Louisiana cypress mulch industry devastates old-growth forests
By Morgan Erickson-Davis, special to mongabay.com
November 5, 2008




The cypress forests of Louisiana have suffered much devastation from human development, coastal erosion, and exploitation by the lumber industry. Now, vast tracts are being clear cut for the production of cypress mulch. A new online campaign — saveourcypress.org — is seeking to reform the Louisiana cypress mulch industry.

Cypress wetland forests are among the most productive wetland ecosystems in the world, but with no state laws in place to protect Louisiana trees, these forests are being logged without discretion, at a rate of 20,000 acres per year. In the mid-1800s, Louisiana boasted over two million acres of cypress-tupelo swamps; currently, fewer than half that number currently exist.


Majestic Cypress with Moss and Knees on the banks of Fourmile Bayou in Assumption Parish, between Lake Verret and Grassy Lake. Courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources.






Before and after photos of the same area. The third image shows initial regrowth, reflecting how the cypress is immediately outcompeted by other species. Courtesy of Basinkeeper.org


Flyovers showing deforested areas. Courtesy of Basinkeeper.org


Courtesy of Basinkeeper.org
Cara Leverett, of basinkeeper.org, reports that the cypress mulch industry is responsible for most cypress logging.

"Most cypress forests that remain are between 80 and 100 years old. However, the trees still aren't very big, which means that they are mostly suitable only for mulch."

Saveourcypress.org, a coalition of over 160 conservation groups, religious organizations, gardening clubs, and businesses, is working to promote awareness of the environmental damage caused by the cypress industry, as well as to encourage consumers to buy non-cypress mulch or mulch produced from sustainable tracts of cypress forest. They are also petitioning for the creation of state-sponsored conservation incentives for private landowners of cypress forests, as well as encouraging corporations to stop selling non-sustainable cypress mulch. Already, Wal-Mart has agreed to stop marketing mulch produced in Louisiana; Save Our Cypress is currently trying to persuade Lowes and Home Depot, among others, to follow suit.

Cypress swamps exist throughout Louisiana, but of special importance are those that exist along the coast. They act as soil stabilization centers and drainage systems for floods. Along with the inland forests, coastal cypress forests are major reservoirs for atmospheric carbon, as well as providing important and crucial habitat for many endangered species.

A report issued in 2005 by the Coastal Wetland Forest Conservation and Use Science Working Group details the ecological, cultural, and recreational importance of Louisiana's forested wetlands, the damage caused by coastal logging, and the measures needed to counter the destruction. Since then, the logging of coastal forests has been mostly halted, however there is no permanent ban and the damage already done continues to negatively affect the ecosystem. The report emphasizes the necessity of large-scale restoration of areas deforested by the timber and mulch industries.

"From what we can tell by our flyovers — which we do regularly over the Atchafalaya Basin, the Maurepas Basin, and the Barataria-Terrebonne Basin — cypress logging has completely stopped in coastal Louisiana." says Leverett "However, logging continues in central and North Louisiana."

Lousiana cypress swamps provide irreplaceable habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife, including the entire Eastern North American population of migratory and neo-tropical songbirds. Louisiana is not the only state grappling with the mulch industry; cypress forests in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and South Carolina are also being threatened with massive deforestation.

Alternatives to cypress mulch include pine-bark nuggets, pine straw, melaleuca, farmed-eucalyptus, and sugarcane bagasse, many of which are actually more effective than cypress mulch. They can be conveniently purchased at most gardening stores.

saveourcypress.org





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CITATION:
By Morgan Erickson-Davis, special to mongabay.com (November 05, 2008).

Louisiana cypress mulch industry devastates old-growth forests.

http://news.mongabay.com/2008/1105-morgan_cypress.html