Trees, tree cultures, and disasters: Implications for urban forest management

Authors: Brendan Lavy*, Texas Christian University, Elyse Zavar, University of North Texas
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Place Attachment, Tree Culture, Hurricane Harvey, Disasters, Recovery, Qualitative
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 7
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Trees can be powerful symbols that contribute to the production and consumption of places. Yet disaster events, such as hurricanes, alter the physical landscape, causing tree damage and loss. In places with strong tree cultures, residents and visitors, accustomed to a forested landscape, often experience an emotional response tied to the loss of trees after a disaster. Few studies, however, have documented the implications of tree loss to the recovery efforts of communities. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall near the small communities of Rockport-Fulton, Texas, damaging the area’s coastal Live Oak forest. Rockport-Fulton’s history is imbibed with stories situated around its oak forest. Windswept live oaks appear on the city of Rockport’s seal and on many local businesses’ logos. The community also celebrates its forest through art, festivals, and tourism events. The purpose of this research is to understand the role of Rockport-Fulton’s tree culture in the communities’ recovery. We analyzed references to Rockport-Fulton’s trees found in news media, organizational communications, and public exhibits before and after Harvey and drew from interviews with tourists, business owners, and community members conducted nine months post-Harvey. Our findings suggest that tree narratives pre- and post-Harvey amplify community resilience and strength. Themes emerging from our interviews, however, reveal competing narratives of recovery and raise questions about community resilience and strength as well as forest recovery strategies related to tree preference.

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