Coalition warns ‘MRGO isn’t gone yet’
National Wildlife Federation
The MRGO Must Go Coalition released a report last week that recommends priority projects and an implementation timeline for the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet Ecosystem Restoration Study that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is conducting. The report, "Mister Go Isn’t Gone Yet," calls for the Corps to complete eight major projects by 2014.
“Our report promotes a sustainable restoration plan that addresses the damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), and an implementation timeline that reflects the urgency of protection for communities still at risk from the channel,” said Dr. John Lopez, director of the Coastal Sustainability Program for Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and co-author of the report.
The Coalition worked with scientists, local governments, and the community to develop the report recommendations. One key recommendation is a freshwater diversion near Violet, La. which will recreate the historic connection between the Mississippi River and the surrounding wetlands. Other projects include cypress swamp and marsh restoration in the Central Wetlands and restoration in the Biloxi Marsh.
A major obstacle for the MRGO ecosystem restoration is a dispute between the Corps and the state of Louisiana sharing costs. The Coalition views construction funding for the restoration as a 100% federal responsibility. “Given the extent of the restoration needs, we encourage the state of Louisiana and Congress to work with the Corps to identify all available funding sources,” said Karla Raettig, National Wildlife Federation’s National Campaign Director for Coastal Louisiana.
The Corps of Engineers is more than two years behind its congressional deadline for the MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Study, which will address the channel’s impacts to over 600,000 acres of coastal habitat.
You can read the MRGO Must Go Coalition’s full report and learn more at www.MRGOmustGO.org.
Groups garner restoration support at Baton Rouge Earth Day festival
David J. Ringer
National Audubon Society
Emily Guidry Schatzel
National Wildlife Federation
Thousands of Louisiana residents converged on downtown Baton Rouge Apr. 18 for the annual “Louisiana Earth Day” festival. Groups active in coastal restoration efforts coordinated outreach efforts— including the Gulf Restoration Network, the Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF), National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the National Audubon Society—coordinated outreach efforts at the festival. Festival organizers said more people attended the festival than ever before.
Staff at Audubon’s Louisiana Coastal Initiative booth educated festival-goers about restoration efforts. They also collected nearly 300 letters to Congress expressing support for coastal restoration. Even a few tourists from states including Virginia and Texas took time to address messages to their own members of Congress about the importance of Louisiana’s wetlands.
Meanwhile, Audubon staff engaged parents, children and educators in Audubon’s Pennies for the Planet program, which this year is educating children across the nation about Louisiana’s coastal marshes and raising funds to support restoration work in Vermilion Parish. The Baton Rouge Audubon Society’s table featured a bird identification game for children.
LWF and NWF reached out to children and families, showcasing a snapping turtle and other Louisiana wildlife and raffling off children’s fishing gear. Staff recruited 100 new members to the Vanishing Paradise campaign, which seeks to engage hunters and anglers throughout the country in supporting coastal Louisiana restoration.
"With such an incredible turnout for Louisiana Earth Day, we had a great opportunity to reach out to our local community and educate kids and adults on coastal restoration issues,” said NWF’s Maura Wood. “Participants who visited our booth got a variety of information on our work at the local, state and national level, including the chance to hang out with some native Louisiana critters!"
Dr. Paul Kemp reports on Louisiana coastal progress to Mississippi River Commission
David J. Ringer
National Audubon Society
The Mississippi River Commission—a presidentially appointed advisory group charged with advising the White House, Congress and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) on Mississippi River engineering and management policies—conducted its annual high-water inspection tour Apr. 12-16.
On the tour’s final day, during a public meeting aboard the Corps’ towboat The M/V Mississippi, National Audubon Society’s Dr. Paul Kemp addressed the commission and its president, Brig. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, who commands the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps. Kemp’s comments recounted progress since last year’s high-water tour. He also called on the commission and the Corps to continue moving forward with a new vision for the management of the Mississippi River and its delta.
