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.
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.
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(10/16/2008) Cellulosic biofuel is on its way. This second generation biofuel — so-called because it does not involve food crops — has excited many researchers and policymakers who hope for a sustainable energy source that lowers carbon emissions. However, some believe that cellulosic biofuel may prove less-than-perfect. Just as agricultural biofuels have gone from being considered 'green' to an environmental disaster, some think the new rush to cellulosic biofuel will follow the same course. Scot Quaranda is one of those concerned about cellulosic biofuel’s impact on the environment. Campaign director at Dogwood Alliance, which he describes as "the only organization in the Southern US holding corporations accountable for the impact of their industrial forestry practices on our forests and our communities", Quaranda condemns cellulosic biofuels as dangerous to forests “by its very definition”.
Fast-food industry destroying forests in the Southern U.S. April 28, 2008
The Southern forests of North America supply 60% of US and 15% of global paper demands. Deforestation for wood and paper products, along with urban sprawl, has resulted in a total decline from 356 million acres in colonial times to 182 million acres today. The South contains more threatened forest ecosystems than anywhere else in the US. A major perpetuator of deforestation in the South is the fast food industry. With nearly 100 paper packaging mills in the South and thousands of restaurants worldwide, major fast food retailers such as KFC and Taco Bell are leaders in paper consumption and subsequent waste. The Dogwood Alliance (dogwoodalliance.org), a nonprofit organization formed to increase awarness of the importance of Southern forests and the threats their survival, has launched a new campaign at nofreerefills.org which specifically targets the paper packaging practices of the fast food industry.
Paper packaging devours south-eastern forests in the US February 10, 2008
The Dogwood Alliance has released a report highlighting the damage done by paper pulp mills and their corporate customers to America’s Mid-Atlantic Coastal Forests. The forests, which span from Delaware through the Carolinas to Georgia, are extremely rich in biodiversity; scientists have catalogued over two-thousand terrestrial species, including thirty-two endemic species. Probably the most famous endemic species is the Venus flytrap; this strange carnivorous plant is native to an area only 10 by 100 square miles in North Carolina. A study by WWF determined that both species richness and endemism is even higher for freshwater aquatic species.
U.S. forests suffer from beauty products packaging February 14, 2007
Every year millions of acres of forests in the southern United States are cut to fuel the pulp and paper industry. Nearly 25 percent of this demand comes from paper packaging, which usually ends up in landfills after a brief life as a disposable product. To support this industry, millions of acres of natural forest have been converted into fast-growing pine plantations — in fact, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that nearly twenty percent of Southern forests are now pine plantations. Nationwide the United States lost an average of 831 square miles (531,771 acres) of old-growth forest per year according to official figures, the seventh highest loss in the world.