Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Volunteers bundle Christmas Trees for Wetlands Restoration

Former Recovery One Landfill Site
Bayou Sauvage National Refuge
Orleans Parish
January 31, 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

Somewhere between New Orleans East and Venetian Isles, the stacks of browning Christmas trees stand six feet high. In southern Louisiana, post-tinsel Christmas trees take on new roles as a part of the state's "Christmas Tree Recycling Program."

This year, the Sanitation department collected over 7,000 trees in Orleans parish. For the past two weeks volunteers have bundled the trees into fence-like structures, which experts say can catch sediment and deflect waves in America's most fragile natural habitat.

Since 1989, over 1, 500,000 trees have been placed in Southeastern Louisiana wetlands thanks to thousands of volunteers.

You'd think there would be more efficient ways to consolidate trees into bundles of 80-90 trees each than by using an assembly line of volunteers. Easier ways do exist, of course. But, as Wynecta Fisher, the director of the Mayor's Office of Environmental Affairs says, the education and awareness experienced by a citizen bundling process is extremely valuable.

Over 100 volunteers have come to bundle trees over the past week. The process is a team effort. Metal straps about 50 feet long are laid out and volunteers grab trees empty of all decorations and place them in a row. The bottom row takes about 20 trees and then another 60 are stacked in separate rows on top.

"The wetlands are an integral part of life in Orleans Parish," Erica Johnson, a volunteer says. "The volunteer project provided a fun and easy way to help preserve this valuable resource while enjoying the sunshine and the camaraderie of fellow volunteers."

After the trees are bundled, the National Guard donates two helicopters and 15 servicemen to place the completed tree fences in the coastlines of 19 Louisiana parishes. Over eight miles of tree fences are currently in Louisiana wetlands. According to the State of Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources, the primary goal of the Christmas tree fences is to "slow fetch and trap sediments." The fences reduce wage energies, while allowing the movement of water and sediments.

The National Guard has dropped tree fences in several types of locations according to the state like, open water bodies, shoreline protection, along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, interior lakes, and abandoned oilfield canals.

The Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), a Louisiana wetlands advocacy group, says the nearly a football field every 45 minutes of Louisiana's wetlands fully submerges because of Louisiana's natural subsistence problem as well as man-made destruction of coastal areas. The wetlands act as a buffer during storm surges and GRN as well as several environmental scientists say Louisiana has little time to rebuild wetland protection.

The Christmas tree project, however, is not the answer to saving the wetlands. Some analysts say it is a multi-billion dollar problem. But the tree cycling program is great to raise awareness and to expose New Orleanians to the largest urban wildlife refuge in America, Bayou Sauvage.

"The trees smell so good and great to feel like we were contributing to stabilize the wetlands," Michael Barr, a volunteer said. "And to just to get my hands dirty on a sunny day."

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