LAKE FAUSSE POINTE — Several organizations and volunteers banded together Saturday at Lake Fausse Pointe to return live oak trees to their natural habitat at the state park.
Natalie McElyea with the LSU AgCenter’s Youth Wetlands Program and Dean Wilson with the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper were heading the project, which was in conjunction with Pack & Paddle and LA State Parks.
The group was girdling the Chinese tallow trees, which have grown abundantly in the area and taken over the area, to gradually kill the tallow trees and allow for live oaks to grow.
Girdling is a process where the bark is cut around the tree in several areas to stop nutrients from getting to other parts of the tree, Wilson said, which results in the slow death of the tree.
“It doesn’t disrupt the forest,” Wilson said. “The branches fall first and the tree rots … Eventually the trees fall into the ground. The animals will break it up and eat the decomposition.”
Ringing the trees means no herbicides are used and allows for the tree to give nutrients to other animals, he said.
“By the time it’s rotted, dozens of animals are in there,” McElyea said. “A lot of people remove them in mass, but that just results in more (tallow trees) … Removing them slowly creates a habitat for cavity resters and other animals, and it doesn’t shock the system.”
The group of about 20 volunteers, including Mike Van Etten with TreesAcadiana, planted about 600 live oaks.
“Originally most of the forests were live oak and cypress forests,” Wilson said. “Europeans came in and went after the cypress and live oaks … the forests were invaded by the Chinese tallow trees, which are not good for wildlife.”
The tallow trees have low nutrients, so when the animals eat the berries the tallow trees produce, they feel full but don’t have the energy they need, Wilson said.
“The birds will eat them and then continue on their migration and then fall all over,” McElyea said. “It’s like eating popcorn and running a marathon.”
The process of removing the tallow trees and providing room for the live oaks to grow will take decades, Wilson said.
“It’s an act of love,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to enjoy it. Hopefully our grandkids will.”
Wilson said he will have to continually go back to keep ringing the trees as the forest has thousands of tallow trees and they can try to regrow where the bark was cut.