Endangered Species

Vanishing wetlands pose a threat to species who reside in these unique habitats for all or part of their life cycle. Population decline can be caused by a variety of threats, including invasive species competition, habitat loss, and overharvesting or over-predation. There are species who rely heavily on constant or predictable conditions in specific parts of the year such as seasonal rainfall, temperature cycles, and sometimes other species who migrate for part of the year. Populations subjected to too much stress for an extended period often experience population decline as well. In some cases, those species become threatened, endangered, or even extinct.

CWPPRA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will celebrate and observe Endangered Species Day on May 17th, 2019, to celebrate and highlight the species and habitat protection efforts throughout the coast. Louisiana is home to 11 endangered species, including three species of bivalve mollusks, three species of sea turtle, two species of birds, two plants, and one fish. Of these, every single one is reliant on wetlands. All three bivalves (fat pocketbook, pink mucket, and tan riffleshell) are freshwater filter feeders who live in flowing water. They clean pollutants from the water before it reaches our coastline, improving water quality for our coastal residents. Sea turtles are among the most popular sea creatures and they rely on our coast for their nesting grounds. Leatherback (largest, deepest-diving, and most migratory), hawksbill (thickest scutes/shells), and Kemp’s ridley (smallest and rarest) feed on different creatures, but they seem to all agree on jellyfish. The two bird species on the list are the interior least tern and the red-cockaded woodpecker. Terns are fishing birds that enjoy the banks of the Mississippi River, whereas the woodpeckers utilize the upland hardwood forest ecosystems of northern Louisiana. The two plants are American chaffseed and Louisiana quillwort. Chaffseed is a semiparasite that relies on fire to proliferate in longleaf pine forests. Louisiana quillwort is a semiaquatic graminoid (grass-like plant that spends some time underwater). The lone fish species, the Pallid Sturgeon, is a ray-finned, bottom-feeding, freshwater fish that can live up to a century. They like the turbid waters of the Mississippi River and its distributaries.

Clearly, these 11 native species have adapted to Louisiana’s dynamic landscape and they each fill a different niche within their respective habitats, so a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist for their preservation. CWPPRA funds projects that help maintain or restore vital habitat for these species and the other species they rely on for food. If a species goes locally extinct, it can have a ripple effect that throws off pre-established balances throughout the ecosystem. Coastal protection has an extensive impact, protecting areas further upstream as well, so CWPPRA indirectly eases pressure on the inland species. Endangered species are one of many reasons our coast deserves to be restored and protected.

For more information about these species and other threatened and endangered species, visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s website: https://www.fws.gov/endangered/.

The featured image is from https://www.nature.org/en-us/explore/animals-we-protect/leatherback-sea-turtle/

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Earth Day 2019

This past Monday, we celebrated the 48th annual Earth Day. Since the inaugural Earth Day in 1970, we have made huge strides in environmental protection and restoration but there are activities at the local, state, and federal level we can continue do to help the environment.  As we work to protect our environment, it will continue to provide us with food, clean water, protection, and recreational activities.

As an individual, you can plant native plants, pick up litter, and bike to work. At the local level, you can work with your municipal government to install green infrastructure and set up local farmers markets and composting/recycling programs. At the federal level, there are numerous organizations working towards large scale restoration projects and formulating policy that protects the environment, and regulatory agencies that make sure environmental laws are enforced. CWPPRA, made up of five federal agencies and the state of Louisiana, was signed into law specifically to reverse some of the human and natural damages across Louisiana’s coastline. At both small and large scales, our restoration and protection projects work to bolster our defenses against storm winds and wave energy.

Everyday is Earth Day for the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act as we are always working to restore our coastal wetlands. As the land loss crisis in Louisiana becomes more intense, we need to work to restore our wetlands so that they will continue to provide us with protection from storms, natural resources, and preserve our way of life. CWPPRA is committed to this mission and we hope you can join us in supporting a healthy Louisiana for generations to come. Happy Earth Day from all of us at CWPPRA.

Competitive Dominance

Ecosystems around the world are in a constant state of competition as inhabitants impact each other, whether directly or indirectly. The theory of competition deals with interactions between populations within a defined range or habitat. [1] Individuals with more beneficial adaptations are more “fit” and will often out-compete others for resources like food, territory, or sunlight. Today, we will look at how one species can become dominant over its competitors in wetlands and what conditions might disrupt or completely tear down dominant species.

