Photos by ILF
SILENT SENTINELS: Trees stand along waterways, quietly slowing water runoff, absorbing nutrients and water, and aiding water infiltration into the soil. “But we don’t have a lot of data as to how the mechanics of this really works,” says ISU Extension forester Billy Beck.
EDGE OF FIELD: One recent focus in water quality improvement practices to help minimize and mitigate nutrient runoff from farm fields has been the installation and use of edge-of-field structures such as bioreactors and saturated buffers. One edge-of-field structure that doesn’t get a lot of attention is the natural tree stand already established between fields and waterways, such as creeks, streams and rivers.
OVERLOOKED: People tend to look past trees growing along the water. Many don’t consider how these trees play a role in the water quality equation. Not many farmers would consider investing in establishing new stands of trees without substantial justification.
ADDING VALUE: Trees are often seen as a nice thing to have, but not as an integral part of the agricultural system. Better research and information relevant to Iowa on the value of trees will help change that situation, Beck says.
NATURAL FILTERS: Trees absorb and use a tremendous amount of water and nutrients. The next step toward increasing the perceived values of trees in the environment is to measure and communicate these impacts.
FORESTRY AND WATER QUALITY: A summit on that topic was recently held at Iowa State University. The meeting brought together water quality experts from across the state to discuss and outline goals for ISU Extension research on this topic. There was strong consensus that more information about the watershed impact of trees is needed.
SEQUESTER CARBON: Another area identified for further study is the contribution trees make to carbon sequestration. “We know there are contributions,” Beck says. “But we need to quantify it for various parts of the state, taking into account the different land types and use histories.”