Southeastern NEWS

                                                       Southeastern Louisiana University
                                           Public Information Office
                                           SLU 880, Hammond, LA 70402
                                           504/549-2341/fax 504-549-2061
    Date: 3/26/97
      Contact:                           Carol Dotson   12

SPRING BREAK IN A LOUISIANA SWAMP
     HAMMOND, La. -- Spring break for college students usually brings to mind beaches,
sun, fun and lots of partying. Not so for some students who gave up their chance to party during
spring break for a chance to work for a good cause. This year students from the University of
Miami, Vanderbilt and Eastern Oregon State College spent all or part of their spring break
vacation assisting in trying to save a dying Louisiana swamp.
     The students worked with Southeastern Louisiana University's wetlands ecologist and
researcher Michael Greene in planting thousands of seedling cypress trees in Manchac Swamp
that separates lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas northwest of New Orleans.
     Greene, who has worked on this project for eight years, explained to the students how
between 1890 and the mid 1950s, Manchac Swamp, once thick with thousand-year-old cypress
trees, was clear cut by lumber companies and settlers using the sturdy wood for boats and houses.
Today, Manchac is slowly dying and the coastline is disappearing. Southeastern University
biologists have launched a major campaign to reforest the swamp in the hope of slowing coastal
erosion and providing habitat for the wetlands wildlife.
     "The Manchac restoration project is part of the university's on-going effort to teach
students not simply through lectures but through participation and collaboration," says SLU
President Sally Clausen. "In addition to being a major resource for our region's seafood industry,
Manchac Swamp has become a living classroom for teaching math through the sciences and as a
cultural resource for disadvantaged urban elementary and high school students from New
Orleans."
          Students participating in this alternative spring break are a great help to the project.
Students were housed at Turtle Cove, SLU's environmental research station on Pass Manchac.

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Spring Break/ADD ONE

     Their job was to assist in the replanting process, which was not quite as simple as it
sounded. "The first year we planted cypress was a disaster," said Greene. He found that the
cypress saplings need special care until they are large enough to survive on their own. The
problems came from the swamp itself. The nutria, a swamp rodent that has spread throughout
south Louisiana's swamps and marshes, would gnaw at the newly planted trees and those that
survived the nutria would be choked by swamp vines that grew during summer months.
      "The first year we planted about 400 trees and none survived," said Greene. "So we did
more research and tried to solve the problem." Since then Greene and his crew have devised a
plastic grid to keep the vines at bay and a protective tube that surrounds the new plants to deter
the nutria. They now have an 80 percent success rate with the plantings. Still, some of the
seedlings don't always make it. The mission for the eight Eastern Oregon students was to find
and replace some of the previously planted trees that hadn't survived.
     The students, all biology majors, made the trip courtesy of their college's biology club.
David Kerley, Eastern Oregon professor of physiology and anatomy and chaperon for the group,
was enthusiastic about the trip. "It's a good opportunity for the students to see all the wildlife that
they've heard about and of course there's this romantic picture that's painted of  Louisiana that
intrigues people. LaGrande, where the school is located, is in the mountains. This is a change for
them."    
     Once Greene briefed the group on the history of the swamp and the goals of the project, it
was time to get to work. Students paired off and paddled by canoe to the planting site.
      Although some were reluctant at first to step out onto the seemingly unstable marsh, they 
eventually braved the muck and followed Greene and his SLU student assistant Wayne Winters
onto the precarious ground.
      Seniors Lori Conzelmann of Sherwood, Oregon, and Aaron Kirsch of LaGrande, the
most adventurous of the group, were anxious to get their feet wet. Armed with hip boots, and
determination, they followed Greene into the swamp. Once Greene demonstrated how to dig and
plant, the fearless team set about finding and replacing saplings with a vengeance. 

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Spring Break/ADD TWO

     The thought of sinking down into a soft spot in the muddy swamp caused some
apprehension and made the students cautious as they sloshed through, and although junior,
Kiersten Miller of LaGrande, sank into the muck once, she recovered and kept right on with the
job. Once back at the camp she was triumphant " I waded through the swamp, I fell, I planted
cypress," she boasted.
     Although the students were a bit unsure of what they were getting into before coming to
Turtle Cove, after the experience there were no regrets. "It was a nice vacation, regardless," said
Jake Starr, a junior from LaGrande. "It was a big change. I've never been to a swamp and the
only time I saw the Mississippi River was when I was flying over it."
     "As a biology major, this was the best thing to do to get some kind of experience in my
major." said junior Jon Springstead of LaGrande. Springstead, who is interested in wildlife did
have one disappointment. "I really wanted to see a big alligator," he admitted. "But I did see the
two baby ones in the tank outback."
     All  agreed that they would like to come back and do it again, and see the progress of
their work. "I feel like I really did something worthwhile," said Daisey Fine of Imbler, Oregon. 
     There may be many more opportunities for students to visit Turtle Cove in the future. In
addition to recruiting students for Alternative Spring Break sessions, Greene envisions a year-
round volunteer situation that incorporates education as well. "We want to have lectures and then
have them come out and do restoration work."
     "If we can save the wetlands and the functions and values they maintain, and these
students can help,  then we've done something good."
     For more information on the Manchac Swamp reforestation project, check
www.selu.edu\cypress.
-slu-