Groups begin planning for flood aftermath of tree die-offs

2011-06-25T18:30:00Z 2013-03-20T15:11:39Z Groups begin planning for flood aftermath of tree die-offsBy KAREN HERZOG Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune
June 25, 2011 6:30 pm  • 

 The evergreens will be first, yellowing needles signaling a dying tree.

The cottonwoods and box elders will hang on a bit longer, but they, too, will start to drop their leaves as the lack of oxygen begins to starve them.

People along the Missouri River have been focused for the last month on the immediate needs of sandbagging, evacuating, finding places to live, stripping their homes, plugging drains, monitoring pumps.

But as the summer goes on and the waters stay high, public groups must start planning for the time when the water recedes and leaves behind it acres and miles of dead vegetation and thousands upon thousands of dead and dying trees all along the river.

The tree-kill problem is going to be gigantic, said ElRoy Haadem, the Burleigh County NDSU extension agent.

Haadem said he has been asked by people who wonder what will happen to the tree-lined river that Bismarck-Mandan is accustomed to seeing.

Some trees can stand a degree of flooding, but weeks of waterlogged roots cuts off their oxygen, Haadem said.

Evergreens are the first to go, he said, followed by the deciduous cottonwoods and box elders.

Once, pre-dam, the river flooded periodically, spreading cottonwood seeds and nourishing the seedlings and young trees, Haadem said.

But since those were early spring floods, trees were still winter-dormant with minimal oxygen needs, said Jackson Bird, the Bismarck city forester.

This flood is during the trees’ growing season, when they need oxygen to keep producing leaves, he said.

Haadem and Bird are planning to meet with forestry, government and natural resources groups in July to start working on a plan to deal with the aftermath of the kill-off.

Concerned groups would include the state and U.S. Forest Service, soil conservation districts, county agents, the Natural Resource Council and Lincoln-Oakes Nursery staffers, weed boards, county and city government agencies, North Dakota State University forestry experts and more, Bird said.

The cleanup will be massive, Haadem said. Vegetation and lawns will die. Sediment from the river will be left aground and will need to be analyzed to see if it must be removed from lawns or can be left.

And backwaters, where the current is slow, may see invasive species such as saltcedar, brought in with the current and popping up where they’ve never been seen before, he said.

There is no logging entity in North Dakota to remove all the dead wood, he said. It will affect a huge swath of land up and down the Missouri — all the counties, public and private property, all the way up to Williston, Haadem said.

“It will be gigantic,” he said.

Homeowners will lose such flood-intolerant tree species as spruces and crab apples, and even tougher species such as cottonwoods, box elders, American elms, silver maples and bur oaks will sustain damage after what will likely be months in standing water, Bird said.

“And who knows what (will be) floating in the floodwater?” he said. There may be chemicals that can change the pH of the soil in certain pockets.

The longer the water stands, the more potential damage, Bird said.

On Parks and Recreation land, for example, Pioneer Park trees already are showing some browning and trees in Sertoma and Riverwood are underwater.

Thousands and thousands of trees will be lost, Bird said. Some will die immediately; for others, it will be a slow dying over some years.

Symptoms of tree damage include early fall coloring, dropping or stunted leaves and brown or gray mottling on the edges, he said.

If whole sections of a tree’s canopy are dying off, there’s no hope for the tree, he said.

Dead and damaged trees with decaying roots systems can become unstable, at risk of toppling over in high winds. They will also be vulnerable to secondary weakening from invasion by fungal spores and insects, Bird said. Removing unstable trees from public recreation areas would be a priority, he said.

For years to come, the tree canopy along the river from Garrison Dam to Pierre, S.D., will be very different from the one people are used to seeing, Bird said.

With the dead understory vegetation and the dead and drying trees, there will be much more tinder for fire as well, he said.

Reforestation will be a multi-year effort, Bird said. And bringing the canopy back to maturity will take a lifetime for some trees. The large cottonwoods, for example, will take 50 to 100 years to mature.

