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U.S. Forest Service

National results indicate that tree cover in urban areas of the U.S. is declining at a rate of about 4 million trees per year, according to a U.S. Forest Service study published recently in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.

Tree cover in 17 of the 20 cities analyzed in the study declined while 16 cities saw increases in impervious cover, which includes pavement and rooftops. Land that lost trees was for the most part converted to either grass or ground cover, impervious cover or bare soil.

Of the 20 cities analyzed, the greatest percentage of annual loss in tree cover occurred in New Orleans, Houston and Albuquerque. Researchers expected to find a dramatic loss of trees in New Orleans and said that it is most likely due to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Tree cover ranged from a high of 53.9 percent in Atlanta to a low of 9.6 percent in Denver while total impervious cover varied from 61.1 percent in New York City to 17.7 percent in Nashville. Cities with the greatest annual increase in impervious cover were Los Angeles, Houston and Albuquerque.

“Our urban forests are under stress, and it will take all of us working together to improve the health of these crucial green spaces,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.  “Community organizations and municipal planners can use i-Tree to analyze their own tree cover, and determine the best species and planting spots in their neighborhoods. It’s not too late to restore our urban forests—the time is now to turn this around.”

The benefits derived from urban trees provide a return three times greater than tree care costs, as much as $2,500 in environmental services such as reduced heating and cooling costs during a tree’s lifetime.

Forest researchers David Nowak and Eric Greenfield of the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station used satellite imagery to find that tree cover is decreasing at a rate of about 0.27 percent of land area per year in U.S. cities, which is equivalent to about 0.9 percent of existing urban tree cover being lost annually.

Photo-interpretation of paired digital images offers a relatively easy, quick and low-cost means to statistically assess changes among various cover types. To help in quantifying the cover types within an area, a free tool, i-Tree Canopy, allows users to photo-interpret a city using Google images.

“Trees are an important part of the urban landscape,” according to Michael T. Rains, director of the Northern Research Station. “They play a role in improving air and water quality and provide so many environmental and social benefits. As our Forest Service Chief says, ‘…urban trees are the hardest working trees in America.’  This research is a tremendous resource for cities of all sizes throughout the nation.”

Nowak and Greenfield completed two analyses, one for 20 selected cities and another for national urban areas, by evaluating differences between the most recent digital aerial photographs possible and imagery dating as close as possible to five years prior to that date. Methods were consistent but imagery dates and types differed between the two analyses.

“Tree cover loss would be higher if not for the tree planting efforts cities have undertaken in the past several years,” according to Nowak. “Tree planting campaigns are helping to increase, or at least reduce the loss of, urban tree cover, but reversing the trend may demand more widespread, comprehensive and integrated programs that focus on sustaining overall tree canopy.”

Only one city, Syracuse, N.Y., exhibited an overall increase in tree cover. However, the increase was dominated by European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), an invasive small tree/shrub from Europe, and the most of the city’s cover increase is likely due to natural regeneration.

Cities included in the study were: Albuquerque, N.M., Atlanta, Ga., Baltimore, Md., Boston, Mass., Chicago, Ill., Denver, Colo., Detroit, Mich., Houston, Texas, Kansas City, Mo., Los Angeles, Calif., Miami, Fla., Minneapolis, Minn., Nashville, Tenn., New Orleans, La., New York City, Pittsburgh, Pa., Portland, Ore., Spokane, Wash., Syracuse, N.Y., and Tacoma, Wash.

For more information, click here.

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The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on our lands contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

Center for Biological Diversity

The Obama administration announced Jan. 31 that it would not increase the $1.35 monthly fee charged for each cow and calf the livestock industry grazes on western public land. The fee remains at its lowest legal limit for the sixth year in a row—far below what federal agencies spend to administer grazing permits, far below market rates, and far below what’s needed to address the severe ecological damage to public lands that is caused by livestock grazing.

Habitat destruction driven by grazing is a primary factor in the decline of threatened and endangered species including the desert tortoise, Mexican spotted owl, southwestern willow flycatcher, least Bell’s vireo, Mexican gray wolf, Oregon spotted frog and Chiricahua leopard frog, in addition to dozens of other species of imperiled mammals, fish, amphibians and springsnails that live on western public land. Livestock grazing is also a primary factor contributing to unnaturally severe western wildfires, watershed degradation, soil loss and the spread of invasive plants.

“Livestock grazing is the most widespread destructive use of America’s public lands,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of subsidizing that damage, grazing fees need to cover the costs—to taxpayers—of running the grazing program for the benefit of cattlemen, restoring ecosystems and recovering the native, wild animals and plants that grazing is driving toward extinction.”

