By Mark Tancig
We can use science to guide the replanting so that we choose wind-resistant species and implement other best practices to prevent future damage.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, with our neighbors to the west still recovering, many folks may be questioning the wisdom of having trees near their house. The value of trees to our own health (oxygen, air purification, quality of life benefits), home values, energy savings, and wildlife habitat is pretty well agreed upon.
However, many of us, or someone we know, recently experienced a tree coming down on their house, car, or other valuables. There’s nothing like a tree falling through the roof to keep you from wanting to plant another one.
Yet, we need trees. With the continued loss of forests to development and the growing body of knowledge regarding current and future environmental issues we face (think climate change and loss of species), we can’t afford to not keep planting trees. In fact, we should be planting more!
So how do we justify planting more trees in a hurricane-prone area when many of us just witnessed a lot of damage caused by the trees? Well, we can use science to guide the replanting so that we choose wind-resistant species and implement other best practices to prevent future damage as much as possible.
Fortunately, the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has faculty and staff who collect and synthesize data on how trees handle hurricanes so that citizens can use that information to make better, informed decisions. They noticed trends when studying information collected following nine hurricanes, from 1992 to 2005, that ranged from top winds of 85 to 165 miles per hour.
The researchers broke the results into three different areas that affected the resilience of trees and included lessons learned regarding the health of the community’s urban forest, the individual trees themselves, and the root zone conditions surrounding trees.
Some of the results will seem straightforward.
For example, more trees fall in higher intensity storms and older, poorly structured trees with damaged roots don’t perform as well. Other data collected provided insights into which trees and environmental conditions make for a more resilient urban forest, such as the fact that trees planted in groups fare better. Much information was gathered on which tree species performed best in the face of high winds.