Coastal Day at the Louisiana Legislature

On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act’s Public Outreach staff participated in the annual Coastal Day at the Louisiana Legislature. This event, organized by the Coast Builders Coalition, aims to educate legislators about the tremendous effort being made to protect and restore Louisiana’s coast.  Coastal Day is a key moment to communicate with and educate representatives and legislators from across the state about the value of protection and restoration of Louisiana’s coast.

The CWPPRA outreach team shared a number of publications at Coastal Day containing information regarding what CWPPRA is, the effectiveness of its projects, and the future of coastal Louisiana. In addition to distributing information and answering questions regarding CWPPRA’s completed, active, and future projects, the outreach staff attended a meeting in which Governor John Bel Edwards spoke highly of restoration efforts in Louisiana and the importance of the 2017 Coastal Master Plan. He also recognized the value of wetlands to both the state and the country, declaring his enthusiasm to move forward with the opportunity to resolve the coastal crisis and become more adept at water management. In addition to the governor, speakers including Representative Jerome Zeringue, Senator Dan Morrish, Johnny Bradberry with CPRA, and Scott Kirkpatrick with Coast Builders Coalition discussed issues affecting Louisiana’s coast. Steve Cochran with Restore the Mississippi River Delta and the Environmental Defense Fund discussed a recent poll in which a resounding 97 percent of voters agreed that Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are important to them.

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CWPPRA Outreach at the Leeville Art & Heritage Festival

On April 1st residents of Lafourche Parish and places farther afield had a sunny and windy day to celebrate the 4th Annual Leeville Art & Heritage Festival in Golden Meadow, LA. Organized by Launch Leeville, this festival works to highlight changes in the landscape and community around Leeville as processes like subsidence, erosion, and sea level rise convert land to water. Staff from the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act, and other exhibitors such as the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, were present to talk about the causes of land loss and options for protecting and restoring what remains. In addition to live music, craft vendors, and a shrimp boulette competition, festival-goers could learn about coastal restoration projects, see Houma basket weaving demonstrations, and participate in a fishing rodeo.

Leeville sits along Bayou Lafourche and Louisiana Rt. 1, two geographic features that have witnessed a number of CWPPRA projects, from the West Belle Pass Headland Restoration (TE-23) project, which created new marsh and stabilized shorelines to the south of Port Fourchon, to the GIWW to Clovelly Hydrologic Restoration (BA-02) project, which increased freshwater availability to prevent higher salinity levels which could damage local vegetation. Another CWPPRA project, East Leeville Marsh Creation and Nourishment (BA-194), is currently in engineering & design and would provide increased southeastern protection for Leeville from weather and tides. Preserving the livelihoods and heritage of small communities like Leeville requires both protecting their physical setting and giving them the time and space to develop strategies for a changing future.

Louisiana Green Schools Youth Summit

It’s never too early to start thinking about sustainability- that was the message embodied by participants at the Louisiana Green Schools Youth Summit on March 24 held at the Audubon Zoo. An event organized by the Louisiana Environmental Education Commission and the Louisiana USGBC Chapter, the summit brought together students in grades 5 through 12 to discuss green initiatives in their schools and learn about other aspects of sustainability. Staff from the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act were there with information about the many different types of careers, including engineering, geology, and tourism, that contribute to coastal restoration efforts. CWPPRA staff also had #ProtectOurCoast posters and issues of WaterMarks for students. With almost 90 participants and exhibitors including Louisiana DEQ, Joule Energy, and The Green Project, the Youth Summit was an opportunity to look at how groups focusing on different aspects of sustainability, including CWPPRA’s wetland restoration projects, come together to create a better long-term future for Louisiana.

Earth Fest at the Audubon Zoo

Folks in New Orleans had no need to wait for Earth Day to celebrate the environment- the Audubon Zoo hosted their annual Earth Fest on March 18, and the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act was on-hand to discuss the importance of wetlands and wetland conservation in Louisiana. Visitors to the zoo could answer questions at each exhibitor’s booth to collect stamps and win a prize- for those who wanted to test their wetlands knowledge further, CWPPRA staff had the “Wetland Jeopardy” game ready and waiting. Staff also distributed posters from the #ProtectOurCoast series, activity books, and other CWPPRA publications.

