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Individual Highlight

In Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, ecological changes driven primarily be socieconomics

Photo of Immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Snapshot : Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, vegetation analysis showed that ecological changes in New Orleans were driven primarily by socioeconomics. Household income, racial demographics, and land abandonment had greater influence on species composition and structure than disturbance duration, intensity, and type. Emergent vegetation on abandoned lots has created environmental justice issues in underserved and historically marginalized communities.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Zipperer, Wayne C. 
Research Location : New Orleans
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1325


In 2005, New Orleans experienced catastrophic flooding from levee failure during Hurricane Katrina. The effects included immediate high tree and shrub mortality in flood prone areas. However, long-term effects were driven by post-disaster landscape management policies. Areas of pronounced land abandonment occurred primarily in historically marginalized communities. These areas were dominated by unmanaged grasslands, higher frequency of invasive tree and shrub species, and opportunistic native shrub species. In wealthier neighborhoods, there were higher tree and shrub (primarily ornamental) species richness, larger diameter trees, and more managed grassland areas. This disparity between wealthy and marginalized neighborhoods has resulted in environmental justice issues. The notion of “re-greening” our neighborhoods has taken on a different perspective in New Orleans. Neighborhoods with high land abandonment, thus greater greening, have greater public safety and health concerns. For instance, overgrown abandoned lots have become popular locations for illegal dumping and other illicit activities. Likewise, these areas also have higher densities of rats and feral animals. Unfortunately, these ecosystem disservices foster feedbacks that hamper redevelopment, capital investment, and population recovery. Forest Service scientists conclude that proactive land-management policies early in post-recovery periods can have significant benefits for long-term recovery especially in marginalized communities.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden
  • Tulane University
  • University of Manchester, England