Monday, October 16, 2006

The WWL "toilent tank"

So I'm beginning to think that the reason WWL doesn't archive all of its audio is because it would be embarrassingly revealing about how incompetent "the official emergency management station" really is. Incompetent is inviting two guests who both agree that it's okay to harvest cypress forests for mulch. Incompetent is letting them spew their erroneous views in an almost redneck anti-science attitude that cypress forests are healthier after they're clearcut, because, they argued, seedlings need sunshine, and in areas that were clearcut (e.g., before about 1920), cypress forests had returned -- conveniently ignoring the fact that south Louisiana's hydrology has changed dramatically since then. They also argued that the government (i.e., the public) has no right to tell private owners what to do on their property -- happily ignoring the cost borne by the larger community. I doubt that WWL could have found another two people with a more extreme ideological bent to represent one side of an issue.

The two guests were Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom, and a representative from the forestry business. They were interviewed by Garland Robinette, who introduced the topic of cypress mulching activity in south Louisiana by referring to the Steve Fleischli "Mulch Madness" opinion printed in the October 12th New York Times.

Admittedly, someone on the NY Times editorial staff should have asked Fleischli to clarify who he was referring to when he wrote that "mulch companies are moving into Louisiana with shady operators among them grinding up entire cypress forests." That's where Robinette's guests jumped in to ask, which operators, calling into question the very need for the conversation. Of course, Robinette couldn't answer. Either he didn't do his homework, or WWL doesn't have a staff dedicated to researching the details of issues so hosts don't sound like complete idiots on air.

It would certainly have been more sensible, in the very least, to invite someone from the Sierra Club or the Gulf Restoration Network to balance the discussion (since Robinette was clearly incapable).

Robinette later closed the interview by asking his guests to return because he regretted that the real debate on the issue didn't really get started until the end of the hour -- that's when Robinette finally allowed two callers with opposing reactions to get on the air, including Ivor van Heerden.

The first caller sounded as redneck as Odom and the forester, but he had a decidedly different perspective. He said he lives in the Maurepas basin (as I recall), claiming that a neighbor sold the timber on his land to one of those unknown entities which cut down every cypress tree. He didn't say whether the cypress was turned into board lumber or mulch, but he said cypress trees never grew back. He said that because of subsidence and saltwater intrusion, cypress seedlings can't survive. Now, there's nothing but trash brush covering the lot.

Van Heerden pointed out the same problem with hydrology hurting the chances for seedlings, and noted that a number of areas harvested of cypress trees still have "drag line" scars where logs were hauled out in barges. He also made the argument that what one person calls a "taking" of private property by the government deserving compensation, can also be applied to whole communities whose private well-being is harmed by private owners who destroy the habitat which provides a significant surge barrier from hurricanes.

When I called in, I was placed on hold until the show was over, but I was going to make much the same arguments. First of all, Governor Blanco's Science Working Group provided convincing evidence in 2005 that cypress forests won't recover if they're harvested because of subsidence and saltwater intrusion. What needs to be understood is that cypress seeds don't germinate in water. Cypress swamps are dry for part of the year. That's when seedlings emerge and take root, but they can't survive if they're soon covered with brackish water.

The takings issue is one that drives me crazy. Some people don't have a reasonable interpretation of what is meant by the concept of "private" property. Nobody has the right to do whatever they want to on their land. We live in a society that protects a person's right to own property as long as they don't harm other people in their use of that property. "Private" property is always subject to review by society. I can't open a landfill on my property just because I want to, or set fire to a pile of tires just because it's my land. Some activities are so detrimental to the well-being of society that we, as a democracy, decide to prescribe those activities. Regulating the survival of cypress forests on private land should be one of those areas where public interests are more important than private interests, and in such a case, the owner has no right to taxpayer compensation. Suing the government (i.e, taxpayers) for private "damages" caused by regulation is just a way to gut regulations (usurping the will of the people) by bankrupting the treasury. Think you can do whatever you want to on your private property? Try not paying your taxes, and see what the government thinks about defending your right to private property. See if any of your fellow taxpaying citizens show up to defend your "right" to freeload government protection and services.

Finally, there may be an answer for Robinette's guests, who demanded that he name one of those "shady operators." Corbitt, for one, should be looked at as a company that may be hiring third parties to extract cypress. Were I a reporter at WWL, I might do a little asking around in Krotz Springs on the particulars of a mulch plant that was financed in part by the Louisiana Department of Economic Development. That fact was revealed in a footnote to a press release (98 kb pdf) issued by a consortium of environmental groups in May of last year. C.B. Forgotston once posted a 2002 letter written by Doug Brandon, a water resources scientist, which claimed that Louisiana's secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, Don Hutchinson, secured a $500,000 grant to finance the Krotz Springs plant.

Are some loggers now shamelessly turning whole cypress trees into mulch? Yes, they are, according to Cyn Sarthou, Executive Director of the Gulf Restoration Network (see above press release):

“While companies that make cypress boards and flooring have often sold mulch as a by-product, there are now operators who are strictly mulch producers. This kind of logging has the potential to affect large areas of coastal forests.”

Of course, these details should be verified, but the outline for some good background research is there for WWL to pursue -- if it were truly deserving of its Edward R. Murrow award.

Sometimes I think what Robinette so vainly calls the "think tank" ought instead be called the "toilet tank", and its contents flushed into the sewer every once in a while to clear the air. Oh, sure -- some folks at WWL will say that isn't fair. Too bad. You can't rest on your past achievements. You have to continually prove your worth. Too bad the FCC doesn't see it that way. Maybe we could get some group like the Gulf Restoration Network to get a hold of WWL's license. In fairness to WWL, there are an awful lot of other stations that ought to be getting their licenses challenged right now. It could be pretty easily argued that they aren't serving the needs of their listeners right now by playing crappy music in rotation ad nauseum rather than opening up intelligent discussion on the most pressing issues of our time.

Map: 217 square miles of coastal land loss

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At 10/17/2006 04:39:00 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Another annoying aspect of WWL is that there is no Garland Robinette page, where I can find the name of his guest yesterday (PR flack for LRA) who was talking about the Entergy aid money.

They were talking as if a nine percent rate hike was a done deal, and almost completely disregarding the gas issue. And it was ridiculous to have a discussion about Entergy rates that didn't touch on double billing for Grand Gulf, or Entergy's demand that they be compensated by remaining rate holders for the loss of cash flow during the hurricane. They want to be paid for services they didn't deliver. A large portion of their remaining rate demand is patently ridiculous, but somehow in an hour they never got to these issues.

They are a bigger waste of time than Tom Fitzmorris.

At 10/17/2006 06:34:00 AM, Blogger Schroeder said...

Note that I could only refer to the second guest as "a forester." Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, list the guests.

As for those points about Entergy, yeah. I calculated the other day that after all the shouted headlines and ads, they really only dedicate about 30 minutes to talk per hour. Much of that is consumed by summing up what was said before the previous break.

I really think we need more accountable media. I'm sure you'd agree that this is precisely one of those times when it would be helpful to have at least one good second news organization in town. WWL ought to be filling the role that a second daily would have in a previous era. They don't use their stature and access in an effective manner.

There's no real accountability when politicians aren't doing their jobs.

At 10/17/2006 01:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fella from Maurepas actually sounded like he knew what he was talking about. He's from there, lives in the swamp and can see what is going on with his own eyes and actually called out Odom and the other guy pretty strongly. Yet, you say he sounded like a "redneck". What if some big fat black woman who lives in the projects and knows what she's talking about because she sees it everyday calls in to speak out on a show about crime. Would you say she sounded like a "nigger"?


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