The Rape of Louisiana, Part II

*Crossposted at The Wild, Wild Left*

In Honor of Earth Day, a reminder not to buy cypress mulch for your home garden. Every year, 20,000 acres of these beautiful and majestic trees are cut down and ground up to be used for nothing more than spreading around in suburban flower beds. Most of it comes from the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest swamp in the United States, which is located less than 20 miles from where I live.

The Forestry Industry loves to claim that the cypress they cut is sustainable, but the facts reveal that 80% of what is cut down cannot be regrown, due mostly in part to the levee system we have, which prevents the ancient, annual spring floods that renew and build up the soil. They can plant all the cypress seedlings behind they want - salt water intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico kills them within weeks.

Sadly, and yet typically, greed and the poverty level in this state play a huge role in the loss of our cypress forests. Most of the land in the Basin is privately owned, mainly by people who have little more than their land to their names. When the logging companies come with offers of a few thousand dollars to take their timber, all the while promising to replant and replace, they have few decliners. The state is woe to regulate an industry that brings in billions of dollars of revenue every year. Thus, the rape continues unabated.

Ironically, our elected officials are begging the federal government for more money to shore up and build more levees, while simultaneously allowing the removal of one of the most important natural barriers we have to storm surge and coastal erosion. In the few places where the levees held secure during Katrina and Rita, the cypress forests which flanked them were responsible.

This is of course in addition to the fact that the Atchafalaya Basin is one of the most rich and diverse eco-systems in the world. Thousands of species of animals live there, as well as hundreds upon hundreds of species of migratory birds that call it home for at least part of every year. When the cypress is gone, the eco-system will go with it, along with a good part of our heritage of hunting, fishing, trapping, and recreation.

Since it is clear that our local and state governments aren't terribly interested in saving the cypress forests, it is up to consumers to persuade logging companies that their efforts aren't worth it. Lowe's and Wal-Mart (can you believe that?) have stopped buying cypress mulch harvested here, but it can sometimes be very hard to track exactly where the mulch companies get their timber, since many don't directly harvest, but instead buy from third party operations. So do my beloved home a favor - DON'T BUY cypress mulch. Use pine bark, or pine straw, which is much more sustainable and is manufactured as a byproduct of lumber production.

More information:

Mother Jones has a great article on this subject called Mulch Madness.

Again from Mother Jones, a guide to sustainable mulch.

Atchafalaya Basin Waterkeeper Campaign to Save the Cypress/Tupelo Forests

Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana

Louisiana Purchase Cypress Legacy


Post a Comment