WAL-MART TAKES THE FIRST STEP FOR CYPRESS, BUT THERE'S STILL A LONG HIKE AHEAD

 

Hopefully, everyone has already heard the good news: Wal-Mart has informed their suppliers that they will no longer accept cypress mulch harvested, bagged, or manufactured in the state of Louisiana. If not, you can read about here, here, here, and here.

Wal-Mart’s move is a great first step for securing the Gulf’s endangered cypress forests, but we’ve still got a hike ahead of us. First of all, Wal-Mart is only one of three major companies who are driving cypress destruction, and even Wal-Mart’s laudable action only covers a portion of the cypress forests that are being destroyed to make mulch. Second, Wal-Mart still can’t really be certain they’re not getting any mulch from Louisiana because their suppliers have proven willing to obfuscate the source of their products in the past. Let me go into more detail on all these points.

No longer selling cypress mulch from Louisiana certainly helps the wetlands in the state, which are facing unique threats, but how can Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s ignore Florida’s wetlands? Or Alabama’s cypress forests, or Georgia, or North Carolina? Carving off an area as an unacceptable source will often just drive production and harvesting to another part of the country, increasing pressure on important and endangered cypress ecosystems elsewhere. In Florida, for instance, the University of Florida IFAS extension has shown that cypress is being cut down faster than it can regenerate, and almost half of that product being produced is mulch. And those numbers are a few years old, before this incredible nation-wide mulch boom.

Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart need to stop selling unsustainable cypress mulch, no matter where the logging occurs.

Wal-Mart’s move comes on the heels of actions by Home Depot and Lowe’s that recognize the concerns regarding cypress sustainability in Louisiana, while failing to implement workable solutions. Home Depot has apparently told their suppliers they don’t want mulch from “coastal Lousiana”. Lowe’s has instated a moratorium on cypress mulch harvested from south of I-10/I-12 in Louisiana, excluding the Pearl River Basin. The stated purpose of the moratorium is to allow scientists to develop indicators of sustainability and actually map the sustainable and unsustainable cypress swamps of southern Louisiana. This is a laudable goal, but there are a few hang ups—First of all, the boundary they’ve drawn is fairly arbitrary and doesn’t match the coastal zone that was outlined by scientists in the Governor’s Science Working Group on Coastal Wetland Forest Conservation and Use.

The biggest issue with these efforts by the retailers to limit logging activity in coastal Louisiana is the lack of any sort of verification method to show that the moratorium is actually being upheld. When we asked the representative from Lowe’s how they planned to ensure no mulch was coming from the defined area, the answer was “Trust me”. That’s a non-starter because they’ve already told us that.

Before we began a public campaign on this issue, the Save Our Cypress Coalition presented evidence of the problems with cypress mulch to all three companies. Last September (2006), Home Depot and Lowe’s told us that they had assurances from their suppliers that no cypress mulch was coming from coastal Louisiana. This was not true. Dean Wilson from the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and Barry Kohl of the Louisiana Audubon Council, among others, gathered extensive evidence showing that cypress mulch being sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart was indeed coming from suppliers who were incredibly active in coastal Louisiana. Many of the brands of mulch coming out of the Louisiana swamps were even labeled with addresses in Arkansas, Texas, and Florida.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. The Save Our Cypress Coalition has seen what “trust us” really means. If any of these companies want to continue selling cypress mulch, it needs to be verified as sustainable by an independent, third-party certification system that enforces standards of sustainability that are based on sound science and forest management techniques.

Very much to their credit, Wal-Mart recognized the difficulty in verifying the true source of their products because there is no independent, third-party certification program, and they specifically referenced this fact when explaining their decision to discontinue mulch from the whole state. Granted, Wal-Mart will still have trouble being completely sure they’re not getting anything from Louisiana as many of the state’s cypress forests are near borders to other states.

We hope that Home Depot and Lowe’s follow Wal-Mart’s lead, or better yet, we’d like to see them one-up their competitor. The bar will truly be set at the right place when one of the retailers decides to drop the product completely until the third-party certification system is established.

The Save Our Cypress Coalition will continue to pressure Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Lowe’s to stop selling unsustainable cypress mulch, no matter where it is logged.

All this being said, Wal-Mart’s decision to no longer sell cypress mulch from Louisiana is a huge victory for the cypress forests and wetlands in the state, and The Save Our Cypress Coalition thanks the company for this substantial action.

The Gulf Restoration Network would like to thank many others who made this happen. First of all, thanks to all the scientists who participated in the Governor’s Science Working Group Report, especially Gary Shaffer, Jim Chambers, and Paul Kemp for getting it all together. We also appreciate the hours of intense negotiation and frustration by those advocating conservation on the Advisory Panel to the Governor on Coastal Wetland Forest Conservation and Use, namely Carleton Dufrechou of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Doug Daigle, Mark Ford from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, and our very own Cyn Sarthou, Executive Director of the GRN.

Thanks to Councilwoman Shelly Midura for pushing a resolution in New Orleans, St. Tammany, Plaquemines, just to name a few). that ended the city’s use of cypress mulch and asked the major retailers to do the same. Also to all the Parish Council members, Mayors and Town Councils who did the same (Livingston,

The Waterkeeper Alliance placed two full-page ads in major national newspapers (NYTimes and USAToday), and Bobby Kennedy held a great press conference on the issue in New Orleans. These efforts have been invaluable to catapulting the campaign to the national level.

Thanks to all of the organizations and businesses (scroll down on this page to see the list) who have joined the Save Our Cypress Coalition, changed their landscaping habits, and have helped spread the word.

Experienced corporate campaigners at ForestEthics, Rainforest Action Network, and Dogwood Alliance have provided support and advice. Our work is built upon the foundation these groups have created. For example, Lowe's and Home Depot's corporate polices on wood sourcing and sustainability are very much thanks to them. Thanks for everything y'all do for the forests.

Our friends at Rock the Earth have been informing concert-goers all over the country about the dangers of cypress mulch, and they’ve gotten hundreds of postcards signed. What a great way to spread the word!

Thanks to Kristen, Tara, Paul, Janelle, and Chad from Wal-Mart for coming down to visit the Louisiana wetlands and everyone in the corporation who was involved with this decision. Look forward to working with you on expanding your protection of cypress forests!

John and Andy at Agit-Pop Communications made the amazing Corporate Low-Down Depot Mart cartoon that was wonderfully narrated by the one and only Harry Shearer. Now, we’re working on making a TV-friendly version to get on the air, which is going to be amazing. Thanks guys! If you’d like to help run the ad (it’s going to cost about $5,000), please contribute here.

None of this could be possible without the hard work of Barry Kohl of the Louisiana Audubon Council and Dean Wilson of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper who have been tireless in documenting the devastating effects of cypress mulch on our treasured wetlands.

Finally, thank you. Thanks to all of you who stopped using cypress mulch, sent emails to Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s, made calls to the CEO’s, joined in protests, delivered letters, distributed the Corporate Low-Down Depot Mart cartoon, donated money to these efforts, and care about the future of the Gulf.

Mark a win for the cypress.

Dan Favre is the Campaign Organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network.

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