Archive for Wildlife


Gulf Tourism Depends on a Healthy Gulf

July 9, 2013 | Posted by Rachel Schott in Economy, Hunting and Fishing, Latest News, Media Resources, Reports, Seafood, Wildlife, Wildlife tourism

PRESS RELEASE

Contacts:
Molly Moore, Sanderson Strategies Group, 202.682.3700, molly@sandersonstrategies.com
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org

Gulf Tourism Depends on a Healthy Gulf

New report shows wildlife tourism is central to Gulf Coast economy

(New Orleans—July 9, 2013) The coastal environment of the Gulf of Mexico supports a $19 billion annual wildlife tourism industry that is highly dependent on critical investments in coastal environmental restoration, according to a survey released today by Datu Research LLC.

Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy” concludes that wildlife tourism is extremely valuable to the Gulf Coast economy and relies heavily on the health of the endangered Gulf Coast ecosystem in the five states of Louisiana, Florida, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi. Wildlife tourism includes recreational fishing, hunting and wildlife watching.

Key findings of the report show that wildlife tourism:

  • Generates more than $19 billion in annual spending.
  • Attracts 20 million participants annually across the five Gulf Coast states.
  • Delivers $5.3 billion annually in federal, state and tax revenues.

The study also found tourism jobs can account for 20-36 percent of all private jobs in coastal counties and parishes that are particularly dependent on wildlife activities. Those 53 counties and parishes have more than 25,000 tourism-related businesses and nearly 500,000 associated jobs.

The study reported that all forms of tourism generate 2.6 million jobs in the Gulf states, nearly five times the number of jobs provided by the region’s other three largest resource-based industries: commercial fishing, oil and gas, and shipping.

“With so many outdoor adventure opportunities, tourism is a critical industry to our coastal parishes,” Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said. “Sportsman’s Paradise is more than our state’s nickname. If Louisiana is to remain the Sportsman’s Paradise, we have to ensure that funds Louisiana receives as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill are properly and wisely spent preserving our paradise.”

Lt. Gov. Dardenne will speak at a press conference Tuesday, July 9 in New Orleans along with Billy Nungesser, president, Plaquemines Parish; Charlotte Randolph, president, Lafourche Parish; John F. Young, Jr., president, Jefferson Parish; Capt. Ryan Lambert, owner, Cajun Fishing Adventures; Mark Romig, president, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation; Alon Shaya, executive chef, Domenica, Besh Restaurant Group; and Marcy Lowe, president, Datu Research LLC.

The study’s findings underscore the direct connection between the health of the ecosystem and the economic health of the Gulf region and the urgency for using the pending influx of monies from the RESTORE Act and other payments resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to properly and effectively restore the fragile Gulf Coast ecosystems.

“The conservation solutions that last are the ones that make economic sense and consider the needs of local communities,” said Scott Burns, director of the environment program at the Walton Family Foundation, which helped fund the survey. “This study connects the dots between a healthy Gulf environment, abundant wildlife and the good jobs that depend on tourism. This report adds to the growing evidence that investing in real restoration in the Gulf is the best way to create jobs and build economic prosperity across the region.”

Datu Research LLC is an economic research firm whose principals were part of the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness. They have previously released three analyses of supply chains associated with the work of coastal restoration, showing that more than 400 businesses in 36 states would benefit from such work.

This study was funded by Environmental Defense Fund with support from the Walton Family Foundation.

Part II: Supporting comments

Comments from participants in release of study: Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy

John Young, president, Jefferson Parish: “This study further supports the direct link between a healthy coastal environment and a robust economy which depends on a $19 billion wildlife tourism industry. The well-being and continued growth of our coastal communities depend on the health of the Gulf, restoring and strengthening our fragile ecosystems, and promoting a wildlife tourism industry which can thrive, not only in Jefferson Parish but in all Gulf Coast states.”

Billy Nungesser, president, Plaquemines Parish: “Plaquemines Parish and Louisiana are the nation’s premier delta coastline. We are strategically positioned as the fishing capital of the world, the sportsmen’s paradise state and the seafood capital of the United States, and these factors which make Plaquemines and Louisiana unique depend on the health of our coast.”

Michael Hecht, president & CEO, Greater New Orleans, Inc.:  “Tourism overall, including wildlife tourism, provides 2.6 million jobs across the Gulf States – and many of these are with small businesses. To protect this vital economic base, as well as other important coastal industries, we must prioritize large-scale coastal restoration projects that will ensure a stable coast and healthy environment.”

Mark Romig, president,  New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation: “New Orleans attracts the experiential discover type of tourist, one who enjoys using the city as a base to go out and explore any authentic and unique aspects of the city and region, including the natural world. For the many businesses in this region, the need to restore and preserve our coastal wetlands is not optional; it’s an urgent economic necessity.”

