Climate change has harmed Iowa’s tree population


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Via Flickr

Elyse Gabor | March 29, 2022

Intense temperature changes, lack of rain, and more frequently occurring storms have harmed Iowa’s tree population. Climate change has caused the loss of hundreds of trees around the state. One of the leading causes of tree loss was the derecho in 2020. 

Mark Rouw, who resides in Des Moines, has measured Iowa’s largest trees for more than 40 years. His findings are shared on the Big Trees of Iowa official registry for the DNR. In his 2021 update, he noticed that many trees that had been previously on the list no longer existed due to the derecho. Some of the lost trees include a 92-foot-tall ponderosa pine in Cedar Rapids and a 70-foot tall butternut in Lisbon. 

“I had so many big trees I’ve been monitoring so many years it’s almost like losing a friend,” Rouw said. “Especially some of those that were so big and impressive and unique that after they came down, you’re looking at the contenders and there’s nothing else that comes close.”

Last week, Rouw measured Atlantic white cedars at the Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids, where he saw University of Iowa arborist Andy Dhal. The two frequently measure Eastern Iowa trees. The state champion tree is a black walnut located on the University of Iowa’s Pentacrest. 

While at Brucemore, they found a new winner, an Atlantic white cedar that now holds the title of state champion. 

Tree planting is blooming: Here’s tips about how to help, and not harm, the planet


Via Flickr.

Simone Garza | March 21, 2022

With the climate crisis worsening, businesses and consumers are joining nonprofit groups and local governments for a global tree planting boom. 

The benefits of tree planting including providing oxygen, reducing flooding, and minimizing water runoff, therefore reducing pollution in waterways across the country. 

But when planting is done unsuccessfully, it can magnify the issues the planting intended to solve. Planting trees incorrectly can minimize biodiversity, accelerate extinctions, and make ecosystems inflexible. 

The extinction rates of wildlife animals are surging, as the World Wide Fund for Nature reported in 2021 that extinction rates are 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. The essence of an ecosystem impacts more than plants and animals. Humans also rely on food and water supplies. 

As the climate crisis worsens, tree planting is being invested by companies and countries majorly in commercial land. Although the trees do block off carbon, the trees provide insufficient support to the webs of life that previously bloomed in these areas. 

Debates have been made by policy experts, scientists, and forestry companies through interviews on what exactly is a proper way to plant trees. One idea for some, is big tree farms for timber and carbon storage. The other idea is having fruit trees for small scale farmers. Lastly, the idea is still allowing native species to reproduce. 

Although there’s not enough land on earth to fight off climate change with trees alone, if it can be joined with huge cuts in fossil fuels trees could be an essentially natural solution. 

Downed derecho trees turn into urban lumber


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | October 29, 2021

Thousands of downed trees from the 2020 derecho were originally turned into mulch, but now, some can be found in furniture, art, and housing materials.

The decision was made to get rid of the massive amount of trees across Cedar Rapids, one of the hardest hit areas in Iowa, according to The Cedar Rapids Gazette. Still, clean up of downed trees lasted months. Now, some trees have become urban lumber. Urban lumber is wood cut from trees that were grown within city limits that are not turned into mulch.

Urban lumber is now available in Des Moines and Iowa City at Habitat for Humanity stores. It’s available to anyone according to Aron Flickinger, a forestry program specialist at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Keeping the trees in their initial form and not making it into mulch keeps carbon locked instead of the chemical goes back into the atmosphere. 50 percent of the weight of wood is carbon.

Urban lumber has a multitude of uses. including cabinetry, furniture, flooring, and interior finishes.

Iowa City Roots for Trees program looks to plant more trees


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Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 17, 2021

After a successful first year, the Iowa City Parks and Recreation department’s Root for Trees program opened this week with the goal of planting more trees than ever before.

The Root for Trees Discount Program started as a part of the City’s Climate Action Plan. The project started with the goal to expand the Iowa City’s tree canopy and diversity. The program broke records last year by planting 400 trees.

The program began again on September 15 and runs until May 2022. To participate, Iowa City residents can redeem vouchers to use at a local tree nursery at a reduced cost. The vouchers work on 19 different types of trees. Once the tree is planted on the voucher user’s property, they are responsible for the care and maintenance of the tree. The voucher cuts the cost of purchasing a tree significantly. Since the voucher is based on income, residents will receive from 50 to 90 percent off at $250 tree.

According to The Daily Iowan, 360 vouchers were redeemed last year. Program facilitators are looking to have even more success in 2021. Applications to obtain a voucher are currently open to residents currently. The City of Iowa City’s Parks and Recreation department also has a guide where voucher users can learn what type of tree is best for their property prior to purchasing and planting.

Iowa Lost Over 7 Million Trees in the Derecho, DNR Says


Derecho Damage in Ames, IA

Josie Taylor | September 15, 2021

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has reported that last summer’s derecho cost Iowa 7.2 million trees as wind gusts got up to 140 miles per hour in some counties. The cities that lost the most were Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Davenport. 

Iowa cities lost 4.5 million trees, and rural Iowa lost 2.7 million trees. 13 percent of all urban trees were lost to the derecho. Cedar Rapids, however, lost 70 percent of their urban trees as they lost 953,224 trees alone. Iowa City and Johnson County lost 234,567 trees. 

