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Updated: Oct 28, 2020

July 15, 2020 New Orleans, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) would like to express our sincere gratitude to these organizations for their donations that have allowed us to construct the LICI's iris holding area in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans:

Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges The Meraux Foundation The Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans

1) The Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc. is made up of dedicated community members who magnify the power of conservation efforts and help the national wildlife refuges in Louisiana meet conservation goals that would otherwise be out of reach.

They do this by donating hundreds of volunteer hours and raising money for our local refuges. In the process, Friends help engage the people of the area in wildlife conservation, improve access to outdoor recreation and strengthen relationships between refuges and their neighboring communities.

Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges, Inc.

Just like at many regional US Fish & Wildlife refuges across the country, local Friends of the Refuge members lead tours, staff refuge visitor centers, organize wildlife festivals, sponsor photo contests, operate nature shops and help organize habitat restoration and trail maintenance projects. Their annual October "Wild Things" festival brings in thousands of people to the event at the Lacombe, La Southeast Louisiana US Fish & Wildlife Service's headquarters complex.

2) The Meraux Foundation is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that was established by Arlene Meraux to benefit the community of St. Bernard Parish by leveraging its landholdings.

From their website: "When Arlene Meraux founded the Meraux Foundation, she asked her niece, Rita Gue, to manage it with a simple guiding principle: to ensure that the land resources that Arlene transferred to the Foundation would be used to improve the quality of life in St. Bernard.

The Meraux Foundation

The Foundation's Docville Farm has over 130 acres designated as an educational learning center that hosts art series, workshops, and a number of community events, such as LSU’s AgMagic on the River. One of the many buildings on the Docuville Farm campus is a greenhouse that, in addition to raising plants, it serves as a learning resource for K-12 students throughout the year. It has become a highlight of AgMagic on the River, an annual event the Meraux Foundation hosts to link Louisiana’s agriculture and environment with people’s everyday lives.

“We continue to build out Docville Farm so that it can better meet the needs of the community. Beyond hosting events and providing space for community dialogue, the farm is a hub for positive growth — now both literally and figuratively!” says Gue.

"The foundation's Coastal and Environmental Initiatives range from outreach to schools in St. Bernard to prepare students for jobs in the growing field of coastal restoration to engaging stakeholders in efforts to protect the coast and respects the way of life in St. Bernard," Gue adds.

Blaise Pezold joined the Meraux Foundation a few years ago as Coastal and Environmental Program Manager to spearhead the nonprofit’s ever-expanding plans to protect, preserve, and restore St. Bernard Parish’s rapidly disappearing coast. He is LICI's contact person with the foundation.

3) The mission statement of the Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans (NPI) is very straightforward; "To increase the use of native plants in our area by expanding public awareness of their ecological benefits, boosting availability, and by preserving and creating native plant communities." This is accomplished with educational efforts, including public plantings of wild flowers, the NPI's regularly held meetings and special seminars that they organize.

Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans

The NPI also join forces on projects with other groups that are working to preserve or restore native Louisiana plants. That's where the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative's work comes into play. One of the proposed projects is to reintroduce the native Louisiana iris species I. giganticaerulea to the swamp at the Lockport Elevated Wetlands Boardwalk in Lockport, LA.

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Updated: Oct 28, 2020

June 19, 2020 Covington, La.

Gary Salathe and Destiny Simon of the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) did a workday on Friday, June 19th collecting I. giganticaerulea irises from two locations. The I. giganticaerulea iris is one of five Louisiana iris species, four of which are native to Louisiana.

The irises were removed from two sites where they were planted as an experiment started five years ago to see if places could be found where they could grow without any maintenance. The plan was to have the irises grow in bogs that were found in various locations in St. Tammany parish so that they could be thinned out every other year to use in iris restoration projects. The process has been nick-named as "parking irises", in that they are only meant to stay in these locations as a way to grow them out to be used in future projects, not as a permanent home to be on display to the public.

The two volunteers thinned out irises from two clumps in each location and ended up with about 300 plants. These add to a total of about 1,000 irises that have been removed from the two locations over the last few years.

The first location is a "dry" detention pond for a subdivision near the Goodbee crossroads in western St. Tammany parish. The parish requires all rainwater runoff from new subdivisions to be funneled to areas like this, which are at the low point of each subdivision's drainage system located at its end. There is a choke point at the outflow of the detention pond so that it fills with rainwater from the subdivision during a heavy rain. A single culvert that drains the pond causes the water to be "detained" so that the water leaving the subdivision’s drainage system, as the detention pond slowly drains off, leaves at the same speed as it did from the land before it was developed. This keeps the waterways down stream from the subdivision from overflowing and backing up because of water rushing into them because the drainage of the land upstream has been improve by its being developed.

