Coral Conservation in the Caribbean

  • The island of Bonaire is somewhat of an anomaly in the Caribbean due to its remarkably preserved coral reefs (Photo by Ann Dornfeld)

Scientists say nearly half of the coral reefs in the US are in bad shape.
Many are dead. The situation is similar in much of the world. But not
everywhere, as Ann Dornfeld found on the Caribbean island of Bonaire:

Transcript

Scientists say nearly half of the coral reefs in the US are in bad shape.
Many are dead. The situation is similar in much of the world. But not
everywhere, as Ann Dornfeld found on the Caribbean island of Bonaire:

(sound of waves on shore)

Jerry Ligon was working as the on-board naturalist on a small Caribbean
cruise ship when he first saw Bonaire.

“And I saw how clear the water was. And I’d been able to compare, during
my stint on the cruise ship, other islands in the Caribbean, and I realized
how special Bonaire was. So that was at the end of my contract, so I
decided to stay here. And I’ve been here for 15 years!”

It’s wasn’t just the clarity of Bonaire’s water that made Ligon stick around. It
was the remarkably healthy coral reefs that lay beneath the waves.

“I can even talk to divers who come to Bonaire and they say, ‘What
fantastic diving!’ and they remember, ‘This is how the way it was in Cayman
Islands 25 years ago!'”

Ligon says the Cayman Islands might have even had more impressive
reefs than Bonaire’s back in the day. But coral throughout the US and
Caribbean has been in sharp decline for decades.

So how do Bonaire’s reefs remain intact?

Ramón de León is the manager of the Bonaire National Marine Park. He
says the island has an advantage in that it has no industries to pollute the
water.

The island is mostly undeveloped, which means relatively little farm and
lawn fertilizer run-off that can create marine algae blooms. And cool
upwellings in the region help balance the rising ocean temperatures. Warm
oceans can cause coral bleaching, which often kills the coral animal.

But de León says Bonaire really owes its healthy reefs to its history of
conservation laws. They date back to an era when such policies were rare.

“Bonaire start to protect sea turtles and turtle nests in 1961, back when
everybody was promoting sea turtle soups and nailing shells in the walls.”

By the end of the 1970s, Bonaire had banned spear fishing and made it
illegal to damage coral. For years, divers have been required to pay a
sizeable fee and take an orientation course before they’re allowed to dive
on the island. That helps them avoid touching the coral, which can kill it.

De León says the island still allows too much fishing. So several years ago,
he told the island’s fishermen they needed to choose a no-take zone to let
the reefs recover.

“I refuse to decide myself. I give the fishermen some prerequisites that they
have to have to close, and they chose which area. Is not my number-one
option, but is their number-one option. So I have to respect that.”

De León says because the fishermen chose the no-take zone, something
important happened. Compliance is high.

For all of Bonaire’s success in coral conservation, there are still some
problems. De León says its reefs suffer from leaky septic tanks and boat
pollution. And there are few of the large predator fish that used to maintain
population balance on the reefs.

But the island is a haven for researchers like Mark Patterson. He designs
underwater robots at Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.

Last year he led a NOAA expedition to use robots to map Bonaire’s reefs.
He says the island’s reefs are valuable as a baseline by which other reefs
can be judged.

“If you’re an up-and-coming marine scientist and you go to a lot of the coral
reefs on the planet now, you might think that all coral reefs have always
look like this. And they haven’t! So the fact that we’ve got some pristine
reefs left is very important, and we’ve got to work very hard to protect them
because it shows us how the ecosystem should look and used to look
around the planet before things started to go downhill.”

For The Environment Report, I’m Ann Dornfeld.

