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How an ambitious plan for Gulf coast restoration will allow cypress forests to rebound, support wildlife, and defend communities from deadly storms
The bald cypress tree is an icon in Louisiana, like a Mardi Gras mask or the fleur de lis on the side of a New Orleans Saints helmet. Millions of acres of winding bayous, overflow swamps, lakeshores, and seasonal crevasses are lined with our majestic state tree, along with tupelo gums, swamp maples, and the occasional stately oak.
Wading birds, wood ducks, bald eagles and many others take rest and often make their nests in the cypresses. Fishermen pitch plastic worms, spinnerbaits, and tube jigs at a maze of cypress roots to catch bass, bluegills, and sac a lait—those are crappies to you east coasters.
But cypress forests do more than define our landscape and support our wildlife—they also store flood waters during the spring, help hold the loose soils of South Louisiana together, and provide natural protection to coastal communities by curbing ravaging hurricane winds and storm surge.
Unfortunately, large swaths of coastal cypress forests have been wiped out across South Louisiana. Initially, the trees were overharvested to build houses, railroads, and anything else that needed wood. Later, levees built on the Mississippi River to facilitate navigation and oil and gas extraction pushed salt water from the Gulf inland as much as 50 miles. And navigation canals were carved into the swamps, causing even more destruction.
Dead expanses of trees, often called “ghost forests” by locals, are scattered throughout the coast in impounded swamps and among the saltwater-tolerant cord grasses that took hold where no other plants could live. The Cajun old timers speak of when they used to duck and deer hunt and catch bass and crawfish in these same cypress breaks decades ago.
Now, preserving the existing coastal forests and replacing some that were lost in the last century is a top priority in Louisiana. The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has spent $15.8 million since 2011 to buy coastal forest lands from willing sellers, preserve the habitat, and ensure the trees aren’t harvested. About $2 million of this funding, plus another $6.5 million in settlements from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, were used to help expand the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area—a more than 100,000-acre public tract of cypress-tupelo swamp between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Non-profit organizations, like the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, America’s Wetland Foundation, and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and utilized countless volunteer man-hours to plant cypress trees in areas where over-harvest and saltwater intrusion has made it impossible for the trees to regrow on their own.
These noble efforts would be fruitless, however, without additional work to limit the saltwater intrusion that initially caused the trees’ demise. Rebuilding coastal barrier islands, replenishing marshes and natural ridges with dredged sediment, and building diversions to allow the Mississippi River to again spill into its deltaic swamps will keep the Gulf of Mexico at bay and allow coastal forests to grow back into vital fish and wildlife habitat and hurricane protection.
Louisiana has an aggressive coastal restoration and hurricane protection master plan that aims to build a host of projects needed to reconnect the Mississippi River to its historic delta, restore coastal marshes, and keep salt water in the Gulf. This is just another example of how the state’s nearly $8-billion share of the Deepwater Horizon settlement is rebuilding a better coastline in the next two decades.
The TRCP and its partners have worked closely with Louisiana and federal lawmakers and agencies to expedite permitting and construction on these projects while educating sportsmen and women about the benefits to fish, wildlife, and the outdoor recreation economy.
The money is available. The projects have been designed to help reverse the factors that have led to the loss of nearly 2,000 square miles of coastal swamps and wetlands in the last 100 years. But it will continue to take strong political will to make sure these projects, especially those designed to reconnect the Mississippi River, get built quickly.
That political will must come, in large part, from the hunters and anglers who live in or visit Sportsman’s Paradise. To see what coastal restoration projects can do for fishing, watch this video.
Top photo by Kent Kanouse via flickr
Benefits to water quality, sportsmen’s access, and abandoned mine reclamation would be lost if funds were redirected to government operations
This week, leading local and national sportsmen’s groups shared major concerns about the proposed budget for the Environmental Stewardship Fund and Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund.
In a letter to state lawmakers, 11 organizations from across the hunting and fishing community wrote: “We value the projects funded by these programs that restore fish and wildlife habitat, improve sportsmen’s access to streams and forests, and enhance the conservation efforts of the Commonwealth’s independent fish and game agencies. We are dismayed that the Governor’s budget proposal would redirect much-needed resources from the ESF and the Keystone Fund in order to pay for state government operations in the coming fiscal year.”
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership has called on Pennsylvania hunters and anglers to support increased funding for the Environmental Stewardship Fund. In a recent poll, the TRCP found that four in five PA sportsmen and women support fully funding the program to restore watersheds, clean up abandoned mines, and more.
Sportsmen and women band together to conserve Utah’s backcountry lands
Today, the state of Utah petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service to develop a state-based rule managing 4 million acres of roadless areas on national forest lands within the state.
In Utah, backcountry areas that are not fragmented by roads are currently conserved under the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which was created through years of stakeholder engagement.
“For nearly two decades, the roadless rule has successfully conserved some of the finest hunting and fishing destinations in Utah and across the nation,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It is unnecessary and counterproductive to abandon this tried-and-true policy and go back to the drawing board. Doing so will only drain the time and resources of public agencies already stretched thin.”
Prime habitats and hunting and fishing country from the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains to the La Sals could be affected by this rulemaking process.
Top photo by Brandan Rasmussen via flickr.
