As if losing millions of ash trees (and the dollars they brought in) and sacrificing miles of urban canopy aren’t bad enough, there’s yet another risk associated with the scourge of the emerald ash borer: crime. Yes, it’s true. For years, we’ve been reading studies that demonstrate the beneficial qualities of parks, green spaces, greenery, gardens – whatever you want to call it – let’s just say “plants.” We’ve been shown that the presence of plants in urban areas (read: anywhere other than a rural setting) helps to improve the physical (blood pressure) and mental (serenity) health of residents. And we know about the dangers of poorly maintained foundation plants, which can act as cover for ne’er-do-wells who may lurk, unseen, ‘neath windows.
But until now, we haven’t really considered the cost of landscape destruction due to pests in terms of safety and crime statistics. In Cincinnati, however, a recent study showed that “EAB infestation was significantly and positively associated with relative increases in crime.”
Researchers from the USDA’s Forest Service (Northern Research Station in Philadelphia and PNW Research Station in Portland, Oregon), the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology (Perelman School of Medicine) and the Department of Criminology (School of Arts & Sciences) at the University of Pennsylvania compared incidents of crime on census block groups infested with EAB to block groups not similarly infested. And to be fair, all scientific controls were accounted for.
The specific findings were broken down into 11 classes of crime, using the categories dictated by the Cincinnati Police Department. In a nutshell, two umbrella categories were considered: “index” or violent crimes, which usually involve some sort of physical assault or violation, and property crimes. Results show that tree damage or loss due to EAB was associated with an increase in crime in all categories except a few. It appears that incidents of property crime and simple assault rose significantly where EAB did the most damage, with property crimes seeing the largest increase.
Of course it’s more complicated than this, but the conclusion is clear: The presence of healthy tree cover – of well-maintained and robust landscapes – can contribute to the health, safety and welfare of citizens. Yet more evidence of the benefits of trees, and more ammunition for the green industry to garner public support for pest and disease management and eradication.