In The Two Towers, the second volume of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous epic fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings, a race of giant tree-beings called Ents go into battle against the evil wizard Saruman, whose armies have slaughtered many of them.
Tolkien, who penned most of the book during World War II, knew something that scientists are just now figuring out: Trees are excellent crime-fighters.
A new study conducted by the US Forest Service and published in the journal Environment and Behavior has shown that “trees in the public right of way are associated with lower crime rates,” according to the study’s press release.
Conducted from 2005 to 2007, the study investigated the relationship between trees and three crime aggregates (all crime, violent crime and property crime) and two individual crimes (burglary and vandalism) in Portland, Oregon.
But not all trees were helpful. The presence of small trees, in fact, was associated with higher crime rates, most likely because they obscured views. It was the large trees that were associated with lower crime rates.
“We believe that large street trees can reduce crime by signaling to a potential criminal that a neighborhood is better cared for and, therefore, a criminal is more likely to be caught,” said Geoffrey Donovan, research forester with the Pacific Northwest Research Station who led the study.
“We wanted to find out whether trees, which provide a range of other benefits, could improve quality of life in Portland by reducing crime, and it was exciting to see that they did,” Donovan said.
“Although a burglar alarm may deter criminals, it won’t provide shade on a hot summer day, and it certainly isn’t as nice to look at as a tree.”
Tolkien’s Ents eventually destroy Saruman’s fortress at Isengard in “The Last March of the Ents,” their booming voices alone wreaking much of the damage: “If the Great Sea had risen in wrath and fallen on the hills with storm, it could have worked no greater ruin.”
It seems that whether they live in Portland or in Middle-Earth, trees are quite effective in the eternal battle against evil.
(GET INVOLVED: November is Tree Month on 13.7 Billion Years)