The job is daunting. Bismarck has only four full-time arborists, and finite resources, Bird said. Perhaps logging experts with portable sawmills will come in to handle the volume of trees that need to be removed, he said.

Though trees submerged throughout the summer are lost, he said, people might try to salvage some of those on higher ground by fertilizing them and aerating the soil. Most of the tree’s oxygenation takes place in the top 18 inches or so, “so that might help,” he said. “Anything’s better than nothing.”

“The sooner the better, to start planning,” he said.

For a publication on the effects of flooding on trees, visit http://www.extension.iastate.edu/publications/SUL1.pdf.

(Reach reporter Karen Herzog at 250-8267 or karen.herzog@bismarcktribune.com)

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(16) Comments

  1. Jack A
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    Jack A - June 27, 2011 10:01 am
    No needs for getting too emotional about the trees dying, it's all part of Mother Earth's natural cycles. Trees in flood plains have been dying for hundreds of thousands of years......and then they come back. Just nature. Those concerned about getting their oxygen.....rest your minds, there will still be PLENTY......a few trees dying in the Missouri bottoms is a pittance. School system failures again for some....

    Whole forests of trees die in forest fires, long before "man" came to this continent. And there was still oxygen. I don't get this emotional state of mind for some, this deep depression. It's gone on for a long time, and will continue to go on for a long time. Unless some of you think that we REALLY can control nature.....to "save the trees"...
  2. BabyT
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    BabyT - June 26, 2011 5:14 pm
    sunnyravenwood said: "i don't know if California redwoods can survive your winters, but floods don't bother them a bit. A trunk can be buried in 10 feet of mud and it will grow new roots into the mud under the surface. Perhaps some research could find similar trees. Good Luck!"

    Winter may or may not be a problem, but the bigger issue is drought... Any redwood species needs LOTS of heavy rain, 100+ inches/year. As much as ND has made news for floods this year, drought is far more common.
  3. stillhatinnd
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    stillhatinnd - June 26, 2011 3:34 pm
    You can build a house in a few weeks. It took some of these trees decades to reach their size and won't be replaced in our lifetime.
  4. sunnyravenwood
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    sunnyravenwood - June 26, 2011 1:54 pm
    i don't know if California redwoods can survive your winters, but floods don't bother them a bit. A trunk can be buried in 10 feet of mud and it will grow new roots into the mud under the surface. Perhaps some research could find similar trees. Good Luck!
  5. Demosthenes
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    Demosthenes - June 26, 2011 12:23 pm
    GREAT NEWS!

    Look at this chart: http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/reports/twout.html

    Look under GARR (For Garrison Dam) and look under 240D. The Corps of Engineers are dropping the discharge rates beginning July 9th to 145,000 cfs and then dropping it even lower on July 12th and on July18th to 120,000 cfs.
  6. JonnyB
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    JonnyB - June 26, 2011 12:06 pm
    Right on Kimberly. We have very few trees in North Dakota so we must preserve the woodlands in the riparian areas along all rivers and creeks. I can't imagine a world without trees. Wait, I guess I can imagine a world without trees. I lived and worked in Wainwright in 1983. There were no trees, just ice, snow and short grass. I thought that I was going to go crazy. I still remember the joy of seeing the forest when I landed back in Anchorage.
  7. haas75
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    haas75 - June 26, 2011 10:03 am
    They are going to start dropping the river!!!

    By Saturday July 9th... releases are now shown to drop to 145,000...then one day later, 140,000...

    After that, release numbers drop by 5,000 increments until Monday July 18th... landing at 120-thousand CFS.

    http://www.kxnet.com/getArticle.asp?ArticleId=796745
  8. Kimberly
    Report Abuse
    Kimberly - June 26, 2011 8:09 am
    Naelbis said: "Thousands and thousands of people are losing their homes to floods this year. Entire cities are being wiped out. And these people are worried about TREES? Seriously?!!!!! Time to check yourselves and get a grip on priorities here..."