Capt. Ryan Lambert, owner, Cajun Fishing Adventures: “I’ve grown up loving and making a living from the waters of the Louisiana coast and for more than 30 years, my business has been taking people fishing in those waters. But every year, as I see places disappearing from the map, I fear I may be part of the last generation to live off the water.”

Ralph Brennan, president, Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group: “Family restaurants like mine depend on a healthy Gulf Coast for the fresh seafood that has made New Orleans the culinary capital of the United States. The money states are beginning to receive to repair the damages from the Deepwater Horizon spill are our best – and may be our last real chance – to reverse decades of mistakes.”

Marcy Lowe, president, Datu Research LLC.: “This study shows the vital connection between the health of the ecosystem and the economic health of the Gulf region. Wildlife tourism is a major contributor to the Gulf Coast economy, but it’s very survival depends on the restoration of an endangered and irreplaceable ecosystem.”

Part III: Key study findings

Report: Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy

Key findings for the Gulf region

Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy,” a survey produced by Datu Research LLC, finds that in the five Gulf Coast states:

  • Tourism generates 2.6 million jobs, nearly five times the number of jobs created by the region’s other three largest resource-based industries combined: commercial fishing, oil and gas, and shipping.
  • In Gulf Coast coastal counties and parishes where economies are particularly dependent on tourism, 20-36 percent of all private sector employment is tourism-related.
  • Wildlife tourism, which includes wildlife watching, recreational fishing and hunting, generates more than $19 billion in annual spending.
  • Wildlife tourism generates $5.3 billion annually in federal, state and local tax revenues, divided roughly equally between local and state tax revenues and federal revenues. In 2011, Gulf Coast state and local governments received $2.5 billion and the federal government $2.8 billion from wildlife tourism. Recreational fishing generates the highest amount of tax revenue at $2.2 billion followed by $2 billion from wildlife watching and $1.2 billion from hunting.
  • Wildlife tourism attracts 20 million participants annually across the five Gulf Coast states. The wildlife tourism industry consists not only of wildlife guide businesses that directly serve wildlife tourists, but also the lodging and dining establishments where they eat and sleep.
  • Gulf Coast tourism – and wildlife tourism in particular – is highly dependent on a healthy coastal environment.
  • More than 11,000 lodging and dining establishments and 1,100 guide and outfitters businesses create business networks that depend on each other for referrals. In a survey of over 500 guide and outfitter businesses, about 40 percent of respondents said clients ask them for hotel recommendations and 55 percent said clients request restaurant recommendations. Likewise, more than 60 percent of guide businesses receive clients based on recommendations from hotels and restaurants.
  • Guide and outfitting operations represent a strong network of small businesses that have a large impact on local tourism. More than 86 percent of these businesses have one to five employees, and nearly 60 percent host more than 200 visitors per year, with many hosting several thousand.

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What does a “record-setting dead zone” mean for Louisiana’s coast?

June 25, 2013 | Posted by Rachel Schott in Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA), Reports, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

By Rachel Schott, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign

Dead zone. Words that bring images of military exercises or deserted, war-torn areas of land, but certainly not an acceptable description of a region that contains some of the nation’s most vibrant and diverse ecosystems, wildlife and habitats. Right?

The predicted "record-breaking" area of the Gulf of Mexico and coastline that would be affected in this year's dead zone.

Recent studies released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and conducted by Louisiana State University, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, and University of Michigan scientists forecast a “record-setting dead zone” for the Gulf of Mexico this summer. The studies suggest that the 2013 dead zone area could be anywhere between 7,286 and 8,561 square miles, which would be substantially larger than last year’s dead zone of almost 2,900 square miles.

According to NOAA, dead zones are not uncommon for waterways and estuaries, as they have recorded 166 dead zones along United States coastlines. As the Gulf of Mexico is at the receiving end of the country’s largest river system, the Mississippi River’s discharge is one of the main causes of the Gulf dead zone. Unfortunately, a dead zone is exactly what it sounds like: an area normally teeming with wildlife and vegetation is infiltrated by pollutants, fertilizer chemicals and industrial runoff. When the river’s more buoyant fresh water enters the Gulf of Mexico, it lies on top of the denser, saltier water, causing a stratification that isolates the deeper waters from receiving a necessary amount of oxygen.

The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) explains that the influx of these unnatural substances and nutrients results in the overgrowth of algae and marine organisms on the surface of the water. At the end of their life cycle, they sink to the bottom and are decomposed by bacteria, a process that depletes the oxygen supply from the water, making the existence of life nearly impossible. Every type of marine life is affected, from Gulf fish to tiny marine organisms, which are all essential parts of an interdependent ecosystem necessary for maintaining the balance of life in the Gulf of Mexico.

