Disturbance and coastal forests: a strategic approach to forest management in hurricane impact zones
The Indian Ocean Tsunami focused world attention on societal responses to environmental hazards and the potential of natural systems to moderate disturbance effects. Coastal areas are critical to the welfare of up to 50% of the world's population. Coastal systems in the southern United States are adapted to specific disturbance regimes of tropical cyclones (hurricanes) and fire. In August and September 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused what has been termed the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history, including an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion in damage from wind alone. A total of 2.23 million ha of timberland in the coastal states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama was damaged. Although financial loss estimates are incomplete, there is little doubt that these hurricanes caused extensive damage and their effects on the landscape will linger for years to come. Crafting a strategy for incorporating large, infrequent disturbances into a managed landscape such as the forested coastal plain of the southern U.S. must balance the desirable with the possible. We advance an adaptive strategy that distinguishes event risk (hurricane occurrence) from vulnerability of coastal forests and outcome risk (hurricane severity). Our strategy focuses on managing the disturbance event, the system after disturbance, and the recovery process, followed by modifying initial conditions to reduce vulnerability. We apply these concepts to a case study of the effects of recent Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on forests of the coastal plain of the northern Gulf of Mexico.