Related Links

Sea of Controversy for Hawaii’s Superferry

  • Hawaii's Superferry was met with initial excitement, but it quickly turned to environmental concern (Photo courtesy of Hawaii Superferry)

For decades, people who wanted to get from
one Hawaiian island to another have had one main
option: flying. So when plans were unveiled for
a high-speed ferry between the islands, Hawaiians
and tourists were initially thrilled. But growing
concern about the Superferry’s potential environmental
impact has turned the issue into one of the state’s
biggest legal battles in years. Ann Dornfeld reports:

Transcript

For decades, people who wanted to get from
one Hawaiian island to another have had one main
option: flying. So when plans were unveiled for
a high-speed ferry between the islands, Hawaiians
and tourists were initially thrilled. But growing
concern about the Superferry’s potential environmental
impact has turned the issue into one of the state’s
biggest legal battles in years. Ann Dornfeld reports:

David Dinner is board president of the environmental group 1000 Friends
of Kaua’i. He lives near this small beach on the island’s north shore.
Dinner says when endangered humpback whales come to Hawaii in the
winter to give birth, you can whale-watch right from this beach. Even
when he lived far from the ocean, he once witnessed a huge migration
from his window.

“I could see that the ocean was filled with whales. And I later found out that there were 6,000 whales around Kaua’i at that
time. So it was like wall-to-wall whales out there.”

When Dinner first heard about plans for a high-speed inter-island
catamaran, he was excited. But the more he and others learned about the
Hawaii Superferry, the more they worried about its effect on those whales.

Mother whales spend a lot of time just below the surface, pushing their
calves up for air. The concern is that the ferry’s twin hulls would strike the
whales at a speed of up to 45 miles per hour. That’s a lot faster than other
boats like cruise ships and tankers.

“The other boats that travel in this area generally go in the area of 13 to 15
miles an hour. So the Superferry is way beyond the speed of the other boats.”

Another big worry was that the car ferry could bring invasive species from
one island to another. For instance, mongooses decimated the Big
Island’s bird population. But Kaua’i doesn’t have mongooses yet.

Rich Hoeppner is founder of the Superferry Impact Group.

“We have an incredible selection of birds here. We have shearwaters,
albatross, the state bird – the Nene, is a land-dweller and endangered
species. So one pregnant mongoose gets on our island, our bird
population will be history.”

When activists learned that the state government had given Hawaii
Superferry the green light without an environmental impact statement,
they filed suit. Last August, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state
should have required an environmental impact statement.

Despite that, just two days later, Superferry made its maiden voyage to
Kaua’i.

Rich Hoeppner says two dozen surfers and kayakers blocked the
boat’s path to Nawiliwili Harbor for hours.

The next night, protesters crowded the harbor, and dozens more people
took to the water – some in traditional Hawaiian canoes. Protesters
filmed the action.

(sound of protest chants)

“After 3 hours, the ferry, which was at the mouth of the harbor, turned
around and went back to Oahu. It didn’t get to its dock. And it hasn’t been
back since!”

Hawaii Superferry says it takes the environment seriously.

Terry O’Halloran is Director of Business Development. He points to the
company’s efforts to keep invasive species from hitching
a ride on vehicles.

“We look under the hood, we look in the trunk, we look in the wheel wells,
we look inside the vehicles, and then a certain number of vehicles that go
through our security screening get a much more thorough screening and
inspection.”

O’Halloran says vehicles with muddy tires aren’t allowed on board in case
bugs or seeds are in the dirt. There are boot scrubbers for passengers,
too. On-board videos warn travelers about the dangers of invasive
species.

O’Halloran says Superferry also has a Whale Avoidance Policy that
includes avoiding the main calving areas during whale season, and
slowing down in whale zones.

“We have been able to spot and avoid the whales. We also have two dedicated
whale lookouts and their only job is to help the captain spot whales.”

Superferry is still making its Oahu-to-Maui trips. In a special session,
Hawaii legislators passed a law allowing the Superferry to keep
running while the state conducts an Environmental Impact Statement.

Protestors say that’s a terrible idea – and illegal. They’re pursuing
lawsuits in the state Supreme Court to dock the ferry until it’s clear the
boat is safe.

For The Environment Report, I’m Ann Dornfeld on Kaua’i.

