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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Saving America's Marsh

Coastal wetland loss and degradation are threatening Louisiana's rich hunting and fishing heritage
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A Threat to the Economy

Captain Ryan Lambert, director of the Louisiana Charter Boat Association and a DU member, runs a sport-fishing and duck hunting camp (cajunfishingadventures.com) headquartered in Buras. He has been guiding for 31 years. His finely appointed lodge is located near the auditorium. 

"We were without water and electricity for eight and a half months after Katrina," Lambert says. "We were the first ones to rebuild. But the oil spill was worse. Think about that."

Lambert last summer testified in Washington, D.C., at a hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs. He provided personal insight on the short- and long-term impacts of the oil spill. 

The national media all but abandoned its coverage of the oil spill once the leak was capped. But massive cleanup crews remain on duty. There is much more to be done. 

And many questions still to be answered.

"I am most worried about the reproductive system of the speckled trout, crabs, shrimp, and other fish," Lambert says. "I think some species will be decimated. Some won't."

Sport fishermen remain leery. Lambert's business took a staggering hit following the oil spill. "I had $427,000 in cancelled trips in May and June alone. Boom, they were gone," Lambert says. "And no one else called. And they are still not calling. 

"People ask me how I know it's not the economy. I tell them I know it was the oil spill because my duck hunting trips were booked all season. The fishing side of my business is down 85 percent." 

The state's sport-fishing industry generates nearly $1 billion a year. On the commercial side, Louisiana fisheries provide up to 35 percent of the nation's total catch, with retail sales of $1.8 billion. The state ranks first in the annual harvest of oysters, shrimp, crabs, red snapper, sea trout, and mullet. 

But the greatest threat to fisheries and waterfowl remains coastal marsh loss, of which there are many causes. One is the alteration of natural marsh-building processes. The Mississippi River and its tributaries historically channeled fresh water, sediment, and nutrients downstream to the Gulf, spreading the wealth into the delta along the Louisiana coast. This lifeline fueled the productivity of Louisiana's coastal marsh. When the river was locked behind levees, the marsh-building sediment was directed away from the land and into the Gulf. Marsh loss now exceeds the rate of marsh creation. 

Saltwater intrusion has also taken its toll. Thousands of miles of shipping and navigation channels have been cut through the marsh over the years. This has allowed salt water from the Gulf to flow into interior marshes, where many plants cannot tolerate the increased salinity. When the vegetation dies, tidal energy and wind-generated wave action erode the marsh, converting productive wetland habitat into open water of little value to waterfowl, fisheries, or other wildlife.

"We are losing it so fast," Lambert says. "When I go back in the spring to fish a spot I fished in the fall, it's gone. The islands are gone. I've been watching it for a long time and I've never seen it disappear at such a rapid rate. Where I fish, 99 percent of the marsh is gone. The west side of the river used to be a duck factory. Now there's no food."

A Louisiana native and an avid duck hunter, Lambert is frustrated that his beloved marsh is in constant peril. "People down here are hard-working, salt-of-the-earth folks. They love to hunt and fish," he says. "That's what they do. I would hate to see that all go away. Something has to be done."
DU AT WORK IN LOUISIANA No one can ever accuse Ducks Unlimited of coming late to the party in Louisiana. Since launching its U.S. conservation program in 1985, DU has spent more than $51 million to conserve more than 328,000 acres of waterfowl habitat here. And in 2010 DU reached the 100,000-acre mark for coastal wetlands conserved in the state. 

Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, DU committed to securing $15 million for coastal restoration and exceeded that goal in just five years. In response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, DU worked with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and private landowners to put more than 79,000 acres of additional waterfowl foraging habitat along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas to help support waterfowl and other migratory birds during the winter. 

DU is also active in the public policy arena on behalf of Gulf Coast conservation. In 2008, DU created a full-time policy position focusing solely on Louisiana conservation priorities. Last fall, DU sent a letter to Congress asking for action to ensure that penalties paid for violations of the Clean Water Act are directed to fund Gulf Coast restoration efforts instead of simply going into the U.S. Treasury's general fund. In addition, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal appointed DU CEO Dale Hall to the Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation. Hall serves as one of two representatives on the commission from the conservation community.

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