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LICI Completes 2021 Tree Planting Project at Bayou Sauvage Refuge; "We'll start up again next fall."

February 17, 2022 New Orleans, La.

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) has completed its winter 2021-2022 tree planting project at the US Fish & Wildlife Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge this week.

Common Ground Relief, a local non-profit engaged in marsh restoration in Southeast Louisiana, partnered with LICI for this project to reforest areas of the refuge near the its Ridge Trail boardwalk. The refuge has one of only two live oak/hackberry tree ridge forests remaining in Louisiana. The boardwalk passes through the ridge forest found along the old Bayou Sauvage and ends in what was once a cypress swamp.

Most of the trees that were planted at the Bayou Sauvage refuge during the project were donated by LICI's partner in the project, Common Ground Relief. The co-director of Common Ground Relief, Charlotte Clarke, is seen in the center of the photo among volunteers from AmeriCorps as they collect trees for that day's planting at the Bayou Sauvage Refuge. Charlotte was responsible for the donation from Common Ground Relief.

Common Ground Relief donated over 300 three gallon potted live oak trees and a total of 400 three gallon and one gallon bald cypress trees from their Wetlands Nursery in New Orleans to get the project started early in November. They also ordered 200 live oak, 400 cypress and 50 American elm bare-root tree seedlings for the project and then donated 50 additional bare-root cypress tree seedlings. A total of 500 other oak tree seedlings and green ash tree seedlings were donated by the US Fish & Wildlife for the project.

Common Ground Relief's Wetlands Nursery is shown. It is located in the Lower Ninth Ward Neighborhood of New Orleans.

Common Ground Relief also supplied volunteers for three LICI organized tree planting events at the refuge. Other volunteers that took part in the 3 1/2 month project were from AmeriCorps, Gulf Corps/Limitless Vistas, Louisiana Master Naturalist of Greater New Orleans and LICI volunteers from the public.

Volunteers from Tulane University are shown loading some potted cypress trees being donated by Common Ground Relief onto a trailer to be delivered to the Bayou Sauvage refuge. "The effort to replant areas of the refuge involved many volunteers that did not actually plant any of the trees," according to LICI's Gary Salathe. The potted trees used in the plantings had been growing at the Common Ground Relief's wetlands nursery for the last two to three years. "They have required huge amounts of time on the part of Common Ground Relief's volunteers to plant them into the containers, keep them watered and to weed the pots twice each year. We could not have done the project without this help, because Common Ground Relief would not have had the trees to donate," Salathe added.

None of the trees could have been planted at the refuge without the work of a small group of volunteers that worked each Monday morning for months during 2021 to clear out invasive Chinese tallow trees. The Chinese Tallow trees took advantage of the huge areas of bare ground that were created by 2005's Hurricane Katrina's destruction to move in and get a head start on the native trees that would have reforested the damaged areas. Since the Chinese tallow trees grow faster than native tree species they will out-compete any of these trees that try to naturally grow back into these areas.

Richard Bosworth is shown using the "hack and squirt" method used by LICI's Monday work crew at the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge that worked months to eradicate an estimated 4,000 Chinese tallow trees. The other members of the crew were; Tres Fisher, Aaron Hunter and LICI's Gary Salathe, the project leader.

The areas cleared of tallow trees created the need for them to be replanted with native trees. "Without planting native trees in these areas they would just go back to being a young tallow tree forest in a few years. Our hope is that the young native trees we planted will get a head start on any tallow trees that come back from seeds," Salathe said. He added that LICI's tallow tree eradication crew has pledge to go through the areas each year where the new native trees have been planted to kill off any Chinese tallow trees that attempt to grow back. In a few years the native trees will create a canopy that will shade out any Chinese tallow trees that try to get reestablished.

Volunteers are seen planting trees in a typical area where the Chinese tallow trees had been killed off earlier in the year. Many of the trees in boardwalk section of the Bayou Sauvage refuge that were blown over from Hurricane Ida were actually Chinese tallow trees that were already dead.