Related Links

Interview: Travelers Tighten Budget

  • Triple-A reports that gas prices are affecting many Memorial Day weekend travelers (Photo by Ed Edahl, courtesy of FEMA)

Nearly 38-million people will travel during
the Memorial Day weekend according to a Triple-A
survey. But they’re not expected to go as far or stay
away as long. And many people are just going to stay
at home because of higher gas prices. Lester Graham
talked with Triple-A’s Nancy Cain about travel plans
this summer:

Transcript

Nearly 38-million people will travel during
the Memorial Day weekend according to a Triple-A
survey. But they’re not expected to go as far or stay
away as long. And many people are just going to stay
at home because of higher gas prices. Lester Graham
talked with Triple-A’s Nancy Cain about travel plans
this summer:

Nancy Cain: “Well, what we’re hearing from a lot of folks is that they’re still going to travel, but
they’re going to travel differently than they’ve done in the past. They’re much more economically
minded. They’re going to be looking for travel bargains, they’re going to be trying to camp out,
they’re going to travel in groups. They’re going to do anything they can to have an enjoyable
vacation while saving money at the same time.”

Lester Graham: “What about those big vacations that require a flight? Are fuel prices stopping
people from going places, far away places?”

Cain: “Triple-A is projecting that about 25 million Americans are going to travel over-seas this
summer. But they’re also going to try to be as economical as they can. Because, as you know,
the American dollar is pretty much at an all-time low. So people will still travel. We think the skies
will be fairly crowded this summer. But definitely much more of people’s discretionary income is
going towards these trips. They’ll have less for other things. And they’re less likely to buy
souvenirs once they get to their destinations. And they’re looking at, you know, perhaps
downgrading a room to a less expensive room, having a bigger meal at lunch versus at dinner
when dinner prices are more expensive. So any way they can, they’re going to be cutting costs.”

Graham: “Are people starting to look at other types of transportation, such as the train, you know,
Amtrak, to avoid the driving?”

Cain: “We think that Amtrak, certainly Triple-A, our surveys, have shown that people are showing
more of a willingness to take either Greyhound Bus, Amtrak, carpool with somebody else. You
know, the glory days of people taking a two-week vacation in July and heading out for two-weeks
to the beach, those days are pretty much gone.”

Graham: “I’m wondering, the hotel industry is a pretty mercenary industry, they’re really going after
travelers. I’m wondering what they’re doing to encourage people to travel, now, with this new
wrinkle in people’s budget.”

Cain: “A lot of the hotels, the big hotels, what they’re doing in many cases is offering, like, discount
cards, they’re offering, you know, gas cards. Everybody’s trying to do what they can to attract
tourists to come back, and go out there and spend. Even though gas prices are at record highs,
tourism is one of the backbones of the economy of this country. So, people want to get out, and,
also, they want to enjoy their vacation.”

Graham: “Trucking companies are starting to slow down to try to save a little fuel. And, I’ve heard
about it – although I haven’t actually seen – that some people are actually slowing down their cars
on the highway. Is that becoming a common trend?”

Cain: “You know, at Triple-A, we’re seeing that more and more. And this is advice we’ve been
giving for years. You know, slowing down on the highway, and even city driving, just five miles an
hour can really improve your fuel economy. And, we’ve said this for years, but now that gas prices
are looking at $4 a gallon, people are starting to follow this advice. Trying to ease up on the gas
pedal, avoiding those jack-rabbit starts and stops. And you can see, people are trying to be a little
more conservative, and thinking conservation when they’re driving.”

Graham: “So, Nancy, I want to ask you a personal question. What have you been doing differently
because of these higher gas prices?”

Cain: “You know, truly what I do, and I have been doing this, I have made a point of it – when I am
in line, like at the bank, I turn my engine off. It’s just those little things – turning your engine off.
And I do try to think conservatively. You know, plan your trips – so you can go around, and not go
out one place in the morning and somewhere else in the afternoon. And I really do make an effort
to do that, because you can reduce your gas costs. And also what I’ve been thinking about doing,
some of my colleagues have also thought this, you know, maybe we should start carpooling, even
one day a week. That would save some money.”