In scientific terms, the low oxygen is known as hypoxia and has severe effects on the future health and growth of ecosystems. TIME Magazine recently reported that the Gulf of Mexico may soon become an “aquatic desert” and attributes the problems to recent weather conditions in the Midwest: heavy rainfall and flooding increases the levels of nutrients and pollutants in the river. All of these compounding problems will contribute to the 2013 possibly record-setting dead zone.

Scientists state that the dead zone would be less severe if a tropical storm were to enter the area, which would mix up the Gulf’s waters and facilitate oxygenation. The irony of this fact is that it leaves Louisiana residents in a less-than-ideal situation.

To read more about the causes and effects of dead zones, check out NOAA’s State of the Coast website: http://stateofthecoast.noaa.gov/hypoxia/dead_zone.html.

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Joint Statement on Upcoming BP Oil Spill Trial and Settlement Reports

February 23, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act, Wildlife

Contact:
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org
Lacey McCormick, National Wildlife Federation, 512.203.3016, mccormick@nwf.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org

Oil Spill Case: BP Needs to Be Held Accountable

Washington, D.C. (February 22, 2013) BP is facing tens of billions of dollars in penalties as the U.S. Department of Justice and the British oil giant get ready to start trial Monday over civil charges stemming from the 2010 gulf oil disaster. However, a report in the Wall Street Journal today suggests that the Department of Justice may be considering proposing a settlement. Representatives from three of America’s leading conservation organizations said the following about the trial and any possible settlement:

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation:

"The Gulf of Mexico is more than just a place where oil companies make enormous profits — it’s a public jewel where our children swim, where wildlife live, and where we get the food we eat.

"A potential settlement as low as the reported $16 billion would not be much of a deterrent for an oil giant like BP — and it is unlikely to be enough to fully restore the Gulf of Mexico as the law requires. The Obama Administration can and must do more to hold BP accountable."

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund:

"The American people deserve to see BP held fully accountable for its recklessness. The Gulf of Mexico is an ecological treasure that sustains a large part of the national economy.

"With everything we know about the corners BP cut and the risks the company took, this ought to be a clear-cut case of ‘gross negligence.’ The outcome of this case needs to send a clear message to all companies who drill in our nation’s waters: risky behavior is bad for business."

Chris Canfield, vice president of the Gulf Coast for the National Audubon Society:

"It will be years, even decades, before we understand the true impacts of the spill. The law requires BP to compensate the American people for all the damage that was done — for every smothered blade of marsh grass and for every oiled pelican — as well as for any long-term effects we may have not yet seen.

"It was years after the Exxon Valdez disaster that the herring population crashed due to that spill, and it still has not recovered. The outcome of this case must ensure that BP will be held fully accountable not only for the damages we see today, but also for any damages we will discover years from now."

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Hurricane Isaac Batters Louisiana Marshes, Uncovers Oil

September 13, 2012 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Hurricane Isaac, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Science, Wax Lake Delta, Wildlife

This story was originally published by the National Wildlife Federation.

By Craig Guillot, National Wildlife Federation

When Hurricane Isaac struck Louisiana on the seven-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, its winds and tidal surge caused four deaths and at least $1.5 billion in insured damages. For many residents around the Mississippi River Delta, Isaac brought back memories of two recent disasters to hit the coast — Katrina and the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Before the storm even hit land, residents in some coastal communities noticed a rise in the number of tar balls washing ashore. Officials later discovered moderate amounts of tar balls and weathered oil in coastal Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Experts say scenes like this could be normal for decades to come and that Louisiana’s coast will require constant monitoring and a long-term plan for restoration. Despite advertising campaigns to the contrary, the region is still reeling from the Gulf oil disaster more than two years after the blow out of BP’s Macondo well.

Tar balls and oil reappears in the Mississippi River Delta

Even before Hurricane Isaac hit the coast, residents in communities from Grand Isle, La., to as far east as Gulf Shores, Ala., started to report an increase in tar balls washing ashore as the Gulf began to churn. Tar balls, sheen and various remnants of weathered oil were found following the storm in many of those areas including the pristine shorelines of Ship Island in Mississippi.

A National Wildlife Federation (NWF) team surveyed the waters and beaches near Port Fourchon, Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle on September 6 to survey the waters and beaches. While they did not find any evidence of significant oiling, they did find moderate amounts of tar balls on the beaches in Grand Isle. Tar balls have been a reality on Louisiana's coast for decades but Grand Isle residents say what was left on the beaches after Isaac was "a lot more than normal."

NWF Staff Scientist Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., said a number of tropical storms and weather events have washed up tar balls since the start of the 2010 disaster.

