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Building Up Wetlands

Jefferson Parish Department of Environmental Affairs puts old Christmas trees to work

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Most people get their Christmas trees the weekend after Thanksgiving, but Lafitte's Goose Bayou gets them a little later. Since 1991, volunteers have used Christmas trees discarded by families in Jefferson Parish and Lafitte to help prevent wetlands erosion. The collection usually yields 30,000 to 35,000 trees, which are used to fill preconstructed shoreline fences along the bayou. The parish seeks volunteers to place the trees in the fences on Saturday, Jan. 30 — especially those who have shallow-draft boats to lend to the effort. Jason Smith, coastal programs supervisor for Jefferson Parish's Department of Environmental Affairs, is in charge of the project. "Most people, when they think of Christmas trees, they actually think of my name. I've kind of become the guru of Christmas trees," says Smith, who explains how the program works.

Why Christmas trees?

  There were scientists who went over to the Netherlands, and they noticed the way they were reclaiming land by using some vegetation and weaving it together, and they used it as barriers and filled the area in with sediment. When the scientists came back to Louisiana, they tried it once with willow trees, and it became too labor intensive. So what they did was do a test project on the Labranche Wetlands, and they used Christmas trees because they figured during Christmas, we'd have all these Christmas trees. Instead of putting them in a landfill, let's see if they could be wave barriers. That's where the concept came from, and Jefferson Parish took that and ran with it. It became the largest project in the state. We have over 11,000 linear feet of fence line protecting vegetation behind it, and creating and enhancing vegetation between the cribs and the shoreline. We've been doing this since 1991, and we've recycled more than 750,000 Christmas trees thus far.

How are these shorelines built?

  The structures are constructed of wood, and they're built with two-by-fours and some have some four-by-fours in them. It just takes basically pressing the boards in the mud and pounding them further in the mud until they become very sturdy. Usually these cribs are about 3 feet wide and 150 feet in length, and there might be several of these along a shoreline. We usually place them about 100 feet away from the shoreline. You'll have a 150-foot fence, and then you'll have about a 6- to 8-foot break. In other words, we leave an opening area so it'll allow for water exchange, so you might have several cribs along the shoreline, then you'll have this water exchange so it can nourish the marsh behind it.

Have you been able to see any results from the project?

  Oh yes. The good thing about these wave breaks is that when the structures are completely filled with Christmas trees and are well-maintained, the energy of the wave crashes against the fence line, and this way it doesn't crash against the shoreline, which eats up the shoreline. In the area between the cribs and the shoreline, there's actually sediments that filter through the trees. What happens is those sediments filter out behind the cribs and you have sediment buildup. Usually how it starts is that, being that you got that calm water between the cribs and the shoreline, aquatic vegetation starts to emerge. The project does work, it's just a very labor-intensive project, and we could not do this project without a grant we get from the Louisiana Deptartment of Natural Resources, corporate donations and volunteer help. These volunteers take their time on a cold Saturday and come and help us. And there are those that even bring their boats to help us, which we very much appreciate. We always need shallow-draft boats; that's always been our biggest need. The more boats we have, the more trees we can get out there quickly.

Why is this project important to you?

  The greatest thing with this project is that it's a great educational tool. It gets college students involved, it gets families involved, and it gets the community involved. The next thing it does is ... shows the plight of our wetlands, and you know, the wetlands lost to our culture is a great loss. We have to do everything we possibly can to restore our wetlands.


The Marsh Restoration Project places Christmas trees in wetlands shoreline fences at 8 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, at Lafitte's Goose Bayou. For more information, call 731-4612 or email jpenvironmental@jeffparish.net.

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