Biden moves to protect the Tongass, North America’s largest rainforest, from logging and road building


View of Hobart Bay off Stephens Passage in Tongass National Forest, southeastern Alaska.
Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Beverly Law, Oregon State UniversityAsk people to find the world’s rainforests on a globe, and most will probably point to South America. But North America has rainforests too – and like their tropical counterparts, these temperate rainforests are ecological treasures.

The Biden administration recently announced new policies to protect the Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world and the biggest U.S. national forest. It spreads over more than 26,000 square miles (67,340 square kilometers) – roughly the size of West Virginia – and covers most of southeast Alaska. The Tongass has thousands of watersheds and fjords, and more than a thousand forested islands.

Map overlaying Alaska on the continental U.S.
Alaska’s national forests, the Chugach and the Tongass, compared with the lower 48 states.
USFS

For over 20 years the Tongass has been at the center of political battles over two key conservation issues: old-growth logging and designating large forest zones as roadless areas to prevent development. As a scientist specializing in forest ecosystems, I see protecting the Tongass as the kind of bold action that’s needed to address climate change and biodiversity loss.

An ecological gem

The Tongass as we know it today began forming at the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid-1700s, which left much of what is now southern Alaska as barren land. Gradually, the area repopulated with plants and animals to become a swath of diverse, rich old-growth forests. President Theodore Roosevelt designated the Tongass as a forest reserve in 1902, and then as a national forest in 1907.

The Tongass is the traditional homeland of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. It is named for the Tongass group of the Tlingit people, who have continuously occupied the area for over 10,000 years. Alaska Natives relied on the forest’s rich diversity of plants and animals for their survival and traditions. Today the Tongass has abundant populations of animals that have become uncommon in other parts of the U.S., such as brown bears and wolves.

Most of the 900 watersheds within the Tongass are in near-natural condition. This ensures that they can provide habitat for many wild species and recover from or adapt to stresses, such as warmer temperatures due to climate change. They support salmon that spawn in the forest’s creeks and rivers, providing food for bears, eagles and other predators. Such ecosystems are incredibly rare around the world today.

The Tongass National Forest is home to bears, bald eagles and five species of salmon.

How roads threaten forests

Intact old-growth forests, with trees hundreds of years old, are essential for carbon storage, biodiversity and climate resilience. They have fully developed root systems that can reach water in deep soils, and are more resistant than young forests to drought, fire, insects and strong winds – effects that are all likely to increase with climate change.

Because old-growth forests have accumulated massive amounts of carbon in their trees and soils over centuries, protecting them is an important strategy for curbing climate change. Today, however, scientists estimate that logging, agriculture and urban development have left only 6% to 14% of the forest area in the U.S. intact. And only 7% of total U.S. forest area is more than a century old.

Old-growth logging is controversial because intact forests are so rare. And forest losses often start when roads are cut through them to access timber. The roads are effectively long clear-cuts across the landscape.

Building roads through moist temperate forests can make it easier for warm air, wind and sunlight to penetrate from the edges to the interior, drying soil, mosses and ferns. It also provides entry points for invasive plants carried in by vehicles.

And roads’ negative effects extend beyond the actual driving surface. A road 30 feet (9 meters) wide may influence an additional 80 to 100 feet (25 to 30 meters) of adjacent land because of land disturbance during construction and wide buffer zones created for vehicle safety.

Road building can harm animals like brown bears through collisions with vehicles and increased poaching and trapping. In the Tongass, a strip a quarter-mile (0.4 kilometer) wide on each side of the highway system is closed to big game hunting, but this can mitigate only some of roads’ pervasive effects.

Bulldozers grade land next to a gravel logging road.
Upgrading a logging road into State Highway 43 on Prince of Wales Island in the Tongass National Forest.
Jack Olen, USFS Alaska Region/Flickr, CC BY

Decades of controversy

In its final days in January 2001, the Clinton administration adopted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which barred logging, timber sales, mining and road construction within inventoried roadless areas in most national forests across the U.S. About 9.2 million acres (37,231 square kilometers) of the Tongass – more than half of its area – were designated and managed as inventoried roadless areas.

This step launched 20 years of debate and litigation. The Bush and Trump administrations, supported by conservative Western state officials, sought to limit the roadless rule and exempt the Tongass from it. The Obama administration generally supported the rule and defended it in court.

