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January 20, 2020 New Orleans

Gary Salathe, with the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), met with Tricia LeBlanc, director of Sankofa Wetland Park and Nature Trail, this past weekend on a foggy morning at the site of the park in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. The purpose of the meeting was to see if the current small pond that is in the park could support growing I. giganticaerulea species Louisiana irises. The idea is to put a test planting of irises in now to see how they grow in the coming months and then come back later in the year with a much larger planting if they do well in a huge pond that is currently under construction.

The plan would be for this park to become another location to grow rescued species irises where they can be enjoyed by the public, but still be available to be thinned out by the LICI in the future for other restoration projects.

The ambitious plans for the 350' deep by 3/4 mile long park is to have its total of 40 acres developed with a series of connecting narrow ponds running through the length of the park, which will create unbelievable amounts of linear feet of shoreline available for planting irises.

Photo: Sankofa Wetland Park and Nature Trail is located in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. It is shown in the photo as outlined in red.

Funding for the park's construction is completed, with grants from the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and the City of New Orleans. The construction of the park should be completed in the next year. The main purpose of the park is highlighting the role of wetlands in absorbing storm-water and reducing land subsidence.

The photo on the right is of the next pond that is currently under construction. It extends to the very far treeline shown in the distance. It shows the incredible amount of linear feet of shoreline that all of the combined ponds will have when the park is completed.

The plan is to keep most of the shorelines in a natural state and only maintain the trails and some areas along the ponds for fishermen to use. They also have plans to put in a small launch for kayaks.

The volunteers from the University of Maryland organized by Common Ground Relief arrived shortly after the meeting was concluded and began planting recently rescued I. giganticaerulea irises, which is a species of the Louisiana iris. The group planted 160 irises. The irises had been removed a couple of months before from a property that has plans for development.

If the irises do well the plan is for LICI to organize more volunteer events later in 2020 to plant up to 2,000 of these irises there. Sankofa Nature Trail and Wetlands may become a very important planting site for rescued irises from LICI projects this year.

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Updated: Jun 10, 2020

January 8, 2020 Lacombe, La.

On January 7, 2020 volunteers from Wisconsin University-Madison and the University of South Dakota helped us complete the 2019 fall/winter portion of the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Louisiana iris relocation project. The workday for the twenty-two students was organized by Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) member Gary Salathe with Greater New Orleans Iris Society member George Wainright helping with supervision. The students were in town for five days of volunteerism organized by Britt Aliperti, Interim Director of Common Ground Relief, a local non-profit engaged in marsh restoration projects in southeast Louisiana. The Big Branch project could not have been completed without all of their help.

LICI would also like to thank Gary S. Vitrano, manager of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries fish hatchery, for allowing one of the ponds there to be used for these rescued irises to be planted in and then having them growing there through the fall and winter of 2019 until they were ready to be dug up. A "Big thank you!" goes out to Daniel Breaux, manager of the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, for his encouragement and support of this iris relocation project.

The irises that were used for the project started off growing on the road shoulder of Lake Road, which is a St. Tammany parish maintained road within the refuge.

St. Tammany parish has plans to raise the road level because it is regularly covered with water during higher than normal tides caused by a strong south wind blowing for a few days. Any irises, like those shown in the photo, within 30" of the gravel's edge will be destroyed when the construction for raising the road begins.

On a July 2, 2019 volunteer day the irises were dug up from Lake Road and brought to a small, dry fish pond that the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries made available at their fish hatchery in nearby Lacombe, La.

On January 7, 2020 the volunteers dug up the irises at the fish hatchery to relocate them to the boardwalk area of the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge a few miles away. Over the last two years multiple volunteer days have taken place to plant irises at the boardwalk. A severe drought in 2001 allowed salt water into the lagoons near the boardwalk which killed the last stand of cypress trees and any remnant irises that were growing there.

The opening of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Canal (MR-GO) in 1968 introduced huge amounts of salt water into Lake Pontchartrain causing the habitat around the lake to slowly changed from fresh water marsh to brackish or salt water marsh. The closing of the MR-GO in 2009 reversed the process and now the marshes are converting back to freshwater, allowing a return of cypress trees and irises.

Since visitors from around the world walk the refuge's boardwalk, the goal of the project was to move irises there from other areas of the refuge that are on the verge of being destroyed, like these irises from Lake Road. Over 1,000 iris were planted near the boardwalk by the end of the day. A video of this volunteer day can be found here:

This planting completed a two year project which successfully moved over 2,000 I. giganticaerula species Louisiana irises to the area of the boardwalk.

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Updated: Jun 17, 2020

December 20, 2020 Covington, La.

Part of Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative's (LICI) program to rescue native Louisiana species irises is to find locations where the irises can be moved so that they can be propagated and thinned out over the years to use for iris restoration projects in the marsh. Another example of one of these places is St. Joseph's Abbey in Covington, La.

St. Joseph Benedictine Abbey is a Benedictine monastery located in St. Benedict, Louisiana on the Northshore of Lake Pontchartrain near Covington. The monks purchased the property and build the monastery in 1902 on 1,500 acres of a former plantation. Two large ponds were hand dug by the monks on what has become a native and wildlife preserve that comprises most of the property.

On December 18, 2020, Gary Salathe, with the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative, organized an I. giganticaerulea Louisiana species iris planting at St. Joseph's Abbey. Volunteers with Common Ground Relief from from Buck-I-SERV Alternative Breaks at Ohio State University planted over 1,000 irises. The irises were dug up and rescued from a property earlier in the day by a group of volunteers, that included these students, from a tract of land that has plans for development. The irises that were planted added to the 1,000 planted there in May of 2019.

The irises were planted along the water’s edge of a pond found within the remote 1,500 acres of the monastery property. The irises will grow and multiple in their new home so that

they can be thinned out over the years to be used for marsh restoration projects in Southeast Louisiana. Photo: The ground condition along the pond shoreline was ideal

with about a 48" deep strip of soggy ground.

A video of the volunteer event can be found here:

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The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative, Inc. is a Louisiana non-profit corporation that has been formed for the purpose of organizing Louisiana iris rescue and planting projects involving wild, native irises threatened with destruction.