt and others. The oil industry really has learned in the last few years to shrink their impact in the Arctic. They're going to do everything on ice roads in the winter time, so there will be no permanent roads. They'll move equipment mostly by helicopter, rather than truck. They've also learned directional drilling techniques and to compress their wellheads into smaller and smaller areas, so the footprint really will be much smaller than it would have been 20 years or so ago. Also, some of it is just off limits. Thirteen percent of this area is considered crucial wildlife habitat, which the oil industry can't touch. Of course, there's a bigger question, and it's interesting. Secretary Babbitt I think referred to this as a model of sustainable development. But burning oil is an inherently unsustainable activity. And the bigger question, of course, is on the one hand the Administration is giving this plum to the oil industry. On the other hand, it's trying to generate concern about global climate change. The biggest contributor to climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, like this oil that they're going to be pumping out there. And the place on the planet that is most sensitive to climate change is the Arctic. We're already starting to see it there. Permafrost and glaciers are melting; wildlife are changing their migration timing. So, there are some real big contradictions at work here.
CURWOOD: And you would think that Secretary Babbitt, who is one of the most active environmental types in the Administration, would know that. So, how do you think he can make this decision?
THOMSON: Well, he's a canny politician and he's also a loyal trooper for his President and his party. I think he probably had to swallow very hard before making this decision. I don't imagine that his heart was in it, but I think he felt like it was a sacrifice that he had to make. I'll tell you, I'll be real interested to read his memoirs when this Administration is history.
CURWOOD: All right. Well, thank you very much. Living on Earth's Peter Thomson.
THOMSON: Thank you, Steve.
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CURWOOD: After 19 years in captivity, most of it performing in a Mexican marine park, Keiko the orca whale is headed for home. The star of the Hollywood film Free Willy has been undergoing rehabilitation in Oregon to prepare him for release back into the wild. This month he's being moved to Iceland, the country where he was originally captured. A special open ocean facility in Icelandic waters will allow Keiko's handlers to assess his behavior in a more natural environment. From our Northwest Bureau, Living on Earth's Terry FitzPatrick reports.
(Whistling whale; splashing water. A man says, "Good boy!")
FITZ PATRICK: Two and a half years of rehabilitation exercises in a tank at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport have made Keiko stronger, bigger, and healthier.
FITZ PATRICK: Now, Keiko's handlers say it's time to work on his behavior. Diane Hammond of the Free Willy Keiko Foundation says a natural setting is needed to see if Keiko can rekindle the instincts of a wild whale.
HAMMOND: His physical rehabilitation's essentially complete. We can't do better for him in this pool in Oregon than we've already done. What we're left with, though, is a very healthy animal who's socially deprived. For us to continue to keep Keiko mentally as well as socially engaged day after day when he's isolated in a pool here, frankly, is getting harder and harder for us to do well.
FITZ PATRICK: To provide more stimulating surroundings, Keiko is being flown by cargo plane to a bay in Iceland, where an open water pen will reacquaint him with the sights and sounds of the sea. The new facility is a giant floating corral. Plastic pontoons form an enclosure about the size of a football field, with underwater nets to keep Keiko inside. This halfway house will allow handlers to see if Keiko can hunt for food and communicate with wild orcas living nearby. Ms. Hammond is optimistic he can, but says there's no pressure or deadline.
HAMMOND: Now, if he does adapt well, we're hoping to be able at the least to essentially unzip the nets of the pen and let him out into the larger bay. But if we aren't absolutely sure, we're not going to release him at all.
(Whale calls and human clapping)
FITZ PATRICK: There's been worldwide media interest in Keiko's departure from here in Oregon. But among scientists, there is widespread skepticism about the Free Willy dream of actually releasing a captive killer whale. Because of his age, medical problems, and history of isolation, many marine biologists think there's no chance Keiko could survive in the wild. Keiko's handlers insist, though, that they won't let him go unless they receive independent scientific approval.
(Blowholes and splashing)
FITZ PATRICK: Keiko's new corral might expose him to a new kind of risk. Animal rights activists could some day cut the nets and release Keiko before he's ready. Security equipment is being installed to help prevent that from happening.
(A whistle blows)
FITZ PATRICK: For Living on Earth, I'm Terry FitzPatrick.
(Loud whale call; fade to music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Loud whale call; fade to music up and under)
ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for reporting on science in the environment; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com; and Church and Dwight, a tradition of environmental responsibility: the makers of Arm and Hammer Baking Soda, the standard of purity.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Just ahead, mass slaughter of cormorants in the Great Lakes and why a community isn't outraged. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
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SECOND HALF HOUR
ANNOUNCER: Stonyfield Farm and Living on Earth are partners in the 1998 Planet Protector Contest, and we want to hear from kids 8 to 14 about what they're doing to protect the planet. To enter, kids can send a 1-page essay about their efforts to build a healthy planet. Look for contest details on our Web site. That's www.livingonearth.org. Or, on Stonyfield Farm Planet Protector quart containers.
(Theme music up and under)
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
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CURWOOD: Twenty-five years ago, E.F. Schumacher published Small is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered. In it, Mr. Schumacher touted his concept of small, self-sufficient communities that use renewable energy and develop sustainably. By the 1970s his ideas, already popular in Europe, spread to North America, and his book has since been translated into about 20 languages. E.F. Schumacher, "Fritz" to his friends, was a German-born economist who studied Buddhist, Taoist, and Roman Catholic theology. He was considered radical for pointing out that all technological advances do not represent progress, and the risks technology poses to freedom and quality of life. A man who loved his garden, E.F. Schumacher was also president of The Soil Association, which promotes organic farming. He advocated locally-based, small-scale, and affordable technology for developing countries. That notion has come to be called "appropriate technology." After his death in 1977, Schumacher Societies were formed to continue his work. In addition to Small is Beautiful, E.F. Schumacher also authored Good Work, and A Guide For The Perplexed. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
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CURWOOD: Several weeks ago, researchers in New York State made a gruesome discovery. On Little Galloo, a small island off the coast of Lake Ontario, they found nearly 1,000 double-crested cormorants shot dead. The mass killing was one of the worst of any Federally-protected creature in recent US history. Cormorants are relative newcomers to the Great Lakes, emigrating from the Canadian prairie lakes before World War I. Their population built up to about 1,000 nesting pairs throughout the Great Lakes before crashing in the 1950s. With government protection, the population has now soared to over 8,000 active nests on Little Galloo alone. Many area anglers who compete with the birds for fish say that's too many. Brenda Tremblay of member station WXXI prepared our report.
(Splashing water, ambient conversation)
MAN: I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. It was going to happen sooner or later if whoever's in charge of wildlife control didn't do something.
MAN: I know there have been some problems in the past but you never thought it would have gone to this extent.
MAN 2: It was just a barbaric act.
ADAMS: When the report first came over and I was sitting in the office with Cliff, and they came over the radio that this had happened, we both sat there as though there had been a great tragedy. I think we were both quite stunned.
TREMBLAY: Connie Adams works with a team of biologists that's been studying the double-crested cormorants of Little Galloo Island, 6 miles off the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. With more than 8,000 nesting pairs of cormorants, Little Galloo Island is the largest nesting colony for the sea bird in the United States.
MAN: Okay, undo that nut. Bring it on board and undo that nut. There's an anchor right underneath.
(Metal clanking, splashing)
TREMBLAY: Researchers came ashore to collect pellets and check on the nests in late July. But instead of finding thriving nestlings, they discovered carcasses, piles of them, and most of the dead were chicks too young to fly. Cliff Schneider, who leads the team that made the discovery, says he thinks the killers came to the island in the early evening after fishermen and boaters had returned to shore. He stands in a clearing and points to dozens of twisted, fly-covered remains.
SCHNEIDER: See, what they had done is they came in here and the chicks were huddled together. So you....from what we had found, probably, the had probably 5 boxes of shells, 130 rounds of this cheap stuff, stuff that wouldn't make much noise.
TREMBLAY: Mr. Schneider's team counted 840 dead cormorants. They discovered another 100 wounded birds, and they had to euthanize many of them. Mr. Schneider says he spent several hours walking around the 52-acre island gazing in disbelief at the heaps of dead birds. He paused when he came to a clearing.
SCHNEIDER: And I looked down, and there was one chick that was on its back. And when I walked by its head was up and moving around. The chick was still alive and just strewn amidst, you know, 50 or so birds that had been slaughtered. And this chick had been hurt, and was in tough shape. And the fact that it was on its back and was sitting there and still struggling for life, I mean that's....that to me was the worst part of the whole thing.
