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Renew America Success Stories

Jefferson Parish Christmas Tree/Marsh Restoration Program

Contact:
Marnie Winter
Jefferson Parish Environmental and Development Control Department
1221 Elmwood Park Blvd., Room 703
Harahan, LA 70123
tel: (504) 736-6440
fax: (504) 736-6445
No Internet Link Currently Available

Description

The Jefferson Parish Christmas Tree/Marsh Restoration Program was created in 1991 as an innovative way to address two environmental problems at once. Not only does the program protect and restore threatened marshland and wetlands along the Louisiana coast, but it diverts thousands of discarded Christmas trees that otherwise would wind up in the solid waste stream.

Every year, due to the effects of erosion, Louisiana has been losing an astonishing 30 to 50 square miles of wetlands from its coasts -- a number so large it accounts for 80% of the entire nation's wetland losses. This staggering loss has had serious environmental consequences. The buffer zone that protects inland urban areas from storm surges has been reduced and effective filtration of urban runoff has been diminished. Most important to a state that relies heavily on its fishing industry, the "nursery grounds" for many commercially harvested species, such as shrimp and crabs, have been threatened.

Through the program, volunteers in cooperation with environmental organizations, corporation and local, state and federal agencies are helping to stop the erosion and to actually rebuild the marshes through the strategic placement of discarded Christmas trees in shoreline fences and dead-end canals. Bundles of trees placed in the marshes enable sediment to collect, restoring shorelines and the trees serve as natural lattices upon which the constituents of a floating marsh can become established.

In addition to helping restore the area's wetlands and marshes, the program has served to educate local area residents about the value of Louisiana's wetlands. Recently, residents voted to establish a statewide tax to create a Wetlands Trust Fund that will work to restore coastal Louisiana.

The project relies heavily on strong corporate sponsorship and a huge volunteer effort. Because it gives people a real "hands on" experience in environmental protection, the program has gained popularity and participation in the project has become part of the holiday season for many New Orleans area residents and businesses. Typically, 300 - 500 volunteers will show up to work weekends bundling trees for placement in the marsh. So popular is the program that one year sugarcane farmers from neighboring parishes transported trees to Jefferson using trucks that had been idled by the end of the growing season.

Program Highlights

  • More than 350,000 trees have been placed in shoreline cribs and dead-end canals, diverting these trees from the solid waste stream and helping to create marshland.
  • Trees placed in cribs are positioned 100 feet from the shoreline, where they trap sediment. The sediment then falls out behind the cribs and collects, helping to build up eroded shorelines.
  • In 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funded a project to establish floating marshes in abandoned canals that had at one time provided access to oil and gas exploration activities. Using barges and tugboats provided by Texaco and Exxon, more than 130,000 trees were collected and tied in bundles of 50-60 trees apiece by volunteers and then transported to the canals. The trees provide a loose, organic lattice upon which constituents of a floating marsh can become established.
  • Both placement of trees in shoreline cribs and in abandoned dead-end canals continues today.
  • The National Guard provides helicopters that airlift the trees for placement in the marshes.

Vital Statistics

*Program Management/Partnerships: The Jefferson Parish Christmas Tree/Marsh Restoration Program is managed by Jefferson Parish. Partnerships have been formed with the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, Women for a Better Louisiana, the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters, the Young Leadership Council, Louisiana Wetlands Trust Fund, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Texaco, Exxon, BFI and others.

*Budget: $78,000 annually in funding and in-kind donations, including a $33,000 state grant, a $5,000 grant from Exxon, $20,000 in barge and tugboat services from Texaco, $5,000 in tree collection services from BFI and $5,000 in Parish funds.

*Community Served: The entire metropolitan area and surrounding parishes, which comprise more than one million people.

*Measures of Success:

  • In all, 10,000 linear feet of shoreline cribs have been constructed, which are expected to create more than 20 acres of marsh.
  • Another 20 acres of marsh is also expected to be created due to the placement of trees in five dead-end canals.
  • The National Guard is working to expand its Christmas tree airlift services to other parishes and two other states.
  • Local residents have approached the program organizers to expand to program, setting up shoreline cribs along private property to aid erosion abatement.


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