For decades, we have had wetland mitigation banks. If you want to fill in wetlands, you need to preserve wetlands somewhere else. But what about those vast swaths of ecologically less valuable forest that still play valuable roles in flood reduction? Developers routinely mow them down for new starter homes, apartment complexes, strip centers, RV parks and the like. Should there be mitigation for clearcutting, too?
Imagine how much more attractive, healthier, and flood-resilient communities could become if all developers:
- Planted a young tree for every old tree they cut, or…
- Donated trees to community groups, or…
- Preserved floodplains on their perimeters with conservation easements, or…
- Committed to replanting trees on their own developments as homes are built.
Here’s why that’s important and two ways it could work without turning into a huge cost burden for developers and without onerous regulation.
Role of Trees in Flood Reduction
Trees do more than increase the value of homes. They also play many roles in flood reduction. For instance, they:
- Soak up rain and transpire it back into the atmosphere at a slow rate.
- Slow runoff during storms, reducing the time of concentration and flood peaks.
- Reduce the velocity of floodwaters.
- Bind soil and reduce the rate of erosion.
How Clearcutting Can Increase Flood Risk
Clearcutting on the other had accelerates runoff. As runoff gets to streams faster, it carries more exposed sediment. That sediment can reduce the conveyance of streams, partially block them, back floodwater up, and necessitate dredging programs which can take years and cost tens of millions of dollars.
Clearcutting makes more money for developers. But it also can also foist cleanup, repair, and mitigation costs off on neighbors and the public sector as we saw with Woodridge Village.
Notice the stark contrast in each photo below between the mature canopy of trees surrounding each newly clearcut development.
One of the primary draws of SE Texas is the gorgeous, lush forests. Yet high-density development is gradually destroying the very thing that attracts people. So should there be some sort of mitigation for clearcutting?
A Modest Proposal
Most companies make charitable donations of some sort. If you’re a developer, why not make them in a way that builds goodwill with neighbors, supports community values, makes everyone safer, and creates a tax deduction?
Contrast the systemic, mechanized deforestation above with the underfunded efforts of volunteer and charitable groups trying to plant trees and preserve forests. Perhaps the first group could help the second…and help themselves at the same time.
And the tax breaks from a conservation easement can easily turn difficult-to-develop floodplain land into revenue-producing land.
Let’s look at examples of each.
Trees for Kingwood
Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin’s most recent newsletter contained a short article about a new group called “Trees For Kingwood.”
Martin says, “Over the last 5 decades, Kingwood has lost more than ten thousand trees due to disease, storms, and drought.”
And I would point out that that doesn’t even include new developments that practice clearcutting.
Mayor Pro Tem Martin (front row, center) joined leaders of seven Kingwood Community Associations that contributed funds to support the first planting event of Trees for Kingwood. “This is a good thing for the neighborhood and wonderful for the community,” said Martin.
Trees for Kingwood needs both volunteers and financial support to achieve its mission.
- Volunteers to help plant and care for new trees.
- Financial support to purchase trees.
Bayou Land Conservancy
Another worthy group is the Bayou Land Conservancy (BLC). Since 1996, BLC has preserved land along streams for flood control, clean water, and wildlife. BLC’s focus area includes the Lake Houston Watershed, which is 4,000 square miles. The group has preserved 14,000 acres and has identified another 100,000 worthy of protection. The tax benefits of a conservation easement can help developers profit from flood-prone land that would be difficult and expensive to safely develop.
To put 14,000 acres in perspective, that’s the size of Kingwood.
By supporting such groups, developers can help restore and protect the forests that attract people to this region. They can also help mitigate their development practices and reduce costs by harnessing the power of volunteers.
Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/3/22
1922 Days since Hurricane Harvey
The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.