Friday, September 12, 2014

Stupid War for the Oaks

Science denial is too much with us; we all know that. Its most extreme form is climate-change denial, but it occurs in many other areas of modern life, from vaccine resistance to thinking genetically modified plants can harm people who eat them.

Yesterday's Star Tribune included a story of science denial with a local angle. People in the northern suburb of Ham Lake forced the reversal of a city policy that allowed arborists to enter private property to identify oak trees that are afflicted with wilt, marking them for removal.

Oak wilt is a serious disease that kills the tree. It travels from tree to tree through the roots when a sick tree is close enough to a healthy one. Arborists are good at spotting the disease when it's not obvious to a layperson, and homeowners have the option of having the tree tested before it's cut down down, just to make sure it's really sick.

But none of that is good enough for the know-nothings in Ham Lake, each sitting on at least an acre of land so they don't have to share space with anyone else. "Ham Lakers are responsible people. We are not children," said the mayor, Mike Van Kirk.

The whole point is that you can't tell the tree has the disease until it's too late and will affect other trees. You can't see it, but an arborist can.

The mayor is also quoted as calling the law a "jackbooted, stomp-on-your-property issue." At least he didn't say the law had been "shoved down our throats," like every other right-wing politician and pundit in this country.

He did say this, however:

The mayor also questioned the effectiveness of removing diseased trees, saying it could constitute a losing battle against Mother Nature. “This is analogous, to me, to trying to stop the common cold by shooting everybody in the head that is infected with the cold virus,” he said.
Well, Mr. Mayor, if the common cold could kill everyone around it, you might quarantine the people who have it, right? In the case of trees, quarantining is not possible. All you can do is remove the tree. And you need to do it before the symptoms are bad enough to see, because by then it's much more likely to have traveled to other trees in the area.

And get this. One of the paranoid, enclave-loving council members said:
“Being a father of two daughters, I don’t like anyone uninvited in my yard,” he said. “I understand the police and firefighters in my yard. The arborist was the other person on that list. It didn’t seem right.”
After regaling us with this series of dumber-than-dumb quotes from city officials, the Strib story returns to information based in a factual world view, which was nice.
Mel Aanerud, chairman of Ham Lake’s tree and park commission, helped craft some of the city’s original policies to manage oak wilt more than 20 years ago. “We had the second-worst infestation in the state 20 years ago,” he said. “We had 9.7 infestations per square mile. We got it down to one infestation per square mile [under the policy that was just repealed].”

Aanerud said the City Council’s defense of property rights was too narrow.

“We have to deal with everybody’s property right,” he said. “I predict we will see an increase in oak wilt in the city. Some point, five to 10 years from now, people will ask why we didn’t keep doing what we were doing. It has worked.”

In neighboring Blaine, City Forester Marc Shippee called the Ham Lake policy change a shocker.

“Ham Lake was the most vigilant on oak wilt, even more than Blaine,” he said. “This is almost a 180 from what they have been doing. It’s a little disappointing. It affects our efforts here to control it if they are not requiring infected trees to be removed.”
So it's not only the people of Ham Lake that could be affected by their narrow-mindedness; it's also neighboring communities and their trees. Oak wilt is contagious, just like science-denialism seems to be these days.

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