The Barataria Terrebonne Important Bird Area (IBA) is close to three million acres of refuges, Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs), State Parks, and privately owned land. This site contains the only national park natural area in Louisiana, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Nearby IBAs include East Delta Plain and Atchafalaya Basin. Within Barataria Terrebonne IBA is Grand Isle State Park, a very important migratory bird stopover which has seventeen acres of woods on the island preserved and owned by The Nature Conservancy.
Located on the eastern coast of the state, this IBA contains over 350 species of birds and over 280 species of fish in a diversity of habitats, including salt marshes and swamps, brackish and freshwater environments, beaches, and a variety of forests. This site is particularly important to shorebirds and a number of migratory birds, including the Piping Plover, considered vulnerable in both Canada and the United States. Other birds include herons, ibis, egrets, pelicans, gulls, terns, skimmers, ducks, and raptors. The IBA offers a number of recreational activities such as fishing to the public. Unfortunately, because of its location, the Barataria Terrebonne Important Bird Area is subject to significant coastal erosion, with the highest erosion rates in the state.
There are over 350 species of birds present in the Barataria Terrebonne IBA. Excellent breeding habitats including freshwater ecosystems, swamps, and bottomland hardwood forests are present. A number of the wading birds nest here, including herons, ibis, and egrets such as the Reddish Egret. Prothonotary Warbler and Painted Bunting use the swamp nesting habitat. Seabirds include pelicans, gulls, terns and skimmers. Because of the location of the barrier islands, there is great stopover habitat for trans-Gulf migratory birds such as Snowy Plover. Wilson?s Plover breeds here during the summer. The Piping Plover, considered vulnerable in both the United States and Canada, uses the IBA?s beaches during the winter. This site also provides wintering habitat for migratory geese and ducks such as Blue- and Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon and Ring-necked Duck, and less commonly Lesser Scaup, Mallard, and Gadwall. Half of the continental Mottled Duck population inhabits Louisiana, including the Barataria Terrebonne Estuary, year round. This IBA also provides habitat for birds of prey, including significant numbers of nesting Bald Eagles.
This IBA faces a number of threats, most pressingly coastal erosion. The Barataria and Terrebonne basins are losