"On the eve of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, President Obama has taken a crucial step toward saving Louisiana's nationally important coastal wetlands that provide natural hurricane protection, essential economic benefits and vital habitat for birds and other wildlife," says Dr. Paul Kemp, Vice President of Audubon's Louisiana Coastal Initiative and a recognized coastal expert. One of the worst disasters in our nation's history, Hurricane Katrina made its landfall in New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality announced this week that it was creating a new federal interagency task force to coordinate the "economic and environmental resiliency" of Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast region. Audubon and other conservation groups have called for White House intervention in what is widely viewed as a stagnant process – one now overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – for bolstering coastal wetlands and other rapidly disappearing natural storm defenses.

"I take this as a very positive thing," said Kemp, who was invited to meet with White House environmental leaders next week, along with leaders from the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. "We needed a new player to come on the scene. This is a potential game-changer that can make the people and wildlife of Louisiana the winners. "

Audubon and other national and regional conservation groups are urging bold actions to reconnect the Mississippi River to its delta in Louisiana, thereby allowing sediment and freshwater to maintain and rebuild coastal marshes that help lessen storm surges, provide critical wildlife habitat, protect oil and gas infrastructure, and serve as nurseries for shrimp and other valuable seafood species. Those actions include the installation of structures to divert a portion of river flows below New Orleans and the inclusion of the Atchafalaya River system, which receives nearly a third of the Mississippi River flow above New Orleans, into a new strategy for coastal restoration. Primarily because of the separation of the Mississippi River from its delta by levees, Louisiana has lost more than 1.2 million acres of coastal land in the last 75 years, representing about 80 percent of coastal land loss in the United States. Louisiana continues to lose the equivalent of up to 32 football fields of coastal land each day.

For more on Audubon's work along the Mississippi River and in Louisiana, see http://mri.audubon.org
 
Media Contact: David Ringer
dringer@audubon.org 
Tel 601-661-6189