Sinking land and rising seas have presented immense challenges for cypress forests along Louisiana’s coast, and landowners must decide how to manage their land, including whether to harvest their trees when areas may be too flooded to support new growth.
A new report released Wednesday from the Louisiana Society of American Foresters should provide a means by which property can be evaluated and logging decisions made. The report has categories that detail whether the land can reseed on its own, if it needs to be planted by seedlings, or if the area is too flooded or too dry to support cypress if harvested.
“I felt this was the place to take the science and put it into a resource manual that could be used,” said Holly Morgan, education chairwoman for the Society of American Foresters and Louisiana forester.
That’s why members of the Louisiana chapter volunteered their time over the past seven years to prepare the manual for how coastal cypress can be managed in a changing landscape, said Steve Templin, with Templin Forestry in Alexandria who also serves as the Wetlands Committee chairman.
Rick Jacob, forester with The Nature Conservancy in Lake Charles, said landowners will have to do more observations on flooding before the property can be classified. Many large landowners already have this information, but it could take some smaller landowners a year or two of observation before the designation becomes clear.
“Once you know what you have, you know what you are able to do,” Jacob said.
For some landowners, the news won’t be good.
“When you have determined that the area is not sustainable, you don’t have any options for management other than salvaging,” Morgan said.
However, the evaluation process could help point out ways to improve water movement so that harvesting operations could resume in the future, she said.
Rudy Sparks, vice president of Williams Inc., outlined some of the coastal Louisiana cypress concerns at the Society of American Foresters meeting in Baton Rouge, including that some areas are just too flooded, too much of the time.
“I don’t see a future where these are continuing commercial forest lands,” Sparks said. “Maybe 100 years from now, we’ll be back in the timber business.”
In other areas of the coast, the news will be much better as the new management manual gives landowners a way to show that their cypress stands are healthy and that the property can readily generate a new generation of trees. And not all forests in south Louisiana are facing the dire problems.
“The main thing we wanted to show is that cypress is not endangered,” Morgan said.
The hope is that the report can also start discussions about coastal forest challenges and encourage additional research into possible solutions. Researchers began the work as the result of a campaign by environmental groups who are opposed to the cutting of coastal Louisiana cypress for use of cypress mulch, used in landscaping.
That campaign resulted in 2007 and 2008 corporate decisions from Wal-Mart and Home Depot to stop buying cypress mulch from Louisiana.
Before work on the latest report began, then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco created a panel of scientists to report on the declining health of cypress forests in the state, many of which provide storm surge protection in areas where there is no hope for regrowth. That report included 14 recommendations that raised concerns from some landowners and timber industry representatives, so soon after, the Governor’s Advisory Panel on Coastal Forest Conservation and Use came up with its own recommendations on how coastal cypress forests should be managed.
Although cypress trees can survive periods of flooding, new seedlings need dry ground to grow tall enough to stay above floodwaters.
One of the recommendations from the group of scientists was to have standards to determine which properties along the coast could regrow cypress trees if logged and which ones could not. In the absence of that, harvest and management of cypress forests in south Louisiana remains difficult both ecologically and because federal regulations impose limits on working in a wetland, Morgan said.
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