After the Ice Storm:  Assessing Tree Damage and Moving Forward

The February 2021 ice storm damaged trees in urban and rural areas of Clackamas County.

The February 2021 ice storm damaged many trees in urban and rural areas of Clackamas County.

The recent ice storm caused a lot of damage across the Willamette Valley and tested the strength of every tree species. Afterwards, it left many of us with a mess and asking what we should do with it.

We talked to a local arborist, an expert in tree care and management, to answer some of those questions. Our advice comes from local arborist Brian French, who has 23 years of experience working in our area and has been very busy helping residents throughout the Valley after this storm.

What do I look for after the ice storm?

Falllen oak tree on fenceline.

Determine which trees to prioritize after the ice storm.

Fallen oak tree on agricultural building.

A certified arborist can help you determine the best way to manage trees damaged by the ice storm.

If you think you may need to remove a tree, or feel a tree may be unsafe, cordon off the area, keep people out, and get professional help to assess the situation. Look for an arborist with International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Tree Risk Assessor Certification. Check to be sure that the arborist is insured.

Here are signs that your tree may be in trouble:

  • Is the tree leaning more than usual?
  • Are there breaks in the tree, broken branches, cracks, or splits?
  • Is it near a target (something of value like a person, a building, or a valuable object)?

Prioritize the targets. Can they be moved? For example, can a car be moved out of the way to deal with the tree? Is there a path that people use under a questionable tree? If so, block the pathway. In some instances, targets cannot be moved or avoided, like a tree with a large broken branch hanging over a house. An arborist can provide a professional assessment of a tree where there is a “target” or risk.

Should it stay or should it go?

Oak stand with healthy and storm damaged trees.

Many ice-damaged trees can recover, but those that cannot may be retained for habitat.

When a tree is damaged, it can be hard to assess the tree objectively because there is often an emotional response to the loss of a tree. An arborist can provide an objective assessment of the tree damage and help you move forward. For example, you may have a tree that has lost 50% of its upper crown (top) that now looks messy and unstable. Part of an objective assessment, however, may recognize that the tree no longer must support all that weight. From that perspective, some damaged trees may be assessed as less likely to fail now than they were before they were damaged. Sometimes all that is needed to fix a tree hazard is to have an arborist remove a few hanging branches and the tree can be left standing.

Tree wounds and what to do with all of the wood?

Some downed wood, like oak, may have value to a wood processor.

Some downed wood, like oak, may have value to a wood processor.

Trees are not able to heal like people. Instead, they must seal off areas that are injured. In this process, called tree compartmentalization, the damaged parts of the tree build walls and chemically block the area to slow or protect the tree from disease and decay. Do not attempt to apply chemical treatments to damaged trees as it can cause more damage to the tree.

Where trees have failed, you may find yourself wondering what to do with all of the wood. For some tree species, like Oregon white oak, it can be worth contacting a local custom mill to determine marketability. You can find local contacts for wood processing by searching the Internet or visit the Build Local Alliance Directory.

Need a replacement tree after the ice storm?

The Portland Plant List is a good resource for selecting native trees and plants.

The Portland Plant List is a good resource for selecting native trees and plants.

Those of you who have lost trees may be wondering what to plant next. We recommend that you consider a native tree species, where possible, that will fit the specific needs of your site. Select a tree whose requirements match your location. Think about soil moisture, sunlight, and space requirements. When selecting a tree to plant in an urban area, the size and growth form of a tree will be important to avoid impacts on power lines and neighboring properties. For some helpful information on native trees species found in this area and the types of conditions they grow in, consult the Portland Plant List.

The balance between safety and wildlife habitat

Oregon white oak provides habitat for over 200 species of wildlife.

When making decisions about trees, safety comes first. Habitat comes second and anything in-between those two is worth reconsidering. Aesthetics, or how a tree looks, are not important for habitat value. A damaged tree may no longer look as appealing as it once was, but the habitat value is still there. Newly exposed breaks and cavities can provide nesting and roosting sites for native raptors, woodpeckers, and mammals. Some of these species will provide natural rodent and insect control for your property.

Consider giving special consideration to the Oregon white oak. This is because white oak habitats are already in rapid decline in the Willamette Valley. These trees are uniquely adapted to the Valley and many of the remaining mature white oaks are hundreds of years old. They have been through numerous storm events, are resistant to drought, and are fire adaptable. They also provide habitat for over 200 species, including deer, birds, insects, and microscopic fungi.

If we lose our white oaks, we lose our ability to be awed by the magnificence of some of our oldest trees. It also means that we lose the last of a declining and unique habitat in the Valley that defines the people and the species in it.

We hope this information is helpful to you as you move forward. Take care and be safe out there!



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Clackamas SWCD