Arboreal Lemonade

Trees bend under the weight of ice in Maine (2013) Photo: AP/Robert F. Bukaty

Trees bend under the weight of ice in Maine (2013)
Photo: AP/Robert F. Bukaty

One of the cornerstones of creating smart, sustainable cities and human landscapes is good tree management. Trees provide structure, color, movement and life to streets and parks – and they provide heat-reducing shade, absorb pollutants, and offer a haven for animals.

The severe storms of the past winter were devastating to trees in parts of the United States. Branches snapped and trunks splintered on trees that had been around for generations.

At Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, a well-established and meticulously documented urban forest was decimated by a December ice storm. Biology professor Frank Telewski took the lemons dealt to the trees and made lemonade, adding the documentation from the trees – some of which dates back to the 19th century – to new, post-storm assessments to determine which trees can best withstand ice storms.

A cooperative project between researchers from a number of U.S. states is under way that will examine which types of trees can be expected to survive extreme weather, including drought, and plan accordingly for the future. I would be interested to see how native trees fare in severe weather when compared to trees introduced over the decades from elsewhere.

Many trees that have been popular for urban planting, such as pleasing ornamentals, or trees that have rapid growth, end up costing more in the long run than slow-growing or less exotic choices, because the fragile trees succumb to extremes. And sometimes, they take power lines, roofs, and lives with them.

Telewski says he’s looking for big companion trees that will stay with us for the long haul.

“We want to plant trees that live a really long time.”

What happened when the natural park crossed the border?

Bouches de Bonifacio

Bouches de Bonifacio

On 12 December 2012, an auspicious date by most reckonings, the French and Italian governments announced the creation of a jointly-run natural marine park that would traverse their respective border with one another at the Bouches de Bonifacio, between the island of Corsica on the northern French side and the Sardinian Maddelena archipelago on the southern Italian side.

There are, of course, many environmental ecosystems that do not correlate in any way with the invisible map lines imposed upon them by humans. The Trans Border Conservation Area in southern Africa comes to mind, a ‘superpark’ that traverses the borders of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. This superpark is also an example of the difficulties faced when environmental and conservation goals conflict with political, social and economic issues. Zimababwe, in this case, has often stated that the superpark’s requirements may not supercede the nation-state’s needs or goals.

And the borders don’t have to be those of nation-states to cause conflict. Yellowstone National Park, widely held to be the world’s first national park when it was established in 1872 by the United States Congress, sprawls across the borders of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. And therein lies the rub, at least for one particular species.

The Western gray wolf was, for many years, listed as an endangered species. It was reintroduced in Yellowstone, partially to help control the populations of elk and deer that had exploded with the wolf’s demise, and which the top remaining canine predator – the coyote – was too small to bring down. By the early years of the 2000s, however, two things happened: The gray wolf was removed from the federal endangered list, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service transferred wolf management authority to from federal supervision to individual states.

Last fall, the states opened hunting season on the gray wolf, under pressure from ranchers who said the wolves threatened their herds.

The last time the wolf was delisted and hunting was opened, in 2008, the hunt was closed again after a few weeks because so many wolves were killed that the USFWS was concerned about maintaining genetic diversity between wolf packs trying to traverse borders, both in and outside the park.

Under the current arrangement, a well-known female alpha wolf (832F, better known as Rock Star) that had been tagged and tracked for the past six years was shot

832F, sitting on the leftPhoto: Doug McLaughlin

832F, sitting on the left
Photo: Doug McLaughlin

and killed this week. Conservation groups have already stated they will sue for the hunt to be closed again. This will have to happen on a state-by-state basis.

A wolf that wanders to the wrong side of the fence may as well never have been protected in the first place. It seems a poor expenditure of time, conservation effort, money and legislation to reintroduce animals only to have them provide sporting targets.

The challenges of trans-border protection seem as complex as those of trans-border cooperation on almost any level. Still, by acknowledging that environmental regions deserving and requiring protection do not always handily conform to national and political borders, France and Italy are giving the Bouches de Bonifacio ecosystem a greater chance of surviving, which in turn can help manage and maintain the existing tourist economy of the area. One of their key stated goals is to have the area designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which would add a further layer of protection and international interest.