Coastal Louisiana has lost more than 1.2 million acres in the past 78 years, according to a new study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey National Wetlands Research Center and cited by Ducks Unlimited.
The study analyzed wetland changes from 1932 to 2010 and provides a more accurate picture than previously available. “This more detailed analysis provides vital information for conservation planning,” Bob Dew, DU manager of conservation programs in Louisiana, said. “We have a clearer picture of which areas are in greatest need of restoration efforts, and which areas are most likely to contribute to future land gains.”
Ducks Unlimited’s coastal habitat programs have restored more than 100,000 acres in Louisiana, including marsh in areas like the Barataria and Terrebonne basins – two of the areas undergoing the greatest wetland loss, according to the study.
“By understanding land change on the Louisiana coast, decision makers can make informed choices about how to actively manage the land to help reduce future loss,” Phil Turnipseed, USGS National Wetlands Research Center director, said. “We cant manage what we dont measure.”
Louisiana land loss accounts for nearly 90 percent of the total coastal marsh loss in the contiguous U.S. Much of the land loss is caused by depriving the marshes within the Mississippi River Delta of sediment. Dams, levees and channels along the Mississippi River and its tributaries have cut off the source of land-building sediment responsible for forming and sustaining coastal marshes. But there is hope.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverts 30 percent of the Mississippi River through the Atchafalaya River system, and its delta is growing. The Atchafalaya and Wax Lake Deltas have grown significantly since the 1970s proving land building is still possible when freshwater and sediments are allowed to flow into adjacent wetlands.
“Ducks Unlimited has long advocated for sustainable ecosystem restoration of the Mississippi River Delta by reconnecting the river to its marshes,” Dew said. “This study further demonstrates the strength of that solution.” The Gulf Coast winters 40 percent of the continent’s waterfowl population and boasts some of the best waterfowl hunting in the country. For that reason, coastal restoration is a top priority for Ducks Unlimited. “We know weve already lost 1.2 million acres of this important area, which is home to the largest population of wintering waterfowl in North America. We have a duty to address this national scale catastrophe, a duty to our children and their children,” Dew said. “The loss of Gulf Coast habitat is one of the most significant threats to waterfowl on the continent, and everyone has a stake in the outcome.”