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A loss of state funding will bring changes to the Christmas tree restoration program in Lake Pontchartrain.

Southeastern University in Hammond has been using discarded Christmas trees as part of a marsh restoration program for the last 16 years, but budget cuts are forcing the program to be scaled back.

Last March we took a trip into the Lake Pontchartrain marsh with an environmental science class from Southeastern, where some student labor fueled the school's Christmas tree restoration project on West Jones Island.

On a different part of the island is clear evidence how the Christmas trees planted in a previous year helped.

'This water right here is so full of sediment, or suspended solids, so when the water rises up on the marsh, it collects in these Christmas trees,' said Fred Stouder, SLU marsh restoration coordinator. 'So we're actually building the marsh up to fight subsidence, and fighting erosion at the same time.'

This program was paid for with two $18,000 state grants. Over the years those grants paid to deploy 35,000 Christmas trees, but also to plant 3,000 cypress trees and 20,000 marsh grass plants.

Those grants are now gone.

'We're very disappointed that we lost the funding for this program, because we had what we thought was a really great program,' said Dr. Robert Moreau, a professor at Southeastern. 'Even the Department of Natural Resources, in their review of our program, said we were doing a really good job.'

Because the state funding is gone, Southeastern is scaling back this project. What they won't do is the marsh grass planting this year, and they only expect to deploy about half the Christmas Trees that they normally do.

It's simply all they can afford to do this year.

Moreau is looking into alternative funding sources for the program in the wake of the state budget cut. He oversees the program from Southeastern's outdoor facility in the Lake Pontchartrain marsh at Turtle Cove.

Simply put, the loss of state funding hurts because they believe this program helped.

'We feel the Christmas tree program and the Marsh Restoration Grass Planting Program was extremely beneficial,' Moreau said. 'In certain areas, we've seen noticeable land gain.'

Moreau hopes to have the program back to full speed next year, either with state money again or through some other funding source.

Tangipahoa Parish leaders say if you want your Christmas tree used in the recycling program, you'll have to drop it off yourself. There are two locations: at the city of Hammond's Hwy. 190 offices across the street from Louisiana Technical College, and outside Middendorf's restaurant in Manchac.

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