Sportsmen and women celebrate permanent authorization of LWCF and investments in public lands, wildlife habitat, and the outdoor recreation economy
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed S. 47, a historic package of legislation including permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, in a major milestone for public lands access, habitat conservation, and the outdoor recreation economy. The legislation now heads to the president’s desk.
“This vote marks a turning point for public lands in America, as our elected officials have shown their support for LWCF’s enduring legacy,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “We no longer need to worry about kicking the can down the road as our best tool for unlocking inaccessible public lands remains in limbo. House lawmakers should be congratulated on seizing this bipartisan momentum for conservation, and Congress should continue to pursue full funding for LWCF as a next step. We look forward to working with public land agencies to unleash the many benefits of this legislation in support of the outdoor recreation economy.”
Comprised of more than 100 locally and regionally specific public lands bills, the package contains defining wins for sportsmen and women. Aside from providing long term certainty for LWCF, one of the most popular public lands programs of the past 50 years, the legislation also requires that 3 percent of LWCF funding be used to unlock isolated and inaccessible public lands. TRCP’s recent study with onX showed that 9.52 million acres of public lands in the West are landlocked by private lands, with no permanent legal access.
The legislation would also reauthorize the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act, a conservation grant program in which dollars are typically matched three times over at the local level to benefit waterfowl and wetlands. Another provision would reauthorize the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, a critical initiative to assist private landowners who want to voluntarily restore habitat on their lands.
More than 40 hunting, fishing, and conservation organizations signed a letter to House leadership last week urging lawmakers to prioritize and pass this important legislation. And thousands of individual sportsmen and women signed TRCP’s action alert triggering e-mail messages to their elected representatives.
These voices from across the hunting and fishing community are celebrating today’s vote:
“We’re one step closer to ensuring that our nation’s proud legacy of protecting our public lands and waters becomes permanent,” says Ben Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “Our industry is grateful for the bipartisan leadership in both the House and Senate and their determined, vital commitment to ensuring that this uniquely American hallmark will benefit each and every one of us for generations to come.”
“For too long, LWCF has been stuck in a cycle of uncertainty that limited its potential. Today’s vote changes that. This is an extraordinary victory for conservation in the United States,” says Mark R. Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy. “As one of the country’s most effective conservation programs, LWCF has helped protect national parks, expand trails and playing fields, and preserve important landscapes for over half a century. By using the revenues from offshore oil and gas drilling, LWCF invests in lands and waters at no cost to the American taxpayer, so it should be no surprise that a strong majority wants to continue this win-win for people and conservation. Regardless of party, nature unites us all. Ultimately, LWCF is about preserving the best of America by protecting our lands and waters, our wildlife and ways of life. The overwhelmingly bipartisan votes in the House and Senate to renew LWCF reflect our nation’s longstanding commitment to conservation, ensuring future generations will benefit from LWCF. We are grateful for LWCF’s champions in the House and Senate, all of whom have worked hard to achieve permanent reauthorization, and we look forward to the president signing this measure into law.”
“Today we celebrate a victory for our public lands and waters—one that never would have happened without the hard work and commitment of hunters and anglers and without the willingness of our elected officials to heed the will of the people,” says Land Tawney, president and CEO of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “We look forward to President Trump signing this critical package of bills into law.”
“By permanently reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund, Congress has recognized what sportsmen and other outdoor enthusiasts have always known: LWCF is America’s most proven method for putting public lands conservation on the ground and facilitating access to outdoor recreation,” says Jared Mott, conservation director for the Izaak Walton League of America. “We look forward to President Trump quickly signing this important legislation and permanently protecting Americans’ access to their public lands and opportunities for outdoor recreation.”
“The House’s approval of the National Resources Management Act – following the Senate’s overwhelming vote earlier this month – is the latest reminder that conserving our public lands and waterways is an issue that unites us,” says Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “We thank Representative Raúl Grijalva, Representative Rob Bishop, and House leadership for swiftly picking up the baton and passing this important legislation, and we now call on President Trump to promptly sign the bill into law.”
“Public lands bring Americans together, and that’s why Republicans and Democrats in the House voted overwhelmingly today for a bill that ensures the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be around for our kids and grandkids,” says Diane Regas, president and CEO of The Trust for Public Land. “Today’s historic vote, following a 92-8 vote in the Senate, means that more people can have access to hiking trails, city parks and wild landscapes. Americans expect their public officials to work together, and today’s vote to give more people access to public lands is something we can all celebrate.”
“We know there is a lot going on across the country right now, but everyone should pause for a few moments and take in what is happening with our nation’s public lands,” says Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president of government affairs for the Outdoor Industry Association. “We are set to preserve nearly a million acres of land for protection and outdoor recreation, permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and help our young people enjoy the outdoors more, among many other things—changing the trajectory of public land protection and advocacy for the next generation for the better. We are thankful for the tireless hours many key senators and representatives, public lands advocates, and American citizens put in to get this across the finish line. And, while it certainly is not solely responsible for all of the support and ‘yes’ votes, OIA’s work over the years to quantify the contribution of the outdoor recreation economy—$887 billion per year and over 7.6 million jobs—had a helping hand in bridging some of the partisan divide in Washington and getting this once-in-a-decade public lands package done.”
Top photo by USFWS Midwest Region.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More