Wednesday August 15, 2007

What's up with Cypress mulch?

cypress mulch

Environmentalists are up in arms about Cypress mulch. They say coastal Cypress forests are being wiped out to produce it, endangering humans while clearing old-growth forests (yes, the video trots out images of Katrina-devastated New Orleans). Meanwhile, the stores selling the mulch claim that the mulch is created from the parts of trees that can’t be used for lumber, that the trees would be cut down anyway, and that regardless the logging is being done in a sustainable fashion.

Unfortunately, neither side has much credibility. Let’s try to sort this out. A recent AP article on the issue notes that the drop in area of Cypress forests is probably a result of changes in mapping techniques. That can be read to mean that they don’t know whether the forests are contracting (hey, nice work there, forestry dudes). Florida Today has a good article, which noted that most of the good Cypress was cut down over a hundred years ago anyway (go read — it’s the best overview of the issue).

The commonsense presumption is that if loggers are planting Cypress as fast as they’re cutting them down, everything should be fine (this could be ensured, btw, by strictly limiting the area they’re allowed to log). Are they? This strikes me as a good opportunity for an enterprising young journalist — we need some real answers.

I did my own investigation down at Home Depot, and sure enough, Cypress mulch is cheaper then other options. $1.67 gets you a 2-cubic-foot bag, vs. $2 for “Red Mulch,” $2.57 for Pine Bark nugget mulch, $2.95 for Eucalyptus mulch, $4.99 for fancy chemical-treated stuff. The Eucalyptus stuff makes pretty strong “Environmentally friendly / produced from plantation growth,” claims. If you’re covering 100 square feet, it’ll cost you an extra $12 over the Cypress stuff, so if you’re concerned about the environment it shouldn’t be a big deal to error on the side of caution. Real answers would be welcome, however.

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  1. Concerned citizen    Wed Aug 15, 09:07 AM #  

    An even better solution for Florida is Melaleuca mulch. Melaleuca is a very noxious plant for the Everglades and there are a couple of companies selling this product which seems to be a pretty good trade-off.
    Here is a good link to benefits etc. (copy and paste)

  2. alesh    Wed Aug 15, 11:44 AM #  

    Yep — it’s NOT ON SALE at Home Depot.

    BTW, links are not that hard. Here’s a link to the site above:

    Melaleuca mulch

  3. Gulf Aaron    Thu Aug 16, 12:26 PM #  

    You missed a critical piece of the story, CriticalMiami.

    Louisiana’s coastal cypress forests are being threatened by the same changes in hydrology that are gobbling a football field of the country’s most important wetlands every 45 minutes: oil and gas exploration and development, subsidence and the channelization of the Mississippi River. A recent scientific analysis put in motion by the Louisiana Gov found that much of our cypress forests WON’T grow back if logged.

    Add that into the significant risk of trees like tallow, melaluca and other exotic invasives taking over logged areas, and you quickly come to the realization that cypress mulch is a problem. It creates the market for clear-cutting – w/o the mulch market, there would be little incentive to take much of the forest, as you noted above, the best cypress in terms of board-feet were taken long ago.

    So if you want to protect coastal forests – don’t buy it, and ask Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Home Depot not to sell it!

  4. alesh    Thu Aug 16, 01:00 PM #  


    I appreciate your passion, but as I said, environmentalists have a history of exaggerating claims and making intellectually unsound arguments, as evidenced by your first paragraph — if all those things are the problem (oil and gas exploration, etc.), then where’s the EVIDENCE that logging is contributing to the harm?

    I’m not saying it can’t be true, just that you haven’t proven it. From the recommendations sectino of the study you linked above:

    2. Recognize the regeneration condition classes (Finding 5) for cypress-tupelo forests developed by the Science Working Group (SWG) and use them to classify existing coastal forest site conditions for management, restoration, protection, and use purposes.

    Hardly the condemnation you suggest. The study says there are areas that will grow by themselves if left alone, areas that will grow back with human help, and areas that for one reason or another cannot be restored at all. It doesn’t make much of a connection to logging, and when it does it’s talking about logging in the 1980’s.

    I’m pro-environment, and I can be convinced, but your case just isn’t there yet.

  5. Steven Hunt    Fri Aug 17, 10:07 AM #  

    Well, you make huge generalizations about ‘environmentalists’ not being credible.

    This is laughable when we have decades of evidence that corporations, in thier lust for pathological profit-taking, have lied, distorted science, censored scientists (see Bush administration), sold toxic products, polluted waterways, etc.

    Let’s face the facts: the corporate news media is aligned with these interests that have degraded our ecological systems severly.

    Our vital ecological systems continue to degrade and collapse.

    No, more of the onus of justifying ecologically damaging practices—like plowing through wetlands with huge machines to log small cypress trees—falls on the shoulders of the organizations that have a history of putting profit in front of ecological and human concerns.

    By the way, just a cursory look at a lot of university ‘research’ shows the reach of these same corporate polluters into acedemia.

    The most authoritative sources of the condition of our environment, and the practice of harvesting cypress for mulch, are the biologists that have a keen interest in mitigating the disasterous ecological practices that threaten long range human survival.

    No, you won’t find these people at Home Depot or Walmart—but you can contact some of these folks by phone. But, as with the global warming issue—you can always find some industry hacks to confirm your deep biases.

    Thankfully, there is such thing as peer review, and this goes a long way toward weeding out the commercial pressures that come to bear on the flow of information in this corporate controlled society.

    We don’t need to make the case for protecting the environment—and maintaining that the onus is on those arguing against raping cypress wetlands is illogical and smacks of either deep indoctrination or insanity.

