Air Date: October 1, 1999
Congress and the President are still attempting to work out how to appropriate the budget for this fiscal year, which began on October 1. One of the sticking points is a group of environmental riders attached to larger spending bills. Mark Hertsgaard (HURTS-guard), Living On Earth’s political observer, speaks with Steve Curwood about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering over the riders issue. (07:30)
Ferry Tale/ Jeff Hoffman
Jeff Hoffman reports from San Francisco on a proposal to vastly expand commuter ferry service on San Francisco Bay. The plan is an attempt to relieve highway congestion and auto air pollution by getting thousands of commuters off the region’s highways. But, it has run into unexpected skepticism from some environmentalists. (10:20)
River Tripping/ Susan Carol Hauser
Commentator Susan Carol Hauser travels by boat down the length of the Mississippi River and finds that, even when standing still, it’s hard not to get swept away by the current. (02:55)
The Living on Earth Almanac
This week, facts about... trash crime. Fifteen years ago, the New York State Assembly conducted hearings on the state's garbage hauling industry which had become controlled by organized crime families. Some haulers were found to be illegally dumping toxic wastes into landfills. (01:30)
Floyd's Toxic Wake
Flooding in North Carolina has left behind sewage, chemicals, and millions of dead farm animals. Host Steve Curwood talks with reporter James Shiffer of the Raleigh News and Observer about what's being done to bring public health risks under control, and what can be done in the future to prevent this kind of environmental crisis. (04:05)
Listeners tell us what they thought about our coverage of salmon in the Pacific Northwest and Europe's fears about genetically engineered foods. There were split opinions over our portrait of 96-year-old homesteader, Emma Buck. (02:30)
Apple Savior/ Daniel Zwerdling
NPR’s Daniel Zwerdling profiles apple tree cultivator Carlos Manning of West Virginia. Mister Manning's passion is finding old varieties of apple trees in abandoned orchards and grafting them on to existing apple trees, thereby saving the species. (17:50)
HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Jeff Hoffman, Daniel Zwerdling
GUESTS: Mark Hertsgaard, James Shiffer
COMMENTATOR: Susan Carol Hauser
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CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
Once again, the nation's budget is past due. Once again, Congress has attached to various spending bills a number of measures that affect environmental protection. And once again, it's unclear how the administration will respond.
HERTSGAARD: The administration is floating in the press the threat that Clinton will veto, Clinton will veto. However, you've got an environmental community who has heard that before.
CURWOOD: Also, ferry boats are preferred by some commuters over gridlock. But while they offer convenience and maybe even a bit of romance, ferries are not always easy on the environment.
LONG: For a long time, the environmental community, in effect, I think most Americans, have had a view of ferries as being clean and green. And now that myth is being punctured.
CURWOOD: And rolling down the river. Those stories and more on Living on Earth; first this news.
(NPR News follows)
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CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. The official beginning of the federal government's fiscal year came and went on October first, without allocating the budget. So the nation is now operating on what's called a continuing resolution, as Congress and the president haggle over the details of this year's spending bills. Among the sticklers are a few pieces of environmental legislation called riders that have been tagged onto larger spending measures. Mark Hertsgaard, Living on Earth's political observer, says one of the more contentious riders is the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards, which stipulate minimum mileage for cars and trucks.
HERTSGAARD: Vice President Gore had a meeting last week with the major environmental groups in Washington. And they made it very clear to him that that issue of the higher fuel efficiency standards was their number one priority here, for two reasons. One, it's the most important thing the federal government could do to fight global warming, because the better the gas mileage, the fewer greenhouses gases go up in the atmosphere. But two, they also feel that politically, this is their fight. They tried to push Gore and Clinton last year to be tougher on this. Gore told them, quote, "Show me one senator who will support me on these issues." Now they've gone and they've gotten 40 senators. That number 40 is significant, because President Clinton needs a minimum of 34 votes to sustain his veto.
CURWOOD: Now, what about the rider on oil royalties? The federal government would like to raise those. This rider would not, right?
HERTSGAARD: That's correct, and this is the fourth such rider in the last 18 months. It's been promoted by Senator Kay Hutchison of Texas, and she won by a very slim margin, 51 to 47. It essentially spares the companies from having to pay these higher royalties. The irony of it is that the companies have already agreed separately, in lawsuits with individual states including Texas, as well as California, Alaska, Louisiana, and so forth. The states have been suing these companies on the same grounds, that hey, you guys are not paying the legally required royalties. And the companies have settled out of court for a total of $5 billion.
CURWOOD: There's another rider regarding protection of the stratospheric ozone layer, the layer that keeps ultraviolet from coming through. What's going on with that one?
HERTSGAARD: That one has to do with funding for helping Third World countries stop using CFCs. Those are the chemicals that are the main cause of ozone depletion. There's something called the multilateral fund, which the United States and other industrial nation governments pay into, to help China, for example, invest in ozone-friendly refrigerators, air conditioning systems, and so forth. The argument of the Third World countries has always been, look, we don't want to destroy the ozone layer, but we don't have the technology or the money to move in a better direction. This thing, the multilateral fund, was set up to help them improve their performance in this area. This new rider would cut the funds to that agency, and therefore would obviously retard efforts on the part of China and other countries to be more environmentally careful.
