Earth Day 2016: Planting Trees to Restore Louisiana’s Coast

05.17.2016 | In Restoration Projects
By Matt Phillips, Outreach Coordinator, National Wildlife Federation

On Friday, April 22nd, 2016, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition staff participated in an Earth Day tree planting event. Outreach team staff joined their partners at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and several volunteers to plant 250 cypress trees graciously donated by the St. Bernard Wetlands Foundation. Our staff and volunteers were thrilled to spend a day working in the wetlands, the sunshine and gentle breeze being a pleasant change from the normal office environment.

Volunteers haul supplies to the planting site next to a flood wall in St. Bernard State Park.Volunteers haul supplies to the planting site next to a flood wall in St. Bernard State Park.

The nutrient-rich alluvial soils on the east bank of the Mississippi River create perfect conditions for growing cypress, and scientists at LPBF boast of a 77% survival rate for their volunteer-planted cypress trees. Cypress trees provide habitat for insects and animals, and as their tangled root masses grow, the plants establish themselves in the soil, limiting erosion while filtering water in the swamp. These trees are essential for restoring degraded wetland ecosystems.

A volunteer finished planting a young cypress tree in St. Bernard Parish, LA.A volunteer finished planting a young cypress tree in St. Bernard Parish, LA.

Planting cypress in a degraded swamp requires some precautions to ensure the trees survive. Volunteers must select an appropriate substrate—not too wet, but not too far from water either—so the trees can thrive. Small wetland creatures threaten the young trees as well, and in Louisiana, nutria pose a consistent threat. The young trees contain a lot of nutrients, and the large rodents find them particularly yummy. To make sure the trees’ tender roots are protected, we installed nutria guards around their trunks.

Kristen Butcher, a scientist with Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, installs a Nutria guard around a young cypress tree.Kristen Butcher, a scientist with Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, installs a Nutria guard around a young cypress tree.

Working hard to restore the coast!Working hard to restore the coast! MRD staff members and volunteers planting trees in St. Bernard Parish. Exhausted and dirty, we planted 250 trees!MRD staff members and volunteers planting trees in St. Bernard Parish. Exhausted and dirty, we planted 250 trees!

Our team planted 250 trees, and though sweaty, sunburnt and exhausted, we could not have planned a better way to spend Earth Day.

If you would like to get involved in projects like this and other volunteer opportunities, please visit our Volunteer page!

Matt Phillips is the Coordinator for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition’s Outreach Team. He works with organizers around Louisiana on improving the coalition’s community engagement. A native of New York City, Matt graduated from Oberlin College with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and moved to Louisiana shortly after to work on and learn about the state’s coastal land loss. He lives in New Orleans.