Monthly Archives: March 2008

Protest halts destruction of trees on Wilmington Island, at least for now

In college I was a member of a student organization that protested the removal of trees on campus. Unfortunately, the protest happened after the trees had already been cut down. Some local folks, however, got it right yesterday by arriving on the scene before the damage was done. Here’s a snip from a Savannah Morning News story:

With signs saying “Save our Trees,” they garnered supportive beeps and thumbs up from passing motorists. The cherry picker moved a few blocks away and then out of sight. By 2 p.m. the protesters figured the trees were safe for the day.

“People are proud of the canopy,” Heimes said. “The trees were grossly misshapen by (Georgia Power) but they are oak trees and they provide shade. If they start here, where will it end?”

The chain of events that preceded the protest can be found here.

But why were the trees cut? The safety of motorists was the cited concern, from the Savannah Morning News story:

County Commission Chairman Pete Liakakis said county engineers will look at the project again but added that the trees’ removal appears to be a traffic safety issue.

“We have to do the things we can to reduce any accidents,” he said. “This I’m told will keep any accidents from happening.”

Are Chairman Liakakis’ people telling him the truth? Perhaps not, according to Dr. Kathleen Wolf, a University of Washington professor who was in town last month for events sponsored by the Savannah Tree Foundation. From “Study Finds Transportation Policy Regarding Trees Outdated,” an article published in the academic journal Forestry Source in August 2006.

“In my opinion,the transportation policy in regard to trees is based on outdated information,” said Kathleen Wolf, a social sciences researcher at the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources and lead author of the study. “Studies [regarding the safety concerns of roadside trees] were conducted some decades ago in rural settings. But, according to the last census, nearly 80 percent of the US population now lives in urbanized areas.”

What difference does that make?

“Most of the tree crashes are occurring in rural areas and at high speeds,”she said. “The average crash speed involving trees is 52 miles per hour (mph), whereas the average speed in all crashes is 34 mph.” This is especially significant, Wolf added, in that most of the miles traveled in the United States are in urban areas.”

While it could be argued that Wilmington Island is not urban, it certainly isn’t rural. At any rate, if motorist safety is truly the goal, why not keep the trees and lower the speed limit?

Something Fishy

661479269_45dd1ef125_o.jpgA special dinner seems appropriate for Easter weekend, or at least to mark the beginning of spring (first day of spring was March 20). I don’t eat ham but I am thinking of other pink foods … there sure is a lot of salmon out there. But is it OK to eat?

In a recent issue of Eating Well, David Dobbs addresses this question, explaining how and why the answer has shifted dramatically over the past decade or so. The long and short of it seems to be that many commercial fisheries (such as catfish farms) are beneficial for the species in nature, and have little impact on the environment. But Atlantic salmon fisheries are another story, and the choices consumers make now will have long-range impact on the fish.

This is not like deciding whether you want free-range versus conventional chicken for tonight’s dinner; that’s a decision with limited echo. To decide that you may as well eat farmed Atlantic tonight, however, is to decide, in a very real sense, that you may as well eat farmed salmon, and farmed salmon only, forever.

Dobbs’ article offers a detailed and fascinating walk through the lives of typical wild salmon and typical en masse farmed salmon. It points out that the expansion of the salmon farming industry over the past two decades has placed hundreds of farms on cold water coasts, raising hundreds of millions of “fake” fish. At the start of the industry expansion they didn’t know much about how this would affect fish populations, but now they do.

Millions [of farmed salmon] escape, they disrupt feeding and spawning behavior of wild salmon in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, they enter and even colonize streams, and they directly compete with both native Atlantic and Pacific salmon. … Confirmed too are suspicions that farms spread disease and parasites to wild salmon stocks.

There is a hardly a comparison in taste between farmed salmon (color enhanced with feed and often bland tasting) and Pacific wild salmon (more orange, really, than pink, and incredibly tasty). But the farmed stuff is available all the time and is much cheaper. I think I’ll go with Dobbs, though, hold out for the wild salmon—May through October—at $15+ a pound.