CURWOOD: Do you think these riders are going to go through?
HERTSGAARD: That's the big question, and the administration is floating, in the press, the threat the Clinton will veto, Clinton will veto. However, you've got an environmental community who has heard that before. One source of mine in Washington said, look, last year Bill Clinton went before the annual dinner of the League of Conservation Voters and publicly said he would veto any bills containing anti-environmental riders. He then approved 30 out of the 40 riders that were attached. And if you're a Republican leader, getting 30 out of 40 has got to be a pretty good deal. And this year Clinton has not yet made that kind of public declaration. So, the environmental community is wary about this.
On the other hand there is, of course, a big change recently, and that's the fact that Friends of the Earth has formally endorsed Bill Bradley rather than Al Gore for the Democratic presidential nomination, and that is surely going to figure in the calculations at the White House.
CURWOOD: What do you think this endorsement by Friends of the Earth of Bill Bradley is really going to mean?
HERTSGAARD: Well, I'll tell you what the Democratic House Whip David Bonior said. He thinks that this is going to stiffen the spine of Clinton and Gore, and that they will therefore veto some of these bills. He said that precisely because of the endorsement, that the administration, quote, "is going to be looking for environmental things to be strong on." Gore himself has said that he was, quote, "personally wounded" by the Friends of the Earth endorsement. So, it's certainly gotten their attention, and it has shown Mr. Gore that he cannot take the environmental vote for granted.
CURWOOD: Are there any lessons here for Gore's opponents? Not just Bradley, but the Republicans as well.
HERTSGAARD: I would say so. There is a very interesting new poll that's been done by the independent pollster John Zogby, that looks at Republican voters, likely primary voters in the states of California, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York. And it found an astonishingly high degree of support for environmentalism. Ninety-three percent of the voters surveyed -- these are Republicans -- said that environmental issues were very important in their decision of which candidate they would back in the election. That is the same amount as said that family values were important. It's higher than the amount who said that cutting taxes was important. It's significantly higher than the amount who said that banning abortions was important. So what that says to me is that the environment, now, is clearly no longer a partisan issue. It has become a mom and apple-pie concern of everyday Americans, and whether you're a Republican or a Democratic politician, you have got to make voters understand that you favor strong environmental regulation.
CURWOOD: So if Republicans aren't attaching these riders for their voters, then why are they doing it?
HERTSGAARD: Well, now, I don't want to sound cynical here, Steve. But --
CURWOOD: Go ahead.
HERTSGAARD: It's a little hard to avoid the conclusion that this has an awful lot more to do with their big money campaign contributions than any of their reading of the public opinion polls. If you look at, for example, again here the question with the royalties, the oil royalties. It's very clear that those companies have been underpaying royalties for a long time. They would not have settled with the states for $5 billion worth in damages if they weren't guilty. And nevertheless, you've got a senator like Hutchison who is going to be pushing this through. And if you look at a lot of these different riders that we've already discussed today, you can draw a pretty strong correlation with the campaign contributions that the members have had. So, you know, this is not a new story, I know, big money in politics. But I think, as this week's events show, it is still a very relevant one.
CURWOOD: Well, thank you very much for taking this time with us today, Mark.
HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Steve.
CURWOOD: Mark Hertsgaard is Living on Earth's political observer. He spoke to us from San Francisco.
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CURWOOD: Coming up: Cool and refreshing out on the water, ferry boats are often pleasant, and polluting. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
(Ocean waves, bird calls)
CURWOOD: Before the car, before bridges, tunnels, and freeways, residents of America's great maritime cities got around by ferry.
CURWOOD: Today, facing gridlock, smog, and the high costs of new freeways and rail systems, some port communities are looking once again at water transportation. Proponents of the ferry revival say the boats are cost effective, environmentally benign, and just about the most enjoyable way to commute. In the San Francisco Bay Area, planners are thinking about following the path of New York City and Seattle by greatly expanding ferry service. But as Jeff Hoffman reports, the plan has created a wave of controversy.
(Footfalls on the deck)
HOFFMAN: At seven in the morning, Laura Miller pushes her bike onto a ferry in Sausalito, just north of San Francisco. Ms. Miller, who works for a downtown magazine, drives 15 miles from her home, parks her car, and then bikes to the boat. She says the complicated trip is worth the effort because it keeps her off the roads heading into the city.
MILLER: I've taken buses. I've ridden in one when I've missed the ferry. And I of course have driven my car in. It's terrible driving in alone, and it's really tough on those roads out there. People are very aggressive and by the time you get to work you're frustrated and uptight. You've been cut off a couple of times.
HOFFMAN: The 20-minute ferry ride, on the other hand, gives Ms. Miller time to talk with friends, read the paper, or just take in the panorama of bay and mountains. She says the ferry is much faster than driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, and it doesn't contribute to the traffic jams and smog that form around the city most mornings.
MILLER: There's a million people by themselves in their SUVs out there. Right now they're stuck on that bridge. (Laughs)
HOFFMAN: The Sausalito ferry is one of five routes that carry several thousand commuters each day to San Francisco's financial district. But that's a far cry from the 100,000 who rode the ferries daily before the region built its bridges and freeways. Today that road system is jammed and projected to get much worse, as the region adds two million new residents in the next two decades. Some here say the only way to prevent gridlock and a sharp decline in air quality is to turn back to the bay in a big way.
