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ANPP congratulates JMB Companies for their gold-level Louisiana Certified Habitat located in coastal St. Mary Parish

By: Phyllis Giffard

JMB's Debi Lauret and Stephanie Clement celebrate their gold-level Louisiana Certified Habitat

This rural property consists of 759 acres located near Cypremort Point. Office managers Debi Lauret and Stephanie Clement filled me in on the history of the property as we toured the grounds. In the late 1880's the property was planted in sugarcane and supported a sugar mill onsite. Product was shipped north for sale and became less profitable as transportation costs increased. The original plantation house is gone, but one of the original houses remains and is now used for company gatherings. The house was raised off the ground due to periodic flooding from hurricanes. A dozen live oaks well over 100 years old provide shade for a large lawn surrounding the house. A pier and a boat launch provide access to Bayou Cypremort with the ruins of the sugar mill in the background. The portion of the property adjacent to the Gulf is coastal marsh and as the elevation and distance from the Gulf increases, Cypress-Tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood forest take over the landscape. This area is a productive habitat wildlife experiencing alternating wet and dry periods following seasonal flooding events and storm surge. Small mammals such as rabbit, opossum and raccoon as well as larger species such as coyote, alligator, and black bear are supported by the habitat. The property also provides abundant shelter and food for resident and migrating birds.

Fifteen years ago the company transitioned low lying fallow sugarcane fields to mitigation banks consisting of native plant species typical in a bottomland hardwood forest. Wondering what a mitigation bank is? A mitigation bank is a site where natural resources such as wetlands, streams, or riverine areas are restored and/or preserved for the purpose of providing compensation to offset the damage from development. It is a marketplace to buy and sell environmental restoration credits. So JMB Companies establishes a healthy bottomland hardwood forest on degraded low elevation land, and then sells credits earned from the wetlands that they established. A housing developer (for example) can purchase these credits at this mitigation bank to offset the damage its own project might do to wetlands elsewhere. Mitigation banking is essentially a commodity market where both entities benefit from the transaction and the housing developer has a straightforward means of complying with Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The program is regulated by the Army Corp of Engineers with stringent criteria for hydrology, native species planted, monitoring and invasive control. The purpose of the program is to halt and reverse the loss of wetlands across the country. This concept is expanding to other ecosystems as habitat destruction occurs across the country due to new roads, sprawl, energy infrastructure, mining, logging, and other development which reduces natural lands that support wildlife and disrupt migration corridors.

We first toured the newest planting, which is approximately 3 years old as well as an older planting, approximately 12 years old. Typical plants include but are not limited to overcup oak (Quercus lyrata), water oak (Quercus nigra), willow oak (Quercus phellos), nuttall oak (Quercus texana), water hickory (Carya aquatica), green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), Hackberry (Celtis laevigata), and American elm (Ulmus americana) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). These plots are monitored every year for the first three years. Once the canopy of the forest reaches a designated cover, monitoring is done every three years. Besides canopy cover, monitoring staff identify introduced invasive species such as Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) and Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense). These species are controlled to less than 3% cover as stipulated in the permit. Native grasses and herbaceous perennials as well as understory shrubs such as Monglier or groundsel tree (Baccharis halimifolia) and wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) are allowed to grow under the tree layer, creating a fully functional native habitat.

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