Related Links

Green Travel Series: Rental Cars

  • So maybe it's not your typical rental car... but it is possible to rent cars that run on used cooking oil, in a few cities. (Photo by Bio-Beetle ECO Rental Cars)

A lot of rental car companies have started to change their fleets to
make them more attractive to consumers who want better gas mileage.
It’s been a good opportunity for rental companies to market themselves
as “green.” But Rebecca Williams reports it all hinges on whether
customers actually choose those cars when they get to the lot:

Transcript

A lot of rental car companies have started to change their fleets to
make them more attractive to consumers who want better gas mileage.
It’s been a good opportunity for rental companies to market themselves
as “green.” But Rebecca Williams reports it all hinges on whether
customers actually choose those cars when they get to the lot:


“Thank you for choosing Enterprise this is Karen how can I help you? What exactly are you looking for?”


Rental car companies pay a lot of attention to that last question –
what are you looking for? They change their fleets based on what
people get the most excited about.


We talked to a few people waiting in rental car lines at an airport:


“I like a car that handles well and can put up with adverse weather.”


“Lower prices and that husband and wife can both drive without paying a
fee.”


“I typically vacation on beaches so I’ll rent Jeeps and things like
that that have some kind of open air.”


That confirms what rental car companies say – there’s no typical
customer. Making things more complicated, there’s usually a big
difference between what people say they want on the phone… and what
they actually drive off the lot.


Christopher Buck is a regional vice president for Enterprise Rent-A-
Car:


“You know, when you’re on the phone you’re just saying I need temporary
transportation and I don’t want to spend a lot of money. When they get
here and actually see the wheels and paint and tires I don’t know if it
tugs on people’s heartstrings or what, but it’s hey, that’s a sharp
looking car!”


So people want to drive something that makes them feel good.


Christopher Buck says lately, he’s noticed a shift in what customers
end up renting. He says two years ago, his branches had a lot more
trucks and SUVs in their fleets. He says that’s what most people
wanted:


“And lately it seems those vehicles are not as popular. Customers seem
to be demanding more of the sedan. I would imagine fuel efficiency has
something to do with that now that gas is back over $3 a gallon.”


Buck says now, customers want the biggest car with the best gas
mileage. He’s changed the makeup of his fleets to reflect that. These
days, it’s mostly made up of sedans, with just a few SUVs, vans and
trucks.


Because gas mileage is playing a bigger role, Buck’s also added a few
hybrid vehicles. But he’s having trouble getting more:


“We’d like to get more to see if we really open doors up and advertise
that we truly have them, because we such a small number it’s hard to
really wave the flag because they’re so hard to manage and make sure
the hybrid requests are going straight into hybrids every single time.”


Getting hybrids isn’t easy right now, but that could change.


Neil Abrams is president of Abrams Consulting Group. He advises the
transportation industry. He says automakers such as Ford and GM make
more money selling cars to people rather than rental companies.


And so the US automakers are pulling back from the big incentives they
used to offer rental car companies. Abrams says that’s opening the
door for more cars from foreign automakers, and that could mean hybrids
such as the Toyota Prius will be more available in the future.


But he says that all depends on what customers want. If they want
hybrids, they’ll have to ask for them:


“If the rental consumer does not step up and demand an environmentally
efficient vehicle or hybrid, eventually rental companies will stop
offering them.”


If you really want a hybrid right now, it’s a good idea to call ahead
and see if you can specifically reserve one. That’s because there
aren’t very many.


Even if you can’t get one right now, just asking for one might help you
get one in the future. That’s because rental companies plan the makeup
of their fleets about a year in advance. It’s based on what customers
want. So the cars you’ll be able to rent in the future depend on what
you ask for today.