McPEAK: We are a region defined by this magnificent body of water. We're the only major region in the world with such a significant body of water that does not fully utilize it for transportation.
HOFFMAN: Sunny McPeak is president of the Bay Area Council, a business group that has proposed an ambitious new system of 70 high-speed ferries and 28 terminals that would link nearly every city on the bay and its major airports. The system would rival the world's leading urban ferry systems in Sydney, Australia, and Hong Kong. The California legislature has approved an agency, but so far no funds, to build and run the system. Ms. McPeak says it would cost $2 billion.
McPEAK: That's a lot of money, truly. However, when compared to the other choices in this region and what will be spent, becomes very cost-effective. The repair and construction of a new eastern span of the Bay Bridge is $1.3 billion. Freeway interchanges alone are anywhere from one-and-a-half million to two-and-a-half, three-hundred million.
HOFFMAN: Ferry proponents say the system would also help improve air quality by getting tens of thousands of vehicles off the highways. One might expect environmentalists to be enthusiastic about such a proposal, but it's actually been a tough sell.
LONG: For a long time the environmental community, in effect, I think most Americans, have had a view of ferries as being clean and green. And now that myth is being punctured. I think it's important we're going to have to de-romanticize the ferry, and, you know, clearly we've had a love affair with the ferry for a long time, that we're going to have to get over as a result of this new data.
HOFFMAN: Russell Long runs the San Francisco-based Bluewater Network. A study by his group contends that ferries would make the air dirtier.
LONG: Ferry boats are ten times more polluting on a per-passenger basis than people driving in their cars, and 23 times more polluting than people taking the bus. So, we're concerned that by putting a new ferry system into San Francisco, we're going to be reversing the past 25 years of hard-won gains in decreasing air pollution.
HOFFMAN: The pollutant Bluewater is most worried about is particulates, or soot, from the ferry's diesel engines, which can lodge in the lungs and cause severe health problems. Mr. Long says the increase in soot emissions would more than offset the reduction of carbon monoxide from less auto travel. While Mr. Long's study is far from conclusive, it has prompted powerful environmental groups like the Sierra Club to back away from their support of the ferry plan. Others have challenged Bluewater's findings. Ian Austin, a transportation consultant who helped write the ferry plan, says his own research shows that autos create three times the total emission of diesel ferries.
AUSTIN: If you look at the big picture, you'd say that it just makes a lot of sense to address the individual environmental issues -- there are some -- come up with the solutions and move ahead, rather than stopping the whole process because of one particular issue that really, I think, is being misreported.
HOFFMAN: Both critics and supporters of the ferry plan want the state to conduct a study comparing emissions from ferries and other forms of transportation. But even if that issue is cleared up, there are other environmental concerns. The Bluewater Network warns that scores of ferries buzzing around the bay could pose a hazard to water fowl, marine mammals, and sailboats. Then there's the impact on the shoreline.
(Ferry engines, beeps)
HOFFMAN: The North Bay city of Vallejo, which has run a ferry service for over a decade, is paving over part of its waterfront to provide more parking for ferry riders. Vallejo Transportation Manager Pam Belchamber supports putting more boats on the Bay, but she says it's not for every community.
BELCHAMBER: You would have to construct docks and dredge, build parking lots, bring bus service in. It can change the face of a waterfront. And so, the community has to decide, what do they want their waterfront to look like? Do they want it to be a heavy trafficked area with lots of people? And that can be great, you know, that's not a negative thing. But each community has a different view of what their waterfront should look like.
HOFFMAN: If the Bay Area does build a big ferry system, it will be taking a page from its own history.
HOFFMAN: Ferries first appeared here in the mid-19th century. Majestic 300-foot-long sidewheelers, some with stained glass windows and elaborate dining rooms, carried railroad passengers from back east to their final destination: San Francisco's graceful Ferry Building, the Grand Central Station of the Pacific coast.
HOFFMAN: As the region grew into a modern metropolis, commuters began riding the ferries. By the 1930s they were making 50 million trips a year. The boats connected to comprehensive streetcar systems around the bay. State Senator Don Perata remembers riding the ferries and trains as a boy.
PERATA: Where I grew up in the city of Alameda, there was -- the Red Trains came all the way down the spine of the city to the "mole," which was the terminal for the ferry. You got off that, you got on that, and you crossed over to San Francisco or to Marin County, and it was a coherent transit system.
HOFFMAN: But the system unraveled after the construction of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges in the 1930s. By the 50s, only vestiges of the ferry and streetcar system remained. Senator Perata, who sponsored legislation to create the new ferry system, says something like the old feeder system is necessary.
PERATA: They're either a lot smarter than we were in those days, or they just developed things more naturally. But can we redo that? I don't know, but I think we'd have to replicate the concept if we're going to make this thing work.
HOFFMAN: But others say a major ferry system just doesn't make sense in an era when population and congestion have shifted inland to places like Silicon Valley. Rod McMillan, a senior planner at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, says some routes proposed by the Bay Area Council would have few riders and require huge subsidies.