The debate over sustainable seafood is confusing. At present, the USDA has no organic certification program for seafood. For sound environmental information, Eating Well suggests we visit Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. And, at the seafood counter, look for the following labels:

Photo credit Don Harrison via flickr.

Lane rangers or lane dangers?

sanford.jpgI spent a lot of time in my backyard this weekend and on Saturday I heard a rumble coming down the lane. I looked looked over the back fence to see an battered pick-up truck glide by with its bed full of castaway children’s toys, rusty lawn furniture, old vacuum cleaners and a tangle of other unidentified junk.

Today I walked through the lane on my way to the aluminum and newspaper recycling bins at Savannah Arts Academy. Along the way I glanced around and saw shoes, at least half of a croquet set, a piece of garden trellis (with a windchime attached), a framed poster and two plantation shutters. Such a scene must of been unimaginable to someone who lived in the 1800s. In her book, “Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash,” Susan Strasser explains:

Most Americans produced little trash before the twentieth century. Durable items were passed on to people of other classes or generations or stored in attics or basements for later use. Objects of no use for adults became play-things for children. Broken or worn out things could be brought back to their makers, fixed by someone handy, or taken to people who specialized in repairs. And items beyond repair might be dismantled, their parts reused or sold to junk men who sold them to manufacturers.

While the bounty of unwanted objects present in the lanes behind Savannah’s homes is certainly a contemporary scene, the guy steering the old truck is not a new development. He can trace his line of work back to the 1700s when traveling peddlers not only sold their wares, but also collected scrap of all kinds from their customers.

But is the “junk man” I saw on Saturday breaking the law? Don’t city ordinances forbid nonresidents from traveling through the lanes? I know my neighborhood e-mail list lights up from time to time with reports of “suspicious characters” cruising the lanes and loading up their trucks with other people’s trash. Are these guys a liability to the community? Or are they performing a valuable service by intercepting things we no longer want before they are buried in the landfill? As a person who’s scavenged a thing or two out of the trash, I know where I stand.


Social networking goes green (and local)

gss_logo.gifHaving attended most of the recent GreenDrinks Savannah events, I can testify that they are useful in making connections, which can lead to beneficial collaborations. More evidence of tangible results produced by GDS can be found in a new social networking site, GreenSpace Savannah. Here’s a snip from the site:

GreenSpace Savannah was inspired by the stunning success of the social networking group GreenDrinks Savannah. Launched in November of 2007, this local branch of Green Drinks International had the largest per capita turnout for an initial event in the history of the organization. Green Savannahians are clearly hungry to connect with each other to make their beloved city a model for sustainability as we march forward through the 21st century.

After the first event, we immediately saw the need to keep the conversations and connections going between the monthly meetings—and GreenSpace Savannah was born. If you are an environmental activist, a green business, an investor interested in sustainable technologies, or a parent who wants their children to grow up with clean air, clean water, and safe food, this site is for you.

To register, click here. See you in GreenSpace!

A Field Guide to Cool Neighborhoods

SCAD presents “A Field Guide to Cool Neighborhoods

The Savannah College of Art and Design presents “A Field Guide to Cool Neighborhoods,” a lecture by Chris Wilson, J. B. Jackson professor of Cultural Landscape Studies, School of Architecture and Planning, University of New Mexico, April 7, 6:30 p.m., River Club, 3 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The lecture is free and open to the public.


Wilson’s lecture will explore pre-automobile patterns and urban forms that inform current urban development by using examples of cities, primarily Los Angeles and Dallas, that are attempting to revitalize inner city neighborhoods. According to Wilson, architects, community activists and real estate developers across the country increasingly are turning to earlier times for inspiration.


Wilson has written widely on architecture, tourism and the politics of culture in the Southwest. His co-authored book, “La Tierra Amarilla: Its History, Architecture and Cultural Landscape” (1991), won the Downing Award from the Society of Architectural Historians, and has been lauded as a model for cultural landscape studies.

The SCAD architectural history department presents this lecture as part of the yearlong Architectural History Lecture Series. SCAD is one of the few institutions in the nation to offer Master of Arts and Master of Fine Arts programs specifically in architectural history.