Louisiana Wetlands: Recognizing a National Treasure During American Wetlands Month

May 26, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in coastal restoration, Meetings/Events

By Richie Blink, Plaquemines Parish Community Outreach Coordinator, National Wildlife Federation

May is American Wetlands Month, and Louisiana's coastal wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in North America. Not only do they provide habitat for numerous fish, wildlife and birds, but they also help improve water quality, provide recreational opportunities and protection for people and infrastructure from damaging storm surges.

Wildlife habitat and nurseries

Wetlands serve as a nursery environment for juvenile fish. The countless ponds, bays and bayous found in the Mississippi River Delta provide essential habitat for most commercial and game fish found in the Gulf of Mexico. Menhaden, shrimp, oysters and blue crab area all important commercial species that depend on healthy coastal wetlands to thrive. Additionally, fur-bearers like muskrat, beaver and mink, as well as reptiles including alligators call coastal wetlands and estuaries home.

Photo by Richie Blink

Photo by Richie Blink

Storm surge protection

Wetlands have an incredible value for people, too. One acre of wetlands has the capacity to hold up to 1 million gallons of water during a flood! On average, damaging storm surges are reduced by one foot for every 2.7 miles of wetlands, reducing wave energy and protecting levees and other critical infrastructure from these destructive forces of nature. The value of community protection for a one-mile strip of wetlands is valued at $5.7 million.

Photo by Richie Blink

Photo by Richie Blink

Water filtration

Wetlands also help improve water quality by filtering and retaining residential, agricultural and urban wastes. Reconnection of the Mississippi River to surrounding wetlands would help filter out nutrients that are contribute to a harmful low oxygen area in the Gulf of Mexico dubbed the “dead zone.” The shallow waters of coastal wetlands are good habitat for submerged aquatic vegetation, which can utilize the extra nutrients and potentially reduce the Gulf of Mexico dead zone as well as increasing water clarity.

Photo by Richie Blink

Photo by Richie Blink

Restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands

Louisiana holds 40 percent of the coastal wetlands in the continental U.S. and is currently experiencing around 80 percent of all coastal wetland loss in the U.S. Work is currently underway to restore and rebuild wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through projects in the state’s Coastal Master Plan, including sediment diversions and marsh creation. The reintroduction of Mississippi River water and sediment to its delta plain allows new wetlands to build and flourish, providing habitat for wildlife, clean water, places to recreate, and protection for storm surge.

Photo by Richie Blink

Photo by Richie Blink

Louisiana’s wetlands are a national treasure worth protecting. Learn more about why wetlands are important: https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/may-american-wetlands-month-learn-explore-take-action.

As the Plaquemines Community Outreach Coordinator for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, Richie Blink works closely with local stakeholders to ensure widespread support of sustainable restoration of the Mississippi River Delta. Prior to joining the coalition Richie served as the Coastal Zone Program Manager with Plaquemines Parish Government to achieve a zero net loss of wetlands. He organized grassroots wetland restoration efforts that resulted in the planting of more than 15,000 cypress trees to reverse land loss and reduce storm surge near his hometown south of New Orleans. He serves as a board member of the Woodlands Conservancy, a nonprofit land trust organization focused on preservation of Louisiana’s coastal forest ecosystems. Richie served for three years on the Plaquemines Coastal Zone Advisory Committee which selects coastal restoration projects for implementation. In his free time, he guides motorboat tours into Louisiana’s coastal wetlands for Lost Lands Environmental Tours L3C. Always exploring, Richie holds a private pilot license and is a U.S. Coast Guard licensed captain.

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Louisiana Legislature Passes Resolution Funding State’s 2016-2017 Coastal Activities

May 20, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), Media Resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046, jimmy.frederick@crcl.org
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348, jlopez@saveourlake.org

Louisiana Legislature Passes Resolution Funding State’s 2016-2017 Coastal Activities

Resolution Directs Investment of $736 Million to Key Restoration and Protection Projects

(Baton Rouge, LA– May 20, 2016) Yesterday, in a unanimous vote, the Louisiana Senate approved House Concurrent Resolution 2 (HCR -2), resulting in final passage of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s 2016-2017 annual plan for coastal protection and restoration through the legislature. The resolution directs $736 million toward coastal restoration and protection activities over the course of fiscal year 2017 – from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 – and outlines the state’s prioritization of projects during that period. This authorization will fund some of the 19 priority projects for restoring Louisiana’s coast as identified by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.

