Field Notes

Field Notes


The Road Less Traveled

Nearly a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon and implored, "Leave it as it is." In January that rallying cry echoed throughout America's national forests, as President Bill Clinton approved a U.S. Forest Service ruling that bars road construction on 58.5 million acres of largely untouched lands. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule also shields a third of the nation's forests--more than 25 times the size of Yellowstone National Park--from future commercial logging. "This is one of the broadest land-conservation initiatives of the past 100 years," says Daniel P. Beard, senior vice-president of public policy for the Audubon Society.

Since its inception in 1905, the Forest Service's mandate has been to manage the nation's forests primarily as a resource for timber and mining companies, and commercial interests have nearly always trumped ecological concerns. But in the past decade, the principles of ecosystem management have gradually taken root within the agency. The roadless rule, by declaring clean watersheds and biodiversity protection as its underlying objectives, exemplifies the recent policy shift. The nation's forests are now to be managed primarily for their ecological and recreational value, rather than for timber.

This break from past practice has not exactly drawn cheers from the timber industry. "It is not the job of the Forest Service to rewrite its mission," says Derek Jumper, spokesperson for the American Forest & Paper Association. Industry officials are particularly scornful of the new roadless rule, and warn that it prevents valuable resources from being tapped to meet the rising demand for wood and paper. But the Forest Service counters that the rule will result in only a 2 percent decrease in the amount of timber taken from public lands--less than 0.5 percent of total U.S. timber production.

Still, some western legislators are vowing to overturn the policy. Representative Jim Hansen (R-UT) has called the action "arbitrary and illegal," and Idaho governor Dirk Kempthorne (R) has sought to have it invalidated in court. As Audubon went to press, President George W. Bush had not commented on what course of action his administration would take, though he opposed the measure during the presidential campaign. But Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck is confident that the roadless rule will withstand all legal and legislative challenges. "The final decision," he says, was based on "sound science and more than a year of analysis by some of the foremost researchers in their fields."

More important, the Forest Service asserts that it has public opinion on its side. "Letters of support arrived in U-Hauls, boxes, mail sacks, and by fax," says Chris Wood, senior policy adviser to Dombeck. "It was clear people wanted a roadless policy and not a roads policy." Ken Rait, director of the Heritage Forests Campaign, a coalition of environmental groups (including Audubon) that rallied public support for the roadless policy, says his members are not taking anything for granted. "If anyone tries to block this rule," he says, "we will show up, suit up, and stand up on behalf of forest protection."

--David Gruber


The Golden Rule

If, as Robert Frost once noted, good fences make good neighbors, so does notification. This March, one of the toughest laws of its kind in the country goes into effect in New York State. Introduced by Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli (D-Nassau) and signed into law by Governor George Pataki (R) last August, the Pesticide Neighbor Notification Law allows counties to require commercial-pesticide users to provide 48 hours' notice to occupants of all properties within 150 feet, and it requires homeowners to post notification signs when they spray.

So far, legislatures in 3 of New York's 57 counties--Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester--have voted unanimously to adopt the law. "Roughly a third of New York State's most densely populated counties are expected to follow in years to come," says William Cooke, director of government relations for Audubon New York. "But the single most important aspect of this bill is that it's a great start in educating the public about pesticides. This is huge."

The law has considerable teeth. If, for example, you're a New Yorker spraying your shrubs or grass, you must post a warning flag as commercial applicators do. If you hire a company to do the spraying, it must give your neighbors 48 hours' written notice, the name of the chemicals to be used, and a hot-line number for additional information. Stores like the Home Depot, which sell hundreds of thousands of pounds of pesticides a year, must post signs telling customers about the new law and how to comply. Commercial violators face stiff penalties: fines as high as $10,000 and possible criminal charges.

Schools and day-care centers statewide have no option but to comply. Effective July 1, they must provide pre-pesticide spraying notices to teachers and parents of schoolchildren. "New York used to require commercial applicators to post warning flags after the deed was done," says Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), one of 50 advocacy groups that worked to get the law passed. "Now we can avoid direct exposure: close our windows, keep our children indoors, cover our bird feeders and our organic gardens." To learn more, consult NYPIRG (518-436-0876; or the nonprofit group Beyond Pesticides (202-543-5450;

--Sydney Horton

River Restoration

A Dam-Busting Bullitt

Harriet Bullitt recalls spending nights along Icicle Creek, listening to salmon thrash in the stream. "Other times," she recalls, "I would dive into the water and look for their shadowy forms under the rocks."

