by Joe Gyan, Jr.
Advocate New Orleans bureau
New Orleans (December 19, 2006)- The National Arbor Day Foundation has recognized New Orleans as a “tree city” for a quarter-century, but Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of an estimated 250,000 trees across the city has put that distinction in jeopardy.
In an effort to restore the city’s lost tree canopy and retain its status as a tree city, the New Orleans Department of Parks and Parkways and the nonprofit Parkway Partners Program launched a tree planting initiative Monday with the ceremonial planting of a live oak on the neutral ground at Elysian Fields and Prentiss avenues in the flood-ravaged Gentilly area.
The 14-foot tree joined about 55 other live oaks of similar size that have been planted recently along the Elysian Fields neutral ground between Robert E. Lee Boulevard and Filmore Avenue. “This is a major step in the regrowth of the New Orleans area,” Louisiana Urban Forestry Council director Michael Knobloch said at the replanting event.
When the Elysian Fields corridor replanting is complete, about 170 new trees – live oaks, crepe myrtles, magnolias and others – will grace the neutral ground that was teeming with trees before Katrina came calling Aug. 29, 2005, Parkway Partners executive director Jean Fahr said. Other major corridors that will be targeted for tree replanting under the partnership between Parks and Parkways and Parkway Partners include Claiborne Avenue, St. Claude Avenue and Broad Street, she said. Fahr said the Elysian Fields corridor was chosen first because it is near three of the city’s universities – the University of New Orleans, Southern University of New Orleans and Dillard University.
“The restoration of the city’s urban canopy is vital to our recovery and for the beautification of New Orleans,” Parks and Parkways director Ann Macdonald said. The city lost more than 50,000 trees on its public rights of way, she said, noting that the tree replanting will be a “multiphase, long-term project.” Parkway Partners calls the effort “ReLeaf New Orleans.” Volunteers are being trained as “citizen foresters” – or “tree troopers” – by licensed arborists.
Fahr noted that Arbor Day, a tree-planting day, normally is observed in the spring, but she said New Orleans has no time to spare. “With the exception of live oak, there’s precious few trees to see on the skyline,” Tom Campbell, director of the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s Urban Forestry Program, said.
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