    No, you and the people engaging the enslaught of havoc are the people that need to justify these practices. You can’t do it by engaging the most erroneous types of arguments so as to protect status quo practices that are unsustainable.

    Sustainable and more ecological logging practices are entirely possible—but, unfortunately, the logging industry around the world are some of the most flagrant violators of established state environmental laws, as well as the most retrograde as far as the ideology is concerned.

    As far as mulch is concerned—the rendering from your local tree service (especially oak) is some of the best for building soil and feeding your landscape plants. Not only do we reduce the amount of fossil fuels expended from harvest activities, we also help reduce the amount of fill going to your local landfill.

    But, again, if you want to appear competent on this issue—instead of a mere propagandist—you would do well by first consulting wetland biologists about the impact of cypress logging in the Southern United States.

    And that would require work, as well as freeing your mind from some of your knee-jerk, dogmatic assumptions.

  6. Gulf Aaron    Fri Aug 17, 12:24 PM #  

    Alesh –


    From the executive summary of the science working group report:
    Large-scale and localized alterations of processes affecting coastal wetlands have caused the complete loss of some coastal wetland forests and reduced the productivity and vigor of remaining areas. This loss and degradation threatens ecosystem functions and the services they provide.

    This means that if you continue to log these remaining areas with reduced productivity they don’t grow back. The science report classified the stages of the coastal forests: class three swamps won’t grow back when logged. Class two probably won’t (most landowners won’t go to the necessary replanting lengths after logging). Class one swamps will. There hasn’t been necessary mapping to determine which areas on our coast are which class, but the whole context for this report is that logging is currently ongoing in South Louisiana, and that some of coastal forests won’t come back once logged.

    Go check out the photos at the Save Our Cypress coalition website – logging’s happening right now in these coastal forests.

  7. Steven Hunt    Fri Aug 17, 01:05 PM #  

    This idea that “as long as they are planting as fast as they are cutting it down” really shows an incredible lack of knowledge with regard to ecosystem health.

    Really, when the cut the old growth cypress down over one hundred years ago they made huge mistakes—all in the name of stupidity and greed.

    There are some species that can only thrive in authentic old growth forests—having logging equiptment every thirty years kind of hinders the ability of forests to properly heal.

    But, as I stated before, instead of publicizing your ignorance and referencing ‘journalists’ that work for corporate media, why not contact biologists with a deep knowledge of wetland health? Just a thought.

    But, you can always ask Rush Limbaugh or any one of the hundreds of corporate pundits that we are subjected to in the corporate media mainstream.

    If you are so ignorant of critical topic, like ecosystem collapse, simply remain silent on it. Stick to pop culture or other sundry issues having to do the the mess that is contemporary Miami.

    Again, just a thought…

    By the way, would you let someone knowingly pollute your back yard? No?

    Oh, I guess you must be an ‘environmentalist’—or, at the very least, some specie of ‘mentalist’ LOL

  8. Jonathan    Fri Aug 17, 03:14 PM #  

    And that would require work, as well as freeing your mind from some of your knee-jerk, dogmatic assumptions.

    Thank God that environmentalists never make knee-jerk, dogmatic assumptions.

  9. alesh    Fri Aug 17, 04:31 PM #  

    Steve (#5)~

    Yes, I was generalizing. Some environmentalists are extremely credible. And while many other environmentalists make exaggerated claims, there is often truth behind them.

    But the frequent exaggeration must be taken into account, as does the demonstrated ability of the environment to correct its own problems once humans change their harmful behavior. I think the past three decades have a number of interesting examples of this. None of that bears directly on this case, but it bears repeating: environmentalist claims are often exaggerated. The video I linked above not only exaggerates, but it uses some laughable rhetoric to make it’s “case.”

    As to the harm that corporations have done, this goes without saying. But the errors of one side do not make the other side any more correct. (Truth that throws some meat to the dogs is no less worth telling for doing so.)

    I think I can safely ignore most of the rest of your comment as a fairly typical rant, which, while I agree with some of it in spirit, is exactly the sort of thing that destroys the credibility of the environmentalist movement. One other bit worth addressing:

    But, again, if you want to appear competent on this issue—instead of a mere propagandist—you would do well by first consulting wetland biologists about the impact of cypress logging in the Southern United States.

    “Propagandist?” I think that if your viewpoint is so skewed that you missed the fact that my article was neutral on the issue and didn’t advocate for one or the other position, you have bigger problems then disappearing Cypress forests. I’m not sure whether biologists have a position on logging, but getting a sense of their opinion on the issue would be worth doing. It’s a job for a journalist, and if you re-read my post you’ll see that I called on journalists to take it up.

    Jonathan has pointed out the irony of your “knee-jerk, dogmatic assumptions” accusation, so I’ll leave it at that.


    As I said, the logging that the report refers to took place in the 1980s. Yes of course logging goes on to this day, but the connection between the damage and the logging of today is not made by the report.

    The photos show logging, but they are out of context, and providing the context returns us to the aforementioned credibility gap.

    Sorry. As I said, I’m pro-environment, and I _can _be convinced, but this just doesn’t do it.

    Steve (#7)~

    This idea that “as long as they are planting as fast as they are cutting it down” really shows an incredible lack of knowledge with regard to ecosystem health.

    The analogy is a wheat field. Now, a wheat field is a very different thing from a prairie, but I think you could make a case that we need both. Similarly, huge areas of Cypress forest are nature preserves, where there is of course no logging taking place. There are good arguments to be made for expanding those preserves, but that is not the case you are making as I understand it — you want Cypress logging to stop altogether. Fine; but don’t confuse a forest that gets repeatedly planted and harvested by the logging industry with a nature preserve — they’re no more alike then the wheat field and the prairie.

    Do you think that insulting me is helping your case?