Longstanding Partnership Reestablishes Native Vegetation in Louisiana’s Coastal Wetlands

Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are disappearing. All along the state’s Gulf Coast, the loss and degradation of these wetlands is a critical natural resource concern. These losses have been worsened over time by modifications to the region’s hydrology, (e.g., levees and channels) as well as a changing climate that is bringing more intense storms and rising sea levels to all coastal areas. These losses affect everyone. Louisiana’s wetlands and their diverse ecosystems support industries important not only to Louisiana, but also to the nation, such as seafood, fishing, oil and gas, shipping, and tourism.

Louisiana’s Coastal Vegetative Planting Program

One longstanding partnership, Louisiana’s Coastal Vegetative Planting Program, helps to reestablish native wetland vegetation in critically eroding coastal wetlands or newly created coastal wetland areas. This native vegetation helps to control erosion, and stabilizes, protects, and enhances coastal Louisiana’s vulnerable wetlands, while providing the co-benefits of enhanced water quality, soil health, air quality, and wildlife habitat.

Louisiana’s Coastal Vegetative Planting Program got its start in the late 1980s and early 1990s within the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Restoration Division. That office partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s former Soil Conservation Service, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to establish goals, objectives, and practice standards for an interagency coastal wetland planting program which was then adopted as a supplement to Louisiana’s Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Plan.

The fledgling coastal planting program was immediately regarded as essential to conservation and restoration on Louisiana’s coast. Together, NRCS, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s Office of Soil and Water Conservation (LDAF-OSWC), and the Lafourche-Terrebonne Soil and Water Conservation District worked with the Louisiana Land and Exploration Company (LL&E) to secure a location and initial funding for development of the Golden Meadow Plant Materials Center (PMC) in Galliano, Louisiana. The Golden Meadow PMC laid the framework for which plant species to use for restoration, and continues operate today within the productive, but also threatened Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary in southeast Louisiana. Work is ongoing to develop and disseminate locally-adapted plant cultivars, such as Vermilion smooth cordgrass, for conservation plantings across the upper Gulf Coast.

Program Partners

Today, the Coastal Vegetative Planting Program is a partnership between the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), NRCS, LDAF-OSWC, and eleven partner Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) in Louisiana’s coastal zone. Each partner fulfills a unique role. CPRA provides the program funding, general guidance, and helps with project permitting. NRCS supports the program with in-kind contributions that include equipment, technical assistance, office space, laptops, and personnel such as soil scientists to help evaluate project sites. LDAF-OSWC administers the program and ensures everything runs smoothly. SWCDs serve as local project sponsors and assist in project implementation, project site identification and cooperator engagement. Each partner is represented on the Program Oversight Committee.

Vegetative planting project for coastal erosion control

Partnership With Soil and Water Conservation Districts Sets Program Apart

“What sets us apart from everyone else who plants grass,” says Jeremy Rodriguez, one of the Project Managers with LDAF-OSWC for the Coastal Vegetative Planting Program, “is our partnership with eleven SWCDs in the coastal zone to implement this program.” Through SWCDs, the Coastal Vegetative Planting Program is able to easily work directly with landowners on private lands in addition to state and federal lands. The program assists a diverse range of landowners, not just those who qualify for Farm Bill conservation programs. The majority of the marsh in southern Louisiana is privately owned, so this ability to easily work with private landowners helps “get conservation where it’s needed most,” says Rodriguez.

These SWCDs sponsor projects, consult with local landowners to learn where vegetative plantings are most needed, and assist with selecting project sites. Cooperative agreements with these SWCDs help to streamline the permissions process by formalizing the working relationship between the SWCDs and landowners and addressing conservation planning priorities and hold-harmless concerns. “Each one of these districts,” Rodriguez explains, “is made up of a five-member board. These are local landowners, and most of these board members have grown up their entire lives in these areas. They have really awesome input on the local resource concerns of each of these districts. They’re able to provide information to help us make selections for these projects.”

A Cost-Effective Program

Hundreds of volunteers help with the vegetative plantings each year

With four employees, and an annual budget of $400,000, the Coastal Vegetative Planting Program averages 40 miles of vegetative planting projects each year which are managed from conception to completion. These projects can be single restoration projects, or a vegetative component of larger scale projects. The program generates significant in-kind contributions: about $100,000 per contract from NRCS, and $40,000 per contract in volunteer labor. Each year, the program attracts between 200-300 volunteers from across the United States and abroad to help with the vegetative plantings. These contributions from partners and volunteers help make the program one of the most cost-effective in the nation. The Coastal Vegetative Planting Program’s cost to plant one linear foot averages $1.89. Since 1988, almost 1.5 million plants have been planted in sites all along Louisiana’s coast.

A Proving Ground for Private Investment in Conservation

“We have the freedom in our program to push the envelope a little bit and see how far we can go to make progress and change the way we’ve done things historically to make our planting techniques better,” says Rodriguez. This is a significant advantage of the Coastal Vegetative Planting Program: The opportunities it provides to test new methods and sites. The program is “not solely defined by success or failure,” says Rodriguez.

Native vegetation is installed in a Louisiana wetland

By assuming the risks of serving as a testing ground, the Coastal Vegetative Planting Program also benefits the private sector by acting as a “proving ground for private companies to expend their own funds and make conservation investments on their own land,” explains Timothy Allen with Apache Louisiana Minerals LLC, and Chairman of the Lafourche-Terrebonne SWCD. “Apache has implemented Vermilion smooth cordgrass planting projects on our property knowing full well they would be successful because of the previous successes by the Coastal Vegetative Planting Program in that same marsh type,” Allen shares. The Coastal Vegetative Planting Program also does not compete with private contractors that do vegetative plantings because the projects the program takes on are too small and widespread to be profitable for private contractors.

Successful Plantings

Two especially successful projects that the Coastal Vegetative Planting Program likes to share are the West Belle Pass and Reggio projects. In 2018, the West Belle Pass project, located west of Port Fourchon, was a testing ground for cluster plantings of 4,000 Seashore paspalum, saltgrass, and smooth cordgrass plants. The growth of these plants at the site has been strong, even after two hurricanes passed through the area during the first year. The Reggio project just outside of New Orleans is another great example of a testing ground. Numerous species were initially planted at the site and failed. Finally, cutgrass was planted, and it grew well. The mature stands of cutgrass even withstood Hurricane Ida, a Category 4 hurricane that made landfall in southeastern Louisiana in 2021.

Helping Others Do Better Conservation

The West Belle Pass project one year after planting, showing strong growth

The Coastal Vegetative Planting Program is in the process of compiling project data to create a searchable database and map to show how various native plant species perform in different wetlands across Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. Once complete, the program plans to share the data with The Nature Conservancy to incorporate into the publicly available mapping efforts of the Freshwater Network.

Louisiana’s Coastal Vegetative Planting Program is a great example of a partnership built over decades to conserve our nation’s coastal natural resources. As Rodriguez explains, “the program as a whole is a collective effort of years of hard work and knowledge gained that refines our work as the program matures. With every success and failure, we’re able to refine our abilities, refine our knowledge, and do better conservation work, not only for the coast, but we’re also able to share that with other individuals and help them do better conservation as well.”

Text by Candice Abinanti, NACD Southeast Region Representative and Coastal Resource Policy Group Staff Member, with contributions from Jeremy Rodriguez and Joey Breaux of LDAF-OSWC, and Timothy Allen of Apache Louisiana Minerals LLC

Photos by LDAF-OSWC

Latest News

Calendar of Events

Find your Local District

Accessibility Toolbar