“They continue to wash up because there’s a lot of weathered oil still out there, either just offshore or just beneath the surface of the sand,” Renfro said.

NWF also made a trip out to Myrtle Grove, La., on September 7 to survey the damage that Isaac inflicted on the marsh. The eye of the storm first made landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River and passed over some of the state's most fragile marshes before making a second landfall near Port Fourchon.

David Muth, Louisiana state director for NWF, said the team found evidence of localized marsh destruction. On his survey, Muth noticed hundreds of large chunks of marsh that had broken away and been deposited in open water.

“Marsh break-up occurred in areas that have a history of rapid marsh loss in Louisiana, near Myrtle Grove. Healthier marshes to the south showed no signs of break-up. The findings illustrate the importance of quickly building the authorized Myrtle Grove Sediment Diversion, which will build new marsh in this vital area.”

The NWF team also found three oiled pelicans near Myrtle Grove. A number of media outlets reported oiled birds and wildlife following the storm. While there is no connection between these findings and the Macondo disaster, Muth said, “This is further evidence that we have not yet completely learned the lessons of the Gulf oil disaster.

"Oil could be here for decades."

Even 23 years after the Exxon-Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, oil can still be found beneath the surface. Biologists say that "sub-lethal" effects to fisheries could linger in the Gulf of Mexico for years to come.

"It will probably be an issue for a long time, especially as many people conjecture that there are still tar mats laying on the bottom that you can't easily clean up," Muth said.

In April 2012, two years after oil started pouring into the Gulf, an NWF team found heavy oil still sitting just beneath the surface on small islands in Barataria Bay and Bay Jimmy. On one island, the oil was so abundant that it oozed to the surface under each foot step. Renfro said while oil may remain below the surface during the winter, it can emerge in the spring and summer when the heat softens it up and liquefies it. Many biologists believe that reappearing oil could be an annual occurrence in the summer months.

If there’s any good news, it’s that when oil comes to the surface, sunlight and weathering can help further break it down.

“Photo-oxidation from the sunlight helps break down that material even more. It also helps reveal it so that cleanup crews can get it. Hopefully we’ll have less and less over time,” Renfro said.

Last week, Louisiana State University ran lab tests for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and determined that the oil found on Grand Isle and Elmer's Island matched the footprint for the oil spilled from BP's Macondo well. BP later confirmed that the oil was from the well and that they would dispatch workers to clean it up.

Ed Overton, Ph.D., professor emeritus with the Department of Environmental Sciences at Louisiana State University, said that while oil is still out there, it is hard to tell exactly how much. Overton did say that storms can serve as “Mother Nature’s hurricane” in helping break down the oil. He believes that oil will degrade faster on the Gulf Coast than it did in Prince William Sound because of the geography of the shore.

“Our shoreline erodes and moves around more quickly. The problem with sandy beaches is that once it gets buried, you just don’t know where it is. We’ll likely see it for years but not at the level we saw in 2010,” Overton said.

Mississippi River Delta wetlands remain in a precarious state

Biologists and coastal restoration advocates say while the oil is an issue, it is only one part of a number of problems eating away at Louisiana’s wetlands. Oil has attacked the roots of plants and contributed to the death of marsh grass and mangroves but the encasement of the Mississippi River and saltwater intrusion has had a destructive impact for decades. In some areas of the marsh, the oil appears to have been the final straw.

Renfro also surveyed the Mississippi River by air on September 7 and saw heavily damaged patches of marsh between Belle Chase and Point a la Hache. She and Muth said there were clear differences in how untouched marshes fared compared to those that were heavily oiled during the summer of 2010.

“Pelican Island doesn’t look good at all. The mangrove has just been all brown and dead. It saw heavy oiling in 2010,” Muth said.

While marshes have always endured the winds and surges of hurricanes, Muth said he’s seen clear differences in how a healthy marsh can recover quickly. Further south in “healthier” areas of marsh, Muth said some parts looked almost invigorated by the storm where natural processes can deposit new layers of clay and sediment.

Renfro said the Wax Lake Delta is a clear example of how a thriving marsh can recover from a storm. After Hurricane Rita struck the area in 2005, damage to these wetlands was observed in the aftermath of the storm, but there was not a significant lasting impact. The Wax Lake Delta has been a rare success story in coastal restoration because it is fed sediment by the Atchafalaya River.

“The steady supply of mineral-rich sediments from the river help make these wetlands more resilient and allow them to recover quickly when damaged,” Renfro said.

NWF’s Greater New Orleans Program Manager Amanda Moore said it all underlines why the Gulf Coast needs a long-term comprehensive strategy for coastal restoration. NWF was instrumental in helping create and push for the passage of the RESTORE Act, a bill that ensures 80 percent of the fines and penalties from the Gulf oil disaster will be dedicated to Gulf Coast restoration.

