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Christmas Trees Help Louisiana Stop Erosion

This program spurs a lot of interest in coastal restoration. It makes people want to know more about what we do.
Kenneth Bahlinger,
Louisiana Coastal Restoration Division

Louisiana coastal managers are using recycled Christmas trees in their battle to prevent wetlands loss, and are receiving year-round environmental and public relations benefits. Coastal managers who are working to prevent wetlands loss may be interested in the program because of its simplicity and success rate.

"Of all our restoration projects, this one is the most visible and well known," said Kenneth Bahlinger, chief landscape architect with the Coastal Restoration Division of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. "It provides many benefits and can be adapted most anywhere."

The technique consists of building a wooden, fenced enclosure and filling it with clean donated Christmas trees, which are then tied down with rope. Bahlinger said the brush fences have had the greatest environmental impact in shallow water where there is low wave action.

He added, "The public outreach aspect makes this a little bit different than any of the other projects we have. This program spurs a lot of interest in coastal restoration. It makes people want to know more about what we do."

Bahlinger said the program originated from a similar erosion-control technique created in the Netherlands. In 1985, a group of university scientists noted the Louisiana coastal terrain was similar to that of the Netherlands and built a brush fence made of willow branches to see if it would catch sediment.

"Although this brush fence was successful, it was too labor intensive," Bahlinger said. "In 1989, the Louisiana coastal program constructed a fence using Christmas trees, which was much easier." The next year they offered the Parish Coastal Wetlands Restoration Program, or Christmas Tree Program, to all 19 coastal parishes. Twelve parishes agreed to participate.

"Initially we had a couple of workshops to let the parishes know how to get a project going," Bahlinger said. "The parishes coordinate where the trees are going to be picked up, where the project will be built, and how they are going to get out there. They also coordinate the volunteers, provide equipment, and maybe a meal." He said in the beginning, the project was completed entirely by volunteers, but because of liability issues, they now hire contractors to build the fences.

Bahlinger said his responsibilities include writing and managing the contracts, inspecting the sites, making sure all necessary permits are acquired, and assisting with the media. "There's a lot of PR involved," he said. "Every year we get 40 to 50 articles, plus TV coverage. We get a lot of free publicity."

He said the program has been "very successful. The fences not only trap sediment, but they're also providing habitat. They're attracting crab, shrimp, and fish, and we've found ducks and other birds are nesting in them. In Louisiana we call that a 'lagniappe,' or something extra," Bahlinger said.


For more information on Louisiana's Christmas Tree Program, call Kenneth Bahlinger at (504) 342-7362 or e-mail him at kennethb@dnr.state.la.us.

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