Iowa Ideas
Iowa Ideas

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Iowa Ideas panelists see new growth from derecho tree destruction

Experts say community involvement, and new practices will result in more resilient trees

Oct 16, 2020 at 5:26 pm
    A downed tree remains after the Aug. 10 derecho on Cheyenne Road NW in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

    CEDAR RAPIDS — As cleanup from the Aug. 10 derecho continues and conversations begin to focus on recovery, experts in conservation and urban planning said Friday there are opportunities for growth that will benefit the environment as well as communities battered by hurricane-force winds.

    On the second day of The Gazette’s Iowa Ideas virtual conference, panelists involved with tree planting in Cedar Rapids and beyond discussed the different benefits of large and diverse tree populations and how to move forward after disasters.

    Compared with the derecho that hit Iowa, Galveston, Texas, and Calgary in Alberta, Canada, experienced vastly different disasters that killed their trees.

    In Galveston, Hurricane Ike in 2008 brought a storm surge that killed trees along the surge line, helped along by extreme drought before and after the storm. The city had to wait until the spring to see that about 40,000 trees were not going to leaf again, said Priscilla Files, senior arborist and Galveston Island Tree Conservancy executive director.

    In Calgary, massive snowfall in September 2014 killed trees that had yet to drop their leaves. Julie Guimond, head of Calgary Parks Urban Forestry, said the trees were so weighted down with snow they looked like peeled bananas.

    “I hate to say it this way, but nothing like a major storm … that destroys all your trees to bring to light the importance of them,” she said.

    Shannon Ramsay, founder and chief executive of Trees Forever in Marion, said the damage to Cedar Rapids is mind-boggling, with the loss of trees estimated at more than 100,000.

    Cedar Rapids has pledged $1 million a year for the next 10 years for reforestation efforts, Ramsay said. Trees Forever will be raising funds privately, too. With an adopt-a-tree program and other efforts, Ramsay said, they want to involve residents as much as possible.

    One of the guiding principles of the reforestation plan is equity across neighborhoods. When planting trees, the goal is to spread them across the city and not just focus on certain areas, since every neighborhood was affected.

    “Resilient neighborhoods will grow resilient trees,” Ramsay said.

    Trees offer more to communities than aesthetic beauty, said Jeff Speck, a planner and urban designer who will work with the city. They absorb carbon dioxide and stormwater that otherwise would end up in drains and waterways.

    He cited a study done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that found having one healthy tree next to a house creates the equivalent of having 10 midsized air conditioners running 24 hours a day in the summer.

    Speck, who was brought in to help guide Cedar Rapids’ ReLeaf reforestation program, said trees are essential to healthy communities and have the bonus of saving cities money.

    “The city of Portland found that they get a 12-to-one payoff in the amount of money that they spend planting trees and taking care of their trees,” he said. “They get 12 times their increased tax returns due to the increased property values of those trees.”

    The destruction of trees can lead to planting a more diverse tree population and putting in new practices to ensure the trees are more resilient.

    In Galveston, when the city began planting new trees, it made sure to have an irrigation system in place so trees wouldn’t get hit so hard if drought returned. Calgary focused on working with Indigenous communities and bringing back a diverse group of native trees, and giving information to the public with a tree inventory for the city. It keeps records of when trees have been pruned and other practices to better plan for the future.

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