McMILLAN: Where the congestion is increasing the most is down in the Santa Clara Valley, and that's one location where ferry services probably won't serve well. A lot of it is on the land side. It's not trans-bay type services. So I think what we really need to look at, it's not only ferry services, and I think ferry services are part of the mix, but it's other things like rail and like bus and carpool and vanpool.
HOFFMAN: Some supporters of the ambitious ferry plan say the transportation commission is cool to the idea merely because it wouldn't have control over the system. Whether or not that's true, California's balkanized politics and the pollution concerns almost guarantee that any significant expansion of ferry service on the San Francisco Bay won't happen soon. Still, the proposal has sparked a serious discussion. Next year the legislature will consider funding for environmental and ridership studies. Meanwhile, the few dedicated ferry commuters will continue to tough it out.
MILLER: I feel good now. I'll be ready to go when I sit down at my desk.
HOFFMAN: Disembarking at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, Laura Miller straps on her helmet and prepares for the three-mile bike ride to her office. She says there's no good rail or bus connections. It's an energizing trip, but most commuters aren't so hardy. Without more routes and reliable connections, most Bay Area commuters will likely stay off the water and in their cars. For Living on Earth, I'm Jeff Hoffman in San Francisco.
CURWOOD: Commentator Susan Carol Hauser has been spending time in a boat on the water. She lives in northern Minnesota, near the headwaters of the Mississippi, and recently she traveled the great river from St. Paul to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way she studied nature, met people who live on the river's banks, and even discovered a few things about herself.
HAUSER: Captain Bob swung our boat, a 50-foot trawler, around into the vigorous current of the Mississippi River, and snugged it up to the abandoned barge we would tie up to for the night. The barge itself was moored to the riverbank, and to the floodwall that protects Cape Girardeau, Missouri, from the whims of high water.
I stood at my post on the side walkway of the boat, rope in hand, and readied myself to step over onto the barge, where I would loop the rope around a bollard, holding the boat in place until Bob joined me and secured it with proper knots. We had been on the river for ten days, and I had not once been afraid. Not even when a mad wind came up while we were crossing a four-mile-wide pool above a lock and dam. Or when we bobbled like a cork in the crossing wakes of two towboats passing each other while passing us, each of them pushing acres of barges.
But as I stood poised to step off our undulating boat and onto the undulating barge, I looked down into the space between them. The boat strained against the current. The barge strained to go with the current. The abyss between the two widened and narrowed, widened and narrowed, from two feet to a few inches and back to two feet, as though the river were gasping for breath between the rigid sides of both vessels.
I gasped myself and was afraid. A drop of water on the boat's walkway, or a loose bolt on the warped surface of the barge, could deprive me of my footing and propel me into the water. If I wasn't ground up between boat and barge, I would be sucked into the current and hauled like driftwood away from all that I loved.
Determined to be courageous, to straddle the breach between boat and land, I took one deep breath, then another, which I held as though holding onto life itself, and waited for our boat to kiss, one more time, the cold edge of the barge. And when it did, I stepped firmly from forgiving wood to hard steel, my rope coming with me, which I looped and looped and looped again around the nearest bollard. Then I stepped back, away from the edge, and stood with my feet wide apart, feeling the pull of the river and even the pull of my heart, both yearning toward the delta at the Gulf of Mexico, toward the necessary encounter of fresh water and salt.
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CURWOOD: Author and commentator Susan Carol Hauser comes to us from KNBJ in Bemidji, Minnesota. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; and the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com.
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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.
CURWOOD: Apr's Floyd, le deluge. North Carolina residents face an environmental health menace in the wake of the hurricane's floods. That story is just ahead here on Living on Earth.
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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, delivering strategic marketing communications and design for business worldwide: www.barrett.com.
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood
CURWOOD: Fifteen years ago, New York lawmakers were digging up the dirt on trash crime. As chair of the state's environment committee, Assemblyman Maurice Hinchey led hearings which confirmed suspicions that much of the garbage hauling industry in New York City and the Hudson Valley was indeed controlled by organized crime.
By bribing public officials and intimidating competitors, the syndicate achieved a virtualand lucrative monopoly in waste disposal. The racketeers charged steep fees to dispose of toxic and hazardous waste, then mixed them with regular garbage and dumped them into landfills.
Assemblyman Hinchey resumed hearings several years later in Tuxedo, New York, after medical waste, an entire tanker trailer, and a brand new Lincoln Continental were discovered in the local dump.
Over the years, several mobsters have gone to jail for their trash crimes. In what at the time was called the nation's biggest environmental crime case, two New York men were convicted of dumping infectious waste and asbestos into a sensitive wetland on Staten Island, despite the murder of one witness, shot to death in front of his house before his scheduled testimony.
And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.
CURWOOD: It's been more than two weeks since Hurricane Floyd trampled North Carolina. In many towns people are beginning to put their lives back together, but in other areas flooding has barely retreated. And more rains didn't help. The standing water and saturated earth have left officials with huge public health problems. Reporter James Shiffer spoke to us from the newsroom at the Raleigh News and Observer. He says the state's immediate concern is water quality.
