Planting Seeds: Multi-million dollar investment to reforest Kisatchie National Forest underway

Published: Jan. 20, 2023 at 7:56 PM CST

VERNON PARISH, La. (KALB) - On Friday, Jan. 20, the first saplings of a new Kisatchie National Forest were nestled in the soil of Vernon Parish, an effort to reforest the area after Category 4 Hurricane Laura wiped out 256,000 acres of trees in 2020. Of that acreage, 90,000 were severely impacted, more than 20,000 catastrophically.

“Coming out initially and seeing the extent and the devastation, it was overwhelming to know that we had over 60 million worth of timber on the ground,” said Lisa Lewis, forest supervisor of Kisatchie National Forest. “Just the herculean effort that I knew it was going to take to move all the timber, work through salvage sales as best we can, then work through the physical site preparation and planning back.”

Now, a $25 million investment from Tellurian, a natural gas company out of Texas, in partnership with the National Forest Foundation (NFF) will go toward replanting more than 800,000 trees in Kisatchie.

“This investment is huge,” said Lewis. “It’s going to mean a lot of money that we’re going to able to go in and invest in these lands, get the areas cleaned, ready for planting and reforest this area.”

Tellurian leadership and the NFF were joined by members from every branch of forestry service and representatives from the state, including Dr. Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and Dr. Chuck Carr Brown, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

It will take a lot of work and more money over the next decade to revitalize Kisatchie and restore the forest’s land, ecosystems and recreational features that the area is known for. However, Tellurian’s investment is a big start.

“Bottom line, healthy, resilient forests for today and tomorrow and decades down the road. That’s what it’s all about,” said Ken Arney, regional forester for the United States Department of Agriculture. “And partnerships and collaborations will help us be successful there.”

For Tellurian, the impact will go beyond Kisatchie. Replanting trees is their way of offsetting the impacts of carbon emissions from industries like their own. One ton of CO2 emissions is stored over the lifetime of an average tree.

According to Tellurian, last year, the company and the NFF planted one million trees in 10 National Forests across the U.S., sequestering 500,000 megatons of carbon emissions and improving nearly 1,500 acres of wildlife habitat. The 800,000 trees to be planted in Kisatchie will be just a fraction of the two million trees the partnership will plant in National Forests across the U.S.

“It’s one of the things where you start with something that you think is going to be doing good,” said Charif Souki, executive chair of Tellurian’s board. “But at the end of the day, you do good and you do well for yourself at the same time.”

The process, however, is something Tellurian knew it could not do on its own.

“Planting trees is complicated, it’s not simply planting a tree,” said Souki. “When you take it from the seeds to the planting of the trees to managing the forest and doing it in a way that is appropriate. It’s complicated. We don’t have the expertise to do that. The National Forest Foundation does.”

Tellurian will continue that partnership over the next five years with an additional $100 million in reforestation, which will translate into millions more saplings in the ground restoring National Forests, including Kisatchie, around the nation.

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