Earth Science - Other

The Case for Respecting the Earth



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The calm waters, drooping moss of cypress and lulling song of wildlife all play their role in making the Louisiana swamps unique to the world, but unfortunately the roar of harvest machinery is presently disturbing the peacefulness of region. Over the course of history, Louisiana has captivated a reputation as a Cajun culture deep in the clammy, humid swamplands of the South. These swamplands are isolated in the coastal regions of Louisiana and are thus a distant cry from the state/national population. Little do Americans know that they are at the helm of a crisis which pits the Southern economy vs. its ecology. Do people cognitively process the implications of actions as small as buying a bag of cypress mulch? In a majority of cases, the answer is No. Most people don't check whether the product was made in Louisiana or not. Most people don't check the grade of cypress they have purchased. Most people are completely oblivious to the harvesting of cypress trees in backcountry Louisiana, and how it serves as a productive fuel for the State economy, and simultaneously is deteriorating our natural defense and causing massive erosion. The controversy has environmentalist and industrialist fuming, each with completely different goals in the Louisiana swamplands future.

The misconception about cypress trees is that they are strong and resilient. They live for hundreds of years and can withstand strong winds, but they are a gentler' giant. Conditions for successful growth are specific as well crucial, and they are highly vulnerable to salt water, "drowning" and root damage. The seedlings must attain solid ground with nutrient and be germinated, all to sprout in time to beat the rising water. Ideal conditions are becoming harder and harder to come by, as water flow patterns are changing. With these dwindling ideal conditions and an increase in cypress harvesting, some land has become barren. Harvesting areas not likely to regenerate is introduced as a viable solution to the battle, but studies to map out these areas aren't complete. Regeneration areas are areas where new Cypress trees can likely grow, but these regions are scarce and are becoming scarcer each day. Subsistence, the gradual sinking of marshland, causes the swamps to retain water longer, thus diminishing the possibility of regeneration. This issue is the root of the problem and a compromise must be inserted to satisfy both parties.

Environmentalists, Loggers and Scientist, generally, agree that the combination of man-made and natural forces both play a role in cypress decline. The Environmentalists attack the man- made causes and demand that preservation be instated. "From an overflying airplane, a century of cypress logging is painfully visible everywhere (Kemp)." The felled trees leave a crop circle toward a dark dotted area where life was once rooted. It is obvious that the plague of forestry has struck, logging. The swamps, ransacked and robbed of its jewels, the cypress tree. Within these cypress, a portion of the swamp's soul lives. Essentially, the Logging industry is stealing the soul of the swamplands and thus Louisiana's cultural image. In an effort to ease the rapidly growing industry, the Army Corps of Engineers has started enforcing section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act. This act gives the Corps the authentication to oversee any activity in navigable waters. The New Orleans Bureau of the Corps is the only strict enforcer of the act that was passed in 1899 to regulate hazards to navigation. This has lessened the hostel environment because some logging companies get fed up and move out of state as a result of Corps involvement. Regeneration in the region surrounding Lake Maurepas and the Pontchartrain basin, both located near New Orleans in Southeast Louisiana, show that eighty percent of 200,000 acres is considered "highly unlikely to regenerate (Stubbs)." This conclusion is based on the five year study led by, Wetland Scientist, Gary Shaffer. Benefits to preserving cypress trees include the preservation of the Gulf's best natural storm and flooding protection, and maintaining a healthy environment for Louisiana wildlife including: fish, migratory birds, bald eagles, and many others. But over the last 100 years, logging has decreased the size of swampland in Louisiana from 2.2 million to 800,000 acres (saveourcypress.org). Thinning the coastal swamps has weakened the natural defense system against hurricanes, although they proved to be a good buffer during Hurricane Katrina and Rita.

On the other hand, loggers believe that that a compromise must be implemented so that they can continue business on their own private land. "The Corps has really overstepped their bounds and authority here. They're taking away our rights as landowners (Stubbs)." To an extent they are. With the enforcement of the 1899 Rivers and Harbors Act, the Corps demonstrates that they have control, and they will use it at all costs. The loggers are forced to comply against their will, but they don't believe that they are doing all that much damage to these swamplands and that it's economical gain far exceeds the ecological loss. They back their claim with research that states Louisiana's forestry industry earned 4.4 billion in 1999. Revenue from out of state sources helps the entire economy, as it essentially pumps money into the state's pocket. With the prohibition of harvesting, the value of forest land would disappear and cost companies millions of dollars. It is in the interest of the government to satisfy both of these arguments, or they may cost Louisiana its reputation and it respect. The US Forest Service presents data that indicates an increase in board foot volume produced in volume from 1991 to 2005 and that 30 million board feet of cypress are harvested but 21 million board feet die from various reasons such as saltwater ("The Truth about Cypress"). In addition to these facts, Jewel Willis, 40 year veteran in cypress forestry, says, "They [Corps] completely reject the fact that to keep a forest healthy and productive, it is possible and necessary to harvest certain trees." The Corps, which is influenced by environmentalist in the group, as well as, outside sources, may be indirectly destroying the cypress they love. When the landowners are pestered by the Corps they tend to sell their property, and to developers at that. These developers completely destroy all trees to build subdivisions (Day). Why would the Corps complain so much, most harvesting takes place in the dry season and practices mat logging to prevent major soil disturbances. Louisiana Best Management Practices serves as a consultant to loggers and landowners to make good harvesting decisions.

Now you heard all about the problems these rivals have on the subject of Southern Louisiana Cypress harvesting, but what has been done so far on the issue and what plans have been scheduled to further settle the argument. Well, big companies such as Wal- Mart, Home Depot, and Lowe's all were offered proposals to stop buying mulch from Louisiana mills. Only Wal- Mart has agreed so far, but the others may follow suit. Unfortunately, some Louisiana companies will attempt to use out of state addresses to sell to Wal- Mart and because no third party monitor is present, these companies are likely to succeed. Rising tension between the opposing arguments, as a result of logging expansion, insinuated that government intervention was essential to maintain order in backwoods Louisiana. Therefore, the Governor's Science Working Group on Coastal Forestry was created to brainstorm and create goals for the future of Louisiana forestry. The panel was made up of individuals with a variety of opinions and views on the subject of logging, this produced a relative compromise for a large scale plan. The group came to the conclusion that in order to keep land owners happy without logging, an incentive should be established and treated as an expense of coast restoration funds, which totals 1.9 in the current Congressional session (Stubbs). They also plan on laying out a detailed map that shows regeneration areas, as a guide for loggers. The largest and most important task is restoring the natural flow of water in flooded areas, to save trees and hence increase regeneration areas (Wold). Despite all of the progress that could have been made by today, the group has yet to send the report to the Governor. Nevertheless, as of October 23, 2007, the state has devised a plan called the Coastal Impact Assistance Plan (CIAP) to distribute 18.8 million to landowners to compensate for leaving their land as forest, resisting the forbidden fruit of the logging industry. A more radical approach came from Dean Wilson of the Atchafalaya Basinkeepers (AB), who said that the tourism industry could do well in some areas because people want to see Cajun Louisiana and will pay to see swamplands that are unique to the region. This succeeds in being ecologically and economically profitable.

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