Excerpts from Dr. Kemp’s address include:
“With our partners at the Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation and numerous local organizations, we have over the past year provided a great deal of information requested by White House staff, and this interaction has produced results.
“As you know, Louisiana’s coastal restoration program merited one of only two new starts for the Corps next year in the president’s 2011 budget, with more than $30 million committed across several agencies. We support the president’s budget and will work with you to ensure that these funds are well spent and are the beginning of a serious, long-term effort to reverse the collapse of the coastal deltaic ecosystem and provide a more sustainable future for deep-draft navigation on the lower Mississippi.
“Finally, I want to draw your attention to the Lower Mississippi River Resource Assessment (LMRRA), a particularly valuable federal initiative that has really been embraced by the Memphis District, but could—with your help—be equally supported throughout the valley. Audubon is working on the ground with the joint ventures and believes that this assessment is one of the best means available to provide that future vision of the river that General Walsh has long been seeking.”
The LMRRA is an integrated watershed study that the Corps is currently conducting. It will analyze opportunities for aquatic ecosystem restoration and recreational access in what it calls a "nationally significant" natural system. Many environmental advocates, including Audubon, welcome this initiative.
Presbyterians take stand for Louisiana coastal restoration
National Wildlife Federation
The First Presbyterian Church of Bayou Blue in the town of Gray, La., located in Terrebonne Parish, recently wrote and passed an overture—an agreement—about the protection and restoration of Louisiana’s wetlands. The church is led by Reverend Kristina Peterson who is a long-time environmental and social justice activist and a graduate of the University of New Orleans’ Center for Hazard Assessment, Response and Technology.
The overture will establish a nationwide curriculum on "the implications of coastal wetlands loss on God's creation and God's community," and a theological wetlands education center in south Louisiana "so that Presbyterians of all ages can learn to be stewards of wetlands and proactive in their repair.”
The Presbyterian Church’s governing body in Louisiana also approved the overture, which the national church body’s General Assembly in July.
If the national church body's General Assembly approves the overture, every Presbyterian Church in the United States will be able to educate their congregation on wetland issues. The legislative office in Washington D.C. will advocate that Congress take measures to restore land lost due to coastal erosion in south Louisiana. Finally, the church’s “watch dog” corporate responsibility group will form shareholder resolutions.
The Presbyterian Church deserves praise for their leadership in educating the nation about coastal Louisiana.
Louisiana tourism at risk from wetlands loss
Environmental Defense Fund
The rapid disappearance of Louisiana’s wetlands is an environmental catastrophe with potentially serious consequences for the U.S. economy. While observers have written often about the energy and transportation infrastructure under threat from continued coastal erosion and land loss, we took a different tack on our Restoration and Resilience blog last week.
Using information from a 2008 report by the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), we examined why the vanishing wetlands are important for Louisiana’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry. Our examination was prompted by an article in the Daily Green News, which neglected to include Louisiana in its list of American tourist treasures at risk.
According to the USTA, in 2008, more than 60% of the Louisiana’s 102,000 tourism sector employees worked in wetland parishes. Nearly 57,000 tourism sector employees worked in Orleans and Jefferson Parishes, which together accounted for nearly half of the $9.3 billion in tourism spending in the Pelican State. Swamps and marshes in these parishes, as well as adjacent ones such as St. Bernard and Lafourche, act as horizontal levees that protect the urban and suburban communities lying at the core of Louisiana’s tourism sector. In addition, the wetlands of coastal Louisiana provide a unique habitat perfect for bird watching, fishing, hunting, and other forms of nature-based tourism.
It is important for local, state, and federal officials to understand how vital the wetlands of the Mississippi River Delta are to the continued prosperity of coastal Louisiana. Since hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues and thousands of jobs result from tourism in the wetland parishes, a proactive approach to coastal restoration is needed to protect this sector and other economic activities along the central Gulf Coast.