In 2020, the Trump administration opened the Tongass to extensive new logging, mining and road construction activities. Critics, including environmental advocates and tribal governments, argued that Alaska’s economy was better served by outdoor recreation and commercial fishing than by clear-cutting its remaining old-growth forests.

Now the Biden administration has restored protection for roadless areas of the Tongass. It also has pledged to end large-scale old-growth timber sales and focus on restoration, recreation and other noncommercial activities. It will permit old-growth logging only for cultural uses, such as totem poles and canoes, and for small sales that serve community needs. It also proposes a US$25 million investment in sustainable economic opportunities, with particular focus on investments that are responsive to Indigenous needs.

Forest advocates have welcomed this action and the administration’s plan to publish a new version of the roadless rule. But it remains to be seen how permanent this shift will be.

A strategic climate reserve

New hope for protecting the Tongass comes amid growing alarm over two converging environmental crises: climate change and accelerated extinctions of plant and animal species. In my view, protecting ecological treasures like the Tongass is a critical way to address both issues at once, as scientists have recommended.

The southeastern and south-central regions of Alaska, which contain the Tongass and Chugach national forests, store about 1 billion metric tons of carbon in live and dead tree biomass. This amount could increase by 27% by 2100 if the forest is allowed to continue to grow and accumulate carbon.

I believe the Tongass’ vast intactness, rich biodiversity and significant carbon storage make it an excellent choice as the first of a series of strategic climate reserves – areas that scientists have proposed setting aside to protect large carbon sinks and biodiversity of plant and animal species. U.S. old-growth forests are disappearing rapidly, but with smart management they can deliver ecological benefits for decades to come.

[Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter.]The Conversation

Beverly Law, Professor Emeritus of Global Change Biology and Terrestrial Systems Science, Oregon State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

10 million animals are hit on our roads each year. Here’s how you can help them (and steer clear of them) these holidays



This is Noojee, a joey koala who was rehabilitated in Healesville Sanctuary after being hit by a car.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Marissa Parrott, University of Melbourne

Last month I came across a heartbreaking sight: a group of people standing around a young female kangaroo with horrific injuries. She appeared to have been hit by a car and had dragged herself away, only to collapse into our local creek.

A police officer had gently lifted her out to the bank where her injuries became apparent. A shattered leg, broken arm, and bruising indicating massive internal trauma. She was panting – exhausted and in pain. Fortunately, she had no young joeys in her pouch.

I offered my help as a wildlife specialist. This was a tragic, but common scenario. An estimated 10 million animals are hit on Australian roads every year.

Australia’s road toll is so high it threatens whole species. Road mortality is the second biggest killer of endangered Tasmanian devils with around 350 killed every year, and the biggest cause of death of adult endangered cassowaries in Queensland.

Noojee all grown up at Healesville Sanctuary, now with a crooked face.
Noojee, all grown up at Healesville Sanctuary, whose face healed a little crookedly.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

The holiday season is upon us and people are now able to travel to see family and friends again. This means the unusually-quiet roads during COVID-19 lockdown — which may have lulled wildlife into a false sense of security — are frighteningly busy. So here’s how you can be wildlife-aware this December.

Who is hurt?

As Australia’s population expands, wildlife are pushed into smaller areas, with more roads criss-crossing their habitats. The most visible victims of road expansion are larger mammals such as possums, wombats, kangaroos and koalas. However, millions of smaller animals including echidnas, birds, reptiles and frogs are also injured or killed each year on our roads.

The vast majority of insurance claims for animal collisions involve kangaroos, with wallabies and wombats the next most frequent. Smaller animals often go unreported or unnoticed.

Humans are also at risk in these collisions. Every year people crash their vehicles hitting, or trying to avoid hitting, animals on the road, with 5% of fatal accidents caused by collisions with animals. Of those, 42% tried to swerve to avoid the animal. Those who do hit wildlife may also suffer serious injuries, with motorcyclists particularly at risk.

A dead kangaroo on the side of the road
A familiar sight to many people hitting country roads this holiday season.
Shutterstock

Bracing for a new wave of admissions

There are a number of aspects that increase the wildlife road toll: better road conditions leading to faster driving, young animals dispersing for the first time, higher movements during drought or after fire as animals seek food, water or shelter, breeding season movements in spring-summer, and longer periods of darkness over winter.