In response, coalition members including Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation released the following statement:

“We applaud the Louisiana Legislature on their continued prioritization of coastal restoration and protection at this moment in our state’s history. Without consistent, determinative action outlined in the Coastal Master Plan to confront Louisiana’s land loss crisis, more communities, industries and wildlife are at risk of further destruction.

“We are grateful to Governor John Bel Edwards and CPRA Chairman Johnny Bradberry for their leadership in defending coastal dollars and prioritizing the most promising, science-based restoration projects outlined in the state’s Coastal Master Plan. We also thank Representative Stuart J. Bishop for shepherding this resolution through the legislature.

“This annual plan recognizes the importance of coastal restoration and protection as equal pillars in ensuring a resilient future for our state, its residents, wildlife and industries. We applaud the inclusion of a comprehensive suite of projects, including barrier island restoration, sediment diversions and community resiliency efforts, that can work together to address the variety of problems afflicting our coast. We are encouraged to see the advancement of restoration in some areas impacted by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet and recommend CPRA further prioritize restoration of this region.

“Our coalition looks forward to working with the state and others as they finalize the 2017 Coastal Master Plan that will provide an updated roadmap for coastal restoration and protection.”

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The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. Learn more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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Earth Day 2016: Planting Trees to Restore Louisiana’s Coast

May 17, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in coastal restoration

By Matt Phillips, Outreach Coordinator, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition

On Friday, April 22nd, 2016, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition staff participated in an Earth Day tree planting event. Outreach team staff joined their partners at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and several volunteers to plant 250 cypress trees graciously donated by the St. Bernard Wetlands Foundation. Our staff and volunteers were thrilled to spend a day working in the wetlands, the sunshine and gentle breeze being a pleasant change from the normal office environment.

Volunteers haul supplies to the planting site next to a flood wall in St. Bernard State Park.

Volunteers haul supplies to the planting site next to a flood wall in St. Bernard State Park.

The nutrient-rich alluvial soils on the east bank of the Mississippi River create perfect conditions for growing cypress, and scientists at LPBF boast of a 77% survival rate for their volunteer-planted cypress trees. Cypress trees provide habitat for insects and animals, and as their tangled root masses grow, the plants establish themselves in the soil, limiting erosion while filtering water in the swamp. These trees are essential for restoring degraded wetland ecosystems.

A volunteer finished planting a young cypress tree in St. Bernard Parish, LA.

A volunteer finished planting a young cypress tree in St. Bernard Parish, LA.

Planting cypress in a degraded swamp requires some precautions to ensure the trees survive. Volunteers must select an appropriate substrate—not too wet, but not too far from water either—so the trees can thrive. Small wetland creatures threaten the young trees as well, and in Louisiana, nutria pose a consistent threat. The young trees contain a lot of nutrients, and the large rodents find them particularly yummy. To make sure the trees’ tender roots are protected, we installed nutria guards around their trunks.

Kristen Butcher, a scientist with Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, installs a Nutria guard around a young cypress tree.

Kristen Butcher, a scientist with Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, installs a Nutria guard around a young cypress tree.

Working hard to restore the coast!

Working hard to restore the coast!

MRD staff members and volunteers planting trees in St. Bernard Parish. Exhausted and dirty, we planted 250 trees!

MRD staff members and volunteers planting trees in St. Bernard Parish. Exhausted and dirty, we planted 250 trees!

Our team planted 250 trees, and though sweaty, sunburnt and exhausted, we could not have planned a better way to spend Earth Day.

If you would like to get involved in projects like this and other volunteer opportunities, please visit our Volunteer page!

Matt Phillips is the Coordinator for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition’s Outreach Team. He works with organizers around Louisiana on improving the coalition’s community engagement. A native of New York City, Matt graduated from Oberlin College with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and moved to Louisiana shortly after to work on and learn about the state’s coastal land loss. He lives in New Orleans.

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What does 200 million tons of sediment look like?

