This past Saturday down in the distant boggy bottoms of Point aux Chenes, LA, 150 eager volunteers and media folks braved the cold temps and 15 mph north winds for a chance to make a difference in coastal Louisiana.
Point aux Chenes (Point of the Oaks) Wildlife Management Area (WMA) consists of 33,000 acres of brackish marshes, ponds, bayous, and canals. This WMA is home to multiple species like deer, squirrel, rabbit, rail, snipe, gallinule, and various waterfowl. The WMA is accessible by boat for waterfowl hunting and fishing, and there is also a tent camping area.
But a haunting beauty surrounds this area as the skeletons of once-majestic bald cypress stand stark against the blue skies, looking on, as it were, as we planted new life amidst the old.
Truly a dichotomy.
Among those attending were my friends Polly Glover of Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Kim Coates, founder of Save Our Manchac, a dynamic duo when it comes to issues regarding coastal environments in south Louisiana. The rest of the volunteers ranged in age from four years old to past retirement age! It was great to be out in the field again and to see lots of familiar “coastal restoration” faces I haven’t seen in a few years. Polly is an old hand at coastal planting projects, having participated in plantings from the east coast to the west coast of the state. CRCL is fortunate to have such a dedicated volunteer, and she often talks about her father and his contribution to coastal Louisiana. Kim is a fairly newcomer to the scene of coastal restoration. As a resident of Pontchatoula, LA and one who recreates in the Manchac Swamp, her time is split between fighting the inundation of development in rural areas where infrastructure and drainage to support such mass construction is lacking and fighting to save what is left of the swamp at Manchac. Before I wrote my first book in 2004, I was greatly inspired by the work of photographer Julia Sims in her book Manchac Swamp, also from Pontchatoula. I spent hours lingering over her images and imagining what life must have been like when people still lived in and made their living off the swamp. Now, I am as greatly inspired to have met and made friends with Kim, who has promised to put me in her boat and haul me out into the Manchac Swamp. I’ve waited nearly 20 years for that to happen, and I am beyond excited, y’all.
Of course no project like this can happen without funding and organizers, and the backers of this project absolutely knew what they were doing. Of all the planting projects I’ve helped with, this is the first where we were treated like royalty. Pre-registration was a breeze, as was check-in at the registration table when we arrived. After the opening comments, we promptly received safety glasses, safety vests, and gloves, before traipsing along the levee to get our shovels and planting instructions. A short time later, we entered the area where we would plant 2,000 bald cypress trees to find that the pots were already lined up, with a bamboo spike in place beside which we would dig the hole and plant the tree. The bottom was very soft and damp in most areas, so it was smooth sailing from there on out as we planted the trees and then tied them with flagging to their respective bamboo spikes. It only took us two hours to plant all those trees, and then we were served a nice hot lunch of jambalaya!
The powers behind this project were as follows: Funded by BHP in conjunction with Americas Wetland Foundation. It was great to see Sidney Coffee of AW again. This is one of the first projects of the America’s WETLAND Conservation & Restoration Registry, which is an inventory and reporting of private projects, consistent with Louisiana’s coastal master plan, that have been completed or planned and available for private sponsorship and funding. It was also good to reconnect with wetland plant grower and charter guide Capt. Aaron Pierce, (with his new endeavor 4 Horsemen tackle), who also works with RES. An integral partner in the project, RES is restoring the historic Cypress-Tupelo Swamp habitat through the planting of 30,000 restorative cypress trees, plus invasive species management, with the goal set on bringing the area back to its historic state. In a nutshell, RES employees planted the first 28,000 trees and gave us the opportunity to plant the final 2,000, which made us truly feel like restoration kings and queens, princes and princesses!!! Nicholls State University was also represented by students and graduates, as well as my old friends Dr. Allyse Ferrar and Dr. Quenton Fontenot, both from the Biology Department at NSU. And it was really great to see them again. (The “One Tree at a Time” slogan and #onetreeatatime are promotions of the American’s WETLAND Foundation.) Rotary District 6200 and the E-Coastal Rotary Club pitched in with setting things up, providing food and drinks, and whatever else was needed, and it was wonderful to reconnect with an old friend, Mark Lee of Houma Rotary Club! Now, let me say a big THANKS to all of these folks, plus the 150 awesome volunteers!
I was told that they cut the registration off at 150 volunteers, and it really does my heart good to know that there were more folks than that willing to brave the elements to make such a small difference that may make such a huge difference for our grandchildren who want to enjoy this wildlife management area. At the risk of offending any readers who don’t believe in killing wildlife for sustenance, I want to add that my two oldest sons hunted ducks in this WMA when they were teenagers, just starting to drive. This mom was on pins and needles while those men-in-training hauled their little aluminum boat an hour from home before daylight in order to get the best spot to hunt. I’m sure they have fond memories of those hunts, and I’ll be sure and ask them to tell me some stories next time we’re well together.
What, may you ask, does hunting have to do with planting cypress trees? Well, down here in bayou county, hunting, cleaning, cooking, providing for family, stories over a shared meal at the old kitchen table, through laughs and jibes about the one that got away, are all part of the way of life and culture. And as our wetlands disappear, so do the culture and the way of life, for they are inextricably linked. For some, it is too late, but as long as there is a tree to plant and breath in my body to do so, I will never give up.
So, how to plant a bald cypress? As easy as four basic steps, and then on to the next one.
And lastly, it was great to be working side-by-side with photographer and FOX 8 News anchor, John Snell, whom I had the privilege of showing our disappearing wetlands way back in 2007 not long after I first started doing educational wetland tours. You can also follow his brilliant photography via his Facebook Page. To be honest, though, I’ve aged a bit in 12 years, so I’m not quite certain he recognized me!
Until next time, I remain your BW. and comments are always welcome on this post!