Storm Protection Turned Into Mulch

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

As recounted in "Katrina, Rita Caused Forestry Disaster" [front page, Nov. 16], the two Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005 had an overwhelming impact on forests. But one species held fast and protected other trees, wildlife, property and, most important, people. The bald cypress is the best form of natural storm and flood protection for the Gulf Coast, but it is ending up in garden beds as mulch.

Research being done at Southeastern Louisiana University shows that cypress forests were minimally affected by Hurricane Katrina. In the Pearl River Basin, they helped protect other tree species living in the understory. Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center has shown that four square miles of healthy marsh reduces storm surge by a foot. Those same scientists say that cypress swamps provide even better protection.

Unfortunately, our best natural storm protection, which also provides wildlife habitat, water filtration and eco-tourism opportunities, is being destroyed to supply the garden departments of Lowe's, Home Depot and Wal-Mart. Cypress are being clear-cut and whole trees are being used solely to produce garden mulch. Many of these trees are not growing back.

Starting next year, Wal-Mart will no longer sell cypress mulch from Louisiana, which is laudable, but forests in Florida and other states continue to fall. Lowe's cannot enforce a moratorium it declared on buying mulch from a specific region because there is no way to verify mulch sources and no credible certification program.

These chains promote their environmental policies, but until they stop selling unsustainable cypress mulch, no matter where it is logged, those promises will ring hollow here in the Gulf region.


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Gulf Restoration Network

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