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Recovery effort aims to 're-leaf' Mississippi
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Arbor Day's annual emphasis to replenish Mississippi's valuable resources is taking on new importance this February.
Hurricane Katrina showed no mercy on the beautiful trees located throughout Mississippi communities. Professional arborists want to make sure replacement trees are considered as soon as possible in the recovery plans.
Walter Passmore, assistant director of public outreach for the Mississippi Forestry Commission, said more than $1 billion in economic damage occurred to the trees in cities and towns across the state.
“We had about 1.5 million trees damaged and half a million destroyed by Katrina. Large oak trees took a hard hit,” Passmore said. “We are encouraging people not to remove trees that were damaged slightly or defoliated unless they pose a hazard. Many of those trees will recover in time.”
The state's Arbor Day activities will kick off with an event at the capitol at 10 a.m. on Feb. 10. Seedling giveaways will take place across the state throughout the month. The Audubon Society, National Arbor Day Foundation and the American Forest organization are among the groups assisting in the efforts to “Re-Leaf Mississippi,” which is the theme for the state's 2006 Arbor Day.
“We are getting seedlings that are well adapted to Mississippi from other states and vendors to enhance the tree giveaways sponsored by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts,” Passmore said. “We will give away species that are native to Mississippi including a lot of hardwoods. One great thing about Mississippi is that we probably have 200 native tree species that do well in the state. Mississippi has about 20 native oak trees.”
Other trees that foresters are encouraging Mississippians to select include pines, cypress, holly and ash. Foresters are discouraging people from using trees that are highly susceptible to disease, ice or wind damage such as Bradford pears, mimosas, Chinese tallow (popcorn) and camphor trees.
Steve Dicke, forestry professor with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said Arbor Day always emphasizes the need to replace lost trees in urban areas.
“Even without a hurricane, the life expectancy for a tree in an urban setting is only 7 to 15 years. In a residential setting, trees average about 23 years,” Dicke said. “Because of the extensive losses from Katrina, we are anticipating many tree planting programs across the state for Arbor Day.”
Forestry experts are encouraging people to pay attention to site and variety selection before planting trees this year.
“The No. 1 factor is to look up for power lines. Don't plant trees that will grow large under a power line. Cutting trees back from lines costs the utility companies and leaves the trees unhealthy and unsightly,” Dicke said.
“The No. 2 factor is to match the size of the planting space with the tree,” Dicke said. “For smaller spaces, select trees such as crape myrtles, Little Gem magnolias, yaupon hollies, dogwoods, eastern redbuds and Japanese maples.”
Dicke said large shade trees were the most severely damaged by the hurricane. Some evergreens provide foliage even in the winter months, but some of those trees, such as pines that can grow 90 feet tall, need plenty of room to prevent property damage during wind and ice storms.
“Winter is a good time to plant trees in Mississippi as we have plenty of moisture and trees are dormant. They will have time to establish root systems before warm temperatures and drier conditions arrive,” Dicke said. “Nursery-grown trees typically have good root systems concentrated in a small area and are more likely to survive than trees transplanted from one wild setting to another.”