Everyone in Cedar Rapids has been affected by the derecho, whether by property damage or loss of beloved trees. It will take us decades to recover from the destruction wrought by this storm. But the way we approach our recovery, especially when it comes to natural areas, will define our path forward for generations.
One of the greatest positive outcomes of the tree loss is greater levels of light reaching forest floors. Over the last few decades our local forests have become overgrown with fast growing shade trees that prevent native forbs and ephemerals from germinating. The storm has given us a leg up on restoration efforts that would require thinning the canopy to allow a greater diversity of plants to flourish.
In a recent collaboration with Prudenterra, we discussed the possibility of restoring a client's forest back to a white oak dominated ecosystem after hundreds of trees came down in the storm. Controlled fire could be used to suppress new maples and ironwood trees as well as invasives such as garlic mustard and burning bush. The deer population would also need to be controlled to allow for slow growing oaks to reach maturity without the damage from browsing.
The fallen trees not only provide more sun, but can also be used as a building material. We are considering using cords of wood to fill gabion baskets for decorative walls, and larger trunks in our stream restoration effort; Not only do green logs create a means to divert flows, but they can create habitat and complexity in streams to slow down water and increase infiltration during big storm events. Luke and Leland at Prudenterra are experts when it comes to stream and forest ecology, and we all learned a lot from them during our site walk.
While the derecho has definitely been a hardship, there are ways to turn the loss into an opportunity with a little creativity and big picture thinking.