Cypress tree legislation clears House committee

Bill would prohibit harvesting on public property

A few remaining cypress trees stand in the slowly dying wetlands of northern Lake Maurepas, March 29, 2021. (Wes Muller/LA Illuminator).

A bill that would give added protection to cypress trees growing on public property cleared a House committee on Thursday and will move to the House floor for debate.

House Bill 239, introduced  by Rep. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, would make it illegal to cut down, harvest or damage any cypress trees on public property.

“If you did not have the opportunity in a lifetime to see what a true mature stand of cypress trees looks like, it’s beautiful,” Riser, a fourth-generation logger, said. “It was something to behold at one point in time, and as I mentioned, I logged. I saw it.”

Louisiana’s current law has a lot of loopholes that allow harvesting of cypress trees on public property, so the intent of the bill is to close many of those loopholes, Riser said.

“I want to allow the trees to grow and to grow to full maturity,” he said.

Louisiana adopted the bald cypress as its official state tree in 1963. Known for having a widely flared trunk base and “knees” protruding from its subsurface roots, the cypress tree is prized for its hardy timber that is naturally resistant to termites and rotting. 

The tree plays a more important role in the state’s ecosystem and flood protection as Louisiana’s wetlands rely on the cypress, according to Justin Lemoine, executive director of the Atchafalaya Trace Commission.

“They have a subsurface root system that can grow 30, 40 — even 100 — feet out from the trunk,” Lemoine said in a previous interview. “This holds the soil in place, preventing erosion and runoff.”

Cypress trees are literally holding up Southeast Louisiana’s wetlands, which bear the brunt of storm surges coming from Gulf of Mexico hurricanes, but there are few state regulations protecting the bald cypress. Much of the Atchafalaya Basin, which is home to the state’s largest bald cypress forest, is private property, so Riser’s bill won’t protect those. 

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Wesley Muller
Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.