By Michelle Domocol
At Healing Present, we continue to rebuild and recover from the destruction and aftermath of Typhoon Odette (Photo 1). Luckily with amazing supervision from the founder and the farm operations crew, we are making progress. We have deep gratitude for the Healing Present staff who continue to repair, rebuild, and replant the portions of the farm/forest that were damaged. Sylvia, Mario, Ariel, Jaime, Jerry, Marvin and Yeng Yeng all rebuild and adapt Healing Present to this era of more severe storms and lethal wind velocities.
Typhoon Odette left us with detached roofing, broken windows, fallen vegetation and disrepair that results from 189-mph winds. The damage was extensive and heartbreaking. The damage also prompted us to refine our strategies to mitigate typhoons.
It would be misguided to rebuild and revegetate the farm without considering the new characteristics of this past typhoon.
Here are some of the overarching management questions that help guide our typhoon recovery:
- How do we rebuild while considering the new severity of typhoons?
- Is there anything we can improve our current mitigation systems?
- How do we cultivate trees near our facilities will not fall and cause damage?
- Are our trees still resistant to these new, stronger typhoons?
- Is it possible to manage a forest patch that can withstand the next storm, flood?
In this article, I share an excerpt of our post-typhoon evaluation. This excerpt focuses on tree management and windbreak systems. Improving our tree care and windbreak is one of the many important land management strategies to strengthen our typhoon preparedness.
Tree care & Windbreak Evaluation
At Healing Present, we plant feature trees, forest patches and agroforestry windbreaks to protect crops and reduce wind damage to our facilities (Photo 2 and 3). As mentioned in a previous article, windbreaks are an agroforestry technique that:
- create favorable microclimates,
- decrease wind erosion,
- increase biodiversity,
- stabilize soil,
- buffer noise, and
- screen undesirable views.
Windbreaks are also a living combination of trees, shrubs and groundcover that may need refinement or improvement to suit our changing environmental challenges.
Here are 5 questions to help evaluate the effectiveness of our windbreaks and other trees:
1) Are the trees and shrubs in our windbreaks planted too densely? Sometimes when windbreak plants are too close together, they block incoming winds. This block can cause too much wind turbulence in the areas you’d like to protect. A protected area can include a building or vegetable beds. Effective windbreaks are more permeable and reduce windspeed; rather than stopping it entirely.
2) Are we giving the trees near our buildings enough rooting space? In general, large and small trees with enough room to grow a wide and deep fan of roots can be less vulnerable to high winds.
3) Are the trees near our buildings healthy and possess good structure? Perhaps Healing Present can decrease the amount of uprooted vegetation by paying more attention to the large trees that are planted close to structures. Ideally, these should have healthy trunks and central leaders. This can be managed with a consistent pruning program. This includes trees that survived the typhoon. Broken branches must be pruned so they don’t fall or cause further damage in a future storm.
4) Are there any isolated or potentially hazardous still standing near the existing buildings? If so, we need to monitor them. Isolated trees could be planted with more vegetation so they buffered from future wind events. Do any trees that survived the typhoon show signs of decay? Old trees showing signs of decay, disease or damaged roots may need to be monitored or removed if hazardous.
5) Are we still planting the best wind-resistant species? Some of our trees had medium levels of wind-resistance because it suited storm pressure. Perhaps we need to integrate some more high wind-resistance species to match the new, supertyphoon characteristics in our area.
When selecting windbreak species, a variety of species, ages, and layers of vegetation is preferred. Local observation is key to effective selection. We can check our property as well as neighbors’ properties to observe which species withstood the storm. Online lists of wind-resistant trees are great, but not always helpful. These recommendations don’t always match your specific climate and soil conditions. At Healing Present, if we notice a species that consistently withstood the typhoon, they may be a great candidate for windbreak re-plantings.
Undoubtedly, systemic disaster preparedness is much more complex than evaluating windbreaks and planting wind-resistant vegetation. But it is a significant component to our recovery and repair. On a broader scale, disaster mitigation would be more effective with broader, structural forces like a cohesive national preparedness strategy.
Recovery would be exponentially easier if the Cebu uplands (Photo 4) and urban lowlands were strategically forested or designed to reduce the wind velocity of torrential rains and typhoons. If the upland forests contained continuous stretches of healthy, strongly rooted vegetation, residents could be more protected from typhoon winds. If we, as a global community were more adept at battling climate change, the severity of our storms would be less lethal. The “if only’s” are numerous and layered. And I lament the inactive collective.
Nevertheless, Healing Present is grateful for our operations team and the landscape management strategies that could help us recover from future typhoons.