After the Storm: A Joplin Update
“With the hot summer we experienced last year , you really noticed the extreme temperatures and wind in the residential neighborhoods and commercial areas that were missing trees,” Bolander says. “We also noticed an increase in calls to our office concerning noise complaints. The trees in place prior to the tornado were acting as a noise barrier between land uses that were incompatible between residential and commercial properties. With the trees gone, there was nothing to deflect the noise.” Because of these observations, Joplin’s city government is in the process of updating the city’s comprehensive plans and ordinances to promote the planting of native vegetation and trees. Bolander says these steps will not only improve the visual appearance of Joplin, but will also provide visual buffers, sound barriers, erosion control, and wind breaks to urban spaces. These are good examples of how conservation pays by enriching our economy and quality of life.
It’s not that Joplin wasn’t tree-savvy prior to the tornado. A month before the tornado hit (April 2011), the city received Tree City USA honors for the fourth straight year. (The city earned this honor again in 2012.) Tree City USA is a nationwide urban forestry conservation program sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters. In Missouri, the program is administrated through the Missouri Department of Conservation.
However, Allen says good urban forestry management, like other sound conservation practices, is an ongoing education. Evidence of Department of Conservation urban forestry efforts can be found in cities of varying sizes across the state, and all are examples of how the Department works with people and for people to sustain healthy forests, fish, and wildlife.
“Our mission is to encourage communities to invest in comprehensive community forestry programs such as Tree City USA before a crisis occurs,” says Allen. “A healthy and diverse community forest is much more resilient during catastrophic events and more likely to be sustainable for the future. In addition, creating public awareness of the value trees provide socially, economically, and environmentally to our communities is imperative to quick and efficient recovery of the community forest following a major storm event.”
Work in progress
The reforestation of Joplin is still a work in progress. Bolander says the city, with support from the Department of Conservation, is currently finalizing an aggressive tree-planting program that will be funded with disaster funds that have been received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Joplin’s city council and city manager have allocated $2 million of these funds to purchase and plant more than 6,300 trees in the storm-damaged area.
Mayer says, even if no more donations come in for residential trees, Joplin can expect to plant 2,000 right-of-way trees each year through 2017. If donations for home trees continue, he says it’s hard to estimate the number of residential plantings that could take place in the coming years. Though the multi-organization, multi-stage nature of Joplin’s tree recovery project has made it difficult to put a cost estimate on the effort, Mayer says it’s easy to estimate its value.
“A house is not a home until people make it so,” he says. “When we plant trees, we are certainly recovering, getting ourselves and the landscape healthy.”
“We all have memories of our families that are tied to our natural surroundings,” he adds, “how our sisters played in the shade of the corner maple tree, how the wild cherries stained our hands. A lot of good times are remembered in the shade of an old oak tree. Those memories are the basis for living good times in the future.”