Many animals and a few plants are adaptable to changing conditions in their habitats, which is a vital ability in dynamic landscapes such as wetlands. With seasonal flooding, temperature shifts, storm pressure, nutrient availability, species density and variation, and many other factors, many species are adaptable to changes that are predictable. Unfortunately, there are man-made and natural changes that may disrupt entire ecosystems by destabilizing one “keystone species” or by changing a crucial abiotic factor such as salinity. In coastal restoration, groups like CWPPRA ensure that they are not causing a sudden shift in any ecosystem in which they are working. CWPPRA projects must abide by the results of an Environmental Impact Survey (EIS) to ensure that the proposed project is not going to disrupt key processes including reproductive cycles, migration, or nutrient replenishment.
Freshwater diversion projects are a hot topic on the restoration circuit these days, because although they seek to restore land that has been lost or save areas that are degrading, there are key stakeholders, such as oystermen, who have moved into and now rely on these now-open waters for their livelihood. Restoration groups conduct an EIS for each project to understand the impact of a project for Louisiana’s working people as well as ecosystems.
Coastal Restoration is a complex issue with many intertwined components. Ecosystems are fairly resilient, but they are threatened by large-scale, sudden changes. Storms can increase salinity in freshwater wetlands, which causes many plants and animals to die. Freshwater wetlands are constantly under pressure at their fringes because our coastal zone is moving further and further inland. This shrinkage allows more salinity influence in areas that, historically, were safe behind their salt marshes that are now deteriorating or already lost.
Restoring the coast can’t happen soon enough for the people and other animals that live there, as well as plants and even people who live outside of Louisiana. A recent state poll demonstrates that over half of Louisiana’s residents recognize that coastal land loss will directly impact them this year, and that number jumps to over 75% expecting to be impacted in the next ten years. It is clear that the concern for our rapidly disappearing coast is gaining ground, and CWPPRA stands ready to restore, rebuild and maintain Louisiana’s wetlands for the near-term and the future.
On Saturday, March 16, as part of Family Adventure Day, a fundraiser for Healing House, a non-profit in Lafayette offering grief counseling for children, families explored 42 stations around town. Each station offered a free activity that could engage family members of all ages. Our table was set up at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) headquarters near the Cajundome. Some of our neighbors were the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS, one of our managing agencies), the Acadiana Park Nature Station, and LDWF .
At our station, families could hold baby alligators and touch a few different animal hides with LDWF; play with Einstein, the albino corn snake from the Acadiana Park Nature Station; practice their fishing technique, plant seeds for pollinators, or identify different bird species using binoculars with USFWS. Our public outreach office brought our habitat toss game that highlights the differences between wetland habitats in Louisiana and why an animal species would live in one habitat but not another, as well as give some examples of species that use more than one type of habitat. We also brought plenty of educational publications.
An estimated ninety families passed through the LDWF headquarters during the day , so we saw about 300 people over the course of the event. Families visited locations like the Lafayette Science Museum, the UL Marine Survival Training Center, Bayou Vermilion District, and more. Our posters, magnet sheets and stickers were popular with the kids, and several families signed up to receive WaterMarks.
Family Adventure Day is an annual event, so be on the lookout for next year! We had a great day and we appreciate LDWF and USFWS for hosting us this year. We would also like to thank all of the families who came to support Healing House and learn about our area’s wildlife. Please enjoy the attached photos of families engaging with us and our neighbors.
Marsh is a type of wetland that is continuously flooded with water. Emergent-soft stemmed vegetation is present in marsh due to the saturated soil conditions. In Louisiana, there are four types of wetland marsh: freshwater, intermediate, brackish, and salt. Marshes are classified according to the salinity of the water. The location of Louisiana marshes in relation to the Gulf of Mexico often directly correlates to the level of salt content in the water. Salinity also changes based upon rainfall, drainage, soil texture, vegetation, depth of water table, and freshwater inflow.
The salinity range for each marsh type is as follows:
- Freshwater – 0 ppt (parts per thousand)
- Intermediate – 0-5 ppt
- Brackish – 5-15 ppt
- Salt – 15 or greater ppt
A wide variety of animals such as nutria, turtles, and many bird species can be spotted in the freshwater and intermediate marshes of Louisiana, as well as species of special concern like Louisiana black bears and Calcasieu painted crawfish. The exchange between freshwater and salt water is frequent in the state of Louisiana due to its close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico. An estuary is characterized by this mixture of freshwater and salt forming brackish water where many wetland species spend their juvenile lives. The estuaries of coastal Louisiana support economically important fisheries and provide important wildlife habitat. Crabs, fish, and shrimp are a few of the animals found in Louisiana’s salt marsh, and birds like brown pelicans and reddish egrets often nest in the shrubby vegetation bordering salt marshes. Each of these marsh types play a significant role. It is vital to keep these marshes healthy for them to maintain their value and support the people, plants, and animals of Louisiana.
