Category: Land use

Rusty patched bumble bee stalls construction over Bell Bowl Prairie

Read the full story from Northern Public Radio.

The discovery of a foraging rusty patched bumble bee stalled construction on an expansion project at the Chicago Rockford International Airport — but only for a while. Environmental advocates want the delay to be permanent. They say the project would destroy one of the last remnants of the state’s original prairie.

See also the Chicago Tribune’s story dated Oct 22: Endangered bumblebee is blocking Rockford airport expansion that will destroy rare prairie — but only for another week.

Health impact assessments: A new tool for analyzing land use plans, zone changes, and development projects

Read the full post at the Green Law Blog.

Health Impact Assessments have been a tool mainly used by state and federal health agencies to review and avoid the adverse public health impacts of their plans and large-scale capital projects. Local land use officials are beginning to employ Health Impact Assessments (HIA) to review community design issues in formulating comprehensive plans and reviewing land use projects to prioritize public health.

Mexican communities manage their local forests, generating benefits for humans, trees and wildlife

Jungle near the Palenque ruins, Chiapas, Mexico. Lawrence Murray/Flickr, CC BY

by David Bray (Florida International University)

The United Nations is preparing to host pivotal conferences in the coming months on two global crises: climate change and biodiversity loss. As experts have pointed out, these issues are fundamentally, inescapably intertwined. In both cases, human activities are harming nature and the support it provides to people.

But that connection also is an opportunity. Protecting places that are both carbon- and species-rich can help slow climate change and biodiversity loss at the same time. For example, in a June 2021 report, U.N. biodiversity experts urged nations to establish strict protected areas and govern forests through “locally adjusted sustainable management practices.”

I study Mexican community forests, and believe they are the world’s best model of local sustainable management. My research over 30 years has shown that when Indigenous and local communities control their forests for commercial timber production, both humans and the land benefit.

As I write in my book, “Mexico’s Community Forest Enterprises: Success on the Commons and the Seeds of a Good Anthropocene,” these forests provide hope for a better future than the one now bearing down on us.

Map showing Mexico's forested areas in shades of green
This 2014 image, derived from ground-based and satellite images, shows the amount of organic carbon stored in the trunks, limbs and leaves of trees in Mexico. The darkest greens reveal the areas with the densest, tallest and most robust forest growth. NASA Earth Observatory

Mexico’s sustainability model

Mexico is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Much of that life depends on its 165 million acres (65 million hectares) of forests, which cover about one-third of the nation’s land area.

Millions of monarch butterflies migrate from North America to forested hillsides in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains every winter. Tropical forests in southern Mexico harbor jaguars, spider monkeys, crocodiles, anteaters and nearly 500 species of birds.

As a result of the 1911-1917 Mexican Revolution, ownership of around 60% of the nation’s forests, totaling some 104 million acres (42 million hectares), was transferred to local communities. Over the following decades, reformers subsidized equipment and provided training in logging and business for the people who took over these important resources. Community members seized the opportunity.

This decades-long experiment, with government support and market incentives, has produced surprising results. Today Mexican community forest enterprises administer their common property woodlands at a scale and current maturity unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

Cutting down trees may seem like a counterintuitive way to slow climate change and species loss, but in Mexico it works. Community forest businesses sell profitable products like timber and bottled spring water. Some 1,600 communities sustainably log over 17 million acres of forest. They carefully select only certain trees for harvesting so that forests will vigorously regrow.

A worker measures logs harvested from community forests in Durango. David Bray, CC-BY-ND

Measuring results

Orange and black bird on a branch.
Altamira oriole (Icterus gularis), Tinum, Yucatan. Becky Matsubara/Flickr, CC BY

Research shows that Mexico’s model supports conservation. One study of 733 municipalities in eight states found that deforestation rates were lower in managed forests with high percentages of commonly owned land. Community forests in the tropical state of Quintana Roo have lower deforestation rates than public protected areas in southern Mexico, using logging practices that preserve habitat for wintering migratory birds.

In the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, 23 communities with a total area of over 500,000 acres have zoned their territory so that 78% of it is forested for sustainable production and conservation, leaving the remainder for agriculture and other uses.

Brown frog on mossy rock.
Charadrahyla esperancensis, a tree frog discovered in a cloud forest in Oaxaca in 2017. Canseco-Márquez, et al., 2017, CC BY-ND

The Sierra Norte community of Pueblos Mancomunados manages its 78,000 acres mostly as a community park focused on ecotourism. Foresters cut trees only to control bark beetle outbreaks. Zapotec Indigenous people have lived here for over 1,000 years, and residents have practiced sustainable logging for decades.

This region has some of the highest biodiversity in Mexico. New species are commonly discovered here, such as Charadrahyla esperancensis, a tree frog with a protruding snout.

Community forests reduce poverty

Over a 20-year period, from 1993 to 2013, the thickly forested landscape of Sierra Norte has also produced 3 million metric tons of timber and carbon, mostly stored in furniture and construction materials. By storing carbon in long-lasting products, sustainably managed forests actually capture more carbon than strictly conserved forests

These operations also benefit local economies. In a 2019 study, Mexican researcher Juan Manuel Torres-Rojo and colleagues found that in a sample of over 5,000 Mexican forest communities, government support for forestry, particularly for investments in social and human capital, significantly reduced poverty.