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Some animals may be hit trying to help a fallen friend or juvenile, as I have seen in galahs and ducks. Others may be hit while feeding on carcasses on the road, like wedge-tailed eagles, owls and Tasmanian devils.

Now, as the holiday season begins after months of reduced travel, wildlife hospitals are braced for a new wave of admissions.

View from inside a bus of an echidna crossing the road
When smaller animals like echidnas are hit, it often goes unreported or unnoticed.
Shutterstock

How do you avoid a crash?

Be aware that large marsupials such as wombats, wallabies and kangaroos are most active at dawn and dusk. However, many birds, lizards, snakes and echidnas move during the day. At night, others like frogs, possums, quolls and devils start to roam.

Wildlife warning signs are only installed in high danger areas, so always pay attention to them. Try to limit your travel between sunset and sunrise, especially near forested or high wildlife areas. If you must drive, stay within the safe speed limit and slow down in areas with wildlife.

Use high beam headlights when safe and watch the sides of the road carefully — animals can often be seen ahead before they flee in front of a vehicle. As you approach the animal, return to normal headlights to avoid dazzling them or causing erratic behaviour.

Tasmanian devil road sign
Many marsupials are active between dawn and dusk, be sure to drive slowly.
Marissa Parrott, Author provided

What to do if you see an injured animal?

First, always ensure you are safe. Stop in an easily seen location away from traffic, use your hazard lights and if possible wear bright clothing. Remember, injured animals may be frightened and in pain, and some could be dangerous if approached.

In emergency cases, where the animal’s injuries are obvious, some can be carefully caught and wrapped in a towel, then placed in a well-ventilated, dark and secure box for quiet transport to wildlife veterinary hospitals for care. The links above give tips on how to handle some wildlife emergency cases where needed.

I always travel with towels, pillow cases and gloves in my car in case I find an animal in need. You can check animals found by roads for injuries, and surviving young in pouches.

But it’s important you do not approach potentially dangerous animals like snakes, monitor lizards (goannas), bats (flying-foxes or microbats), large macropods (kangaroos or wallabies) or raptors (eagles or hawks). Instead, call and wait for trained and vaccinated rescuers. Wildlife Victoria, for example, assisted 6,875 animals hit by vehicles in 2019 alone.

A long-necked turtle peeking over the water
This is Toby, a common long-necked turtle, who had a fractured shell after being hit by a car. He was treated by vets and released back into the bush.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Innovation for conservation

In Tasmania, where an estimated 500,000 animals are hit on roads every year, a Roadkill Tas App is identifying road kill hot spots to assist research and conservation efforts.

In high kill areas, virtual road fences are being trialled. These posts are activated by car headlights at night and produce sound and light to frighten animals away from the road before a vehicle arrives.




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Mysterious poles make road crossing easier for high flying mammals


Other areas use tunnels under the road, or overpasses to help wildlife cross safely.

If you know of dangerous areas for wildlife, contact your council to see if warning signs or ways to help wildlife can be installed.

Cassowaries on a road
Collisions on the road is the biggest cause of death of adult Cassowaries in Queensland.
Shutterstock

In the case of my poor little injured kangaroo last month, I worked with the police to make the difficult, but only, decision possible with such traumatic and untreatable injuries. As she was put out of her misery, I thought of all the wildlife hit by cars and left to die.

We can all do our part. Slow down, watch for wildlife, and avoid travel between dawn and dusk. Remind friends, family and tourists to watch for our wildlife. If you do hit an animal, or see one on the road, please stop to help and check pouches if safe. A tiny life may be waiting for your help these holidays.


If you see an injured animal on the road, call Wildlife Rescue Australia on 1300 596 457, or see the RSPCA injured wildlife site for specific state and territory numbers.

Find more tips here for helping local wildlife in need this summer from Zoos Victoria.The Conversation

Marissa Parrott, Reproductive Biologist, Wildlife Conservation & Science, Zoos Victoria, and Honorary Research Associate, BioSciences, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Planning a road trip in a pandemic? 11 tips for before you leave, on the road and when you arrive



Shutterstock

Thea van de Mortel, Griffith University

As restrictions ease around the country and the prospect of travel beckons, many of us will be planning road trips for the holiday season.

To ensure your trip is memorable in the best rather than the worst way, here are some things you and your fellow travellers can do to reduce the risk of becoming infected with, or spreading, COVID on your trip.

