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Nature Conservancy to Monitor LICI's Iris Planting in Bayou Sauvage Refuge

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

December 7, 2021 New Orleans

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI) has an on-going multi-year Louisiana iris restoration project at the US Fish & Wildlife Service's Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. GulfCorps, through Limitless Vistas, Inc., has supplied workers for the iris restoration project at the refuge during the last two years. Their workers have planted many of the 3,000 irises that are part of the project.

The Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge is located within the city limits of New Orleans. Its one of the few US Fish & Wildlife Service refuges designated as an "urban refuge" within their system of refuges. However, the area of New Orleans East where the refuge is located is sparsely populated.

Unfortunately, significant number of irises were lost at the Bayou Sauvage Refuge iris restoration site due to high waters caused by the unusually heavy rainfall during most of 2021. The New Orleans area a total of received 85" of rain for 2021. The Louisiana iris species used in the project, the I. giganticaerulea iris, prefers being in wet soil and will grow in standing water that is 6" deep or shallower. The heavy rains at the refuge caused the water level to rise up above that. There were long periods of time in some of the iris stands when the water was 12" deep.

Some of the Louisiana irises are shown blooming in April of 2021 before the extremely high water period at the refuge began.

Limitless Vistas, Inc. made plans to increase the number of hours that their GulfCorps workers would spend at the refuge to help replace the irises that died off because of the high water events.

Louisiana irises being planted yesterday at the Bayou Sauvage Refuge within the the area to be monitored by the Nature Conservancy.

GulfCorps is a partnership of The Nature Conservancy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. GulfCorp's purpose is to create jobs for hundreds of young adults along the Gulf of Mexico restoring the natural features and habitats on critical conservation lands. With the support of the RESTORE Council (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revised Economies of the Gulf Coast States), GulfCorps workers help to protect and restore the Gulf Coast's lands and waters while creating jobs through conservation corps in the five coastal states; Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

GulfCorps is a partnership of The Nature Conservancy and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Limitless Vistas does job training of GulfCorps members in Southeast Louisiana.

Limitless Vistas is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to creating opportunities for disconnected young adults. They handle the job training of GulfCorps members in Southeast Louisiana. It Limitless Vistas (LVI) provides free environmental conservation workforce development and job training. To date, LVI has trained over 600 local individuals with a placement rate of 75%.

Libby Cornell is an instructor and Senior Crew Leader for Limitless Vistas and is LICI's contact person with them. She is also on the board of directors for the Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI).

One of Limitless Vistas' GulfCorps crews working on a LICI tree clearing project at the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in 2021.

LICI' led volunteers worked all through 2021 to opened up huge sections of swamp shoreline in the iris restoration area by killing Chinese Tallow trees during 2021. Many of the bushes that were growing along the shoreline also died off because of the high water. This opened up long stretches of the shoreline for the first time for irises to be planted. "This will allow the irises to grow on wet, but not flooded, higher ground, which should reduce the chances of the irises being impacted by any future high water events.", LICI's lead on the project, Gary Salathe, says.

Some of the members of LICI's Chinese Tallow extraction project at the Bayou Sauvage Refuge are shown after one of their weekly work-mornings (left to right) Tres Fisher, Richard Bosworth and GulfCorps student and refuge intern, Aaron Hunter. The project started in Ferbuary 2021 and ended once the tree planted season began in Novebember of 2021. The volunteers work all through the year with a couple of breaks during the spring tree sap rise and August's extreme heat.

The Nature Conservancy's GulfCorps Conservation Information Manager, Karrie Arnold, has recently begun an program to collect base data on long-term projects that GulfCorps workers are participating in. This will be followed by annual visits by her in future years to monitor the success of each project.

After receiving approval of the monitoring program from the refuge manager, Karrie contact LICI through Limitless Vistas' Libby Cornell to arrange to visit the site of the iris restoration project. The day for was set so that Karrie's visit would coincide with a tree planting and iris planting volunteer event organized by LICI at the refuge. That day was yesterday, December 6, 2021. Volunteers from Common Ground Relief, LICI and a Limitless Vistas' GulfCorps crew were on the refuge planting bald cypress trees and Louisiana irises.

Nature Conservancy's GulfCorps Conservation Information Manager, Karrie Arnold (in blue T-shirt), is seen with a GulfCorps workers installing a grid within the iris restoration area of the refuge on December 6, 2021. Each iris within the grid was counted. The plan is for Karrie to return during the 2022 iris bloom in April to do another count to see how the iris numbers have increased through naturally multiplying and by additional plantings.

In addition to Karrie's goal of learning more about LICI's iris restoration project at the refuge and GulfCorps' involvement in it, she wanted to use the GulfCorps crew to do an estimate of the number of irises currently planted in the project to create her base data. She took the GulfCorps crew after they had finished planting trees and irises and set up a grid in the swamp to count the irises in two sections of the restoration area. The number of irises found within the grid was extrapolated out over the whole iris restoration area to come up with an estimate of how many irises survived this year's flood. This estimate will be the base number to compare with how many irises she finds next April after they have recovered from the 2021 floods, multiply by natural increase and more are planted.

A snapshot from an instrument Karrie Arnold used to document the number of irises growing and the ground conditions at two of the iris restoration areas to create a baseline to compare future date collected.

Karrie will come back each year to see how the irises are doing and do a new count to see how much they have increased, both from natural growth and from LICI adding more irises through additional plantings. Her monitoring program of this project over time will quantify the progress and success of this iris restoration. "We welcome this involvement by a nationally recognized organization and actually find it exciting that they are so interested in our project.", LICI's Gary Salathe said.

The GulfCorps crew is shown after planting over 200 irises yesterday.

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