The fees will apply to livestock grazing across 258 million acres of western public land administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—81 percent of the land administered by the two agencies in the 11 western states. There are approximately 23,600 public-lands ranchers, representing about 6 percent of all livestock producers west of the Mississippi River.

A 1986 executive order and 1978’s Public Rangelands Improvement Act prohibit the fee from falling below $1.35 per animal unit month, which is only 12 cents more than monthly rates charged in 1966 and roughly the same as a 13-ounce can of dog food. Market rates for grazing unirrigated western private land exceed $10 per animal unit month.

The low federal grazing fee contributes to the harm caused by livestock grazing on public lands for two primary reasons—(1) the below-fair-market-value fee encourages annual grazing on even the most marginal lands and allows for increased grazing on other areas, and (2) since a percentage of the funds collected is required to be used on range mitigation and restoration, the low fee equates to less funding for environmental mitigation and restoration of the affected lands.

In its 2005 report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that BLM and Forest Service grazing receipts fail to recover even 15 percent of administrative costs and are much lower than fees charged by the other federal agencies, states and private ranchers. The GAO found that the BLM and Forest Service grazing fee decreased by 40 percent from 1980 to 2004, while grazing fees charged by private ranchers increased by 78 percent for the same period. To recover expenditures, the BLM and Forest Service would have had to charge $7.64 and $12.26 per animal unit month respectively.

“By any measure—ecosystem health, biodiversity conservation or fiscal responsibility—raising the grazing fee is just good old American common sense,” said McKinnon. “Reform is long overdue.”

In 2011 the Obama administration denied an Administrative Procedures Act rulemaking petition by the Center for Biological Diversity and other groups seeking to raise the fee—a decision those groups had to sue the administration to make. The administration instead chose to keep the fee at its lowest allowable legal limit.

For more information on the Center for Biological Diversity's work to reform public-lands grazing policies, please click here.

For more information, click here.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Derrick Jensen

An inability to acknowledge that one has been wrong is one of the reasons this culture is killing the planet. Collectively, we cannot simply acknowledge that, as Jared Diamond has said (and many others also have made clear), agriculture was (and continues to be) the worst mistake humans have ever made. Agriculture, then civilization, then the industrial revolution, now the oil age, are some of the worst things that have ever happened to this planet. We should acknowledge these mistakes, and move to fix them.

In the spirit of modeling this proper behavior, I’d like to admit that I’ve been wrong (when was the last time you heard a male say that?). For at least 15 years I’ve been publicly arguing that this culture is functionally, inherently, systematically unjust and unsustainable, and that while legislative or technological approaches can slightly mitigate some injustices or unsustainability, these approaches will never be anywhere near sufficient.

Well, I was wrong. I now have a modest proposal for a legislative and technological solution to the injustices and unsustainability of this culture.

With one stroke of a pen and one piece of technology, all of our problems can be solved.

Maybe we should back up a little bit first. A central problem of this culture is a near-total lack of accountability on the part of perpetrators of violence, on every level from domestic violence and rape (only six percent of rapists spend even one night in jail) to government-sponsored torture and war crimes to massive crimes against the environment. A couple of not-very-funny riddles should make my point about a judicial double standard clear.

Q: What do you get when you cross a long drug habit, a quick temper and a gun?

A: Two life terms for murder, earliest release date, 2026.

Second riddle:

Q: What do you get when you cross two nation states, a large corporation, 40 tons of poison, and at least 8,000 dead human beings?

A: Retirement with full pay and benefits (Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide).

Likewise, I’m not the only person who has noticed that those who are destroying the planet almost never pay any real costs themselves. For example, what happened to Tony Hayward, CEO of British Petroleum, who among others should be held accountable for the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill? He was released from his position with a $1.6 million severance payment, as well as an annual pension of about $1 million (he also holds several million shares of BP stock). While some daring souls have boldly asked whether it might just be a teensy bit appropriate to, ahem, well, politely request an inquiry to check whether this severance package might be reduced the tiniest tad, I’ve not seen many public calls (though I’ve heard a lot of private calls) for Hayward’s head to be paraded around New Orleans on a pike.

For years I’ve been campaigning for a fairly straightforward solution to this lack of accountability. It’s a form of enforced precautionary principle. The precautionary principle suggests that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, the burden of proof that this action is not harmful falls on those taking the action. They can’t act if they can’t prove no harm will come. So, for example, instead of presuming that deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is safe, and not halting drilling until there is proof of potential catastrophic harm, we should presume that this action is harmful until it has been proven to be otherwise. The same is true for the emission of greenhouse gases. We could easily provide thousands of examples of harmful actions which would be stopped by any reasonable application of the precautionary principle.

