Trees needed as Iowa heats up, but our lawmakers aren’t helping

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
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Our top science brains released their annual Iowa Climate Statement on Wednesday, and it’s kind of a no-brainer. Trees are important, and even more so as Iowa’s summers heat up over the next 60 years.


The statement, signed by science faculty and researchers from 33 colleges and universities, says projections show Iowa will experience 35 days where the temperature tops 95 degrees by 2050 unless steps are taken to slash carbon emissions fueling climate change. That number jumps to 95 days by 2080, while the state also will see more days with triple digit temperatures.


Trees can bring relief by shading properties, particularly in urban heat islands, and cutting cooling bills. But other climate threats, including heavy precipitation, droughts and powerful storms, including derechos, will continue to threaten the state’s urban and rural tree canopy.


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Trees also bring water and soil quality benefits, soak up runoff and help clean the air.


“With their wealth of ecological and social benefits, the trees we have are valuable. We need to plant diverse species of trees to promote resilience and support and strengthen Iowa’s ongoing tree planting programs,” said Heather Sander, associate professor of geographical and sustainability sciences at the University of Iowa.


So trees are important, vital even. But you wouldn’t know it by watching our Republican-led Statehouse. Lawmakers have pulled some shady maneuvers, but care little about actual shade.


If 7 million trees fall during a derecho, do they make a sound under the Golden Dome of Wisdom? Barely.


After the derecho, the Legislature appropriated $250,000 to replace trees lost to the 2020 storm and another $250,000 in federal funds to replace trees decimated by the emerald ash borer. Meantime, the Legislature socked away billions in surplus dollars.


The city of Cedar Rapids, by contrast, has pledged $10 million over the next decade in a partnership with Trees Forever, which will raise $27 million more for tree planting and care. The city lost 669,000 trees, or 70 percent of its urban canopy and hopes to replace 42,000 trees on public land.


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The derecho did take the wind out of the sails of a legislative effort to raise property taxes on private forested land in Iowa. The Forest Reserve Program, started in 1906, provides a property tax exemption for people who own two acres of land with at least 200 trees. The bill floated in 2021 would have cut the exemption to 75 percent and raised the acreage requirement to 10 acres.


The move was backed by the Iowa Farm Bureau, which called it a matter of “fairness.” Never mind all the tax breaks enjoyed by agriculture. The timing of the bill, just after the derecho dampened enthusiasm for raising taxes on trees. But watch for a comeback at a Statehouse near you.


In 2017, amid budget cuts, the Department of Natural Resources eliminated its forestry unit.


In 2018, lawmakers passed legislation drastically curtailing the scope of energy efficiency programs administered by utility corporations, including tree planting.


Add all that to the indifference to environmental degradation shown by Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Legislature and the conservative state Supreme Court, and we’ve got three branches hostile to protecting Iowa’s natural resources. Only voters can uproot this invasive species.


(319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

 

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
73,027
52,690
113
Iowa weather is getting hotter, wetter and more extreme — and trees will be critical for mitigating the dangerous impacts of climate change, according to a 2022 Iowa Climate Statement released Wednesday.


This summer alone, heat waves, record temperature highs and a derecho barreled through Iowa.


Trees help reduce the effects of these extreme weather events by providing shade, sucking up water and offsetting carbon emissions. But tree canopies in Iowa — decimated during the 2020 derecho — need to be sustained and expanded.


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That’s why Iowa researchers decided to focus on trees and their benefits in this year’s climate statement, they said on a Wednesday press call.


“Many of the trees that we plant today will be living well into the 22nd and even 23rd centuries,” said David Courard-Hauri, a Drake University professor of environmental science and sustainability. “Trees provide us with an opportunity and an obligation to think about what our state will be like then, and how we can ensure their survival in a very different climate from the one we've gotten used to.”


The climate statement was endorsed by 203 science faculty and researchers, spanning 33 colleges and universities across Iowa. Previous statements include focuses on electric infrastructure and COVID-19.


Climate change​


Climate change will likely bring increased humidity, warmer nights and wetter winters to Iowa — which could lead to more floods and droughts.


Thirty-nine climate projections models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that Iowa will be much warmer in a high-emissions future, said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.


In Des Moines, for example, the number of days with temperatures over 95 degrees is projected to increase from 3.6 days per year to 95 days per year by 2081. By the end of the century, the city could experience up to 45 days per year that have a heat index over 106 degrees.


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“The heat and humidity will be oppressive,” Schnoor said. “Such heat waves would create a huge problem for trees and Iowa as we move to midcentury and beyond.”


Changing climate is causing tree-growing seasons to shift, said Jan Thompson, a professor of natural resource ecology and management at Iowa State University.


With warmer springs, trees begin growing sooner, and they become dormant later due to warmer falls. If this seasonal shift grows large enough, it could cause a mismatch of life cycle timings for pollinators — which are essential to a tree’s natural seed reproduction, Thompson said.


