Graysen Wallace, 9th grader, uses a dibble to plant bare root seedlings in a detention pond located in Slidell, LA.
Youth are being engaged as citizen scientists to help build local knowledge all while learning about natural resources and the importance of urban forest ecosystems in their communities. A new urban natural resources stewardship program is gaining momentum in Southeast Louisiana.
If you are from Louisiana, you have most likely experienced flooding events from severe weather such as hurricanes, or increased run off from development during heavy rains, and you are familiar with the term stormwater management. Stormwater basins such as detention or retention ponds are constructed depressions in the ground designed to temporarily store stormwater allowing slow release to local waterways. Many communities use these systems to improve water quality through the sedimentation of particulate matter. However, stormwater basins have normally been covered with turf which leads to increasing maintenance and costs. Some management districts have decided to promote a different approach — the use of naturalized basins containing wetland plants, micropools and trees. St. Tammany Parish utilizes these natural methods and incorporates their youth to help.
What began as a small pilot program quickly evolved into a mixture of high school and junior high students bringing what they learned in the classroom to the field. The students test water quality and plant trees in parish stormwater ponds. They record their findings for the assigned ponds and share the data with parish officials. You may ask, “Why trees?” The decision to plant trees was made to support parish efforts to increase tree canopy due to huge losses after devastating impacts from hurricanes and the pressures of development.
This multiyear project, called Adopt-a-Pond, began with students from Pope John Paul High School, Slidell Junior High, St. Tammany Junior High, Fontainebleau Junior High, Boyet Junior High, Madisonville Junior High and Covington High, just to name a few. Throughout the winter months, you will find students testing water quality and planting native saplings within designated ponds. Students first learn in the classroom how trees add valuable services including the reduction of water temperature through shading, enhancing wildlife habitat, water transpiration and community aesthetics.
Students learn about the potential benefits that these trees can provide in stormwater management such as improving compacted subsoils in stormwater systems through root growth and how higher transpiration rates of wetland adapted species could also contribute to the reduction of stormwater volume, which poses a challenge for most municipalities.
This program has been developed to not only assist in mitigating flooding through evapotranspiration, improve water quality, lower temperatures and provide habitat for wildlife, but to also add quality of life for residents all while engaging students in hands-on learning and a sense of community stewardship.
St. Tammany Parish Landscape and Parkway Manager Johnn “Spaff” Goodnow, who founded the program, is usually found on site at every student field trip to lend hands-on support for the tree planting portion of the program. With the help of Louisiana Sea Grant agent Carol Franze, St. Tammany Parish Government Engineer Elizabeth Smythe St. Tammany School Board Curriculum Coordinator Shannon Leger and AgCenter agent Whitney Wallace, the group passes out dibbles to plant the seedlings and explains how to arrange the seedlings on a grid, starting at the top and working down to the water. The students plant native species well adapted for the basins which contain a mix of live oak, cow oak, sweetbay, nuttall oak, overcup oak, pond cypress, cypress, crab apple or plum trees within the pond.
In 2018, AgCenter agent Whitney Wallace joined the program to help add additional material for forestry and wildlife aspects. Students take part in plant and wildlife surveys which include taxonomic guides, wildlife guides including pelts, and wildlife tracks to help document community development over time. Previously planted saplings will be located, identified and monitored for survival and growth.
The best part of this program is when you get to see the youth get enthusiastic. When they are ankle deep in mud and water planting trees and discovering tracks or wildlife, they start to correlate the classroom material, and you see it click. They then can tell you how tree roots will grow to eventually pull up the nitrates from animal waste, the phosphorus from fertilizers from stormwater runoff and what animals are using these developed habitats.
Because the program is multi-year, new students are brought back the next year and will retest water quality. They use this data over time to compare and contrast and see how well planting the trees has really aided to mitigate the negative impacts of urbanization. Between 2018 and 2021, student volunteers planted approximately 27,000 trees. Wallace says the goal of this program is to not only help restore the tree canopy in St. Tammany Parish and develop an engaged citizenry, but perhaps spur youth interest in a natural resource career path such as forestry, wildlife or ecology. Adopt-A-Pond is a project led by St. Tammany Parish Government in collaboration with St. Tammany Parish Public Schools, as well as Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU AgCenter Youth Wetlands Programs.
Above: Students from Pitcher Junior High planting trees. Below: Students from Fontainebleau High in Mandeville, LA plant seedlings of native tree species that are adapted for basins along a grid.
To learn more about this program, contact Whitney Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org.