Some of our readers may immediately think of monoculture farming as a sort of dominance, and they would be correct. Although it is through artificial selection, crop species present some trait that Homo sapiens deems worthy of cultivating. For example, huge swaths of land in the United States have been clear-cut to make room for corn farms, cattle ranches, or even sugar cane farms. Maybe not to the same degree as artificial selection, natural selection can also produce habitats with dominant plants and animals. Coastal Louisiana’s wetlands are great examples of this. From Cypress swamps to Spartina marshes, wetlands are home to some hardy species who have adapted to harsh and variable conditions.

Wetlands go through cycles of drought and flood conditions, which can prove fatal for many species. [2] Wetland plants have adapted to survive the cycles and even exploit them. Cypress trees are a useful example because they don’t necessarily need flooded conditions to grow, they just need space and a little bit of protection when they are young. [3] Instead of becoming competitive on dry land with the thousands of other obligate dry land trees, cypress ancestors developed the ability to survive in water where few other plants competed. More information about their adaptations can be found in our second post about flood stress tolerance. In the salt marshes along our coast, smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) and other graminoids (grass-like species) dominate with their salt tolerance and fast reproduction. More about how cordgrass and black mangroves dominate other coastal species can be found in our first post about salt stress tolerance.

Within a species’ endemic (native) habitat, populations are limited by food availability, competition, and predation. However, species can move to non-native habitats that have plenty of food, less fit competitors, or little to no predation, in which case that species can become problematic. Invasive species are detrimental by definition and coastal Louisiana has several examples, which can be found in our invasive species article. Unfortunately, many invasive species move to new habitats with the help of humans, sometimes by accident and sometimes on purpose.

If you want to learn more about how human impact and other factors can change dominance structures, be on the lookout for Dominance pt. 2 next Wednesday!

[1] https://www.nature.com/scitable/knowledge/library/species-interactions-and-competition-102131429

[2] https://www.worldwildlife.org/habitats/wetlands

[3] https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/treedetail.cfm?itemID=787

Featured Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/9428166@N03/2686432231

 

Regional Planning Teams

This week, CWPPRA was scheduled to hear proposals for potential projects that will compete for funding in the upcoming fiscal year. FY19 is bound to have some fierce competitors, including some projects that may not have been awarded funding in previous years. In our Dec 12, 2018 post, we outlined a bit of the project selection process and we hope to see new and innovative ideas soon. At this time, the Regional Planning Team (RPT) meetings have been postponed following the government shutdown.

To reiterate the RPT process from the December 12th post, new projects are proposed annually across the coast. If any of our readers wish to propose a project this year, watch our newsflash for rescheduled meeting times in your region. Project proposals guidelines can be found on our Newsflash announcement. After each RPT meeting, the projects from each of CWPPRA’s 4 regions are compiled by RPT members and submitted to the next phase of competition. Each Parish and CWPPRA personnel submit a ranking of important projects, which helps the Technical Committee narrow down the list to 10 of the most promising projects. These 10 projects are further evaluated by CWPPRA working groups to look at environmental impact, engineering concepts, and other important aspects of each proposal, then the Technical Committee selects 4 to recommend to the Task Force for Phase I Engineering & Design.

In December 2018, the CWPPRA Technical Committee narrowed 10 potential Phase I projects down to 4 and the list for Phase II approval to 2 projects. The Task Force was scheduled to meet January 24th, 2019 to approve the recommended projects but, since the federal government was still partially closed, some of the critical task force representatives were unable to meet that day and so that meeting will be replaced with an electronic vote.

This latest government shutdown may have thrown a wrench into the CWPPRA process, our commitment to the coast is as strong as ever. We will continue to hear proposals, select projects, and work with our partners to construct projects that support the state of our coastline and all who live there. Watch for our Newsflash if you want to participate in our Project selection process; we look forward to helping you #ProtectOurCoast!

 

Featured image from https://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2016/05/03/science/isle-de-jean-charles-resettlement-plan.html

Looking Back

Former President George H.W. Bush signed Public Law 101-646, Title III CWPPRA into law in 1990 to combat the national issue of coastal land loss. Over 25 years after he left office and a week after the late President’s day of mourning, this legislation is still providing protection to billions of dollars’ worth of industry, major human settlements, and beautiful ecosystems.

At 28 years of projects and counting, CWPPRA is among the longest-standing federally-funded restoration ventures in the country, as well as one of the most successful. To date, 210 projects have been authorized across Louisiana’s coastal zone to restore 100,000+ acres of wetlands. Each year of operation, CWPPRA has approved funding on multiple projects scattered across our coast. The locations of our projects can be found at https://lacoast.gov/new/About/Basins.aspx.