(Calling birds, urgent)
PIZELLA: Smile, you're on candid camera. (Another man repeats.) Let's look captive and smile for them. We've learned a lot in the last 2 days. (Laughter)
TREMBLAY: Standing on a dock 6 miles away, Richard Pizella and 3 of his buddies from work are getting their picture taken. They've been looking forward to this fishing trip all summer. They drove 7 hours from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, pooled their money, and hired a charter captain to take them fishing off the coast of Henderson Harbor, a small fishing village on the eastern coast of Lake Ontario.
PIZELLA: One, two, three, let me get up here. (A shutter clicks.)
TREMBLAY: The four men grin with pride as they hold up the day's catch. Fourteen walleye and 2 enormous trout. They dump the fish into white buckets. The iridescent scales glisten in the sun while Captain Mitch Franz collects his money. About $600 for 2 days of fishing. Captain Franz is 1 of 60 charter captains that make a living by fishing out of Henderson Harbor. But these days, his clients can't catch any small-mouth bass, and he thinks the cormorant is to blame.
FRANZ: The bird is out of whack. There are no animals out there, there's no fox, there's no raccoons. We don't have any eagles here. There's nothing here to prey on that bird. So that bird is sitting in a piece of property that is prime for just increasing and increasing. And you can see, over the last 4 or 5 years that population has doubled and tripled.
TREMBLAY: The cormorant's population has increased dramatically since the 1970s, when the use of pesticides and hunting had reduced its numbers to less than 200 nesting pairs on Lake Ontario. In 1972, Federal wildlife officials added the double-crested cormorant to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Since then, the cormorant population on Little Galloo Island has skyrocketed. At the same time, the bass population in this harbor has decreased since the 1980s. Not since the spotted owl controversy in the Pacific Northwest has a single species of bird caused so much anger and frustration.
FRANZ: I've been after the department now for over 10 years to put some controls on the bird population out there.
TREMBLAY: While Captain Mitch hoses down his boat, a cormorant circles the dock, eyeballing the fish in the buckets and swimming low in the water with a sinister profile of a little Loch Ness Monster. Another charter captain pulls up and unloads a small party of fishermen with only a few fish. Captain Drew Ditch grew up in Henderson Harbor. His grandfather started this charter business before he was born.
DITCH: When I was a kid and you used to go out here around the islands with my grandfather, you'd see, you know, mallards and widgeon and teal and, you know, all kinds of different ducks and water fowl nesting on the islands and stuff. Now, every rock you see has a cormorant sitting on it.
TREMBLAY: Captain Ditch shrugs. He says he can't make a living here any more. So in October, he's heading for Florida to work in the stone crabbing business. Neither he nor Captain Franz have any sympathy for the dead cormorants on Little Galloo Island.
FRANZ: I think that the people around here probably have gotten fed up with the Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service and all the people who are from the Audubon Society and all the bird lovers' society. Yeah, they all love the birds. But the problem is, those people aren't paying the bills.
TREMBLAY: The incident on Little Galloo Island is only the latest and most dramatic in a series of illegal killings of water fowl in the United States this year. On July 23rd, city officials in Carrollton, Texas, bulldozed a rookery of Federally-protected egrets and herons, killing hundreds of birds after people complained about the odor and noise. Other mass bird killings in Arkansas and Oklahoma have wildlife managers worried about violence against protected species.
(Bird calls, surf)
TREMBLAY: The bird, a goose-sized black bird with an orange beak and a croak like a drunken belch, seems like a poor match for well-outfitted anglers. Sport fishing is a $50 million business in New York State, but here in Henderson Harbor, the harbor closest to Little Galloo Island, fishing revenues are down. In several southern states, catfish farmers have permission to shoot cormorants eating from their private catfish ponds. But sport fishermen in the north have no such recourse. Captain Franz says he's tired of competing with the cormorants, which reportedly eat 1.4 million pounds of fish every year.
FRANZ: He's not like your average fisherman. If it's rough out a lot of guys don't go out. If it's raining out and blowing, people don't go out. That cormorant, 50,000 of them sit here for 150 to 180 days and they fish 7 days a week from the day they get here till the time they leave. They don't care if it's hot, cold, raining, wet, windy. They're fishing.