LICI is a Louisiana non-profit that works to reestablish Louisiana irises in areas where they were once abundant, like the Bayou Sauvage refuge, so the question comes up of why an iris restoration group is doing Chinese tallow tree eradication, which led to the need for them to reforest the areas where these trees have been killed off? "We started off early last year with a goal of clearing out Chinese tallow trees from along the old Bayou Sauvage shoreline to create new areas for irises to be planted. Then our volunteers discovered young cypress and live oak trees that had been planted by other volunteers in the past as they worked. These trees were located away from the shoreline and many were being crowded and shaded by the faster growing tallow trees, which threatened their survival. We also learned that if we left tallow trees growing next to the bayou areas where we killed the tallows off those trees would just reseed the areas we had cleared. So, the goal was then expanded into killing off all of the tallow trees in the boardwalk area by next fall. That created the need to replant these new open areas with native trees once the Chinese tallow trees were killed off. I guess the answer to the question is you can say that it was 'mission creep'," Salathe replied as he shrugged his shoulders.

Potted cypress are shown being planted by AmeriCorps volunteers on December 5, 2021 at the Bayou Sauvage refuge.

Multiple LICI organized events were held from early December to mid January, involving anywhere from eight to seventeen volunteers each, to plant the potted trees and bare-root seedlings. Simultaneously, the every Monday morning work crew switched from Chinese tallow tree eradication to planting the new trees in early November. They continued this work until the last trees were planted on February 17th.

Refuge manager at the time this photo was taken in December, Shelley Stiaes, is seen in the center. New Orleans city councilman, Oliver Thomas, is seen behind Shelley. Both came out to this tree planting event to welcome the volunteers. The Friends of the US Fish & Wildlife Refuges was also there to welcome the volunteers with snacks and hot chocolate. The volunteers shown in the photo were from Saint Paul's Catholic Student Center at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. They were in New Orleans being hosted by Common Ground Relief for a week of service activities.

Volunteers (left to right) Richard Bosworth, Tres Fisher and John Stewart are shown as they plant potted cypress trees. All are members of the Louisiana Master Naturalist of Greater New Orleans. They were part of the every Monday morning work crew. Tres and Richard spent months coming out on Mondays to work on the tallow tree eradication. John joined the group and worked each Monday when the tree planting part of the project started in November. LICI's Gary Salathe, the project leader, is not shown.

The visual effect of the volunteers' work killing the tallow trees and planting new trees at the refuge began being seen over the last few months by refuge visitors, so word started spreading about the project. Two local TV stations, WDSU and Fox 8 News, each became interested in the story and asked to do an interview with those involved.

Charlotte Clarke (on right), co-executive Director of Common Ground Relief, is seen being interviewed by Lee Southwick of WDSU at the Bayou Sauvage refuge on January 12, 2022 during one of the tree planting events. Fox8 did an interview with the Monday work crew while they were at the refuge working on January 17th.

Volunteers from LICI, Common Ground Relief and GulfCorps/Limitless Vistas are shown at a December 6, 2021 tree planting event organized by LICI at the Bayou Sauvage refuge.

This map shows the areas where the tree plantings are complete, as of February 17, 2022. Some of these areas only required a few spaced trees to be planted because of existing native trees growing or because surviving trees were found from plantings in previous years by other volunteers. Areas where the Chinese tallow trees were the most dense needed to be totally replanted.

Volunteers are shown planting Louisiana irises in December at the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.

LICI has also been planting Louisiana irises over the last three months along the old Bayou Sauvage shoreline as time allowed and the volunteers were available while the trees were being planted. LICI tried to accomplish its goal of adding 2,500 Louisiana irises to the refuge during this winter's iris planting season at the same time as it was trying to meet its goal of planting 1,900 trees. Both goals were accomplished, but not until mid-February. The original target to complete both projects was in mid-January.

Salathe says that the Monday morning crew will begin work back on Chinese tallow tree eradication next week to open up new areas to plant trees during the winter of 2022. They will work until the trees show signs of leaf buds and then then will take a one month break. The herbicide does not work well when the tree's sap rises as the leaves come out, he said.



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