SOUL reforests New Orleans


Kloe Witt

SOUL volunteer Anna Hernandez works hard shoveling dirt in Mid-City on Jan. 20. SOUL has made strides to reforest New Orleans.

Kloe Witt, Breaking News Editor

Reforestation is growing in New Orleans in part thanks to the Sustaining Our Urban Landscape organization, who plans to have 10% canopy coverage within 10 years, according to their plan.

SOUL is a non-profit New Orleans organization founded in 2016 with the mission to reforest the city’s urban landscape, according to their website.

Loyola alumni, Susannah Burley, is the founder and executive director of the organization. She said that the city is under-forested.

“Not having trees and their absorption power causes us to flood more and exacerbates all of the effects of climate change,” Burley said.

New Orleans is the most deforested city in the United States, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Burley said that with the growing climate crisis, New Orleans has to start acting against it.

“Climate change is happening fast so we need to plant a ton of trees quickly and then we need to keep planting a bunch of trees,” she said.

According to Burley, SOUL is planting live oaks and bald cypress, both of which are able to absorb large amounts of water. With parts of New Orleans being below sea level and prone to flooding, she said these trees are essential to the city.

Burley said if we don’t act soon, New Orleans could change drastically.

“We’re going to look like Venice, Italy,” she said. “It’s very serious.”

The low forestation in New Orleans isn’t just caused by damage from hurricanes or high winds, but by lack of regulation on protecting urban habitat, Burley said.

“There are no rules or regulations on trees on private property so anybody can tear down a tree despite its value, age, or size in New Orleans Parish,” she said.

According to their website, SOUL looks to forest through sidewalks and general neighborhood areas. While doing this, they allow residents options for what they feel is most beneficial for their neighborhood, while also allowing residents the choice to opt out of the project as a whole.

“When we go to a new neighborhood, we work with everybody to see where they wanna plant first or what kind of trees they want to see. We basically make a planting plan for the neighborhood,” Burley said.

Burley said that around 30% of residents decide to opt out of the project.

She added that SOUL looks to reforest areas in need of more trees as the first part of their plan. While doing this, Burley said they’ve noticed a pattern.

“We want to plant areas that are underforested and those areas usually end up being the poor Black neighborhoods,” she said.

According to Burley, this is caused by the areas being historically redlined and experiencing racist housing practices.

Burley said the organization has a goal to plant 100,000 trees by 2040 and maintain the upkeep of the trees as well. With all of this work, Burley said that the best way for people to help reforest New Orleans is to volunteer, donate, and speak out about the issue.