More trees, not more grass, are associated with wellness and well-being, study suggests

By Susan Perry
“Our findings suggest that urban greening strategies with a remit for supporting community mental health should prioritize the protection and restoration of urban tree canopy,” the researchers concluded.

Many studies have found that living near a green space — land that is partly or completely covered with natural vegetation — is associated with health benefits, including lower blood pressure, reduced levels of stress and anxiety, and an increased sense of general wellbeing.

Research has even linked green space with lower Medicare expenditures.

What hasn’t been clear from these studies, however, is whether all types of green space confer the same benefits. Or are some green spaces potentially more healthful than others?

A new study from Australia, published recently in JAMA Network Open, offers an answer. It found that although residents of neighborhoods with plenty of leafy trees tend to have higher levels of psychological health and well-being, the same isn’t true for people living in neighborhoods where the green space consists primarily of open areas of grass.

In fact, people living in areas with higher percentages of bare grass tend to have higher levels of psychological stress, the study found. They also report being in poorer health.

“Our results suggest the type of green space does matter,” write the study’s authors, Thomas Astell-Burt and Xiaoqi Feng, in an online article for The Conversation. The two researchers are founding co-directors of the Population Wellbeing and Environment Research Lab at the University of Wollongong.

This finding doesn’t mean, however, that existing grassy areas should be removed or plans for new ones should be scrapped, they stress.

“Large open areas of grass can be awesome for physical activity and sport,” they write, “but let’s make sure there is also plenty of tree canopy too, while also thinking about ways to get more people outdoors in green spaces.”

Possible explanations
Astell-Burt and Feng offer several possible explanations for their study’s findings. One has to do with the shade offered by trees:

Studies are linking high temperatures with heat exhaustion and mental health impacts. Research has suggested trees, rather than other forms of green space, may be best at reducing temperatures in cities. It may also simply be more comfortable to walk outside in cooler temperatures — not to mention going for a run or bike ride, both of which are good for mental health.
The biodiversity that trees offer may also be beneficial:

Research suggests tree canopy tends to be more biodiverse than low-lying vegetation. Increased biodiversity may support better mental health by enhancing the restorative experience and also via the immunoregulatory benefits of microbial “Old Friends” — microorganisms that helped shape our immune systems but which have been largely eliminated from our urban environments.
Open areas of grass, on the other hand, are not as inviting and therefore may impede rather than enhance health:

[L]arge areas of bare grass in cities can make built environments more spread-out and less dense. Without tree canopy to shield from the midday sun, this may increase the likelihood of people using cars for short trips instead of walking through a park or along a footpath. The result is missed opportunities for physical activity, mental restoration, and impromptu chats with neighbours. Previous work in the United States suggests this might be why higher death rates were found in greener American cities.

Source: More trees, not more grass, are associated with wellness and well-being, study suggests – MinnPost, 2019-07-30

Report: EU demand for wood pellets continues to grow

By Erin Voegele
A recent report filed with the USDA FAS’s GAIN predicts the EU market for wood pellets will likely grow this year but cautions future expansions could be limited by sustainability requirements introduced by individual member states.

According to the report, nearly half of the EU’s renewable energy is currently generated from the combustion of solid biomass, not including municipal solid waste. This includes wood chips and pellets. The EU consumes approximately 75 percent of the world’s wood pellets and accounts for about 50 percent of global production. In 2017, 40 percent of EU pellet consumption went to residential heating, with 33 percent to commercial power, 14 percent to commercial heating and 12 percent to combined-heat-and-power (CHP).

The EU consumed an estimated 27.35 million metric tons of wood pellets last year, up from 24.15 million tons in 2017. Wood pellet consumption is expected to increase to 30 million metric tons this year.

The EU is expected to produce 18.1 million metric tons of wood pellets this year, up from 18.85 million metric tons in 2018 and 15.3 million metric tons in 2017. Imports are expected to increase to 12.2 million metric tons in 2019, up from 10.355 million metric tons in 2018 and 8.692 million metric tons in 2017. EU exports of wood pellets are expected to remain at the 2018 level of 170,000 tons this year, down from 195,000 metric tons in 2017.

According to the report, the EU had 656 pellet plants in place in 2017 with a combined capacity of 22.75 million metric tons. Capacity increased to an estimated 24 million metric tons last year, and is expected to reach 25 million metric tons in 2019. Capacity use is expected to reach 72 percent this year, up from 70 percent in 2018 and 67 percent in 2017.

