Image by Kapa65 from Pixabay

CRCL has a tree planting session this weekend and this is a report from it. This one was on firmer ground than the ones near Violet as there you are in water building up the land. This area shows what is desired by the other planting experiences.

The volunteers tromped through the marsh, trying to avoid patches of brackish, black mud bubbling up from beneath the marsh grass that threatened to engulf their shoes if they weren’t careful. In each hand, they carried spindly red swamp maple, water tupelo and cypress saplings. After digging into the mud and wrapping each fragile limb with plastic to protect it from hungry nutria, the volunteers hoped the trees would eventually grow tall. They were trying to replenish a thick forest that once stood on this remote stretch of marshland, but was decimated a century ago by logging. “I think that we often live in despair, because we know that a lot of the ways that we’re living have negative impact — distantly, we know it, and we don’t think we can do anything about it,” said Moose Jackson, a New Orleans resident who joined the group of volunteers in Manchac. “We don’t feel like we can do anything about it, that is, until we start doing small acts that are tangible, like this,” he added.

CRCL does this every year and we have had some discussion on helping them on the digests. This is, in effect, a trip report.

The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana organizes the tree-planting event each year — part of the non-profit organization’s effort to involve everyday Louisianans in rehabilitating the state’s natural coastal storm-protection system, which includes barrier islands, freshwater swamps and inland marshes like this one. That system has been ravaged by oil drilling, stronger hurricanes and development in recent decades. The Manchac wetlands are a remote marsh covering the area where lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain connect with each other, 40 miles north of New Orleans. They were once home to trees so thick you could hardly see the horizon, according to historians and conservationists. In the 19th and 20th centuries, lumberjacks descended on the swamp, chopping down the vast majority trees there. Then man-made flood mitigation projects around coastal cities like New Orleans funneled more saltwater into the marsh, harming the trees that remained, said Kellyn Lacour-Conant, director of restoration programs for the CCRL. “We started to see that the salt-water inundation was devastating wetland ecosystems, even as it provided a lot of storm buffering for cities like New Orleans,” Lacour-Conant told volunteers Friday as they walked to a boat launch to catch a ride to the planting site. “The trees are sensitive to those changes in salinity, so they need all the help they can get in restoring ecosystems out here,” Lacour-Conant added.

Planting trees does far more than just planting trees. The whole infrastructure benefits.

If re-grown, Manchac’s forest would not only help the flora and fauna in the marsh, but also help safeguard against weather, the group contends. The trees would protect against storm surge and high winds during increasingly-powerful hurricane seasons. As Jackson and his fellow volunteers planted 150 saplings on a grey and breezy Friday afternoon, they were working in an area still in recovery mode from one of those very storms. Hurricane Ida packed 100-plus mile-per-hour gusts when the storm reached Lake Maurepas after tearing into Louisiana from the Gulf of Mexico this August. Eight feet of heaving storm surge piled up around the lake’s northern shore as the winds rose — inflicting massive damage on plants, animals and homes in the area. “Ida was a signature event for Manchac,” said Robert Moreau, an environmental historian and research director at Southeastern University’s Turtle Cove research center in Manchac. The destruction wrought on swamp grass, trees and houses in the fragile area stems largely from rapid global warming caused by humans burning fossil fuels, Moreau said. “We’re seeing more and more storms, and stronger and stronger storms,” Moreau said. “And due to climate change, we’re expected to see even stronger storms as ocean waters get even warmer. Hurricanes love warm water.”

This is not a residential area but the wild. There has been talk of building something in the area and now an ecological museum is the most thought of.

There are no homes on the stretch of marsh where volunteers descended Friday and Saturday to plant a total of 600 saplings. A few miles South, though, along two waterways connecting Lake Maurepas to Lake Pontchartrain, some 200 homes built into the swamp and accessible only by water suffered devastating damage in the storm. Flooding in the area seems to have grown worse, observed Kim Coates, a Ponchatoula-area Tangipahoa Parish Council representative, in the days after the storm. Like Jackson, CRCL board member Sarah Giles joined the volunteer group in the marsh Friday because it felt like one of few ways to make a tangible difference in what can feel like a futile battle to restore Louisiana’s coastal environments. “People hear about coastal loss, and they’re like, ‘that sucks, what can I do’,” Giles said. “If people actually want to feel like they’re doing something, getting out here is the best way.”

Help CRCL plant more and yes, this is unpaid political advertisement!

Plant trees as we need them
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