New Chemicals & Forest Christmas Tree

  • Amelia Payette, age 9, with the tree her family chose on their trip into the national forest. (Photo by Sarah Payette)

Researchers at Indiana University have discovered two new kinds of flame retardant chemicals showing up in the air around the Great Lakes. These chemicals are added to foam to help keep furniture and baby products from catching on fire. They’re replacing other flame retardants that have been linked to neurological and developmental defects, and fertility and reproductive problems.

These newer chemicals are called brominated benzylates and brominated phthalates.

Ron Hites is an author of the study. His team found the chemicals in air samples from six sites around the Great Lakes… from Chicago to the remote Eagle Harbor in the Upper Peninsula. But he says it’s not clear yet what this might mean.

“We have very limited toxicology and virtually no information on ecological effects.”

Hites says one study suggests these chemicals can cause DNA damage in fish.

He says the concentrations of the chemicals in the atmosphere appear to be doubling every year or two in the Great Lakes region.

(music bump)

This is the Environment Report.

Most of us get our Christmas trees from a lot or a farm.

But if you have a saw and five bucks, you can cut down a tree in the national forest. Peter Payette took his family out to do it the old fashioned way and sent this report:

It’s true that five bucks is not much to pay for a tree, but it’ll cost you some time and gas money to get there.

The first stop is at a U.S. Forest Service office to buy a tag.

There’s one in Cadillac where Dianne Berry sells us our tags and helps us get our bearings.

“This is a two sided map… the other side has the area closest to Manistee. And on the Huron-Manistee we have almost a million acres.”

That means there are 500,000 acres of trees just on this side of the state, between Cadillac and Big Rapids!

But Dianne is reluctant to suggest a place to start looking for a Christmas tree.

“Oh there’s a lot of trees, a lot of beautiful trees.”

This is the second time we’ve done this and the navigating is a little more complicated than you might think.

National forests are actually a patchwork of forests checkered with blocks of private land. So you have to do some figuring to be sure you’re actually on public land so you don’t bring down somebody else’s tree.

“I think we need to go that way…”

The first piece of advice the Forest Service offers is to tell someone when you take a trip into the forest.

I have my entire family, my in-laws, and two dogs with me so I’m probably okay.

My advice, if you’re going for a Christmas tree is lower your expectations a little bit. Wild trees are not as full or symmetrical as the ones available on tree lots.

Last time my oldest daughter, Isabelle, was mortified when we got it back to our living room.

“In the woods it looks really fat and bushy and you bring it in your house and it looks like a twig.”

(sound of searching in the woods)

And that’s my other piece of advice: be ready for disagreements, since it’s easy to find fault with these trees.

(sound of Peter’s daughters arguing about a tree)

The results this time were much better than before.

We searched more widely and found a clump of fine spruce trees.

My in-laws took one with a split trunk that had many branches. Ours was a little skimpier but filled out nicely when we loaded it up with ornaments.

My mother in-law said it looked as good as any tree you’d buy for forty-five dollars.

I think she really meant it.

For the Environment Report, I’m Peter Payette.

If you want to cut down a tree in the national forest you really do have to do it the old fashioned way – the Forest Service says no chainsaws are allowed.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.