Moore said its passage has been a monumental victory for the coast and that funding in the near future should help move along big coastal restoration projects. Ongoing monitoring of the impacts of the Gulf oil disaster will be needed to ensure a sound recovery.

“We knew that when the disaster happened, we'd be dealing with this for years to come. We need to keep vigilant and watching it because we could be dealing with this for a long time,” Moore said.

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Video: Two sides of the river

July 18, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Hunting and Fishing, RESTORE Act, Wildlife

This was originally posted by Vanishing Paradise.

By Chris Macaluso, Louisiana Wildlife Federation

When you invite staff from two of the most prominent outdoors publications in the country to experience south Louisiana’s tremendous fishing, you cross your fingers that the weather will allow you to show off everything the Mississippi River Delta has to offer.

Unfortunately, when the staff from Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines came to Buras, La., they were greeted by a stiff 20-25 knot wind fanned by Tropical Storm Debby.

Despite tides three feet above normal and white-capped waves in normally calm inland ponds, the intrepid guides at Cajun Fishing Adventures were able to improvise and put our guests on some fish.

On the first day, ten boats carrying the writers, photographers and Vanishing Paradise staff concentrated their fishing on the east side of the river. After bucking and bouncing through three-foot waves in the Mississippi River, the boats meandered through a maze of crevasses, cuts and sloughs that help spread the life-giving water and sediment from the river into the wetlands between the Mississippi River and Breton Sound.

The marshes on this side of the river are the true representation of Sportsmen’s Paradise. Mottled and wood ducks, roseate spoonbills, herons and ibises all took to the sky as boats passed while large alligators and otters slid from grassy banks into the water to escape the oncoming vessels. Lush, seed-bearing vegetation lined every bayou, canal and bay. Submerged grass mats lined the banks, filtering the sediment and harboring schools of forage fish like mullet and menhaden as well as the predators like redfish, largemouth bass and flounder. Those grasses are also food for millions of migrating ducks and geese when they come to Louisiana’s coast each fall and winter.

Redfish chased the minnows and crabs dislodged by the rising tides into marsh waters less than two feet deep. Berkley Gulp jerk shads on light jig heads and spinnerbaits tossed into narrow pockets and worked tight along grass beds produced 15 beautiful redfish, a couple bass and a handful of flounder for my boat. Others boats fished cuts in the main river channel for reds and even a couple hard-fighting striped bass.

The next day, we experienced the contrast between Buras’ east and west sides. On the west side of the river, levees have cut off all the natural cuts and crevasses that connect the river to its wetlands. Consequently, the marsh on the west side is vanishing faster than any other landmass in the world. Three decades ago these wetlands stretched more than 10 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Now the area is home to wide expanses of featureless, open water and is largely void of fish and waterfowl habitat.

But when the conditions line up just right, the fishing can still be incredible, as we soon discovered. Our four-man crew landed more than 50 speckled trout and redfish in a four-hour stretch, but even these fish are dependent on healthy marsh and wetlands existing somewhere.

If we don’t take action soon, we could lose much of the marsh we still have. The Louisiana Legislature recently unanimously approved a comprehensive plan to restore the wetlands and create stronger hurricane protections, while the recent passage of the RESTORE Act should give us funds to get started making this plan a reality.

Last week, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines posted articles online about their experiences on the delta, including, "Louisiana Delta: The Biggest Habitat Catastrophe You’ve Never Heard Of." Meanwhile Field & Stream writes that “It was the hard work and relentless advocacy of sportsmen” that made the ‪RESTORE Act‬ a reality.

We need sportsmen across America to join us as we fight to reconnect the river to the wetlands and restore this great national treasure. We’re delighted to see two of America’s most influential outdoors magazines spreading the word.

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On the first day of hurricane season, a call for coastal restoration

June 1, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, RESTORE Act, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Hurricane season starts today! Click this image and LIKE and SHARE it on Facebook if you want to restore the wetlands that protect Louisiana's coast!

Water. Flashlight. Batteries. Canned food. It’s hurricane season. In coastal Louisiana, we’ll keep a close eye on the weather until November — hoping to dodge each swirling white storm that crops up on the radar.

As the world witnessed in 2005 during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana is dangerously vulnerable to strong storms. One major reason for our vulnerability is the collapse of coastal wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta in southern Louisiana. Since the 1930s, due in large part to manmade causes, we’ve lost about 1,900 square miles of land from the Louisiana coast – it's like losing the state of Delaware off the nation's map! These coastal wetlands play a critical role in protecting communities by helping buffer them from storm surge, wind and waves.