That was in the 1930s. Grand Coulee Dam had just been completed northeast of Icicle Creek, which flows into the Wenatchee River in central Washington, then the Columbia River. The giant new dam blocked migrating salmon, so the Bureau of Reclamation built a series of diversion dams and fish traps. One was sited on Icicle Creek, adjacent to the Bullitt family property in the town of Leavenworth. The plan was to raise salmon smolts in the pools formed by the dams, a scheme that failed. Meanwhile, the Icicle was diverted to supply water for a nearby fish hatchery. Soon, salmon could no longer spawn or swim farther upstream.

Harriet Bullitt grew up and made a fortune in Seattle broadcasting, then returned to Leavenworth in the 1980s to enjoy the alpine surroundings and manage a conference center. Now Bullitt, a former board member of the Audubon Society and a founder of the Icicle Creek Watershed Council, wants the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore Icicle Creek's natural flow, which she believes will bring wild Chinook salmon back. But the old dams are now listed as historic landmarks, and the old stream course has become a wetland with its own guidelines.

However, Bullitt's group uncovered an old law that forbids diverting the main stem of a river, and they persuaded Fish and Wildlife to open a diversion gate, sending some water down the old Icicle streambed. "That was very dramatic," says Bullitt. "Suddenly, the flow of the river went right back to the original streambed."

Still, Fish and Wildlife says doing more will take time--and $4.5 million. "There's a huge sediment load in the creek to deal with, plus issues involving tribal fisheries," says Daniel Diggs, assistant regional director of fisheries for the agency. "There's no magic bullet." Which leaves Bullitt puzzled. "How can this government get anything done for salmon," she asks, "if it can't get some old junk out of a minor river?"

--Douglas Gantenbein


Picking Up Bones

Raymond Bandar strides over the dunes at Año Nuevo State Reserve, on California's central coast. Male elephant seals the size of Volkswagen Bugs snort as he breezes past. "Thank goodness he's not here for me," they seem to say as they watch him head toward the ocean.

Bandar marches up to a decaying sea lion carcass, kneels down beside it, and pulls a hunting knife from his bloodstained backpack. "This one's been dead several weeks," he notes as he skillfully slices off its head for autopsy. Next, using a fork, he scoops out the brains. "That's the smelliest part," Bandar says nonchalantly, popping the head into a plastic bag.

Fetid smells and maggot-ridden corpses don't bother the 73-year-old Bandar a bit--a good thing when you consider his line of work. For more than 40 years Bandar, or "Bones," as he's known, has investigated marine-animal deaths for the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. When animals wash up on a beach, Bandar is on the scene to record their vital stats and probable cause of death, and to remove their noggins. Porpoises caught in nets, propeller-slashed harbor seals, bulletridden otters--all have donated their skulls to science. The academy's thousands of skeletal remains--many of them gathered by Bandar--are used by students and scientists to study anatomy and track changes in animal populations.

Thousands of heads are better than one, says Bandar, a retired science teacher who donates his time to the academy: "Within the same species, there's great diversity in skull structure. Every hole, every groove, has a functional story to tell."

Bandar's own story began in 1953, when he was 25. While visiting his parents, he found a dead harbor seal on a beach nearby, cut off its head, and boiled it in the kitchen. "It really stunk up the house," he fondly recalls.

Bandar has been bringing his work home ever since. He collected cow and horse skulls while driving around the continent on his honeymoon. He buried an elephant head in his backyard "under cover of darkness" so the flesh covering the skull could decompose. And when he ran out of storage space for his specimens at the lab, he used his home fridge. "My wife didn't approve of it, and neither did the mother-in-law," he says.

Decomposing carcasses may offend most people, but to Bandar they are virtual treasure chests, exciting to discover and unlock. "I like getting out and working on the specimens," he says. "To me, bones are masterpieces of sculpture."

--Leora Broydo

© 2001  NASI

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