Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery

As we work together to tackle the historic challenge that Hurricane Katrina has presented to the forestry communities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, we hope that this blog will be a valuable resource and tool.

Wednesday, December 21

Volunteers Try to Revive Live Oaks

by Brad Crocker,

David Minkler was watching Hurricane Katrina's fury on TV during a family reunion in Wyoming. A California resident for the past 20 years, he could not find out about his boyhood hometown of Pascagoula. He went to his mother's home four days after the Aug. 29 storm and could not believe what he saw when he was finally able to tour the devastation another six days later.

"It was heartbreaking," Minkler, 50, said. "It hurts you to see your hometown beat up like that. I could have never dreamed Beach Boulevard and Washington Avenue totally destroyed. I've known most of those people my whole life." Now Minkler, an arborist -- a tree care and maintenance specialist -- is getting his hands dirty trying to revive live oaks in Pascagoula and other communities damaged by Katrina.

Soil was laid Wednesday for approximately 300 live oaks in Pascagoula Beach Park and near the La Pointe-Krebs House, also known as Old Spanish Fort, built in 1721 and considered the oldest existing private building in the Mississippi Valley from that era. Minkler and other volunteers were also restoring nearly 200 oaks on the Martin Luther King Jr. Causeway. The next stops will be Gautier and Ocean Springs before work begins in seven other westward Coast communities.

With the help of a grant from the Home Depot Foundation -- which initiated the Live Oak Rescue Mission -- the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain and volunteers are restoring soil, mulch, water and protective fencing for 600 to 700 live oaks across Jackson, Harrison and Hancock counties. Home Depot Foundation dedicated its entire fourth-quarter donations to Hurricane Katrina recovery and is supporting other projects, said Kelly Caffarelli, the foundation's Executive Director.

"To see where all the man-made structures were destroyed and then to see all these beautiful trees that survived, we just had to do something," Caffarelli said. Katrina's historic storm surge stripped soil from the oaks' massive root systems and soaked them with saltwater. "Though live oaks are the most storm-resistant of our local trees species, even they could not fully withstand the 22- to 35-foot storm surges and scouring wave actions of Hurricane Katrina," said Judy Steckler, Executive Director of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain.
Minkler began his tree specialist career and tree care consulting business 16 years ago after a stint in San Francisco as a sailboat skipper. The live oak, which Minkler calls "a fabulous, beautiful tree," is similar in California and Mississippi. However, the saltwater exposure from Katrina and lack of rain after the storm brought unprecedented damage to the local species, he said.

"A regular rain cycle would be good for them, too," Minkler said. "But you've got people with open roofs and tarps still, and the last thing they need is rain."
Steckler said "the daunting project" is helping bring another semblance of normalcy to the post-Katrina Mississippi Coast. "We are grateful to the Home Depot Foundation, (which) understands that the tree canopy is an essential element of our rich heritage and crucial to the quality of life (here)," Steckler said.

"Through their role as sole funding source of the Live Oak Rescue Mission, they are an essential leader and community partner," said Steckler, also recognizing technical assistance from the Mississippi Forestry Commission and U.S. Forest Service, along with volunteers.
Pascagoula's beautification director Kevin Hall said the city will benefit greatly from the community partnership. "It's unbelievable what they're doing for us," Hall said. "It's a very big asset to the city of Pascagoula because these trees are really stressed out, and this soil will hopefully get them through the winter."

Minkler will continue helping family members get their homes restored and eventually move back to Pascagoula, which he was thinking about doing before Katrina. The storm's destruction helped him make his decision quicker. "I had to come back and help as long as it takes to get the city back on its feet," he said.

Reporter Brad Crocker can be reached at or (228) 934-1431.


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