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La. Guard aviators restore marshland during annual Christmas Tree Drop

By Staff Sgt. David C. Kirtland, 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 in New Orleans East, March 20.

The LANG aviators’ mission is to hook up and drop bundles of recycled Christmas trees donated by residents of Orleans Parish to strategic locations for marshland restoration in Bayou Sauvage, the second largest urban wildlife refuge in the United States.

The emplacement of the Christmas trees enables the development of new marsh habitats by constructing supportive structures that promote the growth of native marsh grasses. These structures efficiently trap and hold sediment, promoting land expansion and creating stable ecosystems crucial for the wildlife of Bayou Sauvage.

“We are very lucky to be able to work with the Louisiana National Guard, and if it wasn’t for them, we would be manually doing this project,” said Shelly Staies, refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s a win-win for both of us because we get these trees put in, and they get to practice dropping sling loads.”

“Let’s not forget the citizens, without the citizens of New Orleans donating these trees we could not do this project,” added Staies.

Over the span of 25 years, the project has restored hundreds of acres within the Bayou Sauvage NWR, playing a pivotal role in New Orleans’ coastal restoration efforts. This year, the LANG and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service emplaced roughly 8,000 Christmas trees. The combined impact of the Christmas Tree Drop initiative throughout the years has resulted in the restoration of marshland equivalent to approximately 200 football fields.

“The Christmas trees dampen the wave energy and allow settlements to fall out of the water. Once the settlements fall, it provides substrate for plants to take root,” said Pon Dixson, project leader for the Bayou Sauvage NWR. “The trees are doing what their designed to do. The project is a benefit for everyone.”

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Gabriel Ruiz, from the Louisiana National Guard, responsible for overseeing aerial operations for the Christmas Tree Drop, stressed the significant importance of participating in this annual event. He underscored that it offers vital training opportunities in a controlled setting, enabling flight crews to hone their skills. This training ensures that they are thoroughly prepared to carry out their missions swiftly and effectively during emergency operations.

“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 crew members of the 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 244th Aviation Regiment,” said Ruiz.

Joining the 1-244th AHB in this year’s operations were Soldiers from the 1-169th Air Traffic Services, who assisted with onsite communications and the air space management for the LANG helicopter crews.

The annual Christmas Tree Drop program is coordinated by the City’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability and Department of Sanitation, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Army National Guard.

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