Of course a perverted form of the precautionary principle is already in place, but instead of protecting the public or the environment, it protects profits—actions that protect the real world, including human communities, must be shown to not harm corporate profits before they can be seriously considered.

Such a perverted form of the precautionary principle is of course insane.

Normally, right now, “risk” is often “assessed” and “managed” through a process called “risk assessment,” whereby a corporation that’s going to conduct (or more accurately perpetrate) some harmful activity writes up an often large, often unreadable document that purports to lay out the potential risks and rewards for the project. There are many problems with this process.

First, the documents are often based on absurdly false pretenses and the documents themselves are openly falsified (the Environmental Impact Statement for the Deepwater Horizon rig, for example, contained references to the potential effects of an oil spill on walruses and other arctic mammals). Second, these documents are often approved by bureaucrats or technicians who are as corrupt as their corporate equivalents (and indeed, a revolving door exists between these two seemingly oppositional entities), under duress (approve these documents or lose your job—Forest Service managers, to provide one example among far too many, who have obeyed federal laws instead of “getting out the cut” have been fired), or in cahoots (or even in bed, literally) with members of the industries they purport to oversee. But all of these problems (and more) are trivial compared to the primary problem of so-called Risk Assessment, which is that the rewards (profit) from the projects generally go to the owners and managers of the projects while the risks are foisted off on those humans and nonhumans who suffer when these processes go wrong (or often even when they go right). Gold mining companies make bank from cyanide heap leach processes, while birds and others die en masse. Union Carbide derives profits from a factory manufacturing bulk industrial chemicals (most of them toxic) in Bhopal, India, yet it is the people of Bhopal who suffer under the day-to-day operations of the factory, and die when the factory explodes. Likewise, British Petroleum gains the profits from drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, yet it is the Gulf and its human and nonhuman residents who suffer from the inevitable toxification caused by this drilling.

It’s a ridiculous system that leads unavoidably to atrocity. It’s like a gambling house where whenever the heads of corporations bet, if the dice roll right, they make money, and if the dice roll wrong, you die. No wonder they keep rolling the dice. No wonder we keep dying.

I suggest that if we want to maintain a livable planet, we change the calculus of risk assessment.

Here’s the form of enforced precautionary principle for which I have been campaigning for more than a decade—if someone states that some policy, action, or artifact will not harm the public and/or the environment, and then puts in place this policy, action, or artifact—that is, imposes the risk of harm to the public and/or the environment—and the public and/or the environment is then harmed, that person should pay with his or her life. In other words, since the rewards are internalized, so, too, should be the risks. It’s only fair.

Warren Anderson was clearly willing to risk the lives of the people who lived in Bhopal, so why should he not risk his own life as well? And if the people putting these policies, actions, or artifacts in place are telling the truth, and there really is no significant risk to the public and/or the environment, then they have nothing to fear, right? If policy-makers really believe that deepwater drilling is safe, and that drilling in ANWR won’t harm caribou, and that the emission of greenhouse gases isn’t heating the planet, and that dams don’t harm salmon, and that you can fabricate bulk toxic chemicals without causing an increase in rates of cancer (or mass death through toxic fog when your factory explodes), then this policy would be safe for all. Their only concern would come if they are either lying or mistaken. And when you risk the lives of others, you shouldn’t be cavalier about your mistakes.

This would apply not only to policy-makers and to CEOs, but all people significantly associated with the project, from engineers who design destructive artifacts and accountants who find ways to pay for them to marketers who advertise them and bureaucrats who sign off on them. Bureaucracies (of which corporations are one form) have as one of their primary functions the dispersal of accountability—I didn’t do anything wrong! I was just doing my job! I was just making the trains run on time. Nevermind the trains were heading to death camps. If you’re a forester for the U.S. Forest Service and you truly believe that a clearcut won’t cause an increase in sediment in the stream below, you shouldn’t mind risking your own life as well as those of the endangered salmon who will be extirpated when your clearcut does what we all (probably including even you) knew it would all along—cause increased sedimentation. And how’s this for a novel idea—if you don’t believe it, you shouldn’t sign off on it. If bureaucracies disperse accountability, then if we are to survive, accountability needs to be re-gathered.

This suggestion isn’t even all that radical—there exists significant legal precedent—if you and I are hired by a third party to rob a bank, and someone dies because of our actions, in many states all three of us can face the death penalty, even if you were the triggerman and all I did was drive. Further, Warren Anderson was tried in absentia in India, and sentenced to hang. The U.S., however, refused to extradite this mass murderer, whose actions are directly responsible for the deaths of at least 8,000 human beings (I’m intentionally being conservative in my estimates—estimates of the deaths run into the hundreds of thousands).

