Between a healthy logging industry and the rise of extremely unhealthy tree-killing insects, it can be hard out there for an American tree. We know generally as a society that we have to keep around at least some of those majestic pillars because, you know, we need to breathe, but it often seems that we as American entrepreneurs don’t always have their best interests at heart.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, however, has just published a study that may convince some dendrophobes to reconsider their position: according to U.S. Forest Service researcher Geoffrey Donovan, fewer trees has a direct correlation (meaning non-oxygen related) with more human death.
The research time investigated 1,296 counties where a particularly nasty tree-killing beetle called the ash borer have been found. Comparing data from 1990 (before the ash borer invasion) to 2007, its clear than a higher number of tree fatalities leads to “cardiovacular and lower respiratory-tract illness” in humans, citing 6,113 deaths in those 27 years related to the latter illness and 15,080 related to the former.
The direct correlation here is difficult to parse, but the data is clear, and speaks loudly (if also in cliches): Save our trees!
Donovan did an hour long interview with PBS News Hour on the issue if you’d like to find out more.
Photo by Nickpdx. Some rights reserved.
Photo by Richard Webb. Some rights reserved.
Last Friday afternoon, the EPA issued a new final rule which clarifies that a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is not required for stormwater runoff on logging roads. This rule revises a previous EPA rule on Phase I stormwater discharge regulations, and states that the EPA will not be regulating stormwater discharges. Reasoning for the change of position is as follows:
“Discharges from forest roads can seriously degrade forest streams and rivers, but these discharges can be successfully controlled through [best management practices], such as grading and seeding road surfaces and designing road drainage structures to discharge runoff in small quantities to off-road areas that are not hydrologically connected to surface waters.”
This final rule has been eminent for some time, as the related notice of proposed rulemaking was published in the Federal Register on September 4. However, its issuance on Friday held some ramifications for a Supreme Court argument being argued the following Monday. The case in question is Doug Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, an argument against logging companies and Oregon forestry officials by an environmental group claiming that the defendants are required to obtain permits for stormwater runoff on the logging roads they manage. The newly revised EPA regulations stating that a permit is not required perplexed Chief Justice Roberts, who reportedly turned to a government lawyer and asked, regarding the existence of new rules, “were you as surprised as we were?”
Despite the fact that the government did recommend last May that the court not pursue the case right away, as they anticipated new rules from the EPA on the subject, the chief justice was understandably irritated by the EPA’s covert movements, stating “if we knew that the final rule was imminent, we could have rescheduled the case for April.”
More from the EPA on the stormwater regulations: Fact Sheet | FAQs
Photo by Geograph. Some rights reserved.
In a very unique new study (put together by Austin Troy and Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne of the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and J. Morgan Grove of the USDA Forest Service’s Research Division), research suggests that urban tree coverage in Baltimore serves as a deterrent to robbery, burglary, theft, and shooting. The study’s “more conservative spatially adjusted model indicated that a 10% increase in tree canopy was associated with a roughly 12% decrease in crime,” going against earlier theories that more densely planted trees will encourage criminals by giving them coverage to hide in.
Grist rightly points out these findings’ relation to the “broken window theory” (and gets right to it with the Wire references. I’ll spare you those, just go watch that show if you haven’t already!). This theory suggests that the upkeep of an urban environment’s appearance can have a drastic effect in reducing its crime. In this case, the planting and fostering of lush tree life suggests a healthy neighborhood watch, and would discourage criminals by enforcing the idea that the neighborhood is well protected by its community.
This is not a new idea. Similar studies and debates have existed for decades – the University of Washington’s Forestry Department had similar findings in their own study of trees’ relation to inner city crime. Some fast facts from their study include:
- “Public housing residents with nearby trees and natural landscapes reported 25% fewer acts of domestic aggression and violence.“
- “Public housing buildings with greater amounts of vegetation had 52% fewer total crimes, 48% fewer property crimes, and 56% fewer violent crimes than buildings with low amounts of vegetation.“
- “In a study of community policing innovations, there was a 20% overall decrease in calls to police from the parts of town that received location-specific treatments. Cleaning up vacant lots was one of the most effective treatment strategies.”
Photo by Alan Hood. Some rights reserved.
The heartbreaking news came yesterday that a young peasant activist in Brazil was murdered over an ongoing illegal logging conflict in the Amazon. Obede Loyla Souza’s death marked the fifth logging-related murder in the region in only a month.
According to the Associated Press, the Brazilian government is taking “a series of measures to contain the violence,” while acknowledging that “more decisive action” is needed. But as long as there’s a market for it, it’s difficult to imagine an end to the turmoil. What’s keeping illegally logged timber out of the US?
The Lacey Act (16 USC §§3371-3378), administered jointly by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Agriculture, prohibits trade in plants and plant products “taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation” of any US State or foreign country. The Act also mandates proper documentation for imported plant products – a declaration of country of origin and species names of all the plants in the products.
Three years ago, section 8204 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 updated the Lacey Act (originally passed into law in 1900!) to protect a broader range of plants – an amendment specifically intended to prevent trade in both illegally harvested timber as well as wood products made from such timber.
If decreasing the incentive for murder in countries such as Brazil isn’t a big enough of a deterrent for you, know that corporate violators found guilty of the Lacey Act may be fined up to $500,000 per violation (along with a nice 5 year stay in prison).
More questions? Check out this Lacey Act Primer and Lacey Act Amendment FAQ from the USDA.
Photo by ッ Zach Hoeken ッ. Some rights reserved.
40 CFR 122.27 (the EPA’s “silviculture rule”) exempts from NPDES permitting all discharges from silvicultural (forestry) activities such as thinning, prescribed burning, pest and fire control, harvesting operations, surface drainage, or road construction and maintenance resulting from natural runoff.
But recent opinions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit have restricted the interpretation of this exemption.
In Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC) v. Brown, 617 F.3d 1176, the Northwest Environmental Defense Center brought suit against Oregon State Forester and members of the Oregon Board of Forestry in their official capacities and various timber companies for their failure to obtain permits for discharges from systems of ditches, culverts, and channels that receive stormwater runoff from two logging roads in the Tillamook State Forest. The Defendants argued that these discharges are “point source” discharges under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and that they therefore require permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”).
The Ninth Circuit agreed, filing their original opinion in the case on August 17, 2010. According to Perkins Coie’s Update on the case, the silviculture rule’s exemption for natural runoff “ceases to exist as soon as the natural runoff is channeled and controlled in some systematic way through a ‘discernible, confined and discrete conveyance’ and discharged into the waters of the United States.”
On October 5, 2010, the defendants filed petitions (here and here) for rehearing and rehearing en banc, but just two weeks ago, the Ninth Circuit issued an order and opinion denying the petitions, and environmentalists everywhere rejoiced.