- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
A Timely Tree Conference on the Coast
It’s especially fitting that the 28th Urban Forestry and Green Infrastructure Conference is taking place in Gulfport on August 20 – 21st, almost ten years to the week of Katrina.
In the aftermath of that unprecedented storm, planting trees seemed like an absurd priority. After all, the coastline of the Mississippi had been scrubbed bare. Head-high drifts of debris lined the roadways. Homeless residents scrambled to secure tents and FEMA trailers.
Katrina’s casualties also included tens of thousands of trees - ripped up, blown over and cut down in a cleanup frenzy. Restoration of the tree canopy was the last thing on the list of most overburdened officials, yet Donna Yowell, Executive Director of Mississippi Urban Forest Council (MUFC), joined with forestry partners across the state to begin replanting within months.
The Town Green
Yowell and her partners understood that tree canopies break the force of hurricane winds, and the coast’s natural windbreak had been severely compromised. Urban forests also help control storm water, clean the air, and provide wildlife habitat.
But the loss of so many trees also represented a long-term economic hurdle. Stripped of trees in 2005, the coast seemed a battered wasteland, unattractive to dispirited residents and business owners.
And for a region that depends on natural beauty to draw tourists, restoration of the lush landscapes would need to happen fast. Yet trees don’t mature overnight. It can take years for a sapling to grow enough to have a visual impact.
Yowell worked non-stop to coordinate efforts and marshal grant funding for replanting on the coast. Within the first five years after the storm, MUFC oversaw the planting of nearly half a million trees.
The reforestation of the coast steadily greened local landscapes over the past decade. Many attendees to the Urban Forestry and Green Infrastructure Conference will be able to see the fruits of their post-Katrina labors for the first time during the event.
Over 100 landscape architects, city planners, and arborists will be attending the day and a half program packed with eleven different topics and presentations.
Presentation topics range from “Urban Forest Canopy Assessments,” to “Creating Bird-Friendly Communities.” The conference also includes a “Celebration of Trees" Awards event on the night of August 20th.
“Most of our cities on the coast are Tree Cities,” she says, referring to the national Arbor Day program that encourages communities to nurture their forest resources. “Urban forestry can help communities increase sales tax revenues and improve property values.”
The conference is open to the public and takes place at the Gulfport Marriot (1600 Hwy. 90, Gulfport, Mississippi). It opens at 9am on Thursday, August 21st. Continuing education credits are available for elected officials, city employees and other professionals.
Click here for full conference details.