Saturday, December 6, 2008

How did the forest fare from the winds?

Some folks believe that Hurricane Ike destroyed those trees not protected by the wind. One resident questioned why would we keep these trees which used to be in the forest but now are left exposed to fall on houses? In the same breath, the implication is that we do not live in the forest in The Woodlands. I want to assure everyone we do live in the forest. We have a program for reforestation to replace that which is deficient. We also maintain the forest through a management program for disease control, to maintain the integrity of the forest plant diversity, and the general health of the trees. Special attention is given to replacing invasive with native plants. Many seedlings as well as young trees are planted each year.

So here is the dilemma. We saw many trees fallen by the storm in our residential streets and yards. After all was over, the cleanup was very large. So some residents questioned the value of having the trees. We live in The Woodlands, a master planned community of the forest.The trees are and have always been part of our values here. They are the reason the community exists as it does, in a seemingly endless tangled web of paths and streets bounded and entwined with natural green areas. All green areas are intended to be part of the forest with the exception of the golf courses. Even those are supposed to have native trees and bushes.

So were the fallen trees more numerous in the green areas and the yards than in the forest? I took this question to the new county nature trail park on Flintridge. The Spring Creek Reserve area is a large protected section of forest, easily accessed by residents of The Woodlands. Any casual observer will note the large number of fallen trees. My conclusion is that the forest may have more fallen trees per given population than the ones in the homes. One reason for this is the interactions between the trees during the fury of the hurricane. For example, a tree that is uprooted by the storm is likely to fall on other trees during the storm, causing tons of weight to shift on the ground. That causes other nearby trees to be uprooted. Then there is also the "kiss" effect. One tree falling on another will damage the the other by reducing light and just pushing the other tree to an unstable or leaning posture. The density of the vegetation does not necessarily block the wind and protect the trees as some might conclude. IN fact it can have the opposite effect, like a fence. One pole can withstand heavy wind whereas the pole will fall with the fence if attached to the other boards. In other words, the lifting and pushing of a stand of trees and bushes can be considered just like a wall and gives way to the power of the wind where as a single tree lets the wind move around it, less surface and thereby less resistance. Although many fell, many of them will continue to survive for years in their new leaning and tangled positions.

So no, the trees of the forest are not more protected from the winds than the trees in the yards. And no, the trees are not as much a threat to homes as some would lead us to believe. We value our forest and can exclaim now that out trees did exceptionally well in riding out the storm. I sincerely believe that we dodged a bullet because we had healthy trees and vegetation. What we have has been through many many storms in the past. This is good reason to keep native trees and not displace them with invasive trees nor any trees that don't belong here. See related article for a different perspective.

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