Before you go

1. Check for any travel or other COVID-specific restrictions or rules in the areas you will be travelling through or to, before you go. These can change rapidly and may include restrictions on how far you can travel, how many people per square metre are allowed in public spaces, and whether you need border passes or to wear a mask. Each state or territory has its own health department or government COVID website you can check.

2. Don’t take COVID with you. If anyone in your group has COVID-like symptoms, however mild, it is important to be tested and cleared for COVID before leaving. Common symptoms may include fever or chills, muscle aches, sore throat, cough, runny nose, difficulty breathing, new loss of taste or smell, and vomiting or diarrhoea.

3. Pack masks, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitiser. The two most likely ways of catching COVID are inhaling viral particles an infected person sheds when they cough, sneeze, laugh, talk or breathe; and ingesting particles by touching contaminated objects and then touching your face or food. Masks (and social distancing) can help reduce the former risk, while avoiding touching your face, frequent hand hygiene and cleaning surfaces can reduce the latter. So pack masks, wipes and hand sanitiser. Hand sanitiser should contain at least 60% alcohol.

4. Pack your own pillows and linen. We know people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, can shed virus onto linen and pillows (and other surfaces), even when asymptomatic. We also know respiratory viruses can penetrate pillow covers and get into the microfibre stuffing. So you might want to consider bringing your own pillows and linen.

On your trip

5. Use disinfectant wipes to clean high-touch surfaces in your hire car. These would include door and window handles or buttons, light switches, seat adjuster controls, radio controls, the steering wheel, glove box button, gear/drive and handbrake levers, rear-view mirrors and mirror controls.

6. How about singing in the car? The more vigorous the activity, the greater the opportunity to release droplets and aerosols and the further these will travel. So, laughing and singing will release more of these than talking, and talking will release more than breathing. However, if you are travelling in a family group, or with your housemates, then you have been in close contact with one another at home and the additional risk would be low.




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This video shows just how easily COVID-19 could spread when people sing together


7. Maintain social distancing at service stations. Leave at least 1.5 metres between you and the next person while paying for fuel, ordering food and when using the bathroom. Make sure you wash or sanitise your hands after touching surfaces such as petrol pumps, door handles, bathroom taps, and before getting back in your car.

Filling car up with petrol at service station
Wash or sanitise your hands after using the petrol pump.
Shutterstock

8. Pay with cards rather than cash to avoid touching money. Many people can handle bills and coins over a long duration of time, providing many opportunities to transfer disease-causing microbes from one person to the next. Using contactless payment also helps maintain social distancing.

9. It’s safer to eat outdoors than indoors if stopping for a snack or lunch. That’s because large volumes of air dilute the density of viral particles in the air. Evidence from a study of COVID clusters in Japan suggests the chance of transmitting COVID is more than 18 times higher inside than outside.




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How to stay safe in restaurants and cafes


When you arrive

10. Is your hotel or rented accommodation COVID-safe? Ask the accommodation provider what steps they have taken to make the place less conducive to spreading COVID. For example, have they introduced extra cleaning or disinfection?

11. Use disinfectant wipes in rented accommodation to clean high-touch surfaces such as door handles, light switches, cupboard handles, taps and toilet flush buttons. You can also put dishes and cutlery through the dishwasher on a hot cycle. This is because the virus can remain viable (able to cause infection) on surfaces for many days.

Following these simple steps can help to keep your trip memorable in the best possible way. Happy holidays!The Conversation

Thea van de Mortel, Professor, Nursing and Deputy Head (Learning & Teaching), School of Nursing and Midwifery, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate explained: does building and expanding motorways really reduce congestion and emissions?



Oleg Podchashynskyi/Shutterstock

Simon Kingham, University of Canterbury


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz


Q: Does building and expanding motorways really reduce congestion and emissions, or does it increase it?

Historically, building more and wider roads, including motorways, was seen as a way of reducing congestion. This in turn is supposed to lower emissions.

The new motorways of the future.

Fuel efficiency is optimised for driving at around 80kmh and it decreases the faster you go above that. But with speed limits up to 110kmh, people are likely to drive above 80kmh on motorways — and this means building and expanding motorways will actually increase emissions.

Many countries, especially in Europe, are now looking to lower speed limits partly to reduce emissions.




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In addition to speeding, rapid acceleration and braking can lower mileage by 15-30% at highway speeds and 10-40% in stop-and-go traffic. If building or expanding motorways did reduce congestion, the smoother driving would be a benefit.