Here in Louisiana, we are still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which cost nearly 2,000 lives and caused $91 billion in damages. At the same time, we are trying to get ahead of the next storm to prevent another horrific disaster by planning and advocating for coastal protection and restoration. The Louisiana Legislature just unanimously passed the Coastal Master Plan, a comprehensive 50-year plan for restoring our coast and protecting our natural resources. Coastal scientists continue to expand our knowledge and understanding of what is happening to our coast and how best to restore it. Thousands of people — from local school kids to celebrities to international visitors — are learning about the plight of Louisiana's wetlands and getting dirty in marshes planting grasses and trees every year!

Why all the attention? The Mississippi River Delta matters — to all of us. In addition to vital protection from storms, wetlands sustain vital industries like trade and seafood — the delta’s fisheries provide 25% of American seafood. The wetlands also provide wildlife habitat to hundreds of species, including the endangered Kemps Ridley sea turtle and the Piping Plover beach bird. These same wetlands and waterways contribute tens of billions of dollars to our national economy every year and support millions of jobs.

So as we ready ourselves for the 2012 hurricane season, let’s call for restoration — protecting communities and wildlife and sustaining the rich culture of America’s delta. Today, you have a great opportunity to help move restoration from plan to action. Click here to support the RESTORE Act, critical legislation moving through Congress, which will bring BP oil spill penalties back to Gulf Coast states to fund coastal restoration projects like those so badly needed in Louisiana.

We need your voice! Share this post with your friends and family and help us restore the Mississippi River Delta. And LIKE and SHARE this image on Facebook. Doing so will make a difference for hurricane seasons to come.

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NWF tour finds BP oil still soaking Louisiana marshes, menacing wildlife

March 22, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Science, Wildlife

This story was originally posted on the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Promise blog.

By Miles Grant, National Wildlife Federation

Tar mat coats marsh in Bay Jimmy off Louisiana's Barataria Bay, March 2012 (NWF staff photo)

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) this week led a boat trip to Louisiana marshes hit hard by the Gulf oil disaster. The trip made depressingly clear that while national attention has moved on and Congress still hasn’t passed legislation to restore the Gulf, much BP oil remains, it’s easy to find and it’s never far from the Gulf’s wildlife.

The trip out of Myrtle Grove Marina with Captain Dave Marino was led by David Muth, state director of NWF’s Mississippi River Delta campaign, David White, director of NWF’s Gulf of Mexico Restoration campaign and Alisha Renfro, NWF coastal scientist.

“As they headed south to the corner of Barataria Bay called Bay Jimmy, the tide was high and winds were blowing strong at 20 miles an hour out of the southeast,” said NWF’s David White. “That drove water high up into the marsh, obscuring the oiled edges denuded of vegetation. With such a high water line, it was hard to determine exactly how much oil might remain.”

After finding a safe place to land, it became clear that despite BP’s efforts to mop and scrape marshes, oil remains in various stages of weathering and decomposition. On the surface, it’s now weathered into tar — some small clumps and other large mats — and it’s there for the long term.

There were a few patches in the marsh that were completely devoid of vegetation. They smelled like asphalt,” said NWF’s Alisha Renfro. “Because it’s so thick, natural processes like sunlight and bacteria have a hard time breaking down the hydrocarbons. It ends up serving like a cap on the marsh surface — a hardened seal that blocks light and gas exchange, diminishes growth and creates a dead zone with little new life. However, baby fiddler crabs and other marsh invertebrates could be seen scuttling across the dead surface.”

Dead American White Pelican with oil on it in Louisiana's Bay Jimmy, March 2012 (NWF staff photo)

In the tar-covered marshes, NWF staff found a dead and decomposed American White Pelican. Liquid oil was visible on its wing feathers, its origin mysterious, until the staff made a new discovery.

Wherever we stood in the marshes, liquid oil would squeeze out of the sediment. I probed the ground a little and didn’t see the oil right at the surface, so it was probably coming from several centimeters down,” said NWF’s Alisha Renfro. “During the winter, with cooler temperatures, this oil would be thicker and harder to see since it’s not at the surface, but as it has gotten warmer the oil is far less viscous and can seep back to the marsh surface.”

It’s impossible to know when the oil got on the pelican or contributed to its death. “A large flock of pelicans nearby had settled on another marshy shoreline that had been similarly oiled. They appeared healthy with no signs of oiling from a distance,” said NWF’s David Muth. “But the dead bird provided a stark reminder that nearly two years into the Gulf oil disaster, the BP oil remains a daily fact of life for the Gulf’s wildlife.”

