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Restoring the Past, Preapring for the Future: Recovery after Natural Disaster

Jackie Cole, a Veterinarian and dedicated environmentalist, works fervently with communities, organizations and individuals to bring back much of the Galveston, TX tree population that was lost during Hurrican Ike, in 2008.

Jackie Cole is being recognized as a Champion of Change for her innovative energy priorities and sustainable living practices making a greener community a possibility in any American city or town.

Hurricane Ike made landfall at Galveston Island September 13, 2008,  flooding 75 percent of the buildings and killing an estimated 40,000 trees, about 50 percent of our total urban canopy. The majority died from salt water poisoning. A small group of volunteers worked through the shock of the disaster to guide the selection of trees for removal,  responsible disposal of dead wood and replanting.  

When so many trees are lost in a disaster, it becomes clear that trees are as critical as any of our other infrastructure.  They can no longer be considered landscaping or beautification but as critical to urban living. 

After the initial cleanup, the community and FEMA waited until spring to evaluate the health of the trees. It was evident that the majority of the trees had died.  

FEMA refused to pay for new trees under disaster funding or CDGB, but did pay for the removal of the dead trees, which was a huge expense.  

We were able to divert all the wood to beneficial uses. Wood went to Mystic, Connecticut for the refurbishing of an antique sailing vessel, to Spain to build a replica ship called the Galvestown, and the rest to mills for lumber or for sculptures and bio fuel.  

For replanting, a two-pronged approach was taken. The non-profit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy was founded to educate and fundraise. On the government side, a city tree committee was formed to advise the City Council on issues related to reforesting Galveston, including adjusting ordinances to enable homeowners to replant more easily and hastening the approval of replanting plans.  

All financing has been through donations with planting and maintenance assistance from the cIty Parks department.  A goal of planting 5,000 trees a year was established using a five-year strategic plan, adopted after a public hearing process to assess and prioritize plantings. The guiding principals for the plan included: proportionality based on loss, equal opportunity across the neighborhoods, volunteer participation so more citizens could be involved, public input, adjacent homeowner choice, education, protection of the environment, tree diversity, and tree resistance to our weather conditions.  

Over the past three years the Conservancy has been instrumental in planting more than 8,000 trees on Galveston Island.  

City buildings, city parks, schools and major roadways have been replanted. A volunteer based “neighborwoods” program for planting in the right-of-ways has grown from one neighborhood the first year to six neighborhoods this year when 500 free street trees were planted in one day across the city.   The Conservancy has also sponsored five Great Galveston Giveaway days where citizens can take home free five-gallon trees to plant on their private property with the promise to care for the tree for two years.  

Seven blocks of our main thoroughfare, Broadway Boulevard, have been replanted with large oaks, recreating the grandeur of Broadway before Hurricane Ike. Fundraising is continuing to finish the boulevard and the other projects in the strategic plan.

But restoring the past is not enough and we also are planning for the future. Preservation of our surviving trees and continued care of the new trees is also a priority. It was evident that the trees that had been well watered prior to the storm were healthier and therefore had a better chance of survival, so every tree that is planted has a watering plan. Planting is timed to take advantage of seasonal rains, and arrangements have been made with the city for non-potable watering of public areas during times of drought related water restrictions. 

The success of the early replanting process in Galveston is due to the hard work done by the volunteers who worked in spite of their personal losses of property or jobs, partnerships with agencies like the Texas Forest Service whose expertise guided the process, and the overwhelming support of the citizens of Galveston. It has been a labor of love. We were successful enough for the Arbor Day Foundation to propose that Galveston serve as a model for other communities recovering from disaster-related urban forest loss.  

Dr. Jackie Cole, a Veterinarian, lead dedicated volunteers in Galveston to start reforesting after Hurricane Ike in 2008, which flooded more than 75% of the buildings and killed nearly 40,000 trees -- 50 percent of all the trees on the Island.