Southeastern students shore up wetlands with recycled Christmas trees
Contact: Rene Abadie
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Southeastern students this semester have worked in the wetlands around Lake Maurepas to deploy discarded Christmas trees on West Jones Island. Hauling trees are, right to left, Brittany DePhillips, Patricia Beavers and Johnny Babin. Working on the Turtle Cove pontoon boat are, from left, Turtle Cove Director Robert Moreau, Michaela Mayers and Brady Radosti.
HAMMOND – Despite losing state funds that included placement of recycled Christmas trees in the wetlands this year, a group of Southeastern Louisiana University students picked up the slack and carried out the project themselves.
“With the cuts in the state budget this year, our annual grant to place Christmas trees in the wetlands and to plant marsh grasses got cut,” said Robert Moreau, director of Southeastern’s Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station, located on Pass Manchac between lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain. “But volunteer businesses and Tangipahoa Parish helped us by serving as collection points for the trees, and our students helped to place them as part of their course work in environmental awareness.”
Ever since 1994 in St. John the Baptist Parish and 2000 in Tangipahoa Parish, Moreau and Fred Stouder, Turtle Cove marsh restoration coordinator, have deployed discarded Christmas trees and planted various types of marsh grasses. To date, over 20,000 marsh grasses – such as bulrush, roseaucan, cutgrass, smooth cord and even Cypress trees – have been planted in the area known as the “Prairie” in St. John and on West Jones Island in Lake Maurepas.
“Both programs have been funded by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources at $18,000 each per year and got high marks on evaluation,” Moreau explained. “The money just wasn’t available this year, but we were determined to continue at least a portion of this successful work through our students’ efforts and volunteer assistance.”
Businesses that served as dropping off points for the discarded trees included Middendorf’s restaurant in Manchac and Lowe’s Home Improvement in Hammond. Lowe’s also donated all trees that went unsold at the end of the season.
Each spring Moreau teaches an undergraduate environmental awareness class where students study a range of topics covering ecological problems. Their service work in placing the discarded trees and planting marsh grasses reinforces in the field what they learn in the classroom. This year, 26 students from the class worked on three different deployments, which involved loading the Turtle Cove pontoon boat with the trees, riding out to the sites on West Jones Island in Tangipahoa and then deploying the trees to help build up the shoreline.
“Unfortunately there were no funds to purchase marsh grasses for planting as had been done in years past for both the Tangipahoa and St. John parish programs,” Moreau said, “but at least the Christmas tree portion of the project was continued.”
“The students gain a real appreciation and understanding of the damage that is ongoing in our wetlands,” Moreau said. “And they recognize that their efforts in helping to restore the shoreline are important.”