JOPLIN — Hundreds of trees that were planted after a massive tornado slammed into Joplin are endangered by insects and the extreme heat, but an army of volunteers is working to save them using water trucks and buckets.
So far, efforts to save the 6,551 trees are working, The Joplin Globe reported Tuesday. The trees were donated and planted after the May 22, 2011, tornado destroyed 15,000 to 20,000 trees in Joplin and Duquesne.
Ric Mayer, Joplin's tree coordinator, said a survey conducted Monday found that only 14 of the 562 trees planted in Joplin parks are "struggling to death," meaning they won't survive. He said that is impressive after weeks of temperatures near 100 degrees and just 1.62 inches of rain since June 1.
"I talked to foresters, and they are amazed we have such a good retention rate," he said. "Typically, you can expect through vandalism, poor planting, etc., you can lose 20 percent of the trees you plant in a public setting because they don't get the same care as they would in a yard. Of course, that's in a typical year."
Mayer gives all the credit to volunteers and other workers.
Twice a week, a team of six people who are part of the Workforce Investment Board's federally funded program for workers displaced by the tornado divides into two crews, who use trucks outfitted with plastic water tanks and hoses to water trees in Joplin parks in the tornado zone. They are helped by hundreds of volunteers, coordinated through AmeriCorps.
"We would be in such trouble without them," Mayer said. "We provided a bunch of buckets for bucket brigades, and they use the water faucets at each of the city parks to fill them."
The city is receiving 340 volunteer hours per week from those watering the trees.
"Anyone who plants a tree wants to see it live," Mayer said. "You build your home, you step back and then you say: 'Now it's time for trees. It's time to re-green, make it a pleasant place to live, a nicer place to live.'"
Jon Skinner, an urban forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said all trees are struggling but young trees are especially susceptible to attacks from fungi, bacteria and insects.
"When you plant a new tree, it's under stress anyway, and we've added drought to it," Skinner said. "They are, at best, surviving. That's all they're doing. Ideally what you're doing when watering is encouraging it to grow roots, to become independent in five years or so. In years like this, no tree is really independent. They all could use a little extra, but so much water is needed. It's hard to do."