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Government, nonprofit helping landowners restore trees ravaged by Katrina

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI — The federal government and a nonprofit organization are working to help private landowners restore stands of oaks, cypress and other hardwoods ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina killed or severely damaged about 320 million trees in less than 24 hours when it swept through Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama in August 2005, according to The United States Department of Agriculture.

The program offers six-foot seedlings to re-plant and restore 600 acres of hardwoods over the next two planting seasons, Wesley Kerr, NRCS South Area conservationist, told the Hattiesburg American.

For the past three years, its Natural Resources Conservation Service and Restore the Earth Foundation Inc., have helped reforest about 30,000 acres of private land with 1.5 million hardwood seedlings in Mississippi’s lower six counties and five Louisiana parishes.

NRCS is now offering the same chance to landowners in Mississippi’s Pine Belt,

“This is a golden opportunity for landowners who want to diversify their forest stands by planting some bottomland, hardwood species,” Kerr said.

Henry Hudson, who owns Turkey Pine Plantation in Sumrall, says the program sounds promising.

“The trees were just decimated by Katrina,” Hudson said. “This is a healthy thing.”

In February, USDA said its 2012 plans include $2.7 million to rebuild the longleaf pine ecosystem in the DeSoto National Forest. Planting those trees should mean work for local foresters, Hudson said.

The hardwood project is another attempt to mitigate environmental damage, though this one focuses on private rather than public land.(equals)

A $540,000 grant from USDA’s Farm Service Agency to Restore the Earth Foundation is allowing the hardwood project to move into the Pine Belt.

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