MONROE, La. – The Conservation Fund recently that it was on the verge of achieving of two spectacular milestones — the planting of its 2 millionth tree as part of its voluntary carbon offset program, Go Zero, and a total of 1 million trees in the ground at Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Louisiana — all made possible via private donations.

Since 2010, donations from hundreds of thousands of individuals, together with gifts from leading companies, have been put to work at Upper Ouachita NWR to restore nearly 3,000 acres with native seedlings. As part of its “Plant One for Ouachita” campaign, The Conservation Fund will oversee two plantings at the refuge this December, which will mark the two millionth tree for Go Zero and the Fund’s 1 millionth tree at the Upper Ouachita NWR.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee surveys the land

All photos: Sean Gardner/USFWS

Forestland once blanketed the 46,500-acre refuge, providing shelter for ducks and bears and slowing floodwaters for communities downstream. In the 1960s, when food prices began to rise, lush forests and waterways throughout Louisiana — including the Upper Ouachita area — were slashed and burned, leaving behind a drastically altered landscape.

Today Upper Ouachita NWR is one of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the nation. The Conservation Fund, together with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and others, aims to repair the Ouachita River’s natural hydrology and restore much of the native forestland that once covered the region. As they grow, the new forests will provide cleaner air, cleaner water for those downstream — including the cities of Monroe and West Monroe — and more places to roam for threatened species like the Louisiana black bear.

A volunteer at the Plant One for Ouachita campaign

“Our partnership with The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero program has been ground-breaking,” USFWS Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner said. “USFWS could not have achieved what this public-private partnership has been able to accomplish. Together, we are returning significant portions of the Lower Mississippi Valley to its native state, conserving fish and wildlife, and fighting climate change. We are extremely grateful to The Conservation Fund and its donors for their work to achieve these milestones. Now let’s push ahead to another million-tree mark.”

“Over the next century, these trees will provide food and habitat for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and other migratory birds and wildlife,” said refuge manager Joe McGowan. “It’s a partnership that has greatly improved our wetlands restoration efforts here. With the help of The Conservation Fund and its donors, Upper Ouachita NWR will continue to provide some of the very best wetlands for wildlife and the American people.”

Volunteers at the tree planting for the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge

“We are incredibly proud of our donors and honored to work with the Service to restore special places in America like Upper Ouachita NWR. Its biologists and foresters are the very best stewards we could ask for to care for these new trees,” said The Conservation Fund’s Go Zero director, Jena Thompson Meredith.

To date, The Conservation Fund’s reforestation-based carbon programs, including but not limited to Go Zero, have helped to protect and restore more than 26,000 acres with 8 million trees that will trap an estimated 9 million tons of carbon dioxide as the forests mature.

Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge

Story courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Two million trees have been planted in the Upper Ouachita National Wildlife Refuge as part of a carbon offset program.