Plant processes critical for a tree’s survival and growth — like photosynthesis — also are heavily influenced by climatic conditions. Higher temperatures cause the rates of these processes to increase. But extreme temperatures can cause some to decline, which can create imbalances that weaken the tree. This makes them more susceptible to destructive pests like the emerald ash borer.


Other forest disturbances, like fires, also are more likely with increased temperatures and decreased moisture. Iowa is already starting to see more fires on the landscape, Thompson said.


“The recipe isn’t good for long-lived species that can’t get up and walk away,” she said.


How trees help​


In spite of the climatic challenges, trees act as lines of defense against climate change, said Heather Sander, a UI associate professor of geographic and sustainability sciences.


They absorb large volumes of water during periods of intense rainfall, which will likely become more common and frequent in Iowa, Sander said. This helps decrease flooding in fields, streets and waterways. Their roots also hold soil in place and prevent erosion.


Trees help cool the air when they release water from their leaves in a process called transpiration. Their canopies also shade the land underneath. Higher tree concentrations can help reduce energy usage and bills in cities experiencing the urban heat island effect, which is when cities replace natural land cover with surfaces that retain heat, like pavement and buildings.


With its extreme tree loss, Cedar Rapids will experience worse urban heat island effects for a projected 10 to 20 years, Schnoor said.


“The shading and cooling provided by trees will help to reduce this heat and provide respite from it, particularly for those without access to air conditioning,” Sander said.


Trees also provide general ecosystem benefits, including wildlife habitat, clean air and aesthetic enhancements for communities.


“To preserve these benefits and to address the many challenges climate change is going to pose to Iowans, Iowa needs to take care of its trees and forests,” Sander said.


More trees needed​


Even before the 2020 derecho, Iowa wasn’t keeping up with its tree planting, Thompson said. Now — spurred by the derecho — communities are “stepping it up.”


Cedar Rapids’ $37 million ReLeaf plan, for instance, aims to plant more than 42,000 trees on public land over 10 years. As of the derecho’s two-year anniversary, city staff, contractors and Trees Forever volunteers have planted at least 2,470 trees along streets and in parks.


Planting trees is a great first step, but keeping them alive is most important.


Caring for them means watering newly planted trees and mature trees during times of drought, Sander said. Trees also must be pruned to keep them strong against high winds. And planting a variety of species helps promote resilience against invasive pests.


“Without those trees, the effects of climate change on our health and well-being will be far greater,” Sander said.


Although they store carbon and offset emissions, trees cannot single-handedly defeat climate change. Global carbon-dioxide emissions rose to 36.3 billion tonnes in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency.


“Trees are not going to solve the problem. They may help us adjust, particularly to climate change, but we can't just count on trees to fix our problem for us,” Sander said. “What we need to do is reduce emissions.”


Brittney J. Miller is an environmental reporter for The Gazette and a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.

 

hawkwrestling

All-Conference
Mar 4, 2009
309
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I couldn't agree more, Iowa and probably the nation needs more trees. As an avid outdoorsmen, I have watched Ag fields decimate trees for years just to gain a little bit of land. Also, when farmers choose to plant set-aside instead of farming, they are obligated to maintain it, which means cutting down volunteer trees that come up, even though it is supposed to be "natural", they must maintain to the governmental spects.
 

Rifler

HR Legend
Jan 26, 2011
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So we needed "top science brains" to tell us this huh?...
 

Aardvark86

HR All-American
Jan 23, 2018
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Serious question.

Strike that. Question: As an easterner with very distant memories of the annual family move to Laramie, my sense is that the great plains have been pretty much treeless farmland for a long time, at least compared to a lot of other parts of the country. So, is this suggesting something "different" or a restoration of what once was?

Man, in asking this question, I feel a lot like an old buddy of mine from law school who grew up in Manhattan. One day we're out cycling in northern Maryland through cornfields, and the guy says, "Aardavark, what is that, wheat?"
 

RollingBallofButcherKnives

HR All-American
Nov 22, 2015
2,530
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I couldn't agree more, Iowa and probably the nation needs more trees. As an avid outdoorsmen, I have watched Ag fields decimate trees for years just to gain a little bit of land. Also, when farmers choose to plant set-aside instead of farming, they are obligated to maintain it, which means cutting down volunteer trees that come up, even though it is supposed to be "natural", they must maintain to the governmental spects.
This
 

millah_22

HR Legend
Jun 15, 2004
34,649
48,336
113
Omaha
Meanwhile many of these same cities have cut down ash trees instead of injecting them.
I talked to one of my old co-workers in the the city urban forestry department. They haven't gotten the ash borer in that city, but it was just discovered in the state. She said 11% of their inventoried trees are Ash and to treat them all is just not financially feasable. Im sure cities would love to keep them, but the cost is just way too much.