TREMBLAY: Nobody on this dock in Henderson Harbor thinks the mass bird killing on Little Galloo Island was a crime.
TREMBLAY: On the island the dead birds are quickly deflating in the late summer heat. Flies cover the carcasses, and near the shore only heaps of white bones and tufts of black feathers indicate that anything unusual happened here. Cliff Schneider and his team are still collecting data for a study of the bird's diet for state officials. While they're walking and stooping to collect pellets, a red fishing boat approaches, slows down, and begins to circle the island.
SCHNEIDER: This close to shore, I think they just came in to take a look and see what we were up to.
TREMBLAY: Mr. Schneider concedes that the fishermen in Henderson Harbor may have a legitimate gripe. But he says shooting the birds on Little Galloo Island won't solve the angler's problems.
SCHNEIDER: There are about 25,000 birds on this island, cormorants. And removing 1,000 of them isn't going to make fishing any better, isn't going to make, you know, improve the economic situation in the village of Henderson and with the guys in that. The only solution to this biologically, if that's the case, is a longer-term program to manage that. So I don't think they accomplished anything biologically. And from the standpoint of political, what they did out here is just drive people further apart.
TREMBLAY: Cliff Schneider says that the decline in small-mouth bass may be due to other less visible influences, such as the increase of zebra mussels in Lake Ontario, the decreasing phosphorus level, and predation by other fish. The cormorant, he says, makes a good scapegoat.
(A boat motor revs up)
TREMBLAY: But charter captain Mitch Franz just doesn't buy it.
FRANZ: The cormorant is not going to become extinct.
TREMBLAY: Captain Franz says he's seen thousands of cormorants diving together for bass. He says he's seen too many of his friends go out of business in Henderson Harbor. And people here, he says, are more important than the water turkeys on Little Galloo Island.
(Ambient conversation and laughter in the background)
FRANZ: We don't have Kodak, we don't have Xerox, Bausch and Lomb. Two major corporations closed in Carthage. You know, those are people out of jobs. We're the north country, you know, we've been tourism for 3 generations here. We continue to be tourism. And if people want to catch fish, they're going to go someplace else. They're not going to come here. And we need people to come here. We need the business.
TREMBLAY: The New York Bureau of Fisheries will publish the results of its study from Little Galloo Island on December 15th. But even if the Bureau presents scientific evidence that the cormorants are eating large quantities of bass and therefore hurting the local economy, it's unlikely that the US Fish and Wildlife Service will take any action to thin the birds' population, as long as they aren't damaging private property. It will be up to the people who live here to find a way to compete with the voracious cormorants, and to find a way to reconcile with each other, after the violence on Little Galloo Island. For Living on Earth, I'm Brenda Tremblay in Henderson Harbor, New York.
(Bird calls continue, loudly)
CURWOOD: And this update to our story. We've learned that several persons have been called before a Federal Grand Jury investigating the cormorant slaughter. They include at least 2 Lake Ontario fishing boat operators.
(Bird calls, fading to music up and under)
CURWOOD: We welcome your comments on our program. Call our listener line any time at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-99-88. Or e-mail us at LOE@NPR.ORG. That's LOE@NPR.ORG. And check out our Web page at www.livingonearth.org. Coming up: green roofs that slow down storm water and help keep the urban environment cooler. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. When it rains, the saying goes, it pours. And in cities it usually pours off the roof. In heavily-paved urban areas, a good downpour can quickly overwhelm a municipal sewer system. But an ancient building technique that's popular in Europe suggests a way to alleviate the problem: add a touch of green to the roof. Rooftop vegetation provides insulation, cooling, and waterproofing, and it can help prevent runoff, too. Several German cities already require so-called green roofs on all new commercial buildings. Here in the US, the idea is just catching on, and we found one of its proponents. Tom Lipton is a storm water specialist for Portland, Oregon, a city where sewer overflows are common. Two years ago Mr. Lipton built a green roof on the top of his garage. He told me he got the idea one evening standing at his kitchen sink.