In 2018, the U.K. was the top EU consumer of wood pellets, with 8 million metric tons, followed by Italy with 3.75 million metric tons, Denmark with 3.5 million metric tons, Germany with 2.19 million metric tons and Sweden with 1.785 million metric tons. France, Belgium, Austria, Spain, the Netherlands and Poland were also among the top 11 EU consumers of wood pellets last year.

The U.K. imported 7.829 million metric tons of wood pellets last year, with 4.88 million tons of that volume imported form the U.S. Denmark imported 3.813 million tons of pellets last year, including 623 tons from the U.S. Italy imported 2.242 tons of wood pellets in 2018, including 88,000 tons from the U.S, while Belgium imported 1.137 tons, including 538,000 tons from the U.S.

Germany was the top EU producer of wood pellets in 2018, with 2.415 million metric tons, followed by Sweden with 1.845 million metric tons and Latvia with 1.575 million metric tons. France, Austria, Estonia, Poland, Spain and Portugal were also among the top nine EU pellet producers last year.

The U.S. was the top supplier of wood pellets to the EU last year, with 6.139 million tons, followed by Canada with 1.762 million tons and Russia with 1.365 million tons.

According to the report, a key factor in being able to capture the demand in the EU market and benefit from its growth potential is the sustainability of supply. “European traders and end-users of industrial wood pellets are calling for clear, consistent, harmonized and long-term government regulations,” said the authors in the report. “In the absence of EU-wide binding criteria for solid biomass, several EU member states, including Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands, developed their own rules in response to the growing use of wood pellets.”

Source: Report: EU demand for wood pellets continues to grow – Biomassmagazine.com, 2019-08-05

Sidewalk Labs is building a smart city entirely of mass timber. What could go wrong?

By Kira Barrett
North America is on the cusp of a mass timber revolution, and the Waterfront Toronto project is leading the way. But the material faces major obstacles.

Abuilding made primarily of wood conjures public fear of fire, but for a growing number of developers, it evokes opportunity. From constructing towering wooden condominiums, to timber college dormitories, to an entire neighborhood built from trees, experts in “mass timber” are creating buildings of the future.

Sidewalk Labs’ master plan for a futuristic smart city on the waterfront in Toronto includes an entire neighborhood made of wood, called Quayside, with 10 mixed-use building up to 35 stories.

The plan is audacious, considering that in the U.S., there are only 221 mass timber buildings in the works or fully built, according to the American Wood Council​’s Kenneth Bland.

In most U.S. cities, mass timber buildings, and specifically tall mass timber buildings, are a rarity, if they exist at all.

But architects, city officials and timber advocates across North America are pushing conventional building codes and public perception because of the drastic impact these structures can have on reducing CO2 through carbon sequestration, compared to traditional concrete and steel.

“I think it’s a big opportunity for a lot of cities out there … The impact on reducing carbon emissions on earth could be dramatic,” Karim Khalifa, director of buildings innovation at Sidewalk Labs, told Smart Cities Dive. “And that gets me excited.”

What is mass timber?

One of the biggest obstacles for city officials is understanding the material. They are more than buildings made of wood — they’re defined by their structure. Steel or concrete buildings with wood accents don’t count, according to Andrew Tsay Jacobs from architecture firm Perkins and Will.

Mass timber buildings use solid wood panels to frame a building’s walls, floors and roofs, creating structures that can reach at least 18 stories, as is the case with the tallest mass timber building in the world in Norway. But these buildings aren’t just pure wood. Mass timber construction utilizes engineered wood, or panels glued together, and there are several types: cross-laminated (CLT), glue-laminated and dowel-laminated timber, with CLT being the most common.

While shorter wood buildings have existed for centuries, CLT panel technology is relatively new. It was developed in Europe in the 1990s, the material was only added to the international building code in 2015. Even then, all-wood buildings were capped at six stories, though that will change to allow taller structures in 2021.

Source: Sidewalk Labs is building a smart city entirely of mass timber. What could go wrong? – Construction Dive, 2019-08-05

Friendly Fires: How The Forest Service Uses Natural Wildfires To Their Benefit

By Kate Groetzinger
The word wildfire tends to invoke fear, but some wildfires are actually good. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the Peavine and Poison Canyon fires currently burning in the Manti-La Sal National Forest will help the environment and act as future fire suppressants.

