NEW ORLEANS (CN) — The Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf of Mexico program has awarded $285,744 to help restore swamp and forest habitat near New Orleans.
“While there is much more work to be done, this grant is an important step in fighting back against the coastal erosion that takes more than a football field of land from Louisiana each hour,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise said Wednesday in a statement.
About 300 volunteers who will add at least 5,000 native swamp forest trees and restore or enhance at least 25 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp habitat.
More than 2,000 square miles of the Louisiana coast have disappeared since 1930. The 25 restored acres will replace less than two days’ loss of land.
Because of their extensive root systems, cypress and tupelo trees can be extraordinarily beneficial against coastal erosion. Strategically planted trees can create a barrier against storm surges and reduce winds.
Cypress trees are strong enough to withstand even hurricane force winds, and can live up to 1,000 years. As a cypress tree’s extensive root system grows, it keeps sediment in place and raises the land around it.
In its ongoing battle against coastal erosion, Louisiana can use as much help as it can get. The state is working on coastal restoration plans, some of which are expected to span 50 years and will require billions of dollars.
Louisiana has expected to begin receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and gas royalties from oil and gas exploration off the coast beginning this year. The money was to go toward coastal restoration. But last fall the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority said the funding had been slashed significantly and that the Trump administration proposed to do away with the royalties program altogether. The Obama administration also proposed dropping the program.
“Protecting and restoring our coast is critical to Louisiana’s future, our economy, our way of life, and our ability to be protected from future storms,” Scalise said. “In the Trump administration, our state has an ally that understands the urgency of this need, and I’m pleased that they have partnered with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana to help rebuild roughly 25 acres of our coastal wetlands.”
Coastal restoration and land loss mitigation in Louisiana is a serious undertaking, with a narrow timeframe to save what remains of the coast. Louisiana loses roughly a football field of land every 100 minutes.
Put another way, in 50 years, if nothing changes, 42 percent of today’s coastal land will be gone, according to the authority’s estimates. A substantial portion of New Orleans would be underwater.
Johnny Bradberry, the governor’s executive assistant for coastal activities, called it “a scary situation” during a September community meeting on coastal restoration funding.
“Louisiana’s coast is important not only for our state, but for the nation as a whole,” Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson said in a Wednesday email.
“If we fail to preserve it, we jeopardize the safety and security of those who live in the area, the many industries that depend on our coast, and the critical ports that help transport goods throughout the country. I am grateful the EPA has realized the importance of our coastal restoration efforts, and I will continue to work with all the stakeholders to make meaningful advancements for our state.”
The Gulf of Mexico Program began in 1988 to protect, restore and maintain the health and productivity of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem in economically sustainable ways. Funded by the EPA, the program is a non-regulatory, inclusive consortium of state and federal government agencies, representatives of business and agriculture, the fishing industry, scientists, environmentalists and community leaders from all five Gulf States.