USDA Helps Fifth-Generation Tree Farm Recover from Hurricane Katrina

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The Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program (EFCRP) helped Louisiana tree farm operator, Marilyn Sheridan, reforest 200 acres of lost timber that was flattened by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Pictured from left to right: Theron Graves, County Executive Director for Washington and St. Tammany Parishes, Sheridan and Bret Gardner, Sheridan’s son.

On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast flattening Marilyn Sheridan’s fifth-generation virgin timber farm near Bogalusa in Washington Parish, Louisiana. The aftermath of this tropical storm left residents like Sheridan in desperate need of assistance.

“I watched as our life was being destroyed by this hurricane,” said Sheridan. “Virgin Pine trees were ripped straight out of the ground – roots and all. There was no electricity after the storm for weeks; we couldn’t even get out of the driveway to leave because it was so full of trees.”

Sheridan, a retired college professor, is no stranger to the timber industry. Her ancestors emigrated from Ireland in the1800s and homesteaded the land that is now forested.

Following the natural disaster, Sheridan experienced even more hardship when she lost three immediate family members within a few months. Family and neighbors encouraged Sheridan to sell her land or convert it to cropland.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, selling looked like the only option,” said Sheridan “I didn’t know how I could afford to do all that was required to reclaim even a part of my life.”

Sheridan regained hope when a forestry consultant told her about the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program (EFCRP), established specifically to help Hurricane Katrina victims.

EFCRP helps eligible landowners restore and enhance forestland damaged by the hurricane. Trees planted through EFCRP help reduce flood effects, protect water sources, decrease soil erosion and improve wildlife habitat.

Sheridan turned to her local FSA office almost a year after the hurricane and used EFCRP, part of the agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), to reforest  more than 200 acres of lost timber.  EFCRP cost-share assistance helped Sheridan reforest the acreage which involved clearing, burning, chemically treating and planting the tree farm.

CRP which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2015 is among the largest private lands program for conservation used to reduce soil erosion, improve water and air quality and provide wildlife habitat.  CRP is a voluntary program that allows eligible landowners to receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland throughout the duration of the10 to 15 year contract.

“Since day one, almost 10 years ago now, Farm Service Agency staff has always been so encouraging and helped every step of the way,” said Sheridan.

For the past 10 years, Sheridan has watched the seedlings grow and evolve into the healthy, thriving forest she once knew.

“I plan to keep watching the trees grow with my son Bret, who is just as much in love with the land and forest as I am, so I know he will keep the legacy alive,” said Sheridan. “Without EFCRP assistance, the clean floor of the forest would still be a skeletal forest due to the debris left from the hurricane. Natural regeneration would have been the only option due to the expense of recovery.”

Established on December 23, 1985, the CRP program has helped prevent more than 8 billion tons of soil from eroding and protected more than 170,000 stream miles with riparian and grass buffers, more than 100,000 acres of bottomland hardwood trees, nearly 300,000 acres of flood-plain wetlands, and 250,000 acres each for duck nesting habitat and upland bird habitat.

For an interactive tour of CRP success stories from across the U.S., please visit the FSA CRP 30th Anniversary website at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/CRPis30. To find your local USDA Service Center please visit http://offices.usda.gov.

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