Whistleblower Exposes Tree Poisoning in Billboard Business
Friday, April 27, 2012
(billboard design: Don Frankenfeld)
Lamar Advertising Co. in Florida is being sued and faces criminal prosecution for illegally killing thousands of trees for the sake of making roadside billboards more visible.
The controversy came to light after a company employee, Robert Barnhart, was fired after he refused to continue helping poison trees.
Barnhart has sued Lamar Advertising, claiming the company retaliated against him. According to the whistleblower, Lamar employees would stop along roadways, hack into trees with a machete and pour herbicide into the cuts, causing the trunks to die.
Lamar boasts that it “over 155,000 outdoor advertising structures,”, more than any other U.S. outdoor advertising firm. According to an investigation by Fair Warning, the company has had multiple run-ins with the law in different states. For example, in 2008 the state of Connecticut sued Lamar after it removed 83 trees along Interstate 84. The company had a permit to trim the trees, not kill them and cut them down. In October 2010, a judge found Lamar liable and it paid to replant the trees.
Dan Freeman, deputy director of maintenance with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), told Fair Warning, “The billboard industry—well, my impression of them is they’re kind of lawless…. We’ve been victim a number of times to people who come in the middle of the night, with a chainsaw, and just kind of clear cut the area immediately in front of one of these supergraphics or a large billboard.”
Lamar has lobbied heavily in several states for the right to “enhance” billboard views.
Lamar is not the only billboard company accused of killing trees to improve the views of billboards. Bill Salter Outdoor Advertising is said to have cleared more than 2,000 trees.
-David Wallechinsky, Noel Brinkerhoff
To Learn More:
Criminal Probe Spotlights Tree Poisoning to Make Way for Billboards (by Myron Levin, Lilly Fowler and Stuart Silverstein, Fair Warning)
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