At this time of year in Louisiana, you are sure to see early morning waterfowl hunters dressed in their best camouflage. Louisiana sits on the Mississippi Flyway, North America’s most heavily-used migration corridor for waterfowl. Louisiana’s coastal wetlands provide habitat for more than five million migratory waterfowl, approximately half of the wintering duck population of the Mississippi Flyway. The coastal marshes of Louisiana provide habitat to mottled ducks, wood ducks, redheads, and pintails, just to name a few species. These waterfowl species can be spotted in coastal marshes, flooded timbers, flooded grain fields, and other wetland areas. Grab your waders, shot gun, and a duck call, and take advantage of Louisiana’s Sportsman’s Paradise.
It is critical to protect the coastal marshes and wetlands within the state for Louisiana to remain the front runner for waterfowl hunting. CWPPRA projects are aimed at protecting and restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands, ensuring that wildlife and the people who hunt them have the habitat they need.
In 1963, the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) was designated as Louisiana’s official state tree. The bald cypress’s deciduous character, unlike most conifers gives, it a “bald” appearance. This type of tree is rather majestic and can be spotted in the swamps of Louisiana. It has a swollen, ridged trunk at the base; widespread branches; reddish-brown bark; and roots that often cause what we know as cypress knees to appear around the tree. Although the bald cypress is widely adaptable, it prefers to grow in wet, swampy soils. Riverbanks, floodplains, and wet depressions are specific areas in which the bald cypress thrives.
Bald cypresses provide habitat benefits to terrestrial and aquatic wildlife. The Louisiana forestry industry is also dependent on these cypress trees to contribute to a productive annual harvest with large monetary returns on the lumber and cypress mulch produced. The Atchafalaya Basin makes up a large share of the coastal wetlands, and more the half of the acreage of the Atchafalaya basin is cypress wetland forest. The bald cypresses of the wetlands are important to Louisiana’s culture, animal habitats, and the economy. Maintaining healthy cypress wetlands is critical to maintaining a natural storm buffer, filtering polluted water, providing irreplaceable habitats, and sustaining a thriving economy.
The National Wildlife Refuge System includes public lands and waters that are set aside to conserve America’s wildlife and vegetation. The protected areas of the National Wildlife Refuge are managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Since initiation in the early 1900s, the system has grown immensely to over 500 National Wildlife Refuges.
A variety of habitats are managed by the National Wildlife Refuges, including wetlands, prairies, coastal and marine areas just to name a few. Conserving the threatened or endangered species of these habitats is a primary focus of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Employees must manage the refuge by controlling invasive species, securing adequate water resources, and assessing external threats to the protected area.
If you’re interested in outdoor recreational activities like hunting, birding, fishing or even environmental education, National Wildlife Refuges welcome guests to participate in the year-round fun that can be found at a refuge in any of the fifty states. You can find a National Wildlife Refuge you would like to visit by clicking here.
Visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website to read more information and updates about the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Giant Salvinia, or Salvinia adnata, often referred to as the green monster, poses a serious threat to wetland ecosystems. This highly invasive, aquatic plant species is native to Brazil. The floating aquatic fern has leaves covered with small hairs on the upper surface that become compressed into chains forming a dense, compiled mat-like structure. In the United States, it’s difficult to control Giant Salvinia due to the lack of legal herbicides that work efficiently to stop it from spreading. Giant Salvinia was first spotted in Chenier Plain Marshes in 2009; since then it has spread throughout.
This non-native plant species has an exceedingly rapid growth rate, and under the right conditions it can potentially take over a waterway causing catastrophic results. The mat blocks sunlight from penetrating into the water, ultimately killing phytoplankton and other aquatic plant species, as well as exhausting oxygen levels, which alters the area as a waterfowl habitat and degrades the water quality for fish. Giant Salvinia is unintentionally spread to new water bodies on boats and fishing gear. One way to prevent the expansion of Giant Salvinia is to properly clean boating equipment and vessels of any plant fragments. These plant fragments, garden, and aquarium plants should all be discarded properly in the trash and kept out of water bodies. It is important to properly control and dispose of the plant material in order to keep lakes, rivers, ponds and other freshwater wetlands functioning properly without the disturbance caused by Giant Salvinia.
Cyrtobagous salviniae, a species of weevil, is often referred to as the salvinia weevil due to being a biological pest control against the highly invasive Giant Salvinia. For more information on Giant Salvinia and CWPPRA’s efforts to control this invasive plant species visit the Coastwide Salvinia Weevil Propagation Facility (LA-284) Fact Sheet.