The Peavine Canyon Fire started July 16, while the Poison Canyon Fire started 10 days later. Together, they have burned around 5,000 acres in San Juan County.

Lightning started both fires, according to Forest Service spokeswoman Heather McLean. But rather than rushing to extinguish them, the agency has opted for a management strategy that involves letting them burn.

“The start was far back in the wilderness where there weren’t any values at risk, like people’s homes or infrastructure,” McLean said.

Firefighters have been helping the flames along, said Monticello District Ranger Michael Diem. More than 100 personnel are assigned to Peavine and Poison Canyons, and they have been lighting small, controlled fires along roads and trails to create buffer zones to stop the wildfire’s spread, as well as lighting small fires inside these boundaries to encourage burning.

McLean said the Forest Service doesn’t expect the fires to grow much bigger. They’ll stop as they approach these buffers and continue to burn internally.

“They will naturally burn themselves out as the thunderstorms go across, and it will actually work quite well,” she said.

Because of the conditions resulting from a wet spring and good snowpack, the fires aren’t destroying everything in their path. They are burning in a “mosaic” pattern, according to McLean, and will leave behind plenty of healthy foliage.

“People have an idea that when fires burn — everything is black,” she said. “But fires that burn naturally in the right conditions don’t burn like that. They just burn in places where there’s fuel.”

Diem said fires like this benefit the overall health of the forest. They open up areas for elk and deer to forage, as well as for hawks and Mexican spotted owls to hunt. The fires are also creating a patchwork of burned out areas that will act as buffers for wildfires later in the season.

Source: Friendly Fires: How The Forest Service Uses Natural Wildfires To Their Benefit – KUER, 2019-08-05

Today is Smokey Bear’s 75th Birthday – Celebrate with Celebrity Friends in Innovative New Animated Emoji Campaign

Today is Smokey Bear’s 75th Birthday – Celebrate with Celebrity Friends in Innovative New Animated Emoji Campaign

In honor of Smokey Bear’s 75th birthday – August 9, 2019 – the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council have teamed up to celebrate the nation’s favorite bear. To ensure that Smokey Bear’s important message of wildfire prevention is heard throughout the nation, Stephen Colbert, Al Roker and Jeff Foxworthy have joined the historic campaign, lending their voices to help expand on Smokey’s iconic “Only you can prevent wildfires” catchphrase through the use of facial recognition and voice technologies.

For years, through the voice of Academy-Award nominated actor Sam Elliott, Smokey Bear has only said five words: “Only you can prevent wildfires.” Now, to complement this signature message, Smokey’s friends are stepping up to say more about wildfire prevention on his behalf and help millions of Americans understand the importance of the issue. Utilizing cutting-edge facial recognition and mapping technology, coupled with instantly recognizable celebrity voices, the animated emoji campaign has enabled Smokey’s famous friends to speak through him and further raise awareness of fire safety and wildfire prevention, in an effort to reduce the incidence of unplanned human-caused wildfires.

“I can’t think of a better birthday gift for Smokey than to have his wildfire prevention message echoed through the use of advanced social media tools like animated emojis,” said Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “In fact, since wildfire season is year-round, Smokey’s message is even more important.”

For 75 years, Smokey Bear has been recognized as a symbol of wildfire prevention. In fact, Smokey Bear is the longest-running PSA program in U.S. history, created in conjunction with advertising agency FCB, who has developed Smokey Bear campaign assets pro bono since his first introduction in 1944. While his campaign began three-quarters of a century ago, and great strides have been made in preventing human-caused wildfires, Smokey Bear’s message continues to be as important as ever, as wildfires continue to be one of the most critical environmental issues affecting the U.S. On average, almost nine out of 10 wildfires nationwide are caused by people.

“Smokey Bear and his friends know that wildfire is not just a western issue or a summer phenomenon. It’s always wildfire season somewhere in the United States,” said Jay Farrell, Executive Director of the National Association of State Foresters. “This is why it is so important that Smokey’s message resonate year-round and nationwide with all Americans. This year’s Smokey Bear wildfire prevention campaign promises to do just that.”