LIPTON: One day my wife and I were washing the dishes, and I picked up this new soap, dishwashing soap that she had purchased and I was looking at the label. It was a really nice label, and it was from Belgium. And as I read it, down at the bottom it said that this Belgian factory had the largest grass roof in the world. And it had an 800 number on it, and I thought well why don't I call it? And then something clicked in my mind and I thought: roof gardens and storm water. So I made a phone call to the company representative who was in California, and they sent me some information, and that's where I first started seeing information that said yes, these roof tops actually hold a lot of water, and the water that does flow off them is dramatically slowed down. Its runoff rate is much slower than just a regular roof.
CURWOOD: So what exactly does this thing look like?
LIPTON: Right now, from the sidewalk, you would see the dried flowers from the plants when they bloomed back in April, May, and June, it was blooming. And so, those flower stalks are still on the plants. I'm trying not to garden this roof top, I'm trying to let it go and see what happens. And it changes. It's a very dynamic roof system in the sense that it changes with the seasons. The plants turn different colors, sort of a mosaic of color with the different types of seed and with red and yellow and green. And this time of year is when it gets a little bit brown, which sort of represents this characteristic we have in the west of the dry summers. And that's beautiful, too.
CURWOOD: Now, this roof is really a research project for you, right?
LIPTON: Yes, it is, right.
CURWOOD: And so, what kind of data have you gotten so far?
LIPTON: Two pieces of information. One is that I've been monitoring the amount of water that has the amount of rainfall we've had. So I have a rain gauge. And then I just literally measure the total volume of water that has run off, and then I subtract the difference, and that's the amount that stays on the roof.
CURWOOD: Okay, so tell us: how much stays on the roof?
LIPTON: Well, it varies. And to give you an idea, I actually have a chart that I've been keeping. So, for instance, last August we had about an inch and a half of rainfall and it held about 95% of that rainfall.
CURWOOD: Because it's pretty dry in August.
LIPTON: Right. Then in October, we had about 6-1/2 inches of rainfall and it had, percentage-wise, about 30% of that. So then it started dropping off dramatically as we because once we hit October, November, December, January, and February, it was so wet, and we did have a higher than normal rainfall. But it was down at around 30, as low as 15% in January.
CURWOOD: Now, Europeans do this. In some cases on a large industrial scale, you've discovered. Now, why do you think it's taking so long for it to catch on in this country?
LIPTON: I guess because it seems like a wild idea. It doesn't seem like it's practical. But yet, what I found now is that it appears more and more practical every day. And the other is, I don't think we in the United States considered this building technique as a storm water management tool, and that's probably the key, I think. Because in Europe it appears from most of the literature that they were definitely looking at this as a means of holding water and keeping it out of their combined sewer systems. For instance, in Europe they will, in many cities, give you a discount on your sewer bill. So you pay less sewage fee than the person who doesn't have this type of roof system. As a matter of fact, we're thinking if that's something we might try to develop here for the city is a way to compensate for that, if the owner has this type of roof.
CURWOOD: Let's say someone listening to us now says, "Okay, I think I'll build myself one of these." How do they go about it?
LIPTON: Well, I have a book at the office that is it's a do-it-yourself, small- scale roof gardening book. It's written in German so I can't read any of it (Curwood laughs) but it has a lot of pictures.
LIPTON: I think it would be I would encourage people to one, definitely look at the structure of their building and get some professional advice. I know a little bit about structural structures on a small scale, so I felt very comfortable in looking at doing the work on mine. But they should check with someone who knows structure. They need to either know about plants themselves and soil, or have someone help them with that. So there's a whole range of issues with plant materials, soils, the structure of the building that they might be interested in doing this to.
CURWOOD: Tom Lipton is a storm water specialist for the city of Portland, Oregon. Thank you so much for taking this time with us.
LIPTON: Aw, thank you, Steve.
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CURWOOD: Many business managers know that recycling is a good way to reduce their landfill costs and improve their public images, but they don't have the time or the resources to recycle. The Wastecap Program aims to tackle that problem. It convenes swap meets to match up companies that have excess materials with other firms that can give them a second life. New Hampshire Public Radio's Trish Anderton has an update on this initiative that's now up and running in at least 8 states from Wisconsin to Nebraska.
ANDERTON: The Waste Match Fair at the New Hampshire Expo Center in Manchester looks like an ordinary trade fair. But it's really a novel industrial swap meet. A solid waste recycling company is here looking for businesses with sludge to sell. A shipping executive with too many wooden pallets is talking with a company that turns the pallets into fuel. And at a folding table on the left, engineer John Boucher of Manchester-based Velcro, USA, has some bits of plastic in little baggies he'd love to get rid of. Boucher says he has truck loads of this ground up velcro back at the factory.
