Archive for the ‘Forestry’ Category

Log Skyscrapers

Photo by jeff_golden. All rights reserved.

Photo by jeff_golden. All rights reserved.

In a move that won’t come as a surprise to anyone who played with Lincoln Logs as a child, the New York Times reports this week on a major American architecture firm that’s begun designing tall buildings made predominantly out of wood. The firm in question, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, won’t be the first to take such an approach – smaller firms internationally have already begun building taller buildings (the largest is currently 10 stories high and can be found in Melbourne, Australia – building codes here currently restrict wooden buildings over four stories, though it’s likely that will change). But SO&M will bring a lot of domestic publicity to this more environmentally friendly method once the buildings start going up.
So: environmentally friendly how, exactly? According to the Times article and a report from earlier this year put together by the firm themselves, these wooden buildings (which average about 70 percent timber and 30 percent concrete) help reduce CO2 emissions because the wood can hold the carbon, while the production of steel and concrete releases it into the atmosphere. While lumber production in the US has gone down over the last decade (it sunk from 48,732 million board feet to 26 ,057 million between 2006 and 2009, according to a census report, but according to the article, Canada and the US together produce over 60 billion board feet of lumber a year, and the US has a lot of compromised ash borer-affected trees that could be put to good use. Find some more specific info on the firm’s designs here.

On the Yosemite Fires, Spending, and Public Image Issues

Photo by Capt Darin Overstreet. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Capt Darin Overstreet. Some rights reserved.

Wildfires are a strange and sad and often mesmerizingly beautiful phenomenon. Every summer, somewhere in the American south, west, or Southwest, hundreds of Americans band together to fight against one of nature’s most potent defense mechanisms (or call them what you will). This summer, over the last week especially, the nation has watched (mostly through convenient web-based slideshows) as the seventh largest fire in California history raged across the Stanislaus National Forest and into the treasured and revered Yosemite National Park and Hetch Hetchy valley, covering a total of over 280 square miles so far. More than 3,700 individuals have been summoned to help contain the fire with more than a dozen water dropping helicopters at their disposal, but only 20% of the fire has been contained.

Despite the size, the park remains open and naturalists remain cautiously optimistic that the fire will be contained without any dire, lasting consequences to the area. The park remains open for tourism, as the fire continues to blaze in the somewhat remote northwestern corner of the park, a (somewhat) safe 20 miles from the Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park-as-tourist destination.

But some good info has also been dished out on the financial toll the fires will take on the already-tight California state budget, as well as on the behind-the-scenes strategies being employed in how the containment efforts are being handled. The LA Times takes a worthwhile look at how, having already used 15% of the $172 million set aside for wildfires, the state plans to handle the financial end of things if this fire continues to grow. The state budget includes a $1.1 billion reserve for emergencies, and FEMA has agreed to reimburse the state for up to 75% of “eligible firefighting costs,” but the point remains that these efforts always involve a price tag, and for a state that has been painted as “in trouble” for some time now, I’m sure this is not welcome news.

Meanwhile, NatGeo published some good reporting on the crafty PR strategies being employed. Specifically, how containment efforts have included placing sprinklers around two groves of giant sequoias, some of the parks most popular attractions, when the reality is that these older, larger trees have a much better chance of surviving the blaze than younger, weaker trees. However, officials worry that the fires could cause cosmetic damage to the giant sequoias that would make them “ugly” to the public and could hurt tourism in the immediate future.

The Frogs Are Our Future

Photo by Shek Graham. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Shek Graham. Some rights reserved.

Bad news for you Sierra Nevada fans (and no, I’m not talking about the beer). The Los Angeles Times reports this week that pesticides being used on crops in California’s Central Valley are having a dramatically negative effect on frogs living in the Sierra Nevada mountains over 100 miles away. Frogs are a crucial component of California’s gorgeous northern wilderness (which includes the famed Yosemite National Park, Giant Sequoia National Monument, Stanislaus National Forest, and Lake Tahoe), as they provide food for birds and other, larger wildlife, and keep the bug population in the area in check.

In 2009 and 2010, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey examined tree frogs from seven sites in the Sierra Nevada area, and found evidence of ten different pesticides present in their tissue, which include pyraclostrobin and tebuconazole (fungicides), simazine (herbacide), and a degraded form of the infamous DDT (outlawed in 1972). Scientists with the USGS also noted with some curiosity that the same chemicals were not detected in the water of the same areas, and only a few were picked up in the soil, which indicates that testing from tissue may be a more precise and accurate form of pesticide testing. The amounts found in the study were noted by the researchers as “trace,” so it’s very difficult to tell what the ultimate effects will be, both long term and short term, as these chemicals have never been found or studied in frogs before. But the measure of effects is almost beside the point: the chemicals are present, and being carried across a distance much further than we would have imagined them able to travel. That in itself is a revelation, and should be of some concern.

Just One More Reason The Lorax Was Right

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 Nickpdx. Some rights reserved.


Chief Justice Roberts to EPA: “Why’d You Have to Go and Make Things So Complicated?”

Photo by Richard Webb. 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

New Study Suggests That Trees Are Effective Crimefighters

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.”

More Murders over Illegal Logging in the Amazon

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.

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