The most serious challenges confronting community forests are the impacts of organized crime. Gangs charge communities in several states protection money and reportedly have physically taken over community forest businesses in some northern states.

Illegal logging is also a serious problem, but it is concentrated in communities that are not managing their forests. Mexican community forests are less vulnerable to stresses like the deforestation, fire and drought that threaten large swaths of the Amazon basin because neighboring communities depend on their forests for their livelihoods and constantly monitor them.

Foresters outdoors in hard hats and safety vests.
Community forest workers in Vencedores, Durango, Mexico with author David Bray (third from right). David Bray, CC BY-NC-ND

Giving communities control helps land

Governments of developing countries often have little money to manage protected land. Giving communities control over valuable forests and the resources to manage them is an affordable alternative.

Mexico’s community forests sustain themselves and generate profits. They do not depend on government subsidies, although they have received them over the years, as a pro-community forest public policy initiative. In my view, mobilizing community collective action around timber – a product that, unlike most small farmer crops, virtually always has a good price – is a market-oriented way to stop deforestation and conserve biodiversity.

However, many governments don’t have the political will to give this kind of ownership, management authority, training and equipment to local communities. I believe that if the results achieved in Mexico were more widely known, they could help convince other governments that promoting community forestry can deliver political stability, poverty reduction and a more livable climate.

David Bray, Professor of Earth and Environment, Florida International University

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

Study finds natural outdoor spaces are less common at schools

Read the full story from North Carolina State University.

Spending time in nature can have mental, physical and social benefits for children. While schools offer a chance for students of all backgrounds to get outside in nature, researchers from North Carolina State University found natural spaces like woods or gardens were relatively rare in a small sample of elementary and middle schools in Wake County.

Published in the journal Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, the study found that for schools that did have green natural spaces, teachers played a key role in helping kids experience and enjoy those natural areas.

Concentration of microparticles in lakes reflect nearby human activity and land use

Read the full story in PLOS.

A new study suggests that microparticle concentrations in lakes are higher than previously reported, and that human activity and surrounding land use may be a strong predictor of microplastics and anthropogenic fiber pollution.

Reversing the legacy of redlining: Reducing exposure to toxins and pollutants through land use law reform

Read the full post at GreenLaw.

The disinvestment in lower-income neighborhoods caused by redlining, racial covenants, and zoning provisions prevented property improvement, resulted in dilapidated buildings, lowered real estate prices fueling development of manufacturing and industrial uses, and lowered the cost of polluting infrastructure, such as highways and public works facilities. The legacy of these effects is the exposure of the residents of such neighborhoods to toxins and pollution not found in moderate- or higher-income residential neighborhoods. (See Segregation by Law and the Racial Inequity Pandemic, this paper, and this study). For example, Black Americans are 75% more likely to live in communities where they are exposed to soil, air, and water pollution and experience a higher risk of cancer, asthma, and other life-threatening illnesses.

Using their state-delegated land use regulatory authority, local governments can reverse this historical trend.

The millionaire rewilding the countryside, one farm at a time

Read the full story at The Guardian.

Julia Davies had one only goal in mind when she sold her share of the outdoor equipment company Osprey Europe a few years ago. The entrepreneur decided she was going to spend her millions turning back the clock – by returning swathes of the British farmland to wilderness. Nature is in crisis in the UK, she argues, and its threatened wildlife needs all the protection it can get.

Removing urban highways can improve neighborhoods blighted by decades of racist policies

Interstate 980 cuts off West Oakland, Calif., at top, from other Oakland neighborhoods. Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

by Joan Fitzgerald (Northeastern University) and Julian Agyeman (Tufts University)

The US$1.2 trillion infrastructure bill now moving through Congress will bring money to cities for much-needed investments in roads, bridges, public transit networks, water infrastructure, electric power grids, broadband networks and traffic safety.

We believe that more of this money should also fund the dismantling of racist infrastructure.

Many urban highways built in the 1950s and 1960s were deliberately run through neighborhoods occupied by Black families and other people of color, walling these communities off from jobs and opportunity. Although President Joe Biden proposed $20 billion for reconnecting neighborhoods isolated by historical federal highway construction, the bill currently provides only $1 billion for these efforts – enough to help just a few places.

As scholars in urban planning and public policy, we are interested in how urban planning has been used to classify, segregate and compromise people’s opportunities based on race. In our view, more support for highway removal and related improvements in marginalized neighborhoods is essential.

As we see it, this funding represents a down payment on restorative justice: remedying deliberate discriminatory policies that created polluted and transit-poor neighborhoods like West Bellfort in Houston, Westside in San Antonio, and West Oakland, California.

Freeway construction has devastated minority neighborhoods in cities across the U.S.