But this assumption is not backed by evidence. Research shows even on roads with no impediments drivers brake and accelerate unnecessarily, increasing congestion and emissions.

One of the arguments for future autonomous vehicles is that such braking and accelerating should not occur and emissions should reduce.

New roads, new drivers

The most significant impact new and expanded motorways have on congestion and emissions is the effect on the distance people travel.

Historically, engineers assumed cars (and more pertinently their drivers) would behave like water. In other words, if you had too much traffic for the road space provided, you would build a new road or expand an existing one and cars would spread themselves across the increased road space.

A traffic jam on a motorway to Auckland.
Congested traffic on a motorway into the centre of Auckland.
patjo/Shutterstock

Unfortunately, this is not what happens. New road capacity attracts new drivers. In the short term, people who had previously been discouraged from using congested roads start to use them.

In the longer term, people move further away from city centres to take advantage of new roads that allow them to travel further faster.

This is partly due to the “travel time budget” — a concept also known as Marchetti’s constant — which suggests people are prepared to spend around an hour a day commuting. Cities tend to grow to a diameter of one-hour travel time.

City sprawl

The concept is supported by evidence that cities have sprawled more as modes of transport have changed. For example, cities were small when we could only walk, but expanded along transport corridors with rail and then sprawled with the advent of cars. This all allows commuters to travel greater distances within the travel time budget.

Building or expanding roads releases latent demand — widely defined as “the increment in new vehicle traffic that would not have occurred without the improvement of the network capacity”.

This concept is not new. The first evidence of it can be found back in the 1930s. Later research in 1962 found that “on urban commuter expressways, peak-hour traffic congestion rises to meet maximum capacity”.

A considerable body of evidence is now available to confirm this. But, despite this indisputable fact, many road-improvement decisions continue to be based on the assumption that extra space will not generate new traffic.

If you build it, they will drive

A significant change occurred in 1994 when a report by the UK Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Appraisal confirmed road building actually generates more traffic.

In New Zealand, this wasn’t acknowledged until the Transport Agency’s 2010 Economic Evaluation Manual, which said:

[…] generated traffic often fills a significant portion (50–90%) of added urban roadway capacity.

Vehicle lights blur at night on a busy motorway into Auckland.
Traffic increases as motorways expand.
Shaun Jeffers/Shutterstock

Some congestion discourages people from driving (suppresses latent demand), but with no congestion traffic will fill road space over time, particularly in or near urban areas.

Interestingly, the opposite can also work. Where road space is removed, demand can be suppressed and traffic reduces without other neighbouring roads becoming overly congested.




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One of the best examples of this is the closure of the Cheonggyecheon Freeway in the middle of Seoul, South Korea.

When the busy road was removed from the city, rather than the traffic moving to and congesting nearby roads, most of the traffic actually disappeared, as Professor Jeff Kenworthy from Curtin University’s Sustainable Policy Institute notes.

This suppression of latent demand works best when good alternative ways of travel are available, including high-quality public transport or separated cycle lanes.

The short answer to the question about road building and expansion is that new roads do little to reduce congestion, and they will usually result in increased emissions.The Conversation

Simon Kingham, Professor, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Air quality near busy Australian roads up to 10 times worse than official figures



FABRIZIO BENSCH/ Reuters

Hugh Forehead, University of Wollongong

Air quality on Australia’s roads matters. On any given day (when we’re not in lockdown) people meet, commute, exercise, shop and walk with children near busy streets. But to date, air quality monitoring at roadsides has been inadequate.

I and my colleagues wanted to change that. Using materials purchased from electronics and hardware stores for around A$150, we built our own air quality monitors.

Our newly published research reveals how our devices detected particulate pollution at busy intersections at levels ten times worse than background levels measured at official air monitoring stations.




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Our open-source design means citizen scientists can make their own devices to measure air quality, and make the data publicly available.

This would provide more valuable data about city traffic pollution, giving people the information they need to protect their health.

Air pollution can have serious health consequences.
Tim Wimborne/Reuters

Particulate matter: a tiny killer

Everyone is exposed to airborne particulate matter emitted by industry, transport and natural sources such as bushfires and dust storms.

Particulate matter from traffic is a mixture of toxic compounds, both solid and liquid. It’s a well-known health hazard, particularly for children, the elderly, pedestrians, cyclists and people working on or near roads.

Particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter, referred to as PM2.5, is particularly harmful. To put this in context, a human hair is about 100 micrometres in width.

When inhaled, these fine particles can damage heart and brain function, circulation, breathing and the immune and endocrine systems. They have also been linked to cancer and low birth weight in newborns.

Do-it-yourself air monitoring

Highly reliable equipment to measure air quality has traditionally been expensive, and is not deployed widely.

Official air quality monitoring usually takes place open spaces or parks, to provide an averaged, background reading of pollution across a wide area. The monitoring stations are not typically placed at pollution sources, such as power stations or roads.

However there is growing evidence that people travelling outdoors near busy city roads are exposed to high levels of traffic emissions.

An air quality monitor built by the researchers and painted purple, attached to a light pole in Liverpool, Sydney.
Author supplied

Air quality monitors can be bought off the shelf at low cost, but their readings are not always reliable.

So I and other researchers at the University of Wollongong’s SMART Infrastructure Facility made our own monitors. They essentially consist of a sensor, weatherproof housing, a controller and a fan. Anyone with basic electronics knowledge and assembly skills can make and install one. The monitor connects to the internet (we used The Things Network) and the software required to run it and collect the data is available for free here.

The weatherproof housing cost about A$16 to make. It consists of PVC plumbing parts, a few screws and small pieces of fibreglass insect screen, which can be bought at any hardware store.

Sensors can be bought from electronics retailers for little as A$30, but many are not tested, calibrated or overseen by experts and can be inaccurate. We tested three, and chose the Novasense SDS011, which we bought for A$32.

A controller is needed to run the monitor and send data to the internet. We bought ours from an online retailer for under A$60. A fan, needed to circulate air through the housing, was bought from Jaycar for A$14.

Accounting for wiring and a few other parts, our monitors cost under A$150 each to make – ten times cheaper than mid-grade commercial detectors – and produce reasonably accurate results.

What we found

Following community meetings, we deployed our sensors at nine key locations and intersections around Liverpool in Western Sydney, a region which has traditionally suffered from poor air quality.

Our monitors have been in place since March 2018, placed close to pedestrian height on structures such as light poles, shade awnings or walls.




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They have detected roadside measurements of PM2.5 at values of up to 280 micrograms per cubic metre in morning peak traffic. This is more than ten times the readings at the nearest official monitoring station. The severity of the pollution and how long it lasts depends on how bad the traffic is.

These findings are comparable to other studies of busy roads.

Pollution from vehicle emissions can have serious health consequences.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Breathing easier

Our experience of roadside air quality can be improved in a number of ways.

Obviously, exposure to air pollution is worst at peak traffic times, so plan your travel to avoid these times, if possible.

Pollution levels drop quickly with distance from busy roads and can be at near background levels just one block away. So try to detour along quieter back streets or through parks.

Barriers, such as dense roadside vegetation, can shield pedestrians from pollution. Children in prams are more exposed to traffic pollution than adults, as they are closer to the level of vehicle exhaust pipes. Pram covers can reduce infants’ exposure by up to 39%.

Of course, the best way to reduce air pollution from traffic is to have fewer vehicles on our roads, and cleaner fuel and engines.

In the meantime, we hope our low-cost technology will prompt citizen scientists to develop their own sensors, producing the data we need to breathe easy in city streets.




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The Conversation


Hugh Forehead, Research Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Our land abounds in nature strips – surely we can do more than mow a third of urban green space



Even the standard grassed nature strip has value for local wildlife.
Michelle/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Adrian Marshall, University of Melbourne

You may mock the national anthem by singing “Our land abounds in nature strips” but what you might not know is how true that is. In Melbourne, for example, more than a third of all public green space is nature strips. (That figure includes roundabouts, medians and other green bits of the street.)

That’s a remarkable amount. The nature strip is everywhere. A million small patches combine into a giant park spanning the city, making it a significant player in our urban ecosystems.




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A second remarkable thing is that the nature strip is public land that private citizens are required by law to maintain. Councils manage the trees, but we residents mow the lawn.

What are the rules on nature strips?

Succulents, Agapanthus and Gazanias are the most common plantings on nature strips.
Adrian Marshall CC BY 4.0, Author provided

Many residents go further and plant a street tree or some garden plants – succulents, Agapanthus and Gazanias are the most common. But the chances are that, whatever the garden on the nature strip, it’s against the rules.