It’s long been clear to me that if such policies were in place—you can put in an oil well, for example, but if it causes any environmental degradation, your life is forfeit, just as you forfeited the lives of those you killed; or you can put in a chemical factory, for another example, but if it causes rates of cancers to rise even slightly, your life is forfeit, just as you forfeited the lives of those you sickened or killed—if those who were enriching themselves as they destroy human and non-human communities had to put their own lives at risk precisely as they put the lives of others at risk, their destructive behaviors would probably stop overnight.

But maybe not. I’m sure you can see the problem with this proposal, which is that those in power clearly value money more than life, otherwise they would not be killing the planet for profit. Do they value money and power even over their own lives? I’m not going to risk the planet (and justice) on the too-good chance the answer is yes.

The question becomes, what would they value even more than money?

And here is where my modest proposal comes in, for a straightforward legislative and technological fix for so much of what ails us. And the best part of this modest proposal is that the technology is so simple—radio-controlled cigar cutters.

Let’s say a corporation files for a permit to put in an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Let’s say further that through the permitting process it is claimed that the oil well will be safe. Let’s say finally that the permits are granted. My modest proposal is that legislation be enacted requiring that all males associated with the project (and members of their families) have radio-controlled cigar cutters (similar to home detention bracelets, but sharp) attached to their genitals. These cigar cutters will remain in place throughout the entire time the well (mine, clearcut, factory, etc.) is in operation, and until the site has been entirely cleaned up, returned not to a “pristine” condition but to a pristine condition, until it is shown to be true that the (inevitably destructive) activity really does have, as the Environmental Assessment (inevitably) states, “No significant impact.” If the project really does have “no significant impact” then the cigar cutters are removed. If, on the other hand, oil spills, streams are polluted, biodiversity decreases, cancer rates go up, or what have you, then bzzzttt, the cigar cutters’ guillotine motion is activated.

Do you think those who run BP would be so quick to cut safety corners if their genitals were at risk? Do you think federal bureaucrats would be so quick to sign off on profitable yet destructive projects if their genitals were at risk? Do you think their seventeen-year-old sons would put pressure on their fathers to do the right thing if their genitals were at risk?

Would they rather be men who tell the truth, or men without genitals who do not tell the truth? Instead of a system that forces men to have balls in order to do the right thing, the system should remove the balls of those who don’t. It’s like the cliché goes—Use ‘em or lose ‘em.

The simple piece of legislation and technology I’m modestly proposing would stop nearly all destructive activities immediately.

One could argue that it would be onerous for these men to wear cigar cutters for the entire length of the project. But the cigar cutters (which are set to activate on attempted removal) could be made to be small, and in any case those associated with endangering the public and/or the environment should be reminded at even their most intimate moments of the effects of their projects on the larger world. And do you think that mountains want mines on them? Do you think impoverished neighborhoods want chemical refineries in them? Nonhuman and human victims of these projects must live with these projects daily—so, too, should the perpetrators of these projects.

And I see no reason to limit the use of these cigar cutters to CEOs, managers, engineers, bureaucrats, and so on. I think also that politicians should be required to wear them, and when they do not make good on their campaign promises, bzzzttt, the guillotine is activated. Woodrow Wilson promised to keep the U.S. out of World War I. He lied. Ronald Reagan promised to balance the budget. He lied. Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo. He lied. Bzzzttt. This would immediately change the character of political discourse in this country.

Similarly, James Inhofe says that global warming isn’t happening. He has done more than almost any other politician to oppose any actions that might slow this disaster. Fine. He’s allowed to have his opinion. But let’s see if he really believes it. If he’s in power, and he really doesn’t believe that global warming is happening, it should be mandated that he have a radio-controlled cigar cutter attached to his genitals, and one to the genitals of all male members of his extended family. If the average global temperature for the years 2010 through 2015 is lower than the average global temperature for the years 1901 through 1999, the cutters are removed and he can continue to oppose attempts to stop global warming. If the average is higher, bzzzttt, guillotine action. We would find out immediately whether James Inhofe really believes what he says. Let him put his genitals where his mouth is.