SHIFFER: A lot of eastern North Carolina depends on groundwater for their drinking water, and an unknown number of those wells have been contaminated with bacteria. There's a "boil water" advisory for all of eastern North Carolina until further notice. There are growing concerns about mold growing in soggy carpeting and upholstery. People are still asked to avoid getting in contact with the flood waters for fear of tetanus and other illnesses. And actually, a warning went out to folks swimming at North Carolina's beaches not to put their heads underwater, because that water is affected by the outflow from the rivers.
CURWOOD: I hear that animal carcasses are a big problem there, too.
SHIFFER: Well, yeah. Eastern North Carolina has one of the largest -- it's a major animal producing area. It's number one in turkeys, number two in hogs, and they were not spared Floyd's wrath. There are estimates now of more than 30,000 hogs were killed, more than a million chicken and turkeys. It's really, this is kind of a problem that North Carolina's never faced before. What do you do with all these dead animals, which they are really concerned could spread disease through flies. So, there's been incinerators working around the clock for more than a week to dispose of these hogs, and they're not apparently doing the job as well as they thought it would. So they're trying to find places to bury the animals as well.
CURWOOD: Now, with all that flooding, you've been worried about bacterial contamination from dead animals and such. But what about chemicals? That flooding will leach chemicals up out of the ground if they've been stored there, or if they're in factories or being stored in stores. Any problems with those?
SHIFFER: Oh yes. It's also being called the worst catastrophe for hazardous materials releases in the state's history. There are approximately 2,800 underground storage tanks and an estimated 20,000 other home heating oil tanks, propane tanks, which were underwater in the flood area. EPA sent a team out to actually lasso runaway chemical drums and propane tanks that were floating down the river, to try to keep them from leaking. But anyone who's seen any of the flood has smelled the petroleum on it and seen the rainbow slicks.
CURWOOD: I'm wondering if you think that some of the problems facing North Carolina now could have been avoided or mitigated with better preparation or different policies.
SHIFFER: Well, I think that it's an obvious thing to do to ask, well, how natural was this natural disaster? There's already questions about why so many swine farms, wastewater treatment plants, even homes were in floodplains, and whether they should be rebuilt. And there's questions about whether the development in the more urban areas contributed more storm water to the rivers. I think there's going to be a lot of hard questions asked about whether we should do things differently next time, and the way that we have developed.
CURWOOD: I know recovery is still very much underway at this point. But what do you think it'll be like over the long term? How long will it take before the public health risk will be reduced, brought back under control?
SHIFFER: Officials are really saying that it may be months to years before we know the toll on environmental health and the larger issues of what its effect is going to be on the environment, in the estuaries and beyond. No one knows how long that's going to take to flush out.
CURWOOD: James Shiffer, reporter with the Raleigh News and Observer, joined us from his newsroom there in Raleigh. Thanks so much for taking this time with us.
SHIFFER: Thanks, Steve.
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CURWOOD: And now, comments from you, our listeners.
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CURWOOD: Michael Cosgrove, who hears us on KUOW in Seattle, says our report on endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest was very good, but he accuses us of one serious gaffe. "You say the spotted owl listing decimated many logging towns. On the contrary," he writes, "it is well known out here that the owl listing is only a minor player in what may be only hyperbolically called a decimation. A century of over-logging, automation, and exports have had a much greater impact. The logging companies would be happy with your unfortunate aside about the owl listing."
Our feature on Emma Buck, the Illinois woman who at age 96 is still maintaining her family farm without any modern equipment or conveniences, prompted this call from Kristen Koumiss, a listener to KLCC in Eugene, Oregon.
KOUMISS: It was really inspiring. I think it would be wonderful if you'd let her know that there are tons of young people like myself out there that really admire her and would love to learn all the skills. And I hope that it does become a living history museum.
CURWOOD: On the other hand, Jon Phalen, who hears us on WUGA in Athens, Georgia, says if we were better historians, we wouldn't have given a rhapsodic eulogy to Ms. Buck's disappearing agrarian culture. "About the time that Ms. Buck was born," he writes, "the legions of small-scale eastern farmers were wrapping up one of history's most heinous environmental crimes: the total destruction of this continent's most significant forest. Ms. Buck's palaver about loving the land is a favorite one of farmers and loggers everywhere. I am less offended by such transparent deceit than I am by the sight of people falling for it who should know better."
And finally, this call from a Tennessee farmer, who asked that we not use his name on the air, but who wants us to know how he felt about our report on Europe's cool attitude toward genetically-engineered foods.
FARMER: Being against genetically-altered foods is like being against computers. Or it's like, "I won't ride a race horse because it was genetically engineered 200 years ago." That movement in Europe is nothing more but a trade barrier set up against American farm products.
CURWOOD: Your questions and comments are always welcome. Call our listener line any time at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. Or write Eight Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. Our e-mail address is email@example.com. Once again, firstname.lastname@example.org. And visit our Web page at www.loe.org. Tapes and transcripts are $15.
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. It's the height of the apple harvest in the nation's orchards. And favorite varieties including McIntosh, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and Cortlandt, are ripe for the picking. But if you sink your teeth into an apple you've never tasted before, you might have Carlos Manning to thank for it. Carlos Manning's passion, you see, is rescuing old, abandoned apple trees from certain obscurity and possible extinction. He's a grafter in the best sense of the word. NPR's Daniel Zwerdling has this profile of Carlos Manning. And his story begins, oddly enough, at a coal processing plant, where Mr. Manning drives a truck for Maple Meadow Mining of West Virginia.