BOUCHER: Customers want us to punch out different shapes of velcro, and after you punch out the shape they want you have the leftover. And a lot of that just gets landfilled.
ANDERTON: Boucher is hoping to find someone who has a use for this kind of material, perhaps a plastic company that can melt it and reshape it into a new product. He's talked to several possible takers already today.
BOUCHER: I've got some phone numbers and I'm looking forward to getting on the phone and seeing what I can do.
ANDERTON: The Waste Match Fair is organized by Wastecap, a nonprofit arm of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association. Besides holding these swap meets, Wastecap offers companies free audits to help them figure out how to reduce, recycle, and reuse. The association started Wastecap in the early 90s, after the New Hampshire legislature set a goal of reducing waste statewide by 40% before the year 2000. The program's executive director, Barbara Bernstein, says it was designed in part to preclude the need for strict waste reduction laws.
BERNSTEIN: The Business and Industry Association felt that businesses proactively could reduce their waste without mandated legislation. Those kind of mandates are very expensive for businesses and end up really taking an inordinate amount of time.
ANDERTON: Wastecap also tries to woo executives with the notion that recycling is good for the bottom line. And here at Revamp, Incorporated, in Concord, a company that reprocesses copper wiring spools, that has proved to be true.
(Industrial, grinding sounds)
ANDERTON: In Revamp's warehouse, a teenager wearing safety goggles and protective headphones picks up an arm load of large plastic spools, each about the size of his head. He tosses the spools one by one into a hopper, where a grinding and granulating machine chews them up or sometimes, like a cranky toddler, spits them back out. The machine grinds the spools into pellets. Those pellets will be sent on to a manufacturing company where they'll eventually be reincarnated as plastic fencing and lawn furniture. Rich Gale is Revamp's marketing director. He says the company's main business is refurbishing these spools for the copper wire industry. Until a few years ago, spools that were too scratched or battered were simply discarded.
GALE: We decided we had to go with a grinder-granulator, because we didn't want to throw those things away, have them end up in landfills. So we started looking into other types of materials to handle, also.
ANDERTON: Through Wastecap, the company got involved with efforts to launch a recycling initiative for New Hampshire's booming computer industry. Now Revamp handles hundreds of tons of plastic packaging from the industry every year. The computer companies save money on waste disposal, and Gale says the new recycling activity played a large part in his company's 30% growth last year.
(Grinding sounds continue)
ANDERTON: Wastecap and other efforts have cut New Hampshire's total waste stream by a quarter over the course of the decade. That's an impressive number, but it's still short of the 40% goal set by the legislature. Recycling advocates say local programs like Wastecap are a good start, but not enough is being done yet on a national level to reduce the amount of solid waste going to landfills. Rick Best is chair of the Grassroots Recycling Network. He says government should take a more active role. Best points, for example, to a recent change in German law that led industry there to create a nationwide recycling network.
BEST: The industry came out and developed this Green Dot system where everything that has a green dot, it's a green dot that's put on the package, can be recycled in a nationwide system that was set up. And that's been tremendously successful. There's tremendously high recovery rates, and it's very easy for the public to know what materials are part of this program and can be recycled.
ANDERTON: Even if programs such as Wastecap ultimately fall short, they have helped develop a recycling industry. There is a generational business dynamic visible here at the Waste Match Fair. There are older companies with waste, and young upstarts that have sprung up to reprocess it. That kind of partnership is likely to prove necessary to any long-term waste reduction strategy. For Living on Earth, I'm Trish Anderton in Concord, New Hampshire.
(Milling continues; fade to music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. Our production team is George Homsy, Jesse Wegman, Terry FitzPatrick, Daniel Grossman, and Miriam Landman, along with Roberta De Avila, Peter Shaw, Julia Madeson, and Liz Lempert. And congratulations to Liz and her husband Ken, as we welcome into the world Madeleine Lempert Norman. We also had help this week from David Winickoff, Anne Perry, KPLU Seattle, and KOCV in Odessa, Texas. Our technical director is Eileen Bolinsky. Peter Thomson heads our Western Bureau. Joyce Hackel is our senior editor. And Chris Ballman is the senior producer. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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