Passing a farm bill and protecting urban forests

March 17, 2013

Will there finally be a farm bill in 2013?

Every five years, a farm bill is passed by Congress. Um, it’s supposed to be passed by Congress but, well, unless you’ve been hiding under a cantaloupe, you know just how functional our lawmakers are–even when it comes to setting the nation’s agriculture and nutrition poliicies.Thus, what should have been known as the 2012 Farm Bill never happened.

Here are the dirty details, as reported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition :

On New Year’s Eve, the Senate passed a simple extension of the 2008 Farm Bill through September 30, 2013, as part of a much bigger legislative package to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.  The House approved the Senate bill late on New Year’s Day and President Obama signed it into law on January 2.

The fiscal cliff deal was the final death knell for the 2012 Farm Bill that the full Senate passed in June and that the House Agriculture Committee passed in July.  The deal was also a very sudden death knell for the reasonable modified farm bill extension measure that NSAC worked diligently to promote over the past several months.

Approval of the simple farm bill extension also means that the new Congress that begins today [January 3, 2013] will have to start the process of reauthorizing a new, full five-year farm bill from scratch.

Well played, representatives of the people! And by that, I do mean the Republicans, led by the man who might be the most incompetent Speaker of the House in history, John Boehner. Read more about it here.

If you want more insight into how sausage isn’t made, Grist has a summary of the machinations in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere that ended up in exactly nothing being done on the farm bill.

One person who has been keeping an eye on the bill is Wes King, interim executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance. He joined me on the show in June (!!!) when the bill passed the U.S. Senate. I didn’t suspect then that we’d be meeting again in March of the following year to speculate about when the bill might finally arrive on the President’s desk. But that’s what we’ll do this morning.

 In support of urban trees

Chris Mest is a guy who likes trees a lot. So do I and so do many people but Chris tends to be vocal about it. Which is why he is involved in Tree Care Advisor. And which is why I have him on the show today. He made me aware of a study just published in 2012 that reported that

tree cover in urban areas of the United States is on the decline at a rate of about 7900 ha/yr [hectares per year] or 4.0 million trees per year. Tree cover in 17 of the 20 analyzed cities had statistically significant declines in tree cover, while 16 cities had statistically significant increases in impervious cover. Only one city (Syracuse, NY) had a statistically significant increase in tree cover. City tree cover was reduced, on average, by about 0.27 percent/yr, while impervious surfaces increased at an average rate of about 0.31 percent/yr.

And yet, there are tree planting programs all over the country; they are touted by municipalities all of the time. The Chicago Tree Initiative, begun under former Mayor Richard M. Daley, still has a website, but the program has been been discontinued. Meanwhile, the list of the 10 Best Cities for Urban Forests doesn’t include Chicago. Coincidence?

Mest has other worries about trees:

Many municipalities are more concerned with parkway trees as liabilities instead of assets. They are quick to remove a tree instead of considering the possible remedies (cabling, rods, proper pruning). Some homeowners do take ownership of the trees on their parkway. They would be willing to pay the expense of maintaining them as opposed to having them removed. Why not loosen rules to allow a homeowner to pay for maintenance of a parkway tree? In one instance a homeowner got the okay to plant two trees on his parkway. Then, years later, one of the trees developed a crack in the trunk. He consulted a certified arborist who told him that by using cables in the canopy and rods through the trunk the tree could be kept alive. The homeowner then called the village arborist who’s first reaction when he saw the tree was that it had to be removed because it was a liability. Why not let the homeowner spend his money to keep the tree alive? In other metropolitan areas around the country, homeowners help foot the bill to maintain public trees. Why not here?

In addition to Chris Mest, I’m very pleased to have Shawn Kingzette on the show today. Shawn is with the Davey Tree Expert Company, which owns The Care of Trees, a great sponsor of my program.

Earth Hour is Saturday, March 23

Once again, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is asking homes, businesses and landmarks to switch off their lights for one hour on Saturday, March 23 at 8:30 p.m. local time for Earth Hour , the single, largest, symbolic mass participation event in the world. Started in one city–Sydney, Australia–in 2007, Earth Hour has now spread to 152 countries and to over 7,000 cities and towns.

In Chicago, for example, the Willis Tower, the Wrigley Building and the CNA Center Building will be turning off all non-essential lights. In addition, the Empire State Building in New York City and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas will go dark.