For the first time since 1974, Iowa lost woodland acres. Did you know that in 2012, Iowa lost 42,000 acres of woodlands? That’s equivalent to nearly 32,000 football fields of valuable trees gone forever.
Based upon a report by the forest inventory analysis division of the U.S. Forest Service, it appears that the reduction of woodland acres is primarily a result of farmers clearing woodlands to take advantage of record high prices for corn and soybeans.
This loss of woodlands should concern every Iowan not only because of the loss of beauty they provide, but because this loss has a direct effect on the quality of life that we have come to enjoy. Trees and forests benefit everyone by:
• Contributing to better water quality and stormwater management.
• Supporting recreation and tourism through hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and other outdoor activities.
• Sequestering carbon and improving air quality.
• Providing habitat and food for pollinators.
• Providing habitat for diverse wildlife populations.
• Adding to the health and well-being of humans.
In addition, Iowa’s wood products industries generate more than $3.9 billion to the economy annually and employ nearly 18,000 people with an annual payroll of $916 million. This segment of business is critical as it enhances our efforts to diversify employment, especially in rural areas.
The importance of Iowa’s woodlands goes far beyond our borders.
Iowa black walnut is highly prized by craftspeople and builders around the world. Nearly half of our walnut logs are exported globally, bringing money into the state. Currently, the USDA estimates that Iowa has the largest reserve of standing black walnut in the nation.
The reduction of forest acres raises many concerns:
1. A great deal of the forests removed to make space for more corn and soybean planting are simply being bulldozed into piles and burned, even though some of the wood is marketable.
2. It takes between 50 and 100 years or more to re-establish productive woodlands once they have been cleared.
3. This removal of woodlands comes at a time when invasive species, both biological and vegetative, are attacking individual species of trees and the woodland ecology at large.
The emerald ash borer has been identified in five Iowa counties. This insect’s larvae feed under the bark of ash trees — white ash, blue ash, green ash, black ash, any of the trees of the genus “fraxinus.” This insect is spreading and will eventually infect and kill all ash trees unless they are treated, and treatment with pesticide is expensive, potentially harmful to beneficial insects and time-consuming.
This infestation of ash trees has received a lot of publicity recently and cities have been forced to recognize the threat and allocate significant money to prepare to remove thousands of dead trees on public lands. Woodland specialists refer to standing dead trees as “widow makers.” For this reason, it is irresponsible for a landowner, public or private, to leave a standing dead tree where it could cause damage, injury or death when it falls — and it will eventually fall.
The emerald ash borer isn’t the only biological threat to Iowa woodlands. Our magnificent black walnut trees are also threatened by a disease known as “thousand cankers.” This fungus is transmitted by the walnut twig beetle which has been found in Tennessee, Virginia and Pennsylvania. It is only a matter of time before it arrives in Iowa.
Bur oak blight is a viral disease that attacks bur oaks and sometimes other members of the white oak family of trees. This blight retards the growth of trees and sometimes kills them after a long infection. The bur oak blight is already in Iowa and is damaging trees today.
The gypsy moth has been in Iowa for many years. It attacks our red oaks, which are mostly concentrated in northeast Iowa where we have large stands of them. Aggressive monitoring and treatment by the forestry division of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and others has slowed the advance of this destructive insect but not eliminated it. The red oaks are our second most valuable trees, and gypsy moth damage to them has an annual impact of $22 million.
The Coalition for Iowa’s Woodlands and Trees is making specific recommendations to the Iowa Legislature for funding of a healthy woodland initiative. The coalition consists of 22 organizations that are dedicated to improving Iowa’s woodland and trees, in town and rural areas. These 22 organizations are made up of nearly 15,000 families from all walks of life, both rural and city dwellers.
The importance of funding the healthy woodlands initiative cannot be overstated. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimates that the total annual cost to the wood industry and rural landowners from invasive species and diseases is $95 million. The total cost to communities, cities and towns for tree removal, replacement and other losses will eventually be over $8 billion.
The goal of the healthy woodland initiative is twofold:
1. Fund programs to help with both removal and replacement of trees. These plantings would enhance water quality and provide nutrient management strategies in prioritized watersheds, both rural and urban.
2. Fund needed conservation plantings for reforestation, wildlife enhancement and better management of both public and private lands.
The total funding requested for the healthy woodlands initiative is $3.8 million. With full funding, Iowa will benefit by protecting thousands of acres of critical watersheds, woodlands and community forests. Public lands will be protected and improved for the enjoyment of everyone. Assistance for woodland owners with forest health threats will be provided, and communities protected from a sudden and unfunded budget buster.