Flood potential hits home with lax regulation

Sunday, November 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:24 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

Fred Stolle paints a bleak picture of Indonesia’s forests.

Stolle, a research associate with Global Forest Watch at the World Resources Institute, said logging in Indonesia is rampant. “Basically, everyone with a chainsaw is cutting the forest,” Stolle said. In recent years, government officials have linked deforestation to devastating floods in areas ranging from Mexico to the Mekong Delta. A flood in Indonesia, widely attributed to logging, killed more than 200 people.

In Missouri, it’s not citizens with chainsaws but a culture of pavement and a lack of state forestry regulations that raise concerns about flooding.

The link between forests and floods is a simple one, said Rose-Marie Muzika, a professor of forestry at MU. Trees’ extensive root systems capture space and hold surrounding soil in place. That soil filters and absorbs water that would otherwise wash across the landscape.

“Trees are tremendous users of water, and the water they take up to sustain themselves reduces the water available to run off, destabilize soil and cause floods,” Muzika said.

In Missouri, the timber industry contributes nearly $3 billion to the economy each year and employs more than 33,000 people, making it the state’s fifth leading employer. Although state agencies advocate certain management practices, the 12.3 million acres held by private individuals are not subject to any state laws.

Justine Gartner, forestry field supervisor with the Missouri Department of Conservation, said the department aims to reduce the runoff, erosion and debris that can lead to flooding. For instance, streamside management zones require that up to 100 feet on either side of a stream be only selectively harvested. The agency also has guidelines that minimize runoff from road construction.

The Missouri Forest Products Association teaches professional foresters how to manage forests, but participation on private land is voluntary and only accommodates 50 to 60 participants annually.

Some timber sales are not managed as well as others, Gartner said. “Unfortunately, the majority of people don’t necessarily even use a professional forester, just someone who knocks on their door and says, ‘I can cut your trees down if you want to sell them.’”

Muzika said flooding due to deforestation in Missouri is minimized because clear cuts are generally limited in size and have only localized effects. But Ted Heisel, executive director of the Missouri Coalition to Protect the Environment, said urban sprawl has made deforestation a local issue even for city residents. Excessive runoff from paved areas or construction sites has caused a significant increase in storm water problems in suburban areas, Heisel said.

“Every day we’re getting calls from people who have muddy runoff or silt impacting their property because subdivisions are going up next door.”

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