CWPPRA projects are proposed by anyone and developed in conjunction with one of our 5 federal managing agencies and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The process of project selection is always a rigorous competition between candidate projects across Louisiana’s coast. Each proposal presents estimated ecological benefits, cost estimates, and a detailed plan for the desired project. At the beginning of each calendar year, Regional Planning Team meetings are held across the coast to hear proposals. The proposed projects are compiled into an annual Project Priority List (PPL). Upcoming proposal meetings can be found Jan 29-31, 2019 on our calendar at https://lacoast.gov/calendar/. Over the next year the CWPPRA Technical Committee and Task Force narrow the list of candidate projects. In December, the Technical Committee recommends their top 4 projects to the Task Force. The Task Force finally votes in January on the 4 projects they will fund for Phase I Engineering and Design. This annual cycle will complete its 28th round in late January 2019.

CWPPRA is excited about wrapping up PPL 28 next month and starting on PPL 29! Be on the lookout for announcements about projects chosen for funding at the January 24th Task Force meeting. We look forward to continuing our efforts to #ProtectOurCoast!

 

Featured image from https://projects.propublica.org/louisiana/

Soil Pollution

Today is World Soils Day, time to talk about soil pollution and wetlands! Soil pollution is often referred to as “invisible” because, although pollution can be detected through testing, it is much more difficult to see with the naked eye. Some of the biggest players in soil pollution today are improper waste management, agricultural runoff, and industrial processes. You may not think you are directly impacted by soil pollution, but you are.

Polluted soil in agricultural fields is arguably the most direct impact to humans because the pollutants are taken into the crop, whether it is a plant or animal, and make it into our food stream. [1] Pollutants in soils are also less hospitable to plant recruits, which is terrible news for coastal Louisiana. Our coastal wetlands provide us with many things that we rely on, and we cannot afford to lose our wetlands to preventable pollution. When soils do not incorporate healthy plant roots, they are much more susceptible to erosion. When moving sediments around, CWPPRA wants to make sure that plants can re-establish effectively, so they want healthy soils. [2]

Areas with unsustainable levels of pollution are spreading, and non-point source pollution, which includes road and agricultural runoff, is very hard to track and very hard to remedy. Pollutants are not easily scrubbed from soils on a mass scale and so they follow the flow of water. Runoff travels through watersheds just like clean water and makes its way into our coastal wetlands with damaging consequences. Coastal wetlands are resilient ecosystems, but they have limits. We cannot overburden them with harmful, carefree attitudes towards pollution. Our coast deserves to be protected. Our coast deserves to be respected.

[1] https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/bioaccumulationbiomagnificationeffects.pdf

[2] https://www.lacoast.gov/crms/crms_public_data/publications/CRMS_FactSheet_Web.pdf

Featured image from https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2017/12/15/are-wetlands-really-the-earths-kidneys/

Louisiana’s Live Oak Cheniers

With coastal needs continuing to grow, we can learn from nature’s history for ways to strengthen our coastlines. While we often think about how barrier islands protect the coast from storms, coastal cheniers and forests across Louisiana are also essential in providing that protection. These coastal forests are often found on shell ridges known as cheniers.

French for “place of oaks”, cheniers act as storm barriers, prevent saltwater intrusion, and provide wildlife habitat for migratory birds and butterflies [1,3]. Cheniers along  Louisiana’s coast extend from Cameron Parish in the west to Iberia Parish” [1]. Due to their higher relief, or height above sea level, a large majority of these areas were cleared for human development uses such as highways, agriculture, and oil and gas [2]. Louisiana originally hosted 100,000 to 500,000 acres of chenier, but today only 2,000 to 10,000 acres remain [1].

While these numbers can be discouraging, local and state efforts are in place to conserve live-oak (Quercus virginiana) cheniers and coastal forests.

Louisiana is fortunate to have programs and organizations like this to conserve the coast and its natural abundance. These practices along with landowner, volunteer and citizen engagement are essential to coastal restoration. You may visit CWPPRA’s website lacoast.gov to learn how you can help Louisiana’s coastal wetlands!

Do your part to conserve our environment and help Louisiana’s coast!

Source:
[1] Louisiana Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Date Accessed October 30, 2018. Available:http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/document/32867-coastal-live-oak-hackberry-forest/coastal_live_oak-hackberry_forest.pdf
[2] Army Corps of Engineers. Southwest Coastal Louisiana Final Integrated Draft and Feasibility Report and Environmental Impact Statement. Date Accessed October 30, 2018. Available:http://www.mvn.usace.army.mil/Portals/56/docs/PD/Projects/SWCoastal/11%20Appendix%20A%20Env%20Report.pdf
[3] Baton Rouge Audubon Society. Accessed on 10/31/2018. Available:http://www.braudubon.org/peveto-woods-sanctuary.php