“Monumental task” for tree recovery after derecho

Dr. Jeff Isles with Iowa State University says the derecho damage is a blow to the aesthetics, finances and environment of Iowa cities and towns.
Published: Aug. 21, 2020 at 4:21 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Tree experts say the work to rebuild the trees lost in the 2020 Derecho will be a “monumental task”.

The city of Cedar Rapids estimates it lost half of the tree canopy in the city during the August 10th storm that saw winds on par with a category 2 hurricane. In total, city crews have already removed 247 tons of tree debris.

Dr. Jeff Iles, Chair of the Iowa State University Forestry Department, noted the first concern with so much tree damage is safety.

“I want to make sure people are safe working around these trees,” Dr. Iles said, “leave it to the trained arborists. I worry most about safety and then about the cleanup.”

He said the most common question he has had since the derecho is whether a damaged tree can be saved. He said that takes a close examination by a tree expert to determine if a tree can recover or if it will become a danger to fall.

Dr. Iles said losing that many trees has a broad impact but most noted the aesthetics of tree-lined streets so many Iowa towns, including Cedar Rapids and Marion, have embraced for years.

“Imagine an Iowa summer without the benefit of tree cover, it would be a pretty tough place to live,” Dr. Iles said. “We like them, we value them, they are not permanent but they are long life things that we have come to appreciate in the landscape. There are all the environmental impacts and benefits but for me, it’s a lot about aesthetics and making a community liveable.”

That includes air quality of filtering out carbon and pollutants, as well as wildlife concerns from loss of habitat or food sources.

Financially, Dr. Iles said the cost to replace the downed trees will be in the millions of dollars just for the materials to replace so many trees. He said that doesn’t include ongoing maintenance and care.

“You layer that on top of COVID-19, on the economic calamity that has befallen this country after COVID-19, and you’ve got to wonder how cities are going to pay for this,” Dr. Iles said.

Dr. Iles says he hopes cities and homeowners keep a mind towards the longterm recovery and picking a variety of trees to replace the fallen ones. He noted the importance of having a variety of types of trees to prevent impacts of diseases and pests that have impacted Ash trees and Maples in recent years.

“We know we planted way too many maples in our urban landscapes, I love maples, who doesn’t? It’s like who doesn’t like puppies?” Dr. Iles quipped. “But we planted too many so let’s think about other types.”

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