Tuscaloosa residents looking to replant trees lost in tornado

By Lydia Seabol Avant
Tuscaloosa, AL (June 22, 2011)- When a natural disaster occurs it normally takes months or even years before people are even ready to think about replanting trees, said Neil Letson, the assistant division director of forest management for the Alabama Forestry Commission.

“The key challenge is gauging if citizens are ready to replace their trees,” said Letson, who helped with the reforestation of South Alabama after hurricanes Katrina and Ivan. “Often times people need to grieve, and some question whether to replace trees at all.” That hasn’t been the case in Tuscaloosa, Letson said.
Instead, people here started talking about replanting and moving forward almost immediately after the storm, he said. While it’s tempting to go ahead and replant trees when you are faced with a barren landscape, it’s best to wait, he added. The fall and winter months – November through February – are the best time to plant trees.
“The last thing you want to do right now is put a tree in the ground in this weather, and have it die three months later,” said Matt McCollough, urban forestry coordinator for the Alabama Forestry Commission. “You have a clean slate to work with, so do some research now so you can be ready to plant in the fall,” added Letson.
More than 75 people packed the auditorium at the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse Annex Wednesday to learn about trees and how to replant following the storm. Although there are no exact estimates, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more than 5,000 trees were lost in the April 27 tornado. While the Alabama Forestry Commission gave tips on what to do if a tree is damaged – including seek the advice of a certified arborist – many of the people at the meeting said they had no trees left at all.
“I lost all my trees and I want to replant,” said Forest Lake resident Millie Gipson. “But, I just want shade trees, not ones that will grow big and fall on the house. When it comes to tree types, certain trees have higher wind resistance, including smaller trees such as holly, saucer magnolias and dogwoods. For larger shade trees, it’s better to plant trees that are native to this area, said Neal Hargle, a Tuscaloosa County extension agent. Some larger native trees include water oaks, willow oaks, shumard oaks and live oaks.
There are also a number of sources for free trees. Every year the Tuscaloosa Tree Commission gives away 2,000 to 3,000 seedlings, usually at the end of February, said Evelyn Young with the city of Tuscaloosa. But the city may move that event to November, considering the disaster and people’s desire to replant, she said. The Alabama Forestry Commission also grows over 200,000 trees in about 13 different species to give out through the county extension system. Usually, Tuscaloosa County gets about 1,500 trees to give out, and they go quickly, Hargle said.
The Arbor Day Foundation is also planning its own “Dollars for Trees” program where people across the nation can donate money for free trees for areas in Alabama affected by the tornadoes. For every dollar donated, the Arbor Day Foundation will donate a 2-3 foot seedling to tornado-affected areas. Although the “Dollars for Trees” donation website is not yet up, the program should be online within the next week. For now, the Alabama Forestry Commission is trying to tap into local groups, including the University of Alabama Arboretum, the Druid City Tree Canopy Coalition and other groups to help with the reforestation effort. For more information on replanting trees, go to www.aces.edu.
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Tuscaloosa News- Tuscaloosa residents looking to replant trees lost in tornado