The rules on nature strips vary from council to council. Some councils don’t allow any plantings. Others restrict plantings by height or allow only plants indigenous to the local area. In some areas, nature strips can only be planted to prevent erosion on steep slopes.

Some councils disallow food plants, for fear of historic lead contamination from leaded petrol. Others insist on no plants within a metre of the kerb and two metres of the footpath.




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These bylaws are inconsistent and illogical. For instance, councils that insist on indigenous species nevertheless plant exotic street trees. Councils that say plants must be less than 30cm high to ensure they don’t block drivers’ sight lines still allow vehicles to park on the street, blocking sight lines.

Bylaws deny us many benefits

To have council bylaws restrict or disallow gardening in the nature strip flies in the face of common sense. Street greenery, whether its trees, shrubs or lawn, provides many benefits. The science is in on this.

Urban wildlife uses street greenery for habitat and food and as green corridors for movement.

Even for those who mow, the lawns of nature strips are not just turf grass. They are home to over 150 species of plants, based on my yet-to-be-published survey data for nearly 50 neighbourhoods, confirming earlier studies. Many of these, like the clovers, provide important resources for pollinators.

One US study showed that changing from a weekly mow to every three weeks increased the number of flowers in a lawn by 250%. Less mowing is good news for bees and butterflies.

An unpublished recent survey by the author and colleagues found gardening in the nature strip adds native plants to the streetscape, increases biodiversity and add structural complexity (more layers of plants, more types of stuff), which is important for many species.

The greater the diversity of plantings, the greater the benefits a nature strip can provide.
TEDxMelbourne/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Street greenery helps water soak into the ground, filtering out pollutants, recharging aquifers and making rivers healthier. It cools streets and helps counter the urban heat island effect. It also promotes a sense of community, encourages walking and lowers the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, asthma and depression.




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But councils tend to be risk-averse. They worry they will be sued if someone trips on groundcover or stubs their toe on an out-of-place garden gnome.

Fortunately, this risk aversion isn’t universal. For instance, the City of Vincent in Western Australia is so keen for residents to convert lawn to waterwise plantings that it will remove turf and provide native plants.

But, as climate change looms, stubbed toes are not the main risk we should be worrying about. Rather, we must urgently remake our cities and our culture for sustainability and resilience.




Read more:
If planners understand it’s cool to green cities, what’s stopping them?


Gardening becomes a neighbourly act

One of the great things about gardening in the nature strip is that people are more likely to do it if their neighbours do it. It’s contagious, a positive-feedback loop creating a greener street.

Our recent survey found residents who garden in the nature strip have a greater sense of community than those who don’t.

A well-designed street garden, fully covering the nature strip, allowing pedestrian access to cars and using indigenous plants.
Adrian Marshall CC BY 4.0, Author provided

Interestingly, the benefits nature strips provide are not equally distributed across the city. For instance, newer neighbourhoods have more nature strip than older neighbourhoods (though their trees are younger). People garden the nature strip more on minor roads than major roads, and in more socially advantaged neighbourhoods.

Almost a quarter of residential properties in Melbourne have some sort of nature strip gardening. If councils were to encourage this activity we might achieve more street greening with little cost to our cash-strapped councils. Such encouragement would also free many residents of their sense of frustration at being required to maintain the nature strip but forbidden to do anything more than mow.

Given that more than a third of our public green space is nature strip, the many small actions of residents can add up to substantial positive change.The Conversation

Adrian Marshall, Lecturer, Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The global road-building explosion is shattering nature


Bill Laurance, James Cook University

If you asked a friend to name the worst human threat to nature, what would they say? Global warming? Overhunting? Habitat fragmentation?

A new study suggests it is in fact road-building.

“Road-building” might sound innocuous, like “house maintenance” – or even positive, conjuring images of promoting economic growth. Many of us have been trained to think so.

But an unprecedented spate of road building is happening now, with around 25 million kilometres of new paved roads expected by 2050. And that’s causing many environmental researchers to perceive roads about as positively as a butterfly might see a spider web that’s just fatally trapped it.

A Malayan tapir killed along a road in Peninsular Malaysia.
WWF-Malaysia/Lau Ching Fong

Shattered

The new study, led by Pierre Ibisch at Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, Germany, ambitiously attempted to map all of the roads and remaining ecosystems across Earth’s entire land surface.

