Coastal Louisiana is an economic and ecological powerhouse for America. Sustaining the navigation, flood-control, recreation, energy, and seafood-production functions of the Mississippi River and its delta is crucial, but the coastal marshes that protect and support this bountiful system are rapidly disappearing. Recognizing this dilemma, oil and gas company and large wetlands owner ConocoPhillips (and its subsidiary, The Louisiana Land and Exploration Company LLC) has joined forces with Ducks Unlimited to find innovative solutions to this complex problem. Through this partnership, DU and ConocoPhillips are working together to help enhance and manage coastal habitats in southeast Louisiana by identifying effective coastal restoration and mitigation projects and working closely with diverse stakeholders.
Gulf coast wetlands are among the most important wintering habitats for waterfowl on this continent. Tragically, they are also among the most imperiled. Louisiana alone is expected to winter around 9 million ducks and a half million geese based on the goals of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. However, more than 1.2 million acres of coastal wetlands in the Sportsman's Paradise have already disappeared into the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
By working with ConocoPhillips, DU has the opportunity to put restored habitat on the ground at scales that truly matter to waterfowl, hunters, and everyone that depends on this important ecosystem. The partners have kicked off habitat restoration efforts through several freshwater-introduction and marsh-terracing projects. Other projects aimed at shoreline stabilization, coastal ridge restoration, and hydrologic improvements are being evaluated and engineered. In addition, DU and ConocoPhillips are working together to support policies and programs that will continue to drive restoration success throughout coastal Louisiana.
"ConocoPhillips is an excellent partner because their stewardship principles are similar to ours, and they have a very good reputation for working with agencies and moving projects forward," says Jerry Holden, director of conservation programs for DU.
Where soil conditions are suitable, terraces are one of the most cost-effective restoration practices in shallow open-water areas that were once coastal marshes. Terraces decrease wind and wave energy, thus promoting the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation. This growth directly impacts a variety of species that rely on these plants for food and habitat, including wintering waterfowl and fish.
A terracing project currently under way near Bayou L'Ours is a great example of cost-effective restoration yielding significant environmental benefits. Phases 1 and 2 of the project are complete and were supported by ConocoPhillips, Lafourche Parish, and Restore or Retreat. Phase 3 will be funded through a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant. The resulting new terrace fields will restore lost wetland habitat and protect valuable oil and gas infrastructure as well as the South Lafourche hurricane protection levee.
"Right now, coastal Louisiana cannot support the waterfowl populations we desire," says Mike Carloss, DU manager of conservation programs and member of the Framework Development Team for Louisiana's 2017 Coastal Master Plan. "Projects like those at Bayou L'Ours increase the number of waterfowl the area can support. In addition, this work will allow DU to demonstrate why terraces should be included in the state's master plan."