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Efforts to preserve cypress trees increase as next hurricane season approaches

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One of the most dangerous parts of a hurricane is the storm surge. Sea levels rise and can cause major destruction. One Louisiana treasure protecting communities from storm surge is the swamps. The wetlands, though are dying and now the race is on to preserve cypress marsh before the next big storm hits.

“If you look behind me, you'll see a broken canopy. Individual trees will start succumbing to the stress and then a storm will come through and knock leaves off and it will cause rapid mortality,” said Dr. Ken Krauss, a research ecologist with the United States Geological Survey.

Dr. Krauss and his co-workers are tasked with finding out how to preserve Louisiana swamps. They have tools to measure the productivity of the swamp set up in Bayou Teche.

“It’s recorded surge from Hurricane Rita. It got to about 5.5 to 6 ft. here,” said Dr. Krauss.
Their work includes keeping up with cypress growth using metal rings around the trees. Through this, Dr. Krauss has noticed Bayou Teche is too sparse, which is a problem because a healthy swamp can take the brunt of a strong storm. Bayou Teche helps protect Franklin near Morgan City.

“As you take down the canopy and the forest dies out it may create a greater susceptibility on things like levees,” said Dr. Krauss.

Others have noticed the depletion as well.

“I grew up in the timber industry, and I saw a large portion of that go,” said Rep. Neil Riser.

For fifty years starting in 1880 there was a lumber boom where a massive amount of cypress was chopped down. There are laws that prevent cutting down cypress trees now, but Rep. Riser is looking to add to it this legislative session.

“This is on public land only. This would prohibit the cutting of cypress trees with some exceptions including DOTD, the coastal protections, and Wildlife and Fisheries maintaining their roads,” said Rep. Riser.

Riser says the current law has loopholes.

“It would lead you to believe it is prohibited already, that’s not the case. It has to have a contract with the governing body or state agency it is. So that’s essentially a contract to cut the timber,” said Rep. Riser.

The push to preserve the cypress forest at the Capitol will trickle down to each swamp. The water at Bayou Teche is too deep to simply re-plant cypress.

“You'll see little cypress seedlings, they'll get large and then they get too large and fall over. You have a count but they never find their way to the soil to make a tree,” said Dr. Krauss.

That’s why with few options to build swamp forests back up like adding fresh water or pumping dredge material into swamps, many are emphasizing protection. Protection will keep a barrier between the coast and the communities when a strong storm hits land.

“It's the way it's designed by nature. The root system comes out relatively large to the main stalk or the main trunk and that slows down or deescalate water,” said Rep. Riser.

The Senate was supposed to take up Riser’s bill Wednesday for a final passage, but it has been pushed back to June 1.


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