Its headline conclusion is that roads have already sliced and diced Earth’s ecosystems into some 600,000 pieces. More than half of these are less than 1 square kilometre in size. Only 7% of the fragments are more than 100 square km.

Remaining roadless areas across the Earth.
P. Ibisch et al. Science (2016)

That’s not good news. Roads often open a Pandora’s box of ills for wilderness areas, promoting illegal deforestation, fires, mining and hunting.

In the Brazilian Amazon, for instance, our existing research shows that 95% of all forest destruction occurs within 5.5km of roads. The razing of the Amazon and other tropical forests produces more greenhouse gases than all motorised vehicles on Earth.

Animals are being imperilled too, by vehicle roadkill, habitat loss and hunting. In just the past decade, poachers invading the Congo Basin along the expanding network of logging roads have snared or gunned down two-thirds of all forest elephants for their valuable ivory tusks.

Deforestation along roads in the Brazilian Amazon.
Google Earth

Worse than it looks

As alarming as the study by Ibisch and colleagues sounds, it still probably underestimates the problem, because it is likely that the researchers missed half or more of all the roads on the planet.

That might sound incompetent on their part, but in fact keeping track of roads is a nightmarishly difficult task. Particularly in developing nations, illegal roads can appear overnight, and many countries lack the capacity to govern, much less map, their unruly frontier regions.

One might think that satellites and computers can keep track of roads, and that’s partly right. Most roads can be detected from space, if it’s not too cloudy, but it turns out that the maddening variety of road types, habitats, topographies, sun angles and linear features such as canals can fool even the smartest computers, none of which can map roads consistently.

The only solution is to use human eyes to map roads. That’s what Ibisch and his colleagues relied upon – a global crowdsourcing platform known as OpenStreetMap, which uses thousands of volunteers to map Earth’s roads.

Therein lies the problem. As the authors acknowledge, human mappers have worked far more prolifically in some areas than others. For instance, wealthier nations like Switzerland and Australia have quite accurate road maps. But in Indonesia, Peru or Cameroon, great swathes of land have been poorly studied.

A quick look at OpenStreetmap also shows that cities are far better mapped than hinterlands. For instance, in the Brazilian Amazon, my colleagues and I recently found 3km of illegal, unmapped roads for every 1km of legal, mapped road.

A logging truck blazes along a road in Malaysian Borneo.
Rhett Butler/Mongabay

What this implies is that the environmental toll of roads in developing nations – which sustain most of the planet’s critical tropical and subtropical forests – is considerably worse than estimated by the new study.

This is reflected in statistics like this: Earth’s wilderness areas have shrunk by a tenth in just the past two decades, as my colleagues and I reported earlier this year. Lush forests such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and Borneo are shrinking the fastest.

Road rage

The modern road tsunami is both necessary and scary. On one hand, nobody disputes that developing nations in particular need more and better roads. That’s the chief reason that around 90% of all new roads are being built in developing countries.

On the other hand, much of this ongoing road development is poorly planned or chaotic, leading to severe environmental damage.

For instance, the more than 53,000km of “development corridors” being planned or constructed in Africa to access minerals and open up remote lands for farming will have enormous environmental costs, our research suggests.

Orangutans in the wilds of northern Sumatra.
Suprayudi

This year, both the Ibisch study and our research have underscored how muddled the UN Sustainable Development Goals are with respect to vanishing wilderness areas across the planet.

For instance, the loss of roadless wilderness conflicts deeply with goals to combat harmful climate change and biodiversity loss, but could improve our capacity to feed people. These are tough trade-offs.

One way we’ve tried to promote a win-win approach is via a global road-mapping strategy that attempts to tell us where we should and shouldn’t build roads. The idea is to promote roads where we can most improve food production, while restricting them in places that cause environmental calamities.

Part of a global road-mapping strategy. Green areas have high environmental values where roads should be avoided. Red areas are where roads could improve agricultural production. And black areas are ‘conflict zones’ where both environmental values and potential road benefits are high.
W. F. Laurance et al. Nature (2014)

The bottom line is that if we’re smart and plan carefully, we can still increase food production and human equity across much of the world.

But if we don’t quickly change our careless road-building ways, we could end up opening up the world’s last wild places like a flayed fish – and that would be a catastrophe for nature and people too.

The Conversation

Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.