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La. Guard aviators re-engage in annual tradition, fight erosion

By Capt. Peter Drasutis, Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Office

NEW ORLEANS – The Louisiana National Guard’s A Company, 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment supported the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service during the annual Christmas Tree Drop in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in New Orleans East, April 26.

During the operation, LANG aviators hooked up and dropped bundles of recycled Christmas trees provided by Orleans Parish residents into key areas to rebuild marshland in Bayou Sauvage, which is the second largest urban wildlife refuge in the U.S. This process creates new marsh habitats by building structures that can support native marsh grasses, which traps and holds sediment, creating more land and stable environments for wildlife.

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bayou Sauvage Urban National Wildlife Refuge has a long-standing relationship with the Louisiana National Guard. This relationship has been beneficial to both the Louisiana National Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Shelly Staies, refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The Guard uses it as a practice exercise for dropping loads while also helping us to form lines of defense in the marsh.”

The project has re-established hundreds of acres in the Bayou Sauvage NWR over 25 years and serves a crucial role in the coastal restoration program for the City of New Orleans. This year, the LANG and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service emplaced approximately 4,000 Christmas trees. The cumulative effect of the Christmas Tree Drop operation over the years is a restored area of marsh equal to approximately 200 football fields.

Additional collaboration from city and state organizations, such as the New Orleans Office of Resilience and Sustainability, play an invaluable role in the ongoing success of the Christmas Tree Drop program.

“New Orleans has a goal to divert any sort of waste that would end up in a landfill,” stated New Orleans Office of Resilience and Sustainability’s Environmental Affairs Administrator Cheryn Robles. “We’ve been a part of this project for 25 years. By implementing objectives from the 2022 Climate Action Plan into our current efforts, our intent is to increase recycling and divert more waste while also assisting in coastal restoration.”

Louisiana National Guard’s Chief Warrant Officer 3 Gabriel Ruiz, the officer-in-charge of the Christmas Tree Drop Operation, explained that being able to participate in the Christmas Tree Drop every year is invaluable to developing those skills in a controlled environment so when the need arises during an emergency, flight crews are ready to complete their missions quickly and efficiently.

“The annual Christmas Tree Drop program represents a long-standing partnership between the Louisiana National Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It benefits the city of New Orleans and surrounding coastal environment while also providing valuable training hours for our pilots and crewmembers of the 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment,” said Ruiz.

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