I see two problems with my modest proposal. The first is—how do we know the cigar cutters wouldn’t misfire, and guillotine the genitals of a few innocent CEOs? That’s a difficult one. These accidents would of course be regrettable, but as Madame Albright said about killing a half million Iraqi children to further misguided and immoral U.S. foreign policy, that’s a price I guess we’d have to be willing to pay. And the U.S. government has already even given us a name for it—collateral damage. Further, when have a few accidents ever stopped those in power? They have spent far too long saying “Oopsie” when they destroy the lives of others. It would be instructive to see how their decision-making processes change when certain decisions cause them to live with the proverbial cigar cutter of Damocles hanging over their, er, heads.

Another problem is that I’m not sure what to do about female CEOs. I don’t want to suggest female genital mutilation—within patriarchal culture far too many women already have their genitals mutilated, and none of these women have even toxified the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, they are victims of the same patriarchy that is killing the planet. But I don’t think that not including women in the cigar cutter plan is a big problem, for a couple of reasons. The first is that most of the people who run governments and large corporations are males. This leads to the second reason I’m not too stressed about it—let’s just ignore the problem for now and later on figure out how to deal with the few destructive females in positions of authority. Why worry about that now? Since when have those in power waited till all the kinks were worked out and externalities eliminated before they put in place policies and technologies (like, say, drilling for oil, or for that matter burning it)? I see no reason that we have to get all our dicks—I mean, ducks—in a row before we start this process. As throughout this modest proposal, I’m doing nothing more than suggesting that those in power apply the same standard to themselves as they do to everyone else.

I’m calling on everyone reading this to come together to sign the petition on the website www.cigarcuttersforsustainabilityandjustice.org, and also send letters to your representatives, senators, and President Obama politely requesting they do the right thing and pass and sign legislation mandating radio-controlled cigar cutters be placed on the genitals of all those who put the public and/or the environment at risk.

To learn more about Derrick Jensen and his work, visit his website by clicking here.

Earthworks

The scenic Santa Rita Mountains, south of Tucson, Ariz., are an ecological haven and a recreational playground. The Santa Ritas are home to rare and endangered plants and animals, an active tourist economy, and the headwaters for part of Tucson's water supply.

And they’re under threat from the Rosemont mine proposal, thanks to the 1872 Mining Law which gives mining priority over almost all other land uses.

A Canadian investment company, with no previous mining experience, has proposed an open pit copper mine—a mile in diameter, a half mile deep, in the middle of Santa Ritas.

The mine would transform a desert refuge into an industrial zone, destroying the ecosystem and the economy that depends upon it.

To decide whether to permit this mine, the U.S. Forest Service has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact statement and is accepting comments.

Take Action—tell the Forest Service the scenic Santa Ritas are no place for a mine.

Instructions:

  • Send/amend the sample letter by clicking here. Personalized letters have a much greater impact.
  • Send your letter to the Coronado National Forest, which is charged with evaluating the Rosemont mine proposal.
  • Share this alert with your friends and family via the subsequent page. Share via email, Facebook, Twitter and/or Google+.

Also, take a look at these informative sources:

For more information, click here.

CREDO Action

The U.S. Forest Service is on the verge of approving a land swap that would give Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company in the world, 384 acres of the Shawnee National Forest along the Saline River in Illinois.1

In exchange, the Forest Service would receive three other parcels of land, parts of which are former agricultural land and abandoned mine sites.

Trading part of a national forest to a dirty coal company that will destroy forests and pollute the environment is a terrible idea, especially along a river.

The Forest Service is currently accepting public comments on the proposed land swap, and we need to make sure it knows that Illinois residents are opposed to sacrificing forests to a dirty coal mining operation.

In addition to the air and water pollution Peabody's mining operations would cause in the Shawnee National Forest, giving Peabody Energy access to additional coal reserves will ultimately fuel climate change, which increases threats to forests from wildfires and insect outbreaks.2

Peabody has a well-deserved reputation as one of the least environmentally-friendly companies in the U.S. In fact, in Newsweek Magazine's 2009 green rankings of America's 500 largest corporations, Peabody was rated dead last.3

The company also has a long and extensive track record of safety violations. In 2010 alone Peabody was cited for 3,233 mine safety violations in the U.S.—an average of more than nine per day. And one of the company's coal mines in Illinois, the Willow Lake Mine, received more than 900 violations in 2010.4

Giving Peabody Energy access to federally-owned land in Illinois would be a huge mistake, and the Forest Service should immediately reject the proposal.

Tell the Forest Service—Don't let Peabody Energy destroy Illinois' forests.

For more information, click here.

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1. Comments Sought on Land Swap Between Forest Service and Peabody, The Daily Register, Dec. 28, 2011
2. Climate Change—Health and Environmental Effects, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
3. Peabody Energy—Green Rating, Newsweek
4. Peabody Energy—Safety Violations in U.S. Mines, Sourcewatch

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