Mulching the Cypress Swamps

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Since Katrina, there has been much talk of protecting Louisiana's eroding coastal wetlands, which provide a buffer against hurricanes. The swamps south of New Orleans are anchored by cypress trees adapted to habitual flooding: The forests are known to slow and diminish storm surge as it sweeps towards the city. The tall cypress trees in the Atchafalaya Basin, sometimes called "the American Amazon," are draped in Spanish moss, and birds dive down to feed on the crawfish in the bayous.

But volunteers for the Atchafalaya Basin Keeper haven't found actions to match the talk of coastal preservation. When volunteers followed lumber trucks rumbling away from clear-cut cypress forests on the coast, they were led to sawmills that turn out mountains of garden mulch.(106)  

Environmental groups say that forestry companies have depleted the old growth cypress in Florida, and are shifting their work to Louisiana. "That's where most of the remaining old growth cypress forests are," says Dan Favre of the Gulf Restoration Network. "It also happens to be where they're most needed for natural storm protection."

"After the storm, it became a lot more clear to a lot more people: protecting our wetlands is protecting our homes," says Favre. "That point was driven home very strongly."

The Gulf Restoration Network is targeting Home Depot, Lowe's and Wal-Mart, the three biggest sellers of cypress mulch, and is pressuring the companies to live up to their rhetoric on environmental responsibility and sustainability. It is particularly offensive to sell cypress mulch in stores along the Gulf Coast, says Favre.

"These three companies have given donations to the groups that are rebuilding, but at the same time they're destroying the natural barriers that will prevent this from happening again," says Favre. "It's hypocritical."

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AMP Section Name:War & Disaster Profiteering