For the Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Dilemmas for Wastewater Treatment Plants

  • Water contamination from sources that might include some wastewater treatment plants closes some beaches. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Municipal sewer plants are sometimes blamed for high E. coli bacteria counts that close beaches to swimmers. Some cities are working to find better ways to treat the water and put it back into nature. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:

Transcript

Municipal sewer plants are sometimes blamed for high E. coli bacteria counts
that close beaches to swimmers. Some cities are working to find better ways to treat the
water and put it back into nature. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus
reports:


(sound of cars moving along a small street and a few people talking)


A typical summer day by the lake: SUVs pull boats on trailers. People saunter from an
ice cream shop to the city beach. Jet skis and water skiiers slice through the waves.
Carpenters raise trusses on homes being built into the remaining lakefront lots.


Just a few years ago it seemed towns like this were just for loggers and locals. But now
people are flocking to the lakes around the Midwest and staying there. And that’s putting
a strain on local sewer plants.


(sound of machines inside the water treatment plant)


For 40 years, the treated waste water from the Boyne City, Michigan sewer plant has
been released into the big lake it was built on…Lake Charlevoix.


“It’s located right adjacent to a public swimming beach, park, marina and some valuable
waterfront property. We are only a block off the downtown district.”


Plant manager Dan Meads wants to stop mixing the end product with the water where
tourists and the locals swim and play. He tests daily for E. coli bacteria. He
doesn’t want anyone getting sick. But it’s still a concern, and there are other concerns.


In recent years, the United States Geological Survey has reported on new kinds of
contaminants that they’ve found in ground and surface water. The USGS says treated
wastewater from sewer plants can contain hormones from birth control pills, antibiotics,
detergents, fire retardants, and pesticides.


USGS microbiologist Sheridan Haack says the effects of all these compounds are still
unknown. Most are found in tiny quantities, but combined they could cause any number
of chemical reactions.


“There are many different chemical structures and it would be very difficult to state for
all of them what we would actually expect the environmental fate to be and how they
would actually be transported through the environment.”


Haack says the medicines people take don’t disappear. They eventually leave the body
and are flushed down the toilet. Those drugs have been tested for safe human
consumption, but the question is: what happens when those chemicals are mixed in with
industrial waste, accidental spills and nature’s own chemical processes? Haack says they
just might come back around to hurt humans, fish and wildlife.


The Boyne City solution is to build a new wastewater treatment plant two miles from the
beaches up the Boyne River. Officials say contaminants will be diluted by the time they
flow back down into Lake Charlevoix.


(sound of the Boyne River)


Larry Maltby volunteers for a group called “Friends of the Boyne River.” The group
doesn’t like the city’s plan to discharge treated wastewater directly into the river. It wants
them to consider some non-traditional methods. They say the new sewer plant could run
a pipe under a golf course or spray the treated water on farm fields… or let it drain into
wetlands to let nature filter it out.


“It will seep into the soils which are very sandy and gravelly underneath the golf course
and then the filtration through the ground will have a great deal of effect of continuing to
purify that water. Much more so than it would be with a direct deposit, straight into the
surface waters of Michigan.”


Lawyers for the Friends of the Boyne River have appealed to the state dept of
environmental quality and filed a lawsuit.


But wastewater treatment plant manager Dan Meads says the city doesn’t want to please
just one group and end up angering another…


“There isn’t any guarantee that you can satisfy everybody. We think we have the best
option available.”


As municipalities are short on funds and personnel, they don’t want to wait for decades
for the perfect solution. Still, nobody wants any amount of pollution to affect their home
or their recreational area.


Sheridan Haack with the USGS won’t take either side in this dispute. She says not only
are the dangers from contaminants unknown, the best way to deal with them is unknown.


“I am not aware of any consensus in the scientific community on the nature or types of
treatment for this broad range of chemicals.”


In the meantime… communities such as Boyne City have the unenviable task of trying to
dispose of their residents sewage without polluting the beaches, the fishing, and the
environment that brought folks there in the first place.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris McCarus.