American White Pelicans in Louisiana's Barataria Bay, March 2012 (NWF staff photo)

As you can see in additional photos from the trip at NWF’s Flickr page, marshes continue to show signs of degradation and retreat. That follows the trend NWF staff have witnessed in recent trips, like the collapse of Cat Island’s mangrove trees from a thriving rookery for Brown Pelicans and other birds in 2010 to a patch of brown lifeless sticks in 2011.

The trip was a reminder that Mississippi River Delta restoration is needed now more than ever. While the Senate passed the RESTORE Act as part of its transportation bill, the House has yet to act.

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RESTORE Act social media week of action continues!

February 15, 2012 | Posted by Ryan Rastegar in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Meetings/Events, RESTORE Act, Wildlife

Thanks to all who have been participating in our RESTORE Act social media week of action! Our work is not done. There is a good chance the RESTORE Act could come to a vote in the Senate this week. That's why it's important for us to keep the pressure on and continue sending messages to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), asking them to take a position on the RESTORE Act and pass it NOW!

Just click on one of these messages!
#RESTOREAct could pass this week! @SenatorReid @McConnellPress Send BP #oilspill fines to the #gulf! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

People of the #gulf need #RESTOREAct NOW! Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress Send BP fines to the gulf http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

It's been 2 years since the #oilspill. Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress to pass the #RESTOREAct NOW! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

Gulf #oilspill restoration can't wait! Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress to pass the #RESTOREAct NOW! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

Speak up for Gulf Coast people & wildlife! Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress to pass #RESTOREAct NOW! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

Gulf Coast wildlife need your voice! Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress to pass the #RESTOREAct NOW! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

Background on the RESTORE Act:

Click on the Facebook image above and share it with your friends!

The BP oil disaster dumped nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, damaging the wildlife, ecosystems and economy of the Gulf Coast.

The RESTORE Act seeks to ensure that at least 80% of the penalties paid by BP are returned to the gulf to be used for restoring the region’s communities, economies and environments.

However unless Congress acts quickly, these penalties could go toward unrelated federal spending. We must act now if we want to ensure that this money goes back to where the damage was done!

Just click on one of these messages to tell Congress to pass the RESTORE Act NOW!
#RESTOREAct could pass this week! @SenatorReid @McConnellPress Send BP #oilspill fines to the #gulf! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

People of the #gulf need #RESTOREAct NOW! Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress Send BP fines to the gulf http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

It's been 2 years since the #oilspill. Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress to pass the #RESTOREAct NOW! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

Gulf #oilspill restoration can't wait! Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress to pass the #RESTOREAct NOW! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

Speak up for Gulf Coast people & wildlife! Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress to pass #RESTOREAct NOW! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

Gulf Coast wildlife need your voice! Tell @SenatorReid @McConnellPress to pass the #RESTOREAct NOW! http://bit.ly/xYL6DW via @RestoreDelta

P.S. Be sure to check out our Facebook page as well and share our RESTORE Act image with your friends!

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Wonders in the Wax Lake Delta

October 19, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Birds, People, Wax Lake Delta, Wildlife

This piece was originally posted on the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana's Coast Currents blog.

By Scott Madere, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana

The first clue that things were going to be different today was the blue rectangle under the "No Parking" sign at the boat launch. "Beware of Bears," it read. I’ve lived my whole life in Louisiana and I’ve never seen one of those. But it was only one of many firsts for me as we headed into the Wax Lake Delta that morning, to discover one of Louisiana’s most pristine paradises… and possibly the key to saving Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.

With me on the excursion were about 30 companions from the National Audubon Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. While many of us were locals, there were plenty of explorers from Washington, D.C., some of whom had never been in a Louisiana marsh before.

It was only fitting, then, that their first experience should begin with a short trip through the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the shipping highway that unites the entire Louisiana coast, and the path to our destination, the Wax Lake Outlet. Our party traveled in five boats on calm waters, past barges and fishermen, the usual signs of activity on the Intracoastal. I found myself thinking ahead to what I would find in the Delta, almost missing something truly extraordinary happening on the bank to my right.

"Look… it's an eagle," said one of my boat companions.

Sure enough, a sight that had eluded me for many years appeared in the distance. A juvenile bald eagle, in flight, came in for a landing on the bank. As I captured his slow descent with my camera, a mature bald eagle emerged from the irises nearby. I was stunned. I had never seen a bald eagle in the wild before, and within a span of seconds, I had seen two. It was an experience that reminded me that there never really is anything routine about the Louisiana marsh. It's a unique wonder each time you visit.