This full-day event at the zoo included live music, information on student work, and the opportunity to talk with representatives from Louisiana Sea Grant, the National Park Service, bee-keeping groups, and other organizations with an eye to the environment. Celebrating Earth Fest in March is a great way to remember that environmental conservation, including of wetlands, is not just something for a single day- CWPPRA projects work to protect and restore wetlands throughout the year for the communities, livelihoods, and wildlife that depend on them.

Families Learn about the Importance of Wetlands

Families enjoying a Saturday adventure together on March 11th had the chance to explore different aspects of the ecosystems around them, including ways that wetlands help them and native wildlife. Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration staff exhibited materials and games at the Estuarine Habitats and Coastal Fisheries Center as part of 2017 Family Adventure Day to benefit the non-profit Healing House in Lafayette, LA. This annual event sends families to different locations throughout Lafayette for experiences that range from face painting to coming face-to- face with a snake.

Over 250 people stopped by the Center where they had the opportunity to see a demonstration of how coastal wetlands protect interior communities and wildlife habitat from storm surge. Visitors could pick up recent issues of WaterMarks and other materials on wetlands restoration projects in coastal Louisiana. Kids also received Henri Heron’s activity book and helped match Louisiana wildlife with the wetland habitat they need to survive.

Other exhibitors, including US Fish & Wildlife Service and Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife & Fisheries, focused on topics like bat conservation, beekeeping, endangered species in Louisiana, and fishing. Helping families understand and appreciate the diversity of natural environments in Louisiana helps ensure that those environments will be present in the future.

Talking Wetland Habitat and Wildlife with ESA Students

Environmental Studies students in Christina Hidalgo’s class at the Episcopal School of Acadiana do more than learn about general environmental issues; they also get outside and participate in direct monitoring of the ecosystems around them. On February 21st and 23rd they were joined by Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act staff to discuss coastal habitats, the mammal species that call them home, and different wildlife monitoring techniques.

On Tuesday CWPPRA staff and ESA students discussed the importance of barrier beach systems for both human and wildlife communities, and students were given training in how researchers trap small mammal populations in those locations for monitoring. After students deployed small mammal traps around the ESA Cade campus on Wednesday, CWPPRA staff returned Thursday morning to help with trap collection and see what students had captured. In addition to trapping a variety of insects drawn to the oatmeal-soybean bait and several traps which had been moved by larger animals, ESA students successfully captured a marsh rice rat (Oryzomys palustris)!

These rodents are found throughout the Gulf and mid-to-south Atlantic coasts and as far inland as Illinois and Kansas. As the name suggests, marsh rice rats are generally found in wetland areas, although drier areas with dense grasses and sedges, while not ideal habitat, are also utilized. A native species in Louisiana, marsh rice rats can even be found out on barrier islands where their omnivorous diet lets them take advantage of both terrestrial food resources and items that wash ashore. The rat captured on the ESA campus was trapped near a stream and probably forages along that water body at night. Finding a marsh rice rat on a school campus is a reminder that wetland habitats come in a range of sizes and types and that we share those habitats with many different species.

LEEC 2017

The Louisiana Environmental Education Commission, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Louisiana Environmental Education Association hosted the 20th Environmental Education State Symposium on February 3-4, 2017 at the Embassy Suites by Hilton in Baton Rouge, La. The theme of this year’s symposium was “protecting Louisiana’s endangered species.”

The Louisiana Environmental Education Commission (LEEC) provides environmental education news from across Louisiana, including information on environmental education programs, workshops, and grant opportunities.  The state symposium furnished opportunities for formal and non-formal environmental educators from Louisiana and surrounding states to meet and share teaching techniques as well as multiple concurrent sessions for various topics and grade levels. Keynote speaker Dr. Jessica Kastler, Coordinator of Program Development at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory’s Marine Education Center, used individual cases of endangered species to engage the audience in explorations of the process of science while cultivating environmental stewardship. In addition to the keynote speech, presenters in 15 concurrent sessions provided lesson demonstrations, hands-on workshops, and/or exemplary programs. The Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act Public Outreach Staff was among exhibitors with a multitude of materials to assist teachers of all grade levels in furthering their students’ knowledge in environmental education and coastal protection.