Mayor Joe Jaworski's Op-Ed in the Houston Chronicle
Here's the text:
You don't know what you've lost till it's gone...
by Joe Jaworski
As the people of Texas confront the loss of millions of trees in the aftermath of fire and drought, many of us in Galveston are recalling the gut-level sense of loss we experienced after damage from Hurricane Ike forced us to cut down thousands of the Island ’s trees.
But we are recovering. And in the process, we’ve learned some useful lessons.
Among Ike's victims were 500 of the great oaks that lined Broadway for more than a century. They died from a "salt water kill" that eventually destroyed 50 percent of our urban forest.
Like much that is good in life, the island began to recover from the bottom up, and leaders of a grassroots movement emerged almost organically in the wake of the storm. They called themselves The Galveston Island Tree Conservancy, and they got what help they could from local citizens, foundations, and the business community. They also drew heavily on the expertise of the Texas Forest Service and the National Arbor Day Foundation.
In the end, though, their success depended on a willingness to get their hands dirty and to put resources into planting new and more resilient trees, including Texas Ebony, the only tree that Hurricane Ike left standing in the wreckage of a Galveston public housing development.
So the first lesson Galveston learned was not to wait for the government or other outside groups to solve their problem, and I say this as the city’s mayor. No matter where you live or how you vote, trees usually get short shrift, particularly during an economic downturn.
Second, every tree planted in Galveston over the past two years has come with a commitment from someone to water and care for it. In fact, the Tree Conservancy won a major, nationwide award this month for successfully enlisting entire neighborhoods in the job of re-planting and promising to water each new tree.
Third, after watching our experience replayed across the entire state and in other vulnerable parts of the West and Southwest, where extreme weather is leaving trees vulnerable to drought, fire and insect attack, Galveston has started to treat trees as vital infrastructure. Trees need to be maintained, just as we maintain our bridges and roadways.
Finally, we’ve learned to plan ahead to reduce risk. That’s meant choosing from a bigger range of trees to ensure diversity, and making sure that we plant the right tree in the right place.
And when disaster does strike, we now know there are benefits to disposing of trees in a way that eases loss and encourages people to get out and replant. It took a year or more to figure out how many trees had to come down in Galveston , so the Tree Conservancy had time to plan, and they got creative.
Many of the oaks that once framed Broadway were used to rebuild a 19th Century whaling ship berthed in Connecticut 's Mystic Seaport. And, sculptures made from the trees now attract thousands of visitors to the island. In front of our home, for example, the stump of a hundred-year-old oak has been carved into a wooden column with jagged edges, the symbol in Victorian times of a life cut short.
Over on Ball Street , a row of newly-planted Texas Ebony blossomed again this year. Though we are planting a variety of species across the Island , it feels good to know that this tree in particular is a survivor. And so are we.
Joe Jaworski is mayor of Galveston, Texas