One of Louisiana’s iconic images is that of the cypress forests rising out of wetlands along the coast and into the Atchafalaya Basin. The scene is part of our heritage and is of great value as Louisiana continues to be a magnet for visitors around the world.
But acreage of cypress also can be a valuable and renewable economic asset for landowners because much cypress land is in private hands.
That is why it’s vital for landowners, from big companies to individual families in the state, to be able to use the land but also to watch for signs that a tract cannot be cut because it is not capable of regenerating itself.
The double-whammy of subsiding land and rising sea levels present challenges for cypress forests along Louisiana’s coast.
A new report released Wednesday from the Louisiana Society of American Foresters will help landowners evaluate logging decisions.
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. This work follows on a state committee established by Gov. Kathleen Blanco to assess the future of these tremendous assets.
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.
The problem is that young cypress trees need to grow in drier land before they are able to withstand periodic flooding. Under water, once cut down, the wetland forests would not grow back. 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.
But it’s not all bad news, because intelligent management of water can provide the literal breathing space to make a tract once again harvestable.
These trees are an asset that must be protected in a time of global climate change. Louisiana’s forestry owners are today a far cry from the irresponsible clear-cutting loggers of 100 years ago.
Preservation is good, but where it is possible to harvest trees and regrow them, the renewable nature of these assets is important for today’s landowners and for generations to come.