Staff Editorial

'ReLeaf' Cedar Rapids

Downed trees are seen along 18th Street SW in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Downed trees are seen along 18th Street SW in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Aug. 10, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Through the middle of this week, crews have hauled away 200,000 tons of tree debris since the derecho hit Cedar Rapids in August. The storm’s winds, topping out at 140 mph according to National Weather Service estimates, toppled some 65 percent of the city’s tree canopy.

The city lost 23,000 publicly owned trees. And over the next several years, it’s likely the city will lose more trees damaged and weakened by the storm. Throw in abnormally dry conditions and the region’s trees have taken a beating. Not to mention residents who live in neighborhoods once shaded by stately trees now stripped bare. Beyond the loss of natural beauty, the depleted canopy will be less able to cut energy use in the summer, prevent soil erosion and soak up runoff.

That’s a lot of bad news. The good news is the city is moving ahead on the long-range effort to replace trees and re-establish the lost canopy.

The “ReLeaf Initiative” announced earlier this month is a 10 to 15-year collaboration with the Marion-based nonprofit Trees Forever to replenish the city’s urban forest. Trees Forever has set a fundraising goal of $10 million to $15 million. The city also will dedicate more than $1 million annually to the effort and TaxAct, a Cedar Rapids software company, already has pledged $100,000. Trees Forever also hopes to assist other dercho-affected communities.

International city planning expert Jeff Speck, who has advised the city on improving its transportation infrastructure to encourage walkability, will help guide the tree replacement initiative.

Trees will be replanted in parks, golf courses and along streets. There are plans to map the city’s trees, much like an initiative in Cambridge, Mass. Incentives and discounts will be offered to private property owners to encourage tree-planting.

Of course it will take decades to reestablish what was lost to the storm. But we’re encouraged by the level of commitment by local leaders to get started and sustain the initiative. A stronger, more resilient tree canopy can rise from the twisted tangle of branches left by the storm.

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We urge residents and businesses dig into their wallets or grab a shovel to support the ReLeaf Initiative.

(319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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