Trees are indicators of a community’s ecological health. When trees are large and healthy, the ecological systems that support them are also healthy and provide environmental benefits that can be measured in terms of ecosystem services. Hurricane Katrina destroyed forests and habitats, significantly changing the land cover of the Gulf Coast region and impacting ecosystem services.
With financial support from the U.S. Forest Service, American Forests conducted a land cover analysis of 48 counties and parishes along the coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to measure the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on the region’s ecosystem. The project was designed to quantify the impact of the storm on the land cover and determine if new land cover data could be used to make better decisions about growth, development, and management in the future.
Loss in tree cover between 2001 and 2006 (Hurricane Katrina occurred in 2005) was analyzed using 2001 Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP) land cover as the baseline for pre-storm conditions. A report was developed that outlined tree cover loss, the value of air quality-related ecosystem services provided each year, and changes in those values due to the changes in land cover. The report was provided to state and local officials along with CITYgreen, a GIS software that performs complex analyses of ecosystem services and calculates their benefits in dollars. With these resources, stakeholders can analyze the conditions in specific areas of interest and model scenarios for future growth and development.
The report informed several post-Katrina restoration efforts in Louisiana, including one to restore the urban forest in New Orleans. In 2006 and 2007, as part of a project that involved citizens and many local organizations, Parkway Partners planted 265 trees to restore those that had been damaged by the hurricane. Trees were planted on medians, streets, and parks in coordination with the Jefferson Parish to promote a regional reforestation effort.