    I was waiting for an ignorant comment such as this. Trees are HIGH priority to every single ecosystem on the plantet. And since they are the largest land-based plants, they are the most important for converting CO2 to O2 so that animals (like ourselves) may live and breathe. In ND, most trees need to be located near rivers and other water sources, many of which will be wiped out by the Missouri. Now, there is something to be said about this flood being drawn out longer (and killing the trees) because of the Dam, but I understand the purpose of Garrison Dam and why ND needs it. It's unfortunate that we haven't have more trees allowed to grow in the area, especially since the beginning of our wet cycle in 1993. Trees are able to hold a huge amount of water, as opposed to just letting to flow right over the ground (causing erosion) and going into our rivers. Wooded areas have been seen to hold 60 times more water than grassy areas. So would the preservation of our trees (and adding more) be beneficial to our current flooding situation? Definately. Never underestimate the eco-benefits of trees.
  9. JonnyB
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    JonnyB - June 26, 2011 4:59 am
    There is a lot to worry about this year. I go to my house once a day or so to check the status. Most of my neighbors and I live in our neighborhood because it is a wooded area. We love the green trees and the shade that they provide. We are worried that we will come back to desert of dead tress that will cause a fire hazard and potentially fall on our homes.

    I have trees in my yard that are at least 150 years old. They have been with me for almost 50 years. I do not want to loose them.

    No one is suggesting that trees are more important than people and their homes, we are just concerned that our neighborhoods are going to feel void without the trees that we planted decades ago. Many on these trees were planted by our parents and grand parents who have died a long time ago. They remind us of what we have and what we have lost.
  10. JonnyB
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    JonnyB - June 26, 2011 4:41 am
    Naelbis, I have been evacuated from my home and I don't know when or if I can go home this year. However, we can not live without trees.

    I breath oxygen...
  11. Naelbis
    Report Abuse
    Naelbis - June 26, 2011 3:58 am
    Thousands and thousands of people are losing their homes to floods this year. Entire cities are being wiped out. And these people are worried about TREES? Seriously?!!!!! Time to check yourselves and get a grip on priorities here...
  12. JonnyB
    Report Abuse
    JonnyB - June 26, 2011 1:00 am
    Trees are extremely important to the health of the river and the riparian areas.

    Bismarck Tribune said" Reforestation will be a multi-year effort, Bird said. And bringing the canopy back to maturity will take a lifetime for some trees. The large cottonwoods, for example, will take 50 to 100 years to mature."

    This is true for the most part. However, cottonwood trees that define our riverbanks will not germinate unless the floodwaters leave a layer of sediment on the ground with the absence of grass and other plants. This and this only will allow the cottonwoods to be restored.

    I hope the trees come back with a vengeance!!!

  13. Dudley
    Report Abuse
    Dudley - June 25, 2011 10:36 pm
    I feel worse about the loss of the trees than I do about the loss of homes... I don't know why and I mean no disrespect, but this has bothered me the most... :(
  14. Reason
    Report Abuse
    Reason - June 25, 2011 10:15 pm
    As you were told... Right about now those 60mph winds are closing on BisMan. The storm should topple several thousand trees. Will there be any standing in October?
  15. docholliday1874
    Report Abuse
    docholliday1874 - June 25, 2011 9:16 pm
    Based on the evidence, it does seem like nature/wind/bees, etc., do an excellant Job of restoring trees? Grant you, it might require some transplanting to meet taste, but little else. Again, it does seem is intentionally being diverted from a much more immidiate need...a prayer to our neighbors to the south, who face a flood crisis extending into/throughout winter. Please join me in two-second prayer. Thank you. "God, The Father Almighty. Amen."
  16. Believe
    Report Abuse
    Believe - June 25, 2011 8:55 pm
    I can hear it now! All the morons will come on the forum and say; "you shouldn't have planted trees in the flood plain".

    Seriously though, this is something that is going to affect us all, the natural beauty we once took for granted is going to be severely compromised.
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