In March, we hosted a house guest from Tennessee. Arriving at our home, she gushed how enthralled she was with the alley of majestic oak trees lining our neighborhood streets. My reaction was one of agreement but also surprise. I pass by those same oaks constantly during my daily routine but I often neglect to appreciate their inherent beauty and benefit.
Despite the ubiquitous New Orleans photos depicting spectacular tree-lined St. Charles Avenue and Garden District homes adorned with oaks and magnolias, our city is actually the most deforested city in the United States.
With over 100,000 trees lost during Hurricane Katrina, this deforestation affects not only the aesthetic of the city but also the ability to absorb storm water. Did you know native Live Oaks and Bald Cypress absorb up to 1,000 gallons of water daily and help prevent flooding of our often overworked catch basins? Studies have also shown that neighborhoods with landscapes boast improved community health, reduced crime, more neighbor engagement, reduced pollution and a lower energy bill.
It is difficult to deny the benefit of replanting trees in New Orleans, but local nonprofit SOUL (Sustaining Our Urban Landscape) is striving to be more impactful through a strategic planting plan. “Imagine New Orleans with the magnificent canopy it once had – a million trees shading our streets, managing our floods, cleaning our air and delighting our eyes. Restoring our population of magnificent southern trees – not just one tree at a time, but one neighborhood at a time – would transform our city,” says SOUL Advisory Committee Chair Andreas Merkl.
Utilizing her LSU Masters in Landscape Architecture and professional experience from four years at Parkway Partners, SOUL Executive Director Susannah Burley founded the organization in June 2016. SOUL’s dedication to building a resilient and equitable New Orleans through improving its water systems is already making great strides. During the November through March 2016-2017 planting season, 190 trees were planted in a targeted effort to reforest Broadmoor, Mid-City, Algiers and Algiers Point. Partnerships and sponsorships with citizens, neighborhood associations, visiting volunteer groups and local businesses form a robust volunteer base of over 250 individuals. Hand-picked from a Northshore nursery, the native trees planted – Live Oaks, Cypress, Little Gem Magnolias and Red Maples – are mapped and monitored to insure a high survival rate. SOUL’s 2017-2018 goal to plant 600 trees will certainly be attainable through current momentum gained by heightened awareness and investment from the New Orleans community.
In addition to the strategic planting plan, SOUL is expanding its reach with an education series and commitment to policy change affecting trees. A free 10-hour, four-day Community Forestry Series offered in partnership with the LSU AgCenter gives an overview on New Orleans’ tree canopy, why we are the most deforested city in the United States, what our role is in replanting and how it impacts flooding and other environmental issues. SOUL is also working toward the long-term goal of analyzing and changing current policies related to the urban forest to better protect trees on private property by establishing criteria and accountability for “valuable” trees.
As the Chinese proverb states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” With gratitude to SOUL and their reforesting efforts, New Orleans will reap the benefits now and for years to come.
A little more …
Learn about, make a donation or volunteer with SOUL by visiting their website SoulNola.org.