Magazine article American Forests

Post-Katrina Study Assesses Gulf Coast Risks

Magazine article American Forests

Post-Katrina Study Assesses Gulf Coast Risks

Article excerpt

The effects of Hurricane Katrina continue to be felt along the Gulf Coast, with a regional assessment showing counties along the storm's path lost the most tree canopy and now suffer from increased stormwater runoff and poorer air and water quality.

In August 2005 Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast and changed the physical makeup of tens of thousands of square miles of land. Along with the human-made infrastructure, natural systems such as forests and streams were damaged.

AMERICAN FORESTS recently completed a 30,000-square-mile regional assessment of Katrina's impact in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama by comparing landcover from 2001 and 2006. As expected, the greatest loss of tree cover was found in counties directly in the hurricane's path: St. Tammany and Washington counties in Louisiana and Hancock, Pearl River, Lamar, Forrest, Stone, and Harrison counties in Mississippi.

The loss in tree canopy also means a reduction in the environmental benefits that urban forests and other vegetation provides to these communities.

Assessing the impact of the natural disaster in terms of wildfire susceptibility and the loss of ecosystem services such as erosion control and cleaner water is a necessary part of the recovery process. Equally important is providing local decision makers with the data and management tools they will need to make good decisions during the rebuilding process.

AMERICAN FORESTS used moderate-resolution Landsat satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to assess landcover changes and update post-hurricane landcover data used by state forestry agencies for fire management. The updated digital data will be incorporated into a wildland fire risk model that will pinpoint areas of increased risk.

In total, the study covered 23 counties in Louisiana, 20 in Mississippi, and five in Alabama. …

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