May 11, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in coastal restoration, Media Resources

In the past two years, nearly 200 million tons of sediment have flowed past our vanishing wetlands and off the continental shelf.

This sediment is the key to rebuilding our coast – providing wildlife and fisheries habitat and protecting our communities for generations to come.

View the sediment counter to learn more!

Sediment Infographic FINAL

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Caring for Creation—an Earth Day Sunday Field Trip

May 9, 2016 | Posted by Emily McCalla in coastal restoration, Meetings/Events, People

By Reverend Doctor Cory Sparks, Director of the Institute of Nonprofit Excellence, Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations

When John Taylor was a boy growing up in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, cypress trees were so thick in nearby Bayou Bienvenue that he didn’t need a paddle for his pirogue. He could pull himself along by grabbing the cypress knees.

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Aaron Viles, Rayne Caring For Creation Committee member and Gulf Restoration Network board member discusses the state of advocacy efforts to restore the Bayou and Louisiana's coastal wetlands with John Taylor, Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development.

Decades later, saltwater intrusion from the now closed Mississippi River Gulf Outlet has turned the same stretch of bayou into a “ghost swamp” of dead trees, open water and marsh.

Taylor recently spoke to a field trip group from the Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church in New Orleans. Church members, including the youth group, gathered at the Bayou Bienvenue viewing platform in the Lower 9th Ward. They learned about the saltwater intrusion damaged the bayou, and the way this loss contributed to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Lower 9. Rayne Memorial organized the field trip to help their members learn more about the issue.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church group learning about coastal issues and restoration methods.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church group learning about coastal issues and restoration solutions.

Helen Rose Patterson, faith outreach coordinator for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, then connected the story of Bayou Bienvenue to the larger issue of coastal land loss in Louisiana. Louisiana has lost an area of land the size of Delaware since World War II. And while it’s hard to comprehend that 2,000 square miles of land have disappeared, it’s easy to see the change in the now-degraded bayou. Patterson and Taylor hope that soon visitors will not only learn about the effects of wetlands loss, they’ll also view ways to restore the coast – all without having to travel outside the city.

The Rayne Memorial field trip also celebrated Earth Day Sunday, a national celebration of creation care that features special worship services and environmental talks. In Louisiana, Earth Day Sunday is coordinated by the Louisiana Interchurch Conference (LIC). The LIC is made up of 17 different Christian denominations. Members include the Roman Catholic dioceses of the state as well as historically African American denominations, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and United Methodists, among others.

Rayne Memorial UMC children exploring Bayou Bienvenue.

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Kids playing on the CSED Labyrinth during the field trip.

The LIC has worked for decades to raise awareness of the threat to coastal wetlands. In 1988, the LIC hosted the first statewide hearings on wetlands restoration. A driving force of that effort, Rob Gorman, became founding board chair of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a member organization of the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.

This year, the LIC partnered with the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition to publish a wetlands bulletin insert for Earth Day Sunday. The flier reminded worshipers that God made the heavens, the earth and the seas – and our beautiful wetlands. It called on Christians to care for this part of creation by supporting the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition and its goal to utilize the natural power of the river to support our wetlands and wildlife.

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church showing their support for coastal restoration.

Members of Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church.

If your church, synagogue, mosque or temple would like to schedule a field trip to the Bayou Bienvenue viewing platform, please contact Helen Rose Patterson via email at PattersonH@nwf.org.

If you would like to stay up-to-date on coastal issues and receive information relevant to your area, sign up for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition email list here!

Rev. Dr. Cory Sparks is Director of the Institute of Nonprofit Excellence of the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations. In this role he strengthens nonprofits to strengthen the state. He is an ordained United Methodist minister of the Louisiana Conference who has served churches in New Orleans and suburban Lafayette, Louisiana. Rev. Dr. Sparks is the Chair of the Commission on Stewardship of the Environment of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference. He also is a board member of the ecumenical group Christian Renewal New Orleans and President Elect of the New Orleans Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Rev. Dr. Sparks holds an A.B. from Columbia University, an M.Div. from Southern Methodist University, and a Doctorate in American History from Louisiana State University. During seminary he was a Ministry Fellow of the Fund for Theological Education (now the Fund for Theological Exploration).

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