Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flood Dealt Mortal Blow to Trees Vast Stands Defunct, Some Species Wiped out, Biologists Say

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Flood Dealt Mortal Blow to Trees Vast Stands Defunct, Some Species Wiped out, Biologists Say

Article excerpt

Fall colors have arrived early this year in the river bottoms of the Midwest. The yellows and browns represent not the changing of the seasons but the massive death of trees from last summer's flooding.

Biologists who have surveyed the damage say that some species have been almost wiped out. They are trying to determine what the kill will mean to other life on the flood plain.

Russell Beasley is no biologist, but he confirms what the scientists are reporting.

"Lots of trees have died; lots of them are still dying - it's pathetic," said Beasley, who is caretaker for a 1,500-acre private hunting club on the Mississippi River in St. Charles County.

"See that big pin oak that's turning brown? That's just happened in the last couple of weeks," Beasley said. "This maple tree in the front yard, it leafed out pretty this spring - now it's going.

"You look at some angles in the forest, it looks like everything's gone."

John Nelson is a plant specialist with the Illinois Natural History Survey who monitors forests along the Mississippi for the Corps of Engineers. He says that most biologists believed that trees along the river would survive the flooding.

"The typical response was that tree species are adapted to flooding, so it won't be much of a problem - I was one of the biologists writing that," he said. "Wrong! The impact is much more severe than anybody anticipated.

"There are areas where we have 100 percent mortality. If I had to pick an average, I'd say 45 to 55 percent of the trees have died or will die."

The species affected include oak, hackberry, hickory, box elder, sycamore and elm. Pecan, silver maple and cottonwood have fared better.

A drive along Missouri Highway 94 in St. Charles County turned up entire stands of oaks and hickories that were leafless. "It's really sad when you see a burr oak 4 feet in diameter, and it's dead," Nelson said.

No estimates have been made of the acreage involved. Scientists hope to use satellite photos to get a better idea of the magnitude of the die-off.

But biologists in Missouri and Illinois say the kill is in areas that were inundated for months last summer, including the river bottoms along the Upper Mississippi, lower Missouri River and lower 80 miles of the Illinois River. …

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