NWF Spotlights Restoration Efforts At One Year Mark of Gulf Oil Disaster

NWF works with organizations through grants and volunteer projects to help rebuild habitat on the Gulf Coast

04-20-2011 // Craig Guillot
Replanting marsh grass - Bayou Savauge NWR

At the one-year mark of the Gulf oil disaster, NWF is working with a number of organizations through grants and volunteer projects to help rebuild habitat on the Gulf Coast. With a spotlight shining on the region again this spring, now is the time for continued action to restore the Gulf.

Ben Weber, NWF's Oil Spill Response Coordinator for the Western Gulf, said heightened public awareness, volunteer enthusiasm and support from NWF members can make a big impact. From planting native marsh grasses to restoring dunes to enhancing bird habitat, here are just a few of the ways in which NWF is making a difference in coastal Louisiana.

Rebuilding Marsh in Bayou Sauvage

Sitting within the city limits of New Orleans, the 23,000-acre Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge is the nation’s largest urban wildlife refuge. Home to brackish and freshwater marshes, it also features a sizable wading bird rookery as well as bald eagles and alligators. Sauvage is also an important habitat for brown pelicans, a species hit particularly hard by the disaster.

While much of the refuge is inside of hurricane protection levees, Refuge Manager Jack Bohannan said marsh erosion is a constant problem because of wind and wave action. In some areas, the marsh is slowly turning into a single body of shallow, open water. Once that habitat vanishes, so too does the life it nourishes.

Through funding and assistance from the National Wildlife Federation, the managers of Bayou Sauvage can continue their fight to restore habitat that sustain species impacted by the disaster.

Replanting marsh grass - Bayou Savauge NWR

NWF helped recruit and organize a team of more than 30 volunteers on April 15-16, 2011, to plant more than 13,000 marsh grass plants over this tattered marsh. Volunteers crawled on their hands and knees through thigh-high water and muck, spacing plants across the water at five-foot intervals.

“They grow fast, and we’re hoping to replenish and restore much of this marsh. In a year, you’ll be able to see a big difference here. Land will start to form where there was once open water,” said Bohannan.

Volunteers came from as far as California and saw first-hand how land loss can be fought with the simple act of planting native vegetation.

NWF will hold another restoration volunteer event at Bayou Sauvage on May 27-28, 2011.

Enhancing bird habitat with the Woodlands Conservancy

In Plaquemines Parish, the Woodlands Conservancy is working to establish a contiguous greenway corridor through low-lying forested land on a 10,000-acre peninsula. While 600 acres have so far been designated as the Woodlands Trail and Park bird sanctuary, the organization is fighting against invasive plant species.

Woodlands Conservancy Executive Director Kate Brasted said when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the forest areas lost much of their canopy. That allowed Chinese Tallow, Chinese Pirvet and Chinese Berry trees to invade the coastal forest and degrade the nutritional value for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.

When the Deepwater Horizon exploded last year and wreaked havoc on nesting and migratory stomping grounds all over the coast, Brasted said it underlined the need to do more to preserve what was left in the Woodlands.

“We’ve started doing systematic ecosystem restoration for habitat for migratory birds by going in and removing the invasives and reforesting. Last spring we planted 4,360 seedlings and plants. Birds need this area to stop and refuel,” said Brasted.

On April 9, 2011, NWF joined the fight with a volunteer effort that put 55 one and two-year old trees in a low-lying area of the property. A $50,000 grant from NWF will also help cover the cost of removal of invasive plant species. The funds will also cover site visits by biologists, seedlings and planting materials, and motion cameras and supplies to assess short-term and long-term benefits for wildlife.

Our partnership with NWF is important because they have a 75-year reputation of doing what is right for the environment. Just having that partnership will increase the impact of our efforts here,” she said.

Building and protecting dune habitat in Grand Isle

No coastal community received more attention during the Gulf oil disaster than Grand Isle. In the summer of 2010, its beaches were slammed with oil and its tourism industry ground to a halt. It has made a slow recovery but at Grand Isle State Park, the beach is still closed due to occasional oiling.

Grand Isle State Park Manager Tamara Augustine said the park is still recovering from not just the Gulf oil disaster but also Hurricane Katrina. When the big storm struck in 2005, it took out most of the trees along the beachfront. Since then, the preservation of the dunes through grass plantings has been critical to protecting the park and preventing erosion.

Replanting marsh grass - Bayou Savauge NWR

On April 14, 2011, thanks to the LSU Coastal Roots program and NWF, sixth grade students from St. Paul’s Episcopal in New Orleans traveled to the island to plant 300 seedlings near the dunes in the State Park. The Coastal Roots program already works with 40 schools in Louisiana to develop native plant nurseries that supply student-driven restoration projects, but Director Pam Blanchard said a $25,000 grant from NWF helped grow the program.

"I think every little bit helps. One seedling, one grass plug at a time. Whether it is 300 plants we put down, 600 trees or 5,000, everyone is making a contribution and I think that is a good thing for kids to take back home," said Blanchard.

Weber said involving young students in such restoration projects can build awareness of the issues and help connect kids with nature.

"It teaches people of all ages that we each have an active role to play in restoring the Gulf," she said.

Restoration grant for Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana

NWF has also invested a $50,000 grant to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana for a mangrove propagation and planting project. CRCL is a non-profit organization that advocates for the restoration and preservation of the Mississippi River Delta System. CRCL Volunteer Coordinator Hilary Collis said that since the start of the Gulf oil disaster, there has been an outpouring of support from across the nation. Channeling that volunteer and financial support into coastal projects, the organization is working to enhance the state's coastal mangroves.

"We're able to combine the resources that NWF has with our community-based restoration programs to mobilize volunteers. We've been able to lay the foundation for a nice set of projects," said Collis.

The grant will go to cover the cost of multiple planting projects across Barataria, Breton and Terrebonne Basins. CRCL recently planted approximately 800 mangrove trees at Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area. Weber said the collaborative efforts of NWF and CRCL can have a big impact on coastal Louisiana.

"They have a really strong community-based restoration program, and they've turned thousands of people into stewards for coastal restoration by getting them out in the field and developing a connection to the area," said Weber.

National Wildlife Federation is pleased to be able to support the work of these dedicated partners. To find out more about NWF's work in the Gulf, visit: http://www.nwf.org/Oil-Spill/On-the-Ground

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