MANNING: Well, I've lived in this area all my life. I was born and raised on Saxton Road, which is about eight miles from here. Started working at Maple Manning Mining in 1974. I was 26 years old.
(Blue jays call)
ZWERDLING: If you look past the smokestacks, if you gaze beyond the piles of rusty, broken machinery, this is actually a beautiful spot. We're hemmed in by hills and they're covered with naked trees. You can see a couple of family farms over on the ridge, with tilting wooden fences and red barns. But this coal plant is a blotch on the landscape. The mud is black. Carlos Manning's clothes are stained black. The mammoth trucks keep dumping mountains of coal.
MANNING: I really like the job. It's real good people to work for. They treat you good, and that's all you can ask from a job. And to me, I couldn't get a better place to work.
ZWERDLING: But when he's not working at the factory, Manning spends nearly every waking moment following his passion. He's nurturing tiny new shoots of life.
(Blue jays and crows)
ZWERDLING: Ten years ago, Carlos Manning knew almost nothing about apples. Today, people in the apple world will tell you that Manning is something like a savior, and there are only about a dozen people doing what he's doing in this entire country. When we drop by Manning's home, he's down the hill in his nursery, and he's digging up baby apple trees.
We can see the stacks of the coal plant over Manning's shoulders off in the distance. Manning has got some customers on this day. He's selling dozens of saplings to a stockbroker and her father who have come all the way from Virginia.
ZWERDLING: So, how far have you come today to get these trees?
WOMAN: From North Garden, Virginia, about -- what was it? -- 200 miles, 250 miles?
(Footfalls; a cow lows)
ZWERDLING: Carlos Manning is what you might call a fruit explorer. He wanders around the hillside searching for gnarled, old apple trees. These are ancient varieties of apples that have disappeared from the supermarkets. Americans forgot these apples decades ago, but Manning transplants the apple saplings to this little orchard. He gives them love and attention. And then he sells the saplings to commercial growers across the nation. Manning says he's trying to get heirloom apples back on America's tables.
(To woman) Do you know how many places there are in the country where you can come and get trees like this?
WOMAN: I don't know. There are relatively few, I should think. For now, I'm delighted Carlos is doing it.
(To Manning) Okay, I'm going to leave this for you, because I've got --
MANNING: That will be fine, uh huh. That way I can deduct these off inventory and I know what I've got left.
WOMAN: All right. Very good. So, we're going home today with 51 trees. Two peaches and 49 apples. Do you want to know the varieties?
WOMAN: All right. We're having two Chenago Strawberries, one Black Twig --
ZWERDLING: Strawberries? We're talking apples here. Chenago Strawberries?
WOMAN: It's the name of the apple tree.
ZWERDLING: I love that.
WOMAN: Yes, it's a summer apple. One Black Twig, which is a classic keeping apple. Nine Albermarle Pippins. Two Red Winter Pear Maines. Two Virginia Beauty. Two Northern Spy...
ZWERDLING: We first heard about Manning's work in an article in the Washington Post by a reporter named Bill Gifford. Carlos Manning says he never really thought much about apples until the early 1990s. He and his wife inherited a little farm. There's a shed, a barn, some pasture. And Manning felt this yearning to plant an apple orchard.
(A cow lows)
ZWERDLING: He says when he was a kid he loved to plant the orchard at his great-grandfather's place. He says when he and his brother were done raking hay, they'd climb the trees.
MANNING: We'd take, get us a salt shaker and climb up in the Yellow Transparent trees, and get those big old Yellow Transparents and salt them down. They're sour, you've got to catch them before they get completely ripe. And that salt just gives them a real good flavor.
ZWERDLING: So you would be sitting, here you were a little kid, you'd be sitting up there in the branches of this -- what's the apple tree called?
MANNING: Yellow Transparent.
ZWERDLING: In the Yellow Transparent apple tree with a salt shaker, sitting there, salting your apples, and eating them.
MANNING: That's right. That was a good apple.
ZWERDLING: And when Manning began planting his own orchard, he decided to plant the very same kind of trees. But he couldn't find them. He went to nurseries. He searched through catalogues. And nobody was selling the kind of apples his great-grandfather grew. In fact, most had never even heard of them.
ZWERDLING: And that's how Manning began learning the sad history of American apples. If you had traveled across America in the 1850s, you would have found thousands of varieties of apples in the markets. Not a couple dozen varieties, like you find today. Thousands of varieties. But then America fought two world wars. Farmers left their land to join the Army or work in factories. Orchards began dying from neglect. And by the time veterans moved back to their farms, the government began paying them to grow different crops. Then came the 1950s, and the food industry began pushing a certain brand of apple, which is everything the old-fashioned varieties were not. This apple is always perfectly shaped. It's always perfectly red. This apple is easy to grow and it resists disease. You know the apple. It's a Red Delicious. So there was Carlos Manning, seven years ago, and he was moaning to his fellow workers at the coal plant that old-time apples had disappeared.
