Texas Forest Service to Help Galveston Recover From $48 Million Loss

May 8, 2009–GALVESTON, Texas –As the island continues to recover from Hurricane Ike, a dedicated urban forester will be needed to help city officials make daily tree decisions and Texas Forest Service is willing to help shoulder the cost.

The state agency is prepared to offer the City of Galveston financial support for the development of a detailed community reforestation plan that could guide leaders as they look at the storm-damaged trees and decide what stays and what goes.

The city needs to engage the community throughout the process and establish a formal tree committee and tree ordinance, according to the Texas Forest Service report released this week.

Galveston city officials said this week they are continuing to study the report and monitor tree health, but plan to take no immediate action.

“We are continuing to work with the Texas Forest Service staff to determine the best course of action for our city’s trees,” city spokeswoman Alicia Cahill said Friday. “Their guidance and support has been incredibly beneficial.”

Texas Forest Service has been working with Galveston since Hurricane Ike slammed into the island last fall, destroying homes and businesses and stranding the trees that didn’t topple in a salty storm surge.

Foresters surveyed the tree damage shortly after the storm and developed a treatment plan, but saw few signs of new growth during a return trip for Arbor Day in March. Working together with the Texas AgriLife Extension Service in Galveston County and Master Gardeners, they returned last month for a second assessment.

A two-day survey showed an estimated 10,840 trees in the public right of way – about half the trees on the island – are dead or dying and likely will have to be removed. Of those, 28 percent have no leaves and show no signs of life, according to a report addendum. If you exclude palms, that figure jumps to almost 40 percent – or roughly 5,700 trees – with no leaves at all.

It could cost upwards of $700,000 to remove the 10,840 trees poisoned by Hurricane Ike’s salty storm surge and another $2.2 million to replant replacements, according to the Texas Forest Service report. That doesn’t include another 3,254 smaller trees that also could have to be removed as well as 31,000 private trees that may face the same fate.

The report put a hefty $48.6 million price tag on the landscape value of the dead and dying trees. More appraisal than actual cost, the figure was determined using a formula that looks at the size, location, condition and species of each tree to determine the value it adds to the landscape.

The findings also go into more detail, outlining mortality rates by species. Foresters found some trees – such as palms and oleanders – had a particularly high salt tolerance. Others – such as the American sycamore, which had a 100 percent mortality rate – didn’t fare as well.

“We have two sides of the same coin that are potential concerns,” said Pete Smith, urban forestry partnership coordinator with Texas Forest Service. “As our report stated, our initial survey was designed to prevent the unwise removal of possible live trees. The flip side of that coin is that dead and decaying trees can’t last too long on the streets. What the city needs is a qualified professional to sort one from the other.”

“I think our goals are all the same – that tree canopy in Galveston is restored to some semblance of its former self.”

For more information, go online to read Hurricane Ike Street Tree Survey Report and Recommendations and Addendum 1.

To view photos of the tree assessment, go online to the Galveston Tree Assessment April 2009 photo gallery.