It took less than 24 hours for Hurricane Katrina to destroy nearly 1.3 million trees in South Mississippi landscapes, and those trying to replant are hoping to restore the tree-filled skyline as quickly as possible.
The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain and the Sun Herald joined forces in February 2006 to create the Replant South Mississippi Partnership. The organization has received more than $620,000 in grants and donations to purchase and plant native hardwood trees in communities in the heavily damaged Harrison, Hancock, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone and George counties.
Judy Steckler is executive director of the Land Trust, the organization spearheading Replant South Mississippi.
"Immediately after Katrina, the Land Trust set the goal of replanting 300,000 trees," Steckler said. "Through Replant South Mississippi and tree give-away programs through other organizations, we are getting close to that number, but we’re still working to replant the Coast."
Replant South Mississippi has worked to replace trees in public areas, but the emphasis is on giving trees to homeowners to plant on their own property. Community give-aways have been held in several Coast communities, and Steckler said no fewer than 1,200 trees have been given away at any one of these events.
"Hurricane Katrina didn’t just damage parks and city or county property. Everyone lost when our trees everywhere were damaged and destroyed," Steckler said. "We want to see this urban canopy replaced in our lifetime."
The goal of the replanting effort is to replace native trees to again beautify the area. These trees often take decades to grow and contribute to the landscape, so organizers turned to some fast-growing varieties to speed up the process.
Replant South Mississippi is planting many Root Production Method, or RPM, trees. These are native varieties that have been enhanced to grow much faster than normal. Steckler said in five years, the RPM trees are supposed to grow to the size of a regular 20-year-old tree.
Glenn Hughes, forester with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, has helped plant several thousand RPM trees as part of Replant South Mississippi. He also created 12 demonstration plantings to help landowners see how they can replant trees in their own areas.
"We’re using 11 species of native trees, and we’re scattering these demonstration plantings throughout the hurricane-damaged areas," Hughes said.
Hughes said landowners applied to have their land become demonstration sites. In return, they have granted MSU access to their property to see how the trees are performing and to bring others in to see the results in a future field day.