Source: Today is Smokey Bear’s 75th Birthday – Celebrate with Celebrity Friends in Innovative New Animated Emoji Campaign – Sierra Sun Times, 2019-08-09

Study reveals unexpected fire role in longleaf pine forests

By Beth Gavrilles
The longleaf pine forests of the southeastern U.S. depend on frequent fire to maintain their structure and the diversity of plants and animals they support. New research from the University of Georgia has found that fire may be playing another, unexpected role: releasing excessive nitrogen that appears to have accumulated as a legacy of prior land use.

“It was not what we were expecting,” said senior author Nina Wurzburger, an associate professor in the Odum School of Ecology. “We first were wondering whether there was enough nitrogen fixation to balance nitrogen losses from fire, and now our hypothesis is that fire might be necessary to remove excess nitrogen from these ecosystems. We basically turned the question on its head.”

“We came to the conclusion that fire might be getting rid of excess nitrogen,” said Wurzburger. “Most of the longleaf pine that exists today has been planted, and those areas have legacy effects of agriculture or grazing or fire exclusion. Our research is suggesting that all those things, and nitrogen deposition too, have put too much nitrogen in the ecosystem. So maybe we should think about fire as a management tool to remove nitrogen that accumulated historically, and to help return these ecosystems to their natural nitrogen-poor state.”

Understanding the interacting role of fire and historical disturbances in longleaf ecosystems is important for several reasons, including carbon sequestration and the conservation of biodiversity: longleaf savannas can contain more than 40 species of plants in a square meter, and harbor a number of rare species of plants and animals, including the federally endangered red cockaded woodpecker.

Source: Study reveals unexpected fire role in longleaf pine forests – Phys.org, 2019-07-31

Kauri trees share roots with other trees, AUT research shows

A bizarre insight from our kauri means we should view forests as ‘super-organisms’.

Kiwi scientists have been astonished to find how kauri stumps can keep themselves alive by feeding off water from neighbouring trees.

The AUT researchers behind the ground-breaking discovery say it should mean we view trees not as individuals, but members of a forest ecosystem that’s essentially a “super-organism”.

Further, their findings could have big implications for tackling the disease killing kauri across the upper North Island.

In the new study, published in iScience this week, AUT’s Dr Martin Bader and Associate Professor Sebastian Leuzinger described how trees surrounding kauri stumps offer them a form of life support, possibly in exchange for access to larger root systems.

It was an insight the pair stumbled across while hiking in West Auckland, and spotting an unusual-looking stump.

“It was odd, because even though the stump didn’t have any foliage, it was alive,” Leuzinger said.

They decided to investigate how the nearby trees were keeping the tree stump alive by measuring water flow in both the stump and the surrounding trees belonging to the same species.

They found that the water movement in the tree stump was strongly negatively correlated with that in the other trees.

These measurements suggest the roots of the stump and surrounding conspecific trees were grafted together, Leuzinger said.

Root grafts can form between trees once a tree recognises that a nearby root tissue, although genetically different, is similar enough to allow for the exchange of resources.

“This is different from how normal trees operate, where the water flow is driven by the water potential of the atmosphere,” Leuzinger said.

“In this case, the stump has to follow what the rest of the trees do or else use osmotic pressure to drive water flow, because since it lacks transpiring leaves, it escapes the atmospheric pull.”

But while root grafts are common between living trees of the same species, the pair were interested in why a living kauri tree would want to keep a nearby stump alive.

“For the stump, the advantages are obvious— it would be dead without the grafts, because it doesn’t have any green tissue of its own,” Leuzinger said.

“But why would the green trees keep their grandpa tree alive on the forest floor while it doesn’t seem to provide anything for its host trees?”

One explanation, Leuzinger said, is that the root grafts formed before one of the trees lost its leaves and became a stump.

The grafted roots expand the root systems of the trees, allowing them to access more resources such as water and nutrients.

They also increased the stability of the trees on the steep forest slope.

Source: Kauri trees share roots with other trees, AUT research shows – NZ Herald, 2019-08-05

Ethiopia Just Set the World Record for Most Trees Planted in a Day

By Evan Nicole Brown
ON JUNE 22, 2013, PAKISTAN’S Sindh Forest Department set a Guinness World Record when 300 people planted 847,275 trees in 24 hours. Three years later, on July 11, 2016, India eclipsed that mark, planting 49.3 million tree saplings (comprising 80 different species) in the same amount of time.

But yesterday, the arboreal record was shattered again—in half the time. A nationwide planting spree in Ethiopia saw volunteers plant more than 350 million trees across 1,000 designated sites—in just 12 hours.

