Wetlands scientists and students at Southeastern Louisiana University this fall will use a recent settlement of a civil lawsuit to continue reforestation efforts in area wetlands.
A $33,000 fine and settlement was approved earlier this month in Baton Rouge by U.S. District Judge James Brady following a suit filed against a Tennessee businessman by the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper and the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, two Louisiana environmental groups. The suit alleged the landowner harvested cypress trees around Lake Maurepas without a permit, cutting trees that were more than 100 years old, causing damage to the hydrology of the land, adding pollutants to the waterways, and inviting invasive species that have negatively affected the area’s ecology.
“Both environmental groups are well aware of the research and reforestation work we have been doing in south Louisiana and suggested those funds go to us,” said Gary Shaffer, professor of biology and a member of the board of the Atchafalya Basinkeeper.
Shaffer, who is director of Southeastern’s Wetland Restoration Lab, said the funds will pay for the cultivation and planting of 3,300 bald cypress and water tupelo saplings. The plants will be adequately nutria-proofed, he explained, as the invasive and prolific rodents are a major nuisance in attempts to replant cypress saplings.
Shaffer and his team of undergraduate and graduate students are cultivating seedlings for planting, which will begin in the fall.
“In order to ensure a high rate of survival, we will plant the seedlings in areas that we know will receive reliable sources of nutrient-rich fresh water, such as the Hammond, Mandeville and Central Wetlands assimilation wetlands, as well as some areas where the illegal clear cut occurred,” he said.
The Southeastern team plans to plant nearly 20,000 cypress and tupelo trees over the next two years as a part of a 20-year effort to restore the Manchac and Maurepas swamps.