By Richard Burgess
Baton Rouge, LA (March 19, 2011)- Volunteers have been trudging through south Louisiana swamps with shovels in hand to plant 10,000 trees in an effort to help restore ailing wetlands. Tree plantings have long been integral to restoration work, but what differentiates the “10,000 Trees for Louisiana” project is that the trees are not tiny seedlings but rather 3-foot to 5-foot-tall specimens, said Hilary Collis, with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
“The trees we have been donated have already been grown out,” Collis said. “I am expecting a really high survival rate.” The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana is helping organize the planting effort and trees were donated by the Restore the Earth Foundation, an Ithaca, N.Y., nonprofit group that has been active in Gulf coast restoration efforts since Hurricane Katrina. An initial batch of 1,500 trees arrived last fall, another 3,000 were delivered in late February and the project is expected to continue at least through the spring of 2012, Hollis said.
Trees have been planted so far at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, in wetland areas near Hammond and Mandeville, in Vermilion Parish, and along parts of Caernarvon diversion canal off the Mississippi River. Collis said future sites are now being scouted. “We’ve definitely been trying to spread the trees across south Louisiana where there is a need,” she said. The “10,000 Trees” volunteers were out at Spanish Lake near New Iberia on Thursday, planting 500 young cypress trees in the wetlands that skirt the 1,250-acre lake.
The hope is that the saplings will emerge into a vibrant cypress forest, helping sustain the swamp and its wildlife. “There are just hundreds of acres of cypress that need to be restored,” said Leslie Carrere, with Restore the Earth. The prospects of the young saplings growing into a forest have been dramatically improved by using older trees that have specially prepared to thrive, Carrere said. She said the trees are now about 18 months old and more than 95 percent are expected to live after being transplanted.
The trees were donated by Restore the Earth through a collaboration with its for-profit nursery affiliate, RPM Ecosystems, and Carrere said they were grown using a proprietary method that creates vibrant saplings with strong root systems. She said the trees should grow two to three times faster than saplings reared by conventional methods. The trees that are taking root at Spanish Lake were all cypress, but the “10,000 Trees” project will also bring a mix of other native species that were grown from seeds collected along the Gulf Coast, Carrere said. “We are all about putting right tree in the right place,” she said.
The tree planting initiative depends heavily on volunteers, and the work at Spanish Lake was done by a group that ranged from 45 to 50 throughout the day. Most of the volunteers were college students who chose to spend their spring break working in Louisiana – one contingent from Boston University and another from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. The students have been dispatched to various volunteer projects and had spent the first part of the week working in the New Orleans area. Some were surprised to find themselves laboring in swamp mud Thursday.
“We had no idea what was going on. Low and behold, we walk into this swamp in hip-high water,” said John Paul, a sophomore at Franciscan University. Carrere said the volunteer work provides a good opportunity for people from other states to gain an understanding of the coastal restoration challenges in Louisiana. “You talk to people up north, and they have no idea you are losing a football field (of coastline) every 30 minutes,” she said, referring to a oft-repeated estimate of land loss in Louisiana.
The Advocate- 10,000 Cypress Goal for Restoration
Restore the Earth Foundation