This latest eco-challenge was designed as part of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s “Green Legacy Initiative,” a reforestation plan to address Ethiopia’s rapid tree loss. At the start of the 20th century, 30 percent of the country’s land was forested. Now, less than 4 percent of it is.

Ethiopia is not alone when it comes to tree loss. In 2015, 10 African countries launched the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative, which aims to restore 386,000 square miles of the continent’s land by 2030.

The benefits are legion.

“Restoring our landscapes brings prosperity, security, and opportunity,” Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s minister of natural resources, said at the time. “With forest landscape restoration, we’ve seen agricultural yields rise and farmers in our rural communities diversify their livelihoods and improve their well-being. Forest landscape restoration is not just an environmental strategy; it is an economic and social development strategy as well.”

As part of this effort, Ethiopia pledged to tackle 57,915 square miles of its landscape. On July 29, Prime Minister Ahmed encouraged millions of Ethiopians to each plant a minimum of 40 seedlings. The citizenry took him very seriously. Some schools and government offices closed to encourage full participation.

Source: Ethiopia Just Set the World Record for Most Trees Planted in a Day – Atlas Obscura, 2019-07-30

Group urges nearly doubling of Madison tree canopy

By Dean Mosiman
Threatened by infestations, climate change and competing demands for space, Madison’s tree canopy will shrink with “potentially disastrous results” unless the city invests more in its trees, a new report says.

After nearly two years of study, the city’s Urban Forestry Task Force is making a series of recommendations — some with potentially significant price tags — to nurture and dramatically increase the area covered by trees from 23% to 40% of Madison’s 80 square miles.

Already, the city has had to deal with infestation by the emerald ash borer that’s forcing the removal of thousands of trees, as well as disease, climate change, loss of mature trees to development, road salt, and cramped space for planting and growth in the public right of way.

On private property, where most of the trees in the city are located, uneven care is also affecting the urban canopy, the report said.

The task force, created by the City Council on Aug. 1, 2017, has offered a 25-page report and recommendations aimed at elevating the importance of trees in the city’s planning, investments and operations and creating a new city role in expanding the canopy on private property.

“We have a quality urban forest in the city,” parks superintendent Eric Knepp said. “However, there are many opportunities to improve it.”

The 46 recommendations call for a preservation ordinance to protect mature trees; a yet-to-be defined grant program for planting trees on private property; focusing attention on neighborhoods that need trees; written standards for how to care for trees; hiring a forestry outreach and education specialist; revisiting old sites that don’t require much landscaping, such as parking lots at big shopping malls, and bringing them up to current standards; and planting more trees in parks than needed to replace those that are lost.

Source: Group urges nearly doubling of Madison tree canopy – Madison State Journal, 2019-07-28

U.S. Forest Service announces massive RFP to clear out Arizona forests

By Victoria Harker
The United States Forest Service took the first step to issue one of the largest RFPs in the history of the agency to attract industry to Arizona to clear out Arizona forests to reduce damage when wildfires erupt.

In the contract is a call for much-needed biomass industries to remove and burn the massive amount of debris here, said Jeremy Kruger, chief executive of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) for the Forest Service.

“We have a biomass bottleneck,” Kruger said. “Viable biomass utilization is currently the biggest obstacle to accelerating the pace of mechanical forest restoration treatments.”

With the longest contiguous pine forest in the world, northern Arizona is a prime location for reforestation industries as well as facilities that can burn woody forest debris – biomass – and transform it into energy for the electric grid.

Currently, there is only one biomass facility in the state, NovoBio in Snowflake.

Attracting industry has been the biggest challenge. A policy approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission last year also is designed as a shout out to attract biomass plants to the state.

Forest Service to spend $550 million over 20 years

Kruger said the first step of the RFP, a presolicitation notice, was issued July 10 to alert qualified vendors.

The Forest Service plans to spend $550 million over the next 20 years on reforestation. Business and industry will play a key role in this effort by harvesting, processing, and selling wood products.

The RFP calls for awarding contracts to companies to mechanically thin 605,000 to 818,000 acres of forests in Northern Arizona. The RFP will be available to both small and large businesses and seeks proposals that are “sustainable, innovative, feasible, and cost-effective to increase the pace of the scale of forest restoration.”

Source: U.S. Forest Service announces massive RFP to clear out Arizona forests – AZ Big Media,2019-07-31