(Crows, blue jays, and cows in the distance)
MANNING: So, a friend of mine that I work with at the mines, he knew that I was looking for old varieties of fruit trees. He came into work one morning and he had a Farmer's Almanac.
ZWERDLING: And right there on the back cover there was an ad for an apple consultant. And when Manning called the number, it changed his life. He reached a man named Tom Berford (phonetic spelling). Berford is one of the nation's leading authorities on the history and care of apples, and over the coming months Berford taught Carlos Manning his new craft. He taught him there are still old-time apple trees out there, all across the countryside. But you have to scour the hollows to find them. And he taught Manning how to graft.
Manning pulls out his grafting knife. He forged it himself. But I don't notice the knife as much as his hands. He has huge hands, and he slices the twig with grace.
MANNING: What I'll do is, I'll cut this (sounds of cutting). So then I go to the middle of that piece of wood and I pick out the biggest buds in the middle of the grafting one.
ZWERDLING: Those little bumps?
MANNING: Uh huh, those right there...
ZWERDLING: That's an interesting thing about apples: You can't really grow them well by planting seeds. Forget what youâve heard about Johnny Appleseed. If you want to propagate good apples and most other tree fruits, you have to snip a twig from the variety of tree you want to grow, and then you graft the twig onto a sapling. It doesn't matter what kind of sapling you use; the tiny twig will take over the entire tree.
ZWERDLING: Manning says the first time he tried to graft, he went right to his great-grandfather's old property. He found a couple of trees that were barely surviving. He carefully cut off some twigs, performed his grafting surgery. And then he waited.
MANNING: You just wonder, you know, if it's going to live, or what. And as you start seeing the first leaf pop out over the graft, it's a good feeling.
ZWERDLING: Can you remember the first moment you realized: wait a minute, this is working?
MANNING: I guess about the first year, after that one grew and it lived all winter and came back alive in the spring and the next year. I said we've got them going, now.
ZWERDLING: Today, Manning is growing 200 varieties of heirloom apples, right here in this tiny orchard. And you've hardly seen any of them in a supermarket. In fact, Manning goes up to his house and brings back a tattered book. It's an encyclopedia of sorts of apple varieties. It describes all the known types that have been sold at some point in America. He turns to page 268, scans through the "Ws."
ZWERDLING: Wilfords, Yellows, Westbrooks. And here's the one he's looking for: Western Beauties.
MANNING: Fruit large, roundish, skin greenish yellow to a pale yellow, nearly covered with pale, dull red, and striped with a darker red. Dots large and yellow, flesh greenish white, tender, mild, sub-acid. And then it says catalogue listings from 1870 to 1914.
ZWERDLING: And then there's this incredible word. It says --
MANNING: It says, "Extinct."
ZWERDLING: So this book says this Western Beauty apple has been extinct in America since 1914.
MANNING: Right. That's according to what the book has.
ZWERDLING: And you're standing right next to your four Western Beauties right here, that you've saved.
MANNING: I feel that most trees, they may be written up as extinct but I say most of them are just lost, misplaced. They're out there somewhere. It just takes someone to seek them out, find them, and put them back into circulation.
ZWERDLING: Over the past few years, Carlos Manning has become a detective. We get in his pickup one morning.
(Buzzing, a door opens; wheels on gravel)
ZWERDLING: We snake along the bottom of the valley on Whowho Hollow Road (phonetic spelling). We pass Moo Road over on the left, go past a gravel turnoff named Fudd Mountain on the right, and we bend around a farm with a two-story log cabin that dates back 100 years. Manning has been calling all the old farmers in the region and stopping by their homes, trying to find apple trees that have officially disappeared. For instance, he gave a call to one of his neighbors, who's over 80 years old.
MANNING: I asked him, I said, "Glen, the orchard that's back in the hollow behind your home that your daddy planted, are there any trees left?" He said, "Well, some of them are still there and some of them are in real poor shape." He said, "Why don't you come over, and we'll bring your four-wheel drive, and we'll drive back there and take a look?" So this road here, I'll take you by the Glen Shumate farm, where I got a lot of grafts...
ZWERDLING: And Manning says the hunt was worth it. He found a Red Astrichen apple tree on his neighbor's farm. But Manning made his greatest discovery in the place he least expected to find it.
ZWERDLING: We've left the countryside behind now, and we've driven right to the middle of town.
MANNING: That's what's amazing about this. You don't know where you're going to find an old variety.
ZWERDLING: Can we just get out of the car here?
MANNING: Okay. I'll park down here.
ZWERDLING: There's a peeling billboard that proclaims, "Beckley, West Virginia, Where the Interstates Meet." Actually, the interstates intersect a few miles from here, and they've left this town in the past.
The houses need paint. The roofs need shingles. A lot of stores are boarded up. A couple years ago, a customer asked Manning if he would please try to find a Rainbow. Rainbow apples have been extinct for decades; that's what reference books say. And no matter how hard Manning searched in the hills, he couldn't find one. But then one day he was chatting with his nephew. His nephew grew up right here in town.
MANNING: So, my nephew told me, he said, "Rainbow." He said, "When I was a child, I walked down this street, walking to school." And he said, "In August, this gentleman would be sitting out peeling apples, and he would always give me some of them, and he called it the Rainbow."
