THERIOT, La. (AP) " Two years ago, Charles Gaiennie and his wife returned to family land in Theriot to start their own farm.
Through a partnership with the New Orleans-based nonprofit Common Ground Relief Wetlands, they will use a portion of their 70 acres at Lytle Farms as a tree nursery to grow more than 1,000 bald cypresses that will be used to armor Terrebonne Parish's levees from erosion.
They'll also help protect against wind and storm surge while providing habitat.
For Gaiennie, this is an opportunity for the community to play a role in trying to restore the land, which is now dotted with the skeletal remains of cypress trees.
"We know it's never going to be what it was, but it's certainly worth the effort," he said. "It's now just bare sticks, and I'd love to see the cypress trees come back."
Using above-ground ponds ranging from 10 to 100 feet wide, they will incubate the saplings for about eight months until they're about four feet tall. This period allows their root systems to strengthen and improves the survival rate once they're planted.
Once they reach that point, Gaiennie said volunteers will transport and plant them on the levees, similar to the planting led by coastal contractor Restoration Environmental Solutions and energy company BHP in Pointe-aux-Chenes in February.
Unlike the Pointe-aux-Chenes project, this planting and future plantings through this partnership will be community-based as part of the Common Ground Relief Wetlands' Plant a Million Trees campaign.
The National Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and eRotary Coastal Club are also partnering with them on the initiative.
Common Ground Relief Wetlands Executive Director Thomas Pepper said that since 2005, it's estimated that 350 million trees have disappeared from along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
"There's been no major reforestation effort in any of the states," he said.
By planting trees, their roots can slow the rate of land loss through erosion.
His organization began a week after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and developed a method of creating small "satellite nurseries" in neighborhoods that could incubate thousands of trees each year for little cost.
Without the nurseries, he said there was a shortage of plant material for their restoration efforts.
By keeping the nurseries in the same communities the trees will be used in, he said they can decide where to place them.
"They know where they're having erosion problems," he said.
Gaiennie said he wants the farm to serve as a sign of hope for his neighbors. He plans to have a sign out in front of Lytle Farms telling people to come by to see the baby trees.
"You'll be able to see them grow. It's like watching their kids grow," he said. "You can just imagine this crescendo of excitement in the community."
Aside from seeing the trees in person, he said they'll also post the trees' progress on their farm's website and Facebook feed.
Gaiennie, who's also a member of the eRotary Coastal Club, said that the club's website will feature progress photos as well.
Pepper added that business and individuals can donate to help cover the costs of setting up these nurseries and plantings by contacting the nonprofit at (504) 442-2314.
Information from: The Courier, http://www.houmatoday.com