Policies of separation

Many policies have combined over time to isolate urban Black neighborhoods. Racialized rental and sales covenants began appearing in U.S. cities in the early 1900s. They changed cityscapes by restricting certain neighborhoods to whites only, which concentrated Black people in other areas. Racialized zoning, outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1917, was followed by single-family or exclusionary zoning, which restricted residents by socioeconomic class – a proxy for race in the U.S.

Next came redlining, a classification process that started in 1933 when the federal government rated neighborhoods for its loan programs. Working with real estate agents, the federal Home Owners Loan Corp. created color-coded neighborhood maps to inform decisions by mortgage lenders at the Federal Housing Administration.

Any neighborhood with substantial numbers of Black residents was colored red, for “hazardous” – the riskiest category. Other New Deal programs, such as the Federal Housing Authority and Fannie Mae, built on redlining by requiring racially restrictive covenants before approving mortgages.

Map showing color-coded neighborhoods.
A 1936 Home Owners Loan Corp. ‘residential security’ map of Philadelphia, classifying neighborhoods by estimated riskiness of mortgage loans. National Archives/Wikimedia

Beginning with the first federal highway law in 1956, transportation planners used highways to isolate or destroy Black neighborhoods by cutting them off from adjoining areas. Once the highways were built, the social and economic fabric of these neighborhoods began to deteriorate. Distinguished environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard calls this transportation racism, alluding to the way in which isolation limited employment and other opportunities.

The lasting impacts of highway construction

Today low-income and minority neighborhoods in many U.S. cities have much higher levels of fine particulate air pollution than adjoining areas. Across the U.S., Black and Latino communities are exposed to 56% and 63% more particulate matter, respectively, from cars, trucks and buses than white residents.

Decades of work by environmental justice activists and academics have shown these neighborhoods also are much more likely to be chosen as sites for polluting industrial facilities like incinerators and power plants.

Formerly redlined neighborhoods also have less tree cover and green space today than white neighborhoods. This makes them hotter during heat waves.

One outcome is that life expectancy in the nation’s cities is compromised, varying considerably between the lowest- and highest-income ZIP codes. The worst cities have gaps as high as 30 years.

As one example, Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis is a socioeconomic and racial dividing line. North of Delmar, 99% of residents are Black. South of Delmar, 73% are white. Only 10% of residents to the north have a bachelor’s degree, and people who live in this zone are more likely to have heart disease or cancer. In 2014, these disparities led Harvard University researchers, based on their work on the “Delmar Divide,” to conclude that ZIP code is a better predictor of health than genetic code.

Transportation investments in the U.S. have historically focused on highways at the expense of public transportation. This disparity reduces opportunities for Black, Hispanic and low-income city residents, who are three to six times more likely to use public transit than white residents. Only 31% of federal transit capital funds are spent on bus transit, even though buses represent around 48% of trips.

Reconnecting neighborhoods

Many highways built in the 1950s are now deteriorating. At least 28 cities have begun or are planning to partly or fully remove highways that have isolated Black neighborhoods rather than rebuilding them.

Cities began removing expressways, particularly elevated ones, in the 1970s. While these teardowns were mostly to promote downtown development, more recent projects aimed to reconnect isolated neighborhoods to the rest of the city.

For example, in 2014 Rochester, New York, buried nearly a mile of the Inner Loop East, which served as a moat isolating the city’s downtown. Since then, the city has reconnected streets that were divided by the highway, making the neighborhood whole again.

Walking and biking in the neighborhood have increased by 50% and 60%, respectively. Now developers are building commercial space and 534 new housing units, more than half of which will be considered affordable. The $22 million in public funds that supported the project generated $229 million in economic development.

Rochester, N.Y., is filling in the Inner Loop highway that formerly isolated its downtown, catalyzing new street improvements.

Other cities that have removed or are removing highways dividing Black neighborhoods include Cincinnati, Chattanooga, Detroit, Houston, Miami, New Orleans and St. Paul. There are only a few well-documented case studies of freeway removal, so it is too early to identify factors leading to success. However, the trend is growing.

In our view, combining highway removal with significant investments to improve bus networks that serve these neighborhoods would significantly improve access to jobs, housing and healthy food. Removing highways would also open up land for new green spaces that can improve air quality and provide cooling. However, we are also mindful that green amenities can cause environmental gentrification in these communities if they are not accompanied by robust support for affordable housing.

Simply removing highways won’t transform historically disadvantaged neighborhoods. But it can be a key element of equitable urban planning, along with housing stabilization and affordability, carefully planned new green spaces and transit improvements. For an administration that has pledged to prioritize racial and environmental justice, removing divisive highways is a good place to start.

Joan Fitzgerald, Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Northeastern University and Julian Agyeman, Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts University

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

Biden administration aims to cut costs for solar, wind projects on public land

Read the full story from Reuters.

The Biden administration plans to make federal lands cheaper to access for solar and wind power developers after the clean power industry argued in a lobbying push this year that lease rates and fees are too high to draw investment and could torpedo the president’s climate change agenda.

Europe seeks solutions as it grapples with catastrophic wildfires

Read the full story at Inside Climate News.

Dealing with conflagrations driven by climate change will require modifications to the way people live and how land is used.

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