ZWERDLING: So Manning asked his nephew to take him to the exact spot where he remembered seeing the old man peeling apples. And his nephew brought him to this corner, to this jungle of weeds and thrown-out furniture. And Manning could hardly believe it.
MANNING: See, that tree, just luckily we got a graft off of it.
ZWERDLING: The tree is still here, although you can hardly call it a tree. Today it's a tangle of rotting branches, and they're completely dead. But the first time Manning saw it, there was one branch still living, and it was bearing its final burst of fruit. Manning says there were a dozen apples on the branch, all striped and different shades of red.
MANNING: I knew I had the right apple. If I hadn't gotten grafts off it five years ago, it would have been gone.
ZWERDLING: Are there any other people right now in the country, that you know of, who have begun propagating the Rainbow?
MANNING: Not that I know of. As far as I know, I'm probably the only one that has that variety. But I want to get it spread out, so, you know, to get it out in the country, so it will be sure to be growing somewhere.
ZWERDLING: Here you've spent your whole life working with coal, pretty much, right? How old were you when you started?
MANNING: I was 21.
ZWERDLING: Now you're 50. Here you are settling on this whole new field, tracking down apples, grafting them, preserving them. What gave you the confidence that you could do it?
MANNING: I believe if you set your mind to do something, if you want to do it bad enough, you can do it. It's just a matter of setting your mind to it.
ZWERDLING: Before we leave West Virginia, we stop by Manning's home again. And I finally ask Manning something I've been dying to ask since we arrived. Can I taste one of his old-time apples?
MANNING: Okay, we'll go in here and get an apple picker, and we'll go pick...
ZWERDLING: Actually, Manning sells most of his trees before they bear fruit. But there's an older tree standing near his house. It still has a few apples left. And he calls his teenage daughter from the barn, where she's been grooming her horses.
MANNING: Yeah, pick him -- see if you can get this one over here. This is a real nice apple.
DAUGHTER: That one? I'm too short. Here's one.
(Cutting the apple.)
MANNING: Now, taste that and see what you think about the flavor about it. It's good, crisp.
ZWERDLING: Mmm. That's amazing.
MANNING: You don't get too much flavor like that in your modern apples.
ZWERDLING: That has so much flavor, it tastes almost fake. (Laughter) I mean, it's almost like some candy, you know, and on the package it would say "apple flavored."
MANNING: Right. We'll cut a piece of this apple.
ZWERDLING: While we were researching this story, we called an apple industry specialist. He's nationally-known. And he said, "You know, Carlos Manning's contribution to America might go unsung. In fact, I don't even think Carlos understands the contribution he's making himself. "But," he said, "the world of food in this country will change in the coming decades because people like Carlos brought lost apples back to life." Ever since the article about Manning appeared in the Washington Post, he's been getting phone calls and letters from total strangers.
(A door opens)
M. MANNING: Hi.
M. MANNING: How are you?
ZWERDLING: His wife Mavis has stacked the letters in piles, mainly on their dining room table. Up till now, she's been microphone shy, but she reluctantly, proudly, agrees to read an excerpt.
M. MANNING: Sunday, November 16, 1998, Blacksburg, Virginia. It's from Virginia Tech. "Dear Mr. Manning, Greetings to you, Sir, and I will hope first of all that I have got the right person and the right address. A friend of mine just sent me the apple article from the Post. I've read it half a dozen times and carried it around in my pocket for most of the week. Tonight I've decided that I will write to you. I'm not sure even now just quite what I will say, except to begin by saying that what you do with the grafting and the apple varieties is very much important. My grandfather's family was from upstate New York, and he always loved old varieties and old apple trees. And that's awfully important that we have living apple varieties only kept alive by grafting, one generation at a time, from the time of Jefferson. Heck, we have apple varieties that we know have been grafted and kept going from the time of the Roman Caesars. God, that is so impressive. From the time and countryside of Joan of Arc. Each kept grafted and documented just by little individuals like you, and me, and my grandfather. The apple varieties are a record, a chronicle of our whole civilization and history."
ZWERDLING: And before we leave Maple Meadow Valley, Manning wants to show how he's going to pass on his legacy. He's bought a piece of hillside that looks across the hollow and overlooks the smoke stacks of the coal plant. The fields are shimmering with a morning frost.
(Blue jays and crows)
C. MANNING: This flat right here will make a very nice place for an orchard.
ZWERDLING: And he's begun to carve out a little farm to give his daughter some day when she's an adult. She's only 13 now, but Manning has already begun plowing the fields where he's going to plant her old-time apple orchard. And he's already teaching her how to graft.
(Crows and blue jays; fade to music up and under)
CURWOOD: Daniel Zwerdling's profile of apple tree cultivator Carlos Manning was produced by Tracy Wald, and originally broadcast on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered.
(Music up and under)
CURWOOD: And for this week that's Living on Earth. We're produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our staff includes Jesse Wegman, Miriam Landman, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Cynthia Graber, and Stephanie Pindyck, along with Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. We had help this week from Brent Runyan, Russel Wiedeman, and Hannah Day Woodruff. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert is our western editor. And Peter Thomson heads is special projects editor. Terry FitzPatrick is the acting senior editor, and Chris Ballman is the senior producer of Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.
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