Related Links

Park Service to Preserve Nature or History?

  • Farms that had been left to deteriorate are now being restored. (Photo courtesy of National Park Service)

The National Park Service not only protects scenic natural areas, it also preserves historic places. Occasionally those two missions compete. Right now the Park Service is trying to find a balance between managing a beautiful stretch of Great Lakes shoreline and restoring the remnants of a once thriving farm community that illustrates a rarely seen view of early agricultural life in this country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:

Transcript

The National Park Service not only protects scenic natural areas, it also preserves historic places.
Occasionally those two missions compete. Right now the Park Service is trying to find a balance between
managing a beautiful stretch of Great Lakes shoreline and restoring the remnants of a once thriving farm
community that illustrates a rarely seen view of early agricultural life in this country. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Sally Eisele reports:


Millions of tourists visit the white sand beaches of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National lakeshore in northern
Michigan. Most of them pass right by Port Oneida. There are no tourist signs for the old farming
community along the scenic lakeshore highway. Really the first thing you notice is the graveyard.


(sound of cemetery gate)


The headstones display the faded names of the German and Bohemian immigrants who settled Port Oneida
in the 19th century. From the cemetery the remains of their farmsteads can be found along the narrow park
roads that weave their way toward Lake Michigan.


“Let’s see the lake over here.” (sound fades under)


On a bluff overlooking the lake, local historian Kathryn Eckert is strolling the grounds of one of the old
family farms. She’s with a group called Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear. It’s working with the Park
Service to save these farms.


“What is important is not just the houses and the buildings but the landscape as well. You see the
spirea, the raspberries… the open fields. Over here to the east the privy…”


The remnants of the farm are everywhere. The old rose bushes have grown wild. The daylilies now peak
from behind tall field grasses. But, the original footprint of the farmstead is clearly there.


“When I was growing up there, everybody had these little farms.”


Martin Basch is the great grandson of one of the first settlers. The original family farm, not far from the
cemetery, is now in ruins.


“When the park service took over the Martin Basch farm there was a barn there, a grainery a
blacksmith shop…and these buildings just collapsed.”


For many years that was what the park service wanted. When the national lakeshore was created in the
1970’s, park managers intended to let Port Oneida return to its original forested state. Park historian Kim
Mann says it took years for preservationists to convince them the rickety old buildings were as valuable as
the land.


“Trying to preserve the beauty the scenery, also the threatened and endangered species–things like
that were really easy. It was really difficult to come in and say this corncrib is significant? This
privy? That has still been a learning curve to help people understand that you don’t just save just
the one representational privy. You want to save the collection because it tells the whole story.”


Now, the 20 farmsteads of Port Oneida are on the National Register of Historic Places. Little by little, the
Park Service is working to restore them.


(sound of hammer, chisel, and saw)


It’s a job that often involves volunteers. On this day, a group of park employees is working with
community members to save an old log cabin down the road from Port Oneida–They’re sawing a huge
beam to help shore up the building.


“This is a sill log or one of the bottom logs made of white oak. Primarily because it stands up to
weather and water better. We don’t want the bottom of the building to rot out again. At least any
time soon.”


Many of the old buildings in the park have been temporarily stabilized. But the long term plan is much less
clear. The Park Service hopes to find private sector partners who can restore the buildings and find ways to
use them.


(sound of field)


One of the first such partners is the Shielding Tree Nature Center, which renovated an old farmstead and
turned the hayfields into a nature preserve. Director Mary Rupert is hoping to sign a 60-year lease
agreement but worries as other partners come in, the character of the area may change.


“Our priority is the land. The buildings are second to that. If every farmstead had a partner it
would be too much.”


At this point though, the balancing act is to find enough partners with the money to renovate the buildings
and preserve the integrity of the land. Without the private sector, park managers say the farmsteads of Port
Oneida are at risk and with each harsh northern winter another piece of history is lost.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sally Eisele.

