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Old and New Threats

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Both the Burlington Free Press and Adelphia Cable got booed at the Medeski Martin and Wood concert last Friday night at Memorial Auditorium. In a single, applauso-meter moment, the mostly younger audience lashed out at the corporate media sponsors of the Discover Jazz Festival when their names were announced from the stage. Appropriately, The Point got a mixed reaction -- it's part of a small New England radio chain -- and Vermont Public Radio inspired cheers all around. If only the rest of the country were as savvy about what's at stake when local radio, television and newspapers are bought up and taken over by out-of-state interests. Lauren-Glenn Davitian has been sounding the alarm for years. A pioneer in public-access television, she co-founded Chittenden Community Television, the government-access channel, and Cyberskills Vermont, which provides information technology by training the staffs and clients of local nonprofits.

To mark the 20-year effort, she's organized all her programs and related affiliates under a new name: the Center for Media and Democracy. Its first order of business is a conference that ponders the big question: As Davitian puts it, "Given the threats, which range from consolidation of media ownership to world-trade agreements to an FCC that seems out of touch, how do we preserve free speech and diverse voices for the next 20 years?" The day-long event next Friday at St. Paul's Cathedral brings together "leaders in the field of community television, independent media, municipal telecommunications, low-power, public and independent radio, media literacy, Internet organizing and social change" for an afternoon plenary. Let's hope that leaves room for a few rabble-rousing MMW -- Mass Media Watchdog -- types.


It's nookie season in black bear country, and Vermont's wildlife biologists are noticing the usual signs: Adult females are booting their 2-year-old cubs out of their dens and making way for older adult males on the prowl for eligible mates. Younger males are getting chased from their territories, leaving them in search of new places to call their own. And since last year's acorn season was meager, nearly all the state's 4000 or so black bears woke up this spring with big appetites.

The result: Vermonters are reporting a good number of black-bear sightings this month, as the ravenous critters go in search of new sources of grub. Bears are natural opportunists, which means they've been raiding trash cans, bird feeders, compost piles or any odorous edibles -- including a bag of fresh bagels left in a car in Shelburne recently.

Vermont's bear population has been growing by about 5 percent a year for the last decade, according to Fish and Wildlife biologist Tom Decker. This means added pressure for territory and more human-bear encounters. His advice for keeping a yard bear-free: Lose the aforementioned sources of stink, feed dogs and cats inside, and refrain from putting out birdseed between April and November.

As they say in Montana, a fed bear is a dead bear.


For many Vermonters, a dangerous threat lurks within their own walls: lead paint. More than 25 years after the feds banned lead in household paints, lead poisoning remains the number-one environmental threat to American children. Most lead poisoning occurs when kids inhale or ingest lead dust or chips in old houses.

And when it comes to old houses, Vermont has some of the oldest in America, second only to Maine, with Burlington's housing stock older than much of the state. Burlington recently launched an aggressive campaign to reduce the incidence of childhood lead poisoning, which is now higher than the national average.

How serious is the problem? "To give you an idea," explains Graham Dewyea, Burlington's lead program coordinator, "if you had enough lead dust to equal the size of a penny, that could be sufficient to contaminate a 70,000-square-foot area." Back in the early 1990s, says Dewyea, nurses from the Vermont Health Department fanned out across the city conducting door-to-door lead screenings of about 500 children under the age of 6. Their findings were alarming: Roughly half had measurable lead levels in their bodies.

Today, most lead experts agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. In children, lead can cause a variety of behavioral and neurocognitive disorders, including lower IQs and impaired emotional and social development.

Lead poisoning disproportionately afflicts the poor. Dewyea notes that about 75 percent of it occurs in rental properties, which are often not as well maintained as owner-occupied homes. As a result, the new federally funded program will pay for lead screening of Burlington children. It will also help educate the public and provide landlords with free money to make their properties lead-safe. The program's three-year goal is to get the lead out of at least 110 Burlington homes, focusing efforts on low-income residents and homes where children already suffer from lead poisoning. For more info, contact the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at 1-800-290-0527.

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