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Project offers 'Re-Leaf'

New Orleans will be growing greener thanks to AmeriCorps teams working to replant some of the thousands of trees lost during Hurricane Katrina.

BY SUSAN KIM | NEW ORLEANS | December 13, 2006


"With the city-wide demolition of older buildings and homes - including those with asbestos - the fewer trees you have, the more pollutants you have floating around."

—Gene Sausse


New Orleans will be be growing greener thanks to AmeriCorps teams working to replant some of the thousands of trees lost during Hurricane Katrina.

AmeriCorps has targeted four areas in New Orleans for tree replanting: Gentilly, the Ninth Ward, Lakeview and Mid City. "We have to work around the infrastructure replacement process, so the public space we're allowed to plant on is limited to medians and public space that will not interfere with rebuilding electrical, gas, water, and other infrastructure, explained Gene Sauss, director of the AmeriCorps program called "Re-Leaf New Orleans."

More than 250,000 trees were lost in New Orleans alone when Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.

"The number of trees lost in the city equals a significant forest," said Jean Fahr, director of Parkway Partners, a nonprofit that creates partnerships between public and private sectors for the maintenance and beautification of the city's medians, parks and playgrounds.

"That's not counting the surrounding parishes," pointed out Sausse. While some people might view replacing trees as secondary to rebuilding homes, Sausse argues that trees affect the very heart of a neighborhood.

"Trees affect property value in neighborhoods," he said, "and they have a direct impact on air quality, neighborhood aesthetics and recovery morale."

Louisiana's state flower is the magnolia. "Every magnolia tree in the flood zone - 80 percent of the city - was killed by the salinity and chemicals in the floodwaters that stood for over two weeks in our city. There are no more magnolia trees in New Orleans areas trying to recover. All that remains in regards to trees in much of the city is bare, dead stumps and lifeless branches."

People simply need to see "green" again, said Sausse. "When you see someone with a garden with pretty flowers, a nice lawn - it's inspirational and reminds us of what once was."

Residents and volunteers need a shade canopy as they work to gut homes, often in hot weather. Especially in the summer months, higher temperatures mean an increase in heat-related illnesses such as stroke, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. "Energy costs also increase for homes and businesses because trees once provided shade - and protection from wind to a degree," said Sausse.

Trees also remove pollutants from the air. "With the city-wide demolition of older buildings and homes - including those with asbestos - the fewer trees you have, the more pollutants you have floating around, the more pollutants being breathed in by those of us here to rebuild."

Studies indicate that asthma symptoms increase when trees are not filtering particulate pollutants and reducing ozone.

Studies have also shown that, in places where there are more trees, consumers will stay around to purchase food, beverages and other items. "There are many groups working on replacing housing," said Sausse. "But there are too few groups dedicated to replacing the aesthetic beauty that once was so many centuries-old neighborhoods in New Orleans."

Planting a tree takes minimal training, he pointed out, and it's an integral part of recovery. "Neighborhoods need people and people need trees."


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