Part 4 of a series
COLUMBIA, Mo 11/8/13 (Feature) -- Misleading recognition of Columbia's preservation efforts has helped obscure the city's dramatic tree loss over the years.
While the community earns praise for protecting trees with legislation and public awareness, it still allows forests to disappear at an alarming rate.
In his cubicle on the third floor of City Hall, GIS analyst John Fleck points to a map showing Columbia's remaining climax forest - mature maples, oaks and other native species. These old woods are almost gone within city limits.
For years, Fleck has managed a database called the Natural Resources Inventory, which uses aerial photographs and on-site surveys to catalog Columbia's geography, plant life -- and development. A seven-year-old joint venture between Columbia, Boone County, and the University of Missouri, the inventory contains millions of data points that help illustrate the disappearance of climax forest, which brings with it a painful irony.
The tree preservation ordinance only protects this type of forest, so as it disappears, the ordinance fades into irrelevance, too.
Developers are partly -- but not entirely -- to blame for the loss, says urban forestry consultant Josh Behounek. "If you go to the newer subdivisions, you can see where there used to be woods, but the developer clear cut them and put up houses," he says. While Mother Nature can't start over, "it's easier [for developers] to start from scratch."
Tree loss will increase as Columbia grows, former city arborist Eugene Basteed predicts, despite city staff's good intentions.
A grim future lies ahead for Columbia's remaining forests, Basteed says. It's a prediction informed by years of watching land excavation take precedence over tree preservation. "I've been studying these issues my whole life, and I don't have any answers," he explains. "What I have learned, though, is that man is a destructive animal."