St. Tammany parish has hundreds of these detention ponds.

A "wet" detention pond is a pond that holds water, which is usually located within the subdivision where it can be seen to add to the beauty of the neighborhood. The ponds usually have a 3' - 4' high sloped bank to allow that portion to fill up during heavy rains and be "detained".

A "dry" detention pond, like the one shown in the photo, generally is in hidden areas of the subdivision and only hold a few inches of water that usually disappears during dry periods. However, each time there is a hard rain it will get replenished with new rainwater from the subdivision's drainage system.

Each year during one of the dry periods the parish will bush-hog dry detention ponds to keep trees and bushes from taking over. This is usually done when the irises are in their dormant period, so the theory from five years ago was that these dry detention ponds may be the perfect place to propagate species irises long-term without having to do any maintenance. You'd just let nature take its course!

Photo: Small clumps of irises can be seen with light green leaves out in the detention pond. They were planted last year. They had about 3" of standing water around them on Friday. They will likely need a couple more years before the clumps are large enough to thin out.

The plan for this workday was to thin out two clumps that were close to the pond bank.

The irises the two collected were still in their growth mode with new branches starting to come out from the center rhizome. Each clump that the irises were removed from were inspected during March when they were in bloom to confirm that they were the I. giganticaerulea iris that was planted there five years ago. The two clumps were last thinned out two years ago.

The second location is a transmission power line right of way where it was discovered five years ago that it had a small bog in its center. The bog was about 150' long and about 20' wide when the irises were first planted. After the first group of irises were thinned out a construction crew filled all but 50' of the bog. Luckily, most of the irises were removed from the area to be filled after the construction equipment showed up, but before they started work. Some irises were destroyed when there wasn't enough time to get them all out.

The 50' of bog that had been left was untouched for two years, so an investigation was launched this spring to see if any irises were still there. About 120 I. giganticaerulea iris were found happy and blooming!

The two volunteers took out all but about 30 irises so that the process can start all over again.

Photo: The surviving section of the bog is only about 10' wide, but it was still holding water after two weeks of no rain.

Photo: The irises were healthy and still in their growth mode.

Half of the 300 irises were planted, Saturday, June 20th, in the Bayou Sauvage wildlife refuge as a continuation of a project LICI has there. The other half were planted at the LICI iris holding area in New Orleans so that they can grow until they are used in projects this fall.

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Updated: Feb 14, 2021

June 12, 2020 New Orleans, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) successfully completed an iris rescue event on Friday, June 12, 2020. Over 2,000 I. giganticaerulea irises, which is a species of the Louisiana iris, were removed from a property located in an area west of New Orleans. The property is zoned and permitted for commercial development and is for sale.

This event was part of a multi-year ongoing LICI project to remove as many of the irises as possible from the property and to relocate them to area refuges and nature preserves. The irises that were collected on the June 12th event were in addition to the estimated total of 15,000 irises that have been removed from the property over the last two years.

The property owners have been very supportive of the effort to relocate their irises to locations where they will be permanently protected. They are kept updated on where the irises are planted in their final home.

The eight LICI volunteers worked hard on what turned out to be one of the most beautiful June mornings in recent years, with the temperature at the start of the event being in the mid 70's, with a steady breeze.

Most of the spots where the irises were dug up had a few inches of standing water. This was due to water being pushed in from Lake Pontchartrain because of tropical storm Cristobal's storm surge raising its level earlier in the week. Fortunately, this was 12" lower than the

high water mark the volunteers found at the site from a couple of days earlier. Iris are actually easier to dig if they are in a few inches of standing water because it loosens up the soil. Its the reason the volunteers were able to remove so many irises in the time that was available.

The irises were taken to LICI's new holding area in New Orleans where they were planted later in the day with the help of additional volunteers. They will be taken from the holding area this autumn and winter and planted in area refuges and nature preserves.

A big "Thank You!" goes out to the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative's volunteers that helped out at both locations to make this event a success!

Almost all of the out of state university groups that organize trips for students to come to New Orleans to volunteer have discontinued their plans for the next few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Having local volunteers from all walks of life help fill the gap will allow events like this to continue. Please feel free to email us if you would like to be notified of future LICI volunteer opportunities;

Photo: Volunteers for the morning dig (left to right); Steve and Mary Rooney, LICI summer intern Destiny Simon, Britt Aliperti, Chris Knapps, Andrew Hanna and George Wainright. Not shown is LICI board of directors member Gary Salathe.

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