The rare and powerful derecho that rampaged across Iowa last August caused extensive damage to hundreds of thousands of trees, but not all of the wind storm’s damage was negative.
Billy Beck, a forestry specialist at the Iowa State University Extension, says the state’s woodland owners -can- recover and make their forests even more resilient than before.
“We want to treat this as a forest management opportunity,” Beck says, “and not like an insurmountable setback.” Much like a wildfire can help a forest by clearing out dead trees and undergrowth, the derecho has provided the chance to rebuild some of the state’s key woodlands.
Beck notes oak trees, which are important to Iowa’s environment, love the sunlight.
“They actually rely on disturbances such as this that open canopies up and expose young seedlings to sunlight to keep their species on the landscape,” Beck says. “If not, if the canopy closes, a lot of other species that love shade, still good trees but not oaks, will creep up in the understory and eventually take over the canopy.”
Diversity is vital in a forest, Beck says, and that includes diversity of species, age, size and structure, as well as distribution on the landscape. He says one plot of forest land in Linn County is a good example of how diversity helped during the derecho.
“This particular property had a lot of younger plantings, a lot of middle age plantings, and some older established forests,” Beck says. “The older established forests were hit pretty hard but the younger and middle age stands of trees that were planted were not. So, this person, although they had some damage, has a forest resource for the future because of their management efforts.”
Beck is releasing a series of four short YouTube videos that explain how woodland owners can rebuild after the destructive storm. “There’s really no cookbook method to rebound,” Beck says, “so what these four initial videos were really doing is giving folks a general overview of some big concepts to start thinking about, some resources that are out there that can help them, and just some things to keep their eyes open for following storms.”
Next, Beck plans to release several longer videos that offer more detail about how to start over with woodlands. Iowa has nearly three million acres of forestland, and saw one-and-three-quarter million acres of forests, windbreaks and urban canopies impacted by the derecho. Iowa’s forestry industry supports 18-thousand jobs and pumps nearly five billion dollars a year into the economy.