Before long we reached the intersection with the Wax Lake Outlet, turning south toward Atchafalaya Bay. The outlet was created in 1942 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to divert the waters of the Atchafalaya River from possibly flooding Morgan City. The outlet itself is a lot like the Intracoastal Waterway, deep, straight and wide. But the interesting part of what’s happening in the Wax Lake Outlet is where it ends, in Atchafalaya Bay. That's what everyone on this trip was there to see. That's where we encountered the Wax Lake Delta, a rapidly building land mass… an unforeseen benefit of diverting the Atchafalaya River.

The delta forming at the bottom of the outlet wasn’t noticed until the early 1970's. As it happened, decades of sand and fine silt moving from the Atchafalaya River into the Wax Lake Outlet began to accumulate at the outlet's mouth. Before long, channelization occurred and lobes of land began to arise where no land had been before. Louisiana is not losing land in this section of the coast. It is building land, and building it quickly (geologically speaking, of course).

For this reason, the Wax Lake Delta serves as one of the best hopes that coastal researchers have for making the case that river diversions work, and that these diversions can be made elsewhere along the coast, rebuilding and restoring coastal wetlands.

When our squadron of boats reached one of the Delta's landmasses, the proof was right there for all to see. New land, rising from the Gulf of Mexico. Covered in lotus plants gone to seed, the soil was firm and claylike underfoot. It was not like swamp mud. This felt like land that was built to last.

The enthusiasm for what we were seeing spread across our entire party. To see the Wax Lake Delta firsthand is to see what Louisiana once was and what it could once again be. Everywhere I looked, I saw shorebirds, grasses, flowering plants, lilies, fish jumping and swirling. This was a real and thriving ecosystem, nourished by a steady flow of fresh water and silt from a river determined to reconnect with the marsh.

As we boated south into the Atchafalaya bay, honestly, I began to wonder why we were heading into open water. That's when the boats slowed and one of my companions hopped out into the bay. He landed in water that was a little less than knee-deep. That’s when it hit me. We were not looking at today's land, but rather, tomorrow's. In a few years, this open area of the bay will be solid ground, as more sediment is deposited and plants begin to root. Already, aquatic plants can be seen just below the surface, forming anchors to trap the fine silt suspended in the gentle waves from the Wax Lake Outlet.

Many in our party spent half an hour wading through the shallow water, all smiles as brown pelicans circled overhead. It struck me that we were the very first people to stand on this new part of Louisiana.

A trip into Wax Lake Delta is invigorating to those who are committed to the future of our coast. It represents a victory in the effort to bring vitality and hope back to our wetlands. If 25 square miles worth of new land can be created accidentally by the Wax Lake Outlet, imagine what could be done purposefully, with proper planning, good science and willpower to make it happen.

It was very hard to leave the Wax Lake Delta behind. I've rarely felt happier out in the Louisiana marsh. The only thing that would have made the day better would have been to see one of those bears the little blue sign warned me about. But there’s always next time. And at the rate that I’m seeing wonders in this delta, I would judge that possibility likely.

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Conservation partnership permanently protects 675 acres of vital wetlands in Mississippi River Delta

September 14, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Birds, Media Resources, Wildlife

675 acres of cypress-tupelo swamp (like those pictured above) will be permanently protected through the agreement. (Photo credit: USGS)

On Friday (Sept. 9), the National Audubon Society, Land Trust for Southeast Louisiana and The Conservation Fund announced the permanent protection of 675 acres of diverse wetland habitat near the town of Maurepas, La. This acquisition will enhance an ongoing, multi-partner effort to expand and preserve key ecosystems within the West Pontchartrain-Maurepas Swamp Important Bird Area (IBA)–an area that provides a critical link for millions of migratory birds between North American nesting grounds and wintering areas in Latin America. Additionally, these protected wetlands will provide critical hurricane and storm surge protection for nearby communities and infrastructure.

Comprised of open coastal swamp and forested wetland areas of cypress and tupelo trees, the protected land is home to numerous migratory waterfowl, Neotropical and waterbird species. With the permanent stewardship of these wetlands just north of the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area, the public will gain new places to bird-watch and explore, enhanced water quality, and, with other planned efforts, vital protection from floods and storm surges.

On approximately 25 acres of this particular project, Audubon will enhance the area’s resiliency and improve habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife by removing invasive plants and planting native tree and shrub species.

“The protection of this property preserves critical habitat for declining wetland birds and helps support the integrity of a large and important ecosystem,” said Melanie Driscoll, Audubon’s director of bird conservation for the Gulf Coast and Mississippi Flyway.

Funding for this acquisition was made available through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), a federal grant program that provides matching grants for conservation projects benefiting all habitats, birds and wildlife associated with wetlands ecosystems. Over the past 20 years, NAWCA matching funds have protected, restored and enhanced approximately 26.5 million acres of wetland habitat across North America.

More information about this landmark decision can be found on Audubon's website as well as The Times-Picayune.

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