We just got my backyard ash tree treated and it was $350 for 1 mature tree.
 
  • Wow
Reactions: TheCainer
Jul 16, 2022
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I lost 7 good sized trees in the derachio. In the wooded portion of our lot we have planted 40+ new trees (maple, oak, redbud, dawn redwood). In addition to the plantings it is amazing how mother nature on her own is reforesting the areas that now have more light. Should have a much healthier stand of trees in just a couple more years. I can also vouch that Trees Forever is a well run organization.
 
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NorthernHawkeye

HR Legend
Dec 23, 2007
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I talked to one of my old co-workers in the the city urban forestry department. They haven't gotten the ash borer in that city, but it was just discovered in the state. She said 11% of their inventoried trees are Ash and to treat them all is just not financially feasable. Im sure cities would love to keep them, but the cost is just way too much.

We just got my backyard ash tree treated and it was $350 for 1 mature tree.

I'm confident that a city with numerous trees would see competitve bidding and a discounted price.
 

millah_22

HR Legend
Jun 15, 2004
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Omaha
I'm confident that a city with numerous trees would see competitve bidding and a discounted price.
Maybe, but for major metros we're talking thousands of trees. That's time + resources. I'm sure they could do landmark trees, but it is ambitious to try to do them all.
 

Jerome Silberman

HR Legend
Oct 30, 2009
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I talked to one of my old co-workers in the the city urban forestry department. They haven't gotten the ash borer in that city, but it was just discovered in the state. She said 11% of their inventoried trees are Ash and to treat them all is just not financially feasable. Im sure cities would love to keep them, but the cost is just way too much.

We just got my backyard ash tree treated and it was $350 for 1 mature tree.
Yep, treatment is futile. You're just paying a premium to delay the inevitable. The real kicker is that you will still have to plant a new tree in it's place eventually, you'll just have missed out on 10 years of growth.

Another reason Michigan and NASCAR can eat sh!t.
 

lucas80

HR King
Gold Member
Jan 30, 2008
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Meanwhile many of these same cities have cut down ash trees instead of injecting them.
If you listened to Horticulture Day on Iowa Public Radio you would know that those trees are going to die. Best to start replacing them now with a wider range of trees. There are a wide range of oaks that grow well in Iowa. Some conifers, elm trees, and even chestnut trees would be a good option.
 

NorthernHawkeye

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Dec 23, 2007
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Yep, treatment is futile. You're just paying a premium to delay the inevitable. The real kicker is that you will still have to plant a new tree in it's place eventually, you'll just have missed out on 10 years of growth.

Another reason Michigan and NASCAR can eat sh!t.

It's not inevitable. Preventative treatment has been proven to be effective.
 

lucas80

HR King
Gold Member
Jan 30, 2008
99,798
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Serious question.

Strike that. Question: As an easterner with very distant memories of the annual family move to Laramie, my sense is that the great plains have been pretty much treeless farmland for a long time, at least compared to a lot of other parts of the country. So, is this suggesting something "different" or a restoration of what once was?

Man, in asking this question, I feel a lot like an old buddy of mine from law school who grew up in Manhattan. One day we're out cycling in northern Maryland through cornfields, and the guy says, "Aardavark, what is that, wheat?"
It's a point to quibble on to say Iowa is a plains state. There are large tracts of land that were prairie grass in states like Kansas and Nebraska, but there were trees interspersed, and the prairie grass itself was a tremendous plus for the environment.
Iowa is actually pretty diverse in topography. The NE is quite hilly, and has a few specks of forest left. The same for the SE part. Our forefathers chopped most everything down to go fence line to fence line with crops over time. Even within the last few decades a lot of good pasture has been turned to row crops.
I have an anomaly in my family. I inherited a portion of a farm that is 1/3 timber.
 

Jerome Silberman

HR Legend
Oct 30, 2009
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A permanent solution would be the eradication of the bore.

Until then, injections will keep the trees alive and healthy.

I've been to enough shade tree conferences to know what I'm talking about, and one of the things I know from experience is that annual treatment with pesticides can help to prevent infection. The key word is can.

It's also spelled borer.
 

NorthernHawkeye

HR Legend
Dec 23, 2007
26,936
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I've been to enough shade tree conferences to know what I'm talking about, and one of the things I know from experience is that annual treatment with pesticides can help to prevent infection. The key word is can.

It's also spelled borer.

Damn, I left off the "r". I guess that settles it in your favor...

Seriously though, everyone is free to cut their trees down. I'll keep and enjoy mine.
 

millah_22

HR Legend
Jun 15, 2004
34,649
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Omaha
Damn, I left off the "r". I guess that settles it in your favor...

Seriously though, everyone is free to cut their trees down. I'll keep and enjoy mine.
For sure, and I hope people don't cut them down until they become unsafe. I'm betting almost of the ash trees removed were devastated.