Last week, the Restore the Earth Foundation of Ithaca and RPM Ecosystems of Dryden donated 100,000 cypress trees to Spanish Lake, La., as one of their many projects to help revive wetlands in the Caribbean region.
An anonymous individual donated the $4.4 million needed for the project in 2009. Since then, Restore the Earth has collaborated with local Louisiana agencies to find sites for the trees and determine the best species for the region.
PJ Marshall, a founder of Restore the Earth and owner of RPM Ecosystems, said this donation is a drop in the bucket compared to the 350 million trees that were lost because of Hurricane Katrina.
“The amount of destruction may not make an impact to you in Ithaca, N.Y., but it impacts the entire balance of the ecosystem throughout the globe,” Marshall said.
Restore the Earth chose cypress trees for this project because they are a salt-tolerant species native to the Caribbean region ecosystem known for their ability to provide major wildlife habitats for animals and microorganisms.
Leslie Carrere, co-founder of Restore the Earth, said these habitats are the nursery of the Caribbean and provide a breeding ground for thousands of species in North America.
“The Louisiana wetlands are one of our national treasures,” she said. “Those ecosystems there are absolutely critical to preserving many of the wildlife habitats of thousands of species.”
RPM Ecosystems grew the cypress trees at their nursery in Dryden. As of last April, Restore the Earth and RPM Ecosystems have combined their efforts to donate more than 300,000 trees to restore the wetlands of the Gulf Coast, Marshall said.
Marshall and other volunteers drove trucks, including 11 18-wheelers, from the Dryden nursery to sites around Spanish Lake. Each truck was able to hold about 2,000 trees. From that point, prisoners from the St. Martin Parish and Iberia Parish sheriff’s offices unloaded the trees as a community service project, from the trucks onto airboats to get them to their muddy, remote destinations.
Volunteers from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana braved the alligator- and snake-filled swamps to plant the trees.
Federal aid has not been responsible for planting a single tree in the area, Marshall said. Instead, the government has funded research on the wetlands by large organizations.
Louisiana has had to rely on nonprofit organizations like Restore the Earth, which works to revive large-scale critical environments, to restore its wetlands. Emergency funds from the federal government to repair the damage from Hurricane Katrina have not focused on the rehabilitation of wetlands, Marshall said.
Carrere said the vast erosion of wetlands in the gulf contributes to the severity of natural disasters in the region.
Senior Jacquelyn Simone, a Park Scholar, went to New Orleans during winter break with other scholars to restore a house in the Lower 9th Ward. She said though a lot of work has been done to restore Louisiana, the effects of Hurricane Katrina are still present in the region.
“While it’s still important to be doing work on people’s homes, it’s also crucial that people are looking to see what they can do to help the environment and hopefully lessen the impact if another storm were to hit,” Simone said.
Marshall said students should get involved through volunteering with organizations in the Gulf region to help with restoration. She said it’s important for people to take any action possible, even if it’s a small monetary contribution.
“Our focus right now is on the Gulf Coast because there is such a critical need, but there are needs all over the country,” she said. “We need to do something about it.”