Related Links

Destination Superstores Buy Up Farmland

  • Retail superstores, like this Cabela's in Dundee, Michigan, have become tourist destination sites. Environmentalists worry that these types of developments are adding to poor land use patterns. (Photo by Sarah Hulett)

Throughout the region, tourism is an important part of the economy. Families travel far and wide to visit historical sites, cultural institutions, and favorite recreation spots. But a relatively new part of the landscape is drawing people in for a single purpose: to shop. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on how the trend is affecting land use patterns:

Transcript

Throughout the region, tourism is an important part of the economy. Families travel
far and wide to visit historical sites, cultural institutions, and favorite recreation
spots. But a relatively new part of the landscape is drawing people in for a single purpose: to
shop. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports on how the trend is affecting
land use patterns:


Brad Brinker is in Michigan for the day to take in the sights. He flew his plane from Pennsylvania
to Dundee, in the southeast corner of Michigan. Now he’s standing next to a waterfall that spills
into a pond filled with trout and aquatic plants.


“We were always impressed by the size of the mountain and the animals they have. That’s why
we’re here!”


The mountain is fake. The water? Pumped in. The animals? Stuffed.


This is Cabela’s – a 225-thousand-square-foot retail temple to the outdoors. It’s the home of 65-
thousand gallons of aquariums, dozens of game animals like caribou and mountain lions. There’s
a gun library, and acres of fishing equipment and hunting gear.


“Cabela’s considers itself a tourist attraction as well as retail. And in all of our major sites, we’ve
become one if not the major tourist attraction in the state.”


Steve Collins is the operations manager for Cabela’s. He says the strategy for drawing tourists and
shoppers hinges on careful placement of the store.


“What we try to do is make them destination stores, so people have to go out of their way a little
bit to get there. But once they get there they’re very easy to find. We’re not in the middle of a
mall. We’re not in the middle of town where you have to try and find us. Once you get down that
thoroughfare, we’re usually right at the exit. You can’t miss us.”


Michigan’s Cabela’s store IS easy to spot. You can see two 20-foot-tall bronze grizzlies from the
highway, locked in battle above a vast expanse of parking lot. The five-acre store was built to
look like a massive log cabin. It sits on a sweep of what used to be farmland. A U.S. highway
feeds thousands of cars a day onto its property.


It’s a familiar strategy for big-box retailers such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart. Land is generally
cheaper and easier to acquire in rural areas. And some of these superstores and outlet malls have
become destinations not just for shoppers, but for tourists. George Zimmerman directs Michigan’s
travel bureau.


“I think in the last ten years, on the national level, the Mall of America is an example of that.
Certainly the outlet mall boom is a big part of it. That certainly was a key point as far as retailing
as a destination, when those started popping up around the country.”


But superstores and outlet malls give environmentalists headaches. They say stores that set up
shop in undeveloped areas contribute to sprawl patterns that require expensive infrastructure.
They can also sap resources from nearby cities and towns. Although the business association near
Cabela’s Michigan store says the retailer has actually helped bring shoppers into the downtown
area, five miles away.


Victoria Pebbles works on sustainable development issues for the Great Lakes Commission.
Pebbles says there need to be disincentives for stores to locate in rural areas.


“If there are disincentives, for example, through farmland protection programs and protection of
natural features and cultural resources that are in our rural areas, then you can help to tip the
scales a little bit.”


Pebbles says right now, there are few restrictions on developing farmland into shopping malls.
Some states – such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – have set aside money to help
local governments better coordinate land use planning. And Michigan recently set up a task force
that will make land use policy recommendations to its Legislature.


(bring up Cabela’s parking lot sound)


In the meantime, it looks as though retailers will continue to look for cheap land with easy access
to highways. Cabela’s plans to open its fifth store in the Great Lakes region this fall. Its
Pennsylvania store will be easy to spot, perched on a hundred acres right off I-78 and Route 61.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.