The lack of trees in Iowa will ultimately contribute to climate change since trees capture carbon, reduce air pollution, provide natural shade and provide windbreaks. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called the derecho “the costliest thunderstorm in U.S. history. The state sustained $11 billion in damages and Iowan families have filed for $3 billion, according to the Iowa Insurance Division. 

Derecho recovery continues with tree replanting, aid requests


Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | August 12, 2021

One year after the derecho devastated many Iowa communities, the state is still recovering.

The storm ripped through nearly 800 miles of the Midwestern United States and crossed eight states within 14 hours. Winds reached higher than 60 miles per hour across the region. With Tuesday marking the anniversary of the natural disaster, Iowans are looking forward after a year of rebuilding.

One of the hardest hit areas of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, is looking to replant some of the trees that were uprooted in the storm. Several trees in the area were removed by contractors because they were damaged, including early 20 percent of the city-owned trees. This led to a smaller diversity of species in the municipality. The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported on Tuesday that the city is still taking inventory of what trees were lost in the derecho. The city is hoping to finish the project by the end of 2021.

Cedar Rapids is currently looking to replant several species of trees, including the swamp white oak and Western catalpa trees. Post-derecho planting has officially begun in the city to continue recovering the landscape.

Alongside strides to return to pre-derecho Iowa, some elected officials from the state are looking to continue investing funds in recovery initiatives. The storm is the most costly inland weather disaster in the history of the United States, with an $11 million price tag. Iowa’s delegation in Washington are pushing for more funding to go to programs like Cedar Rapids’s tree planting.

Eastern Iowans Plant Trees for Earth Day


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 23, 2021

Eastern Iowans celebrated Earth Day yesterday with tree planting projects – an important task after trees were damaged in the August derecho according to KCRG. Organizations such as GreenState Credit Union, Trees Forever, Big Grove Brewery, Quality Care and Landscapes, and the City of Iowa City gave more than a thousand seedlings and planted oak trees at Big Grove Brewery.

Over 100 volunteers in Tipton Iowa planted 50 trees around the Tipton Public Library. According to the Tipton Public Works Director Steve Nash, the derecho damaged at least 100 public trees. The Marion-based non-profit Trees Forever is running a tree adoption program in Linn County that is open from now until April 30

The Fate of Cedar Rapids’ Trees Featured in National Geographic Article


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Nicole Welle | December 14, 2020

Cedar Rapids residents were devastated after the August derecho swept through and destroyed most of the city’s trees. But in the months following the disaster, their efforts to replant smarter and ensure that the city’s trees will return for future generations has captured national interest and become the topic of news stories across the country.

Freelance journalist Dustin Renwick took interest in the fate of Cedar Rapids’ trees shortly after the derecho hit and chose to write an article for National Geographic. In it, he highlighted personal stories from community members and local arborists and discussed both the role urban trees played in the community and how the city will replant to ensure the resiliency of its trees in the future.

Click here to read Renwick’s National Geographic article and learn more about Cedar Rapids’ fight to restore its urban forest.

City dwellers rejoice: spring greening comes earlier for urban plants


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The first signs of spring occur earlier in cities than surrounding rural areas, new research found (via Creative Commons).

Julia Poska | February 27, 2020

Vegetation starts turning green earlier in cities than surrounding rural areas, but urban plants are less sensitive to unseasonable warmth, new Iowa State University-led research found. The authors attribute the difference to the urban “heat island” effect.

Cities typically have somewhat higher temperatures than surrounding rural areas because materials like asphalt and brick absorb heat more readily than natural landscapes. For example, New York City is about 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than surrounding areas in summer, according to NASA’s Climate Kids site.

Researchers found this “heat island” phenomenon causes urban vegetation to perceive the start of spring and begin greening an average of six days earlier than surrounding rural plants.

As climate change progresses, however, plants in both rural and urban areas are responding to unseasonably warm temperatures by beginning growth earlier and earlier over time. Pollinators and last frosts have failed to keep up, which has damaged the early bloomers’ ability to survive and reproduce.

The study found that rural vegetation is more sensitive to early spring weather than urban vegetation, perhaps due to the urban heat island effect as well.

ISU Ph.D. student Ling Meng led the research team, which included CGRER member Yuyu Zhou, an ISU geological and atmospheric scientist, among others. The study, published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was based on satellite images from 85 large U.S. cities from 2001 to 2014.

Zhou told the Iowa State News Service that this sort of research can help predict how plants will respond to climate change and urbanization.

On The Radio – Leaves drop early due to fall drought


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Some leaves in Iowa fell to the ground before changing color this year due to drought. (Liz West/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | October 9, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how drought conditions in late September pushed some trees into early dormancy.

Transcript: Tree leaves in Iowa began changing colors and falling to the ground earlier than usual this year due to drought conditions.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Leaf color change is closely tied to weather conditions. During the last week of September, the U.S. Drought Portal reported that about thirty percent of Iowa was experiencing abnormally dry conditions and about twenty-five percent of the state was in a moderate drought.

Officials from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources explained that if trees do not have enough moisture, they can be pushed into dormancy earlier than usual. As a result, many leaves died and fell from trees before they bursted into autumn’s hues of red, yellow and orange this year.

In a typical year, leaves change color in northern Iowa between the last week of September and the second week of October, from the first to third weeks of October in central Iowa and from the second to fourth weeks of October in southern Iowa.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.