Trees can indicate ecological health. When trees are large and healthy, the ecological systems that support them are also healthy and provide environmental benefits. Hurricane Katrina destroyed forests and habitats, significantly changing the land cover of the Gulf Coast region and affecting 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 impacts to land cover and determine if new land cover data could be used to make better decisions about growth, development, and future management.
Tree cover loss between 2001 and 2006 (Hurricane Katrina occurred in 2005) was analyzed using NOAA’s coastal land cover data (known as C-CAP data) from 2001 for baseline, pre-storm conditions. The resulting report 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 are analyzing the conditions in specific areas of interest and creating 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.