The Urban Forest Strike Teams (UFSTs) are a means for city foresters, state foresters, commercial arborists, and others to quickly come to the aid of a region whose urban forest has been impacted by a natural disaster. Here’s the backstory.
by Paul Revell, Urban & Community Forestry Coordinator, Virginia Department of Forestry ♦ Photos Courtesy Urban Forest Strike Teams
In 2003, Hurricane Isabel cut a devastating path across Virginia, leaving lots of damaged trees in its wake. Several of the Tidewater cities were hit hard. Further inland, the state capitol of Richmond lost more than 10,000 public trees. Between 2002 and 2005, North Carolina and South Carolina suffered several hurricanes that also caused tremendous tree damage and loss.
Urban foresters were frustrated that there was no way to adequately respond to these disasters in order to qualify for FEMA reimbursement. Even communities with established urban forestry programs lacked the staff or a methodology to document tree damage in a timely manner, given all the other clean-up activities that were taking place. Similarly, state forestry agencies lacked a method for assisting communities from an urban forestry perspective. Then, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused widespread tree damage in the Gulf States. One of the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina was that contractors destroyed thousands of healthy trees in the aftermath of the storm.
The Urban Forestry Coordinators of Virginia and North Carolina, Paul Revell and Leslie Moorman, decided that some sort of urban response capability needed to be developed by state agencies in advance of the next disaster. They consulted the U. S. Forest Service for assistance. Dudley Hartel, a technology transfer specialist with the Southern Research Station, was eager to help. He had assisted several communities after Hurricane Katrina and was ready to use his experience to develop a storm response methodology.