Stories from the Newsletter

A Beacon of Light Amid a Changing Climate

Throughout the years, much about the Arbor Day Foundation’s Community Tree Recovery program has remained the same. We are as committed as ever to helping cities and towns affected by natural disaster restore their tree canopies — providing much-needed hope and healing with each new tree. And we continue to work with local partners to ensure that trees are distributed at the right time for recovery.

One thing that has changed, however, is frequency and intensity of these disasters. More and more neighborhoods are struggling to replace community trees in the wake of hurricanes, storms, tornadoes, wildfires, and insect infestations such as emerald ash borer. And that fact makes this program even more important for the future of our cities and towns.

This year, Community Tree Recovery distribution events were held across the country to provide support as residents rebuild their homes and their neighborhoods.

Lafitte, Louisiana: Hurricane

This fishing town was devastated by Hurricane Ida in the fall of 2021. Winds as high as 160 miles per hour, saltwater intrusion, and flooding during the storm led to an enormous amount of tree loss on top of the damage to buildings and homes.

After six months of cleanup, residents were ready to breathe new life back into the community —with the help of trees. And the Arbor Day Foundation was ready to make it happen. On the morning of March 12, a total of 500 trees were distributed to eager tree planters to restore Lafitte’s urban canopy. These trees will help with stormwater management, reduce heat islands, and support area wildlife.

According to Kathy Powajbo, a resident of Lafitte, the trees mean so much more. “Our community was devastated by Hurricane Ida and we lost many trees. It sort of looks like a war zone,” Kathy said. “These trees will definitely beautify our community, but more importantly, the trees give us a sign of life, hope, and recovery. Thank you so very much to everyone! It was a joyful day!”

Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Derecho

In August of 2020, with little warning, a devastating derecho hit Cedar Rapids. This type of storm is very damaging and known for incredibly strong winds — in this case, bringing 140-mile-per-hour winds that caused widespread devastation throughout the community. As people emerged after the storm, they found damaged homes, uprooted trees, and unrecognizable neighborhoods. More than 65% of the community tree canopy had been lost.

The road to recovery has been long, and last fall, Cedar Rapids was finally ready to begin restoring the tree canopy they lost. With a storm of this magnitude, one day of tree distributions is not enough. Multiple Community Tree Recovery planting and distribution events were held in the fall of 2021 and spring of 2022 to help with recovery. In total, 767 trees were given out to residents and 100 trees were planted along city streets with the help of youth and adult volunteers.

And just as everyone in the community was touched by the storm, they were also touched by the new trees. In the words of Alice, a Cedar Rapids resident, “Words cannot describe how happy this makes me feel.”

Bayard, Nebraska: Emerald Ash Borer and Tornado

After a tornado cut a path down the main street of Bayard in 2017, so many trees were lost. And not just any trees — those large, old trees that have helped to shape the community for generations. Now, the town faces even more canopy loss as emerald ash borer makes its way from both eastern Nebraska and Colorado.

To help ensure a healthy tree canopy in the future, 180 trees were distributed in April. Churches, civic groups, and other organizations received 130 trees to be planted in public gathering spaces not owned by the city. The remaining 50 trees were given to homeowners.

The event was a huge success. Not only did residents experience a tree planting demonstration, but local schoolchildren also got involved. “The Bayard tree board chairperson is also the elementary school principal,” said Chrissy Land, the western community forester for the Nebraska Forest Service. “The entire elementary school attended the event, which was so much fun. We also had kids from the FFA helping out with the trees.”

The Work Must Go On

As the need continues to grow for the Community Tree Recovery program, we are confident that the Arbor Day Foundation can continue to offer this assistance. Together with our dedicated members and supporters, we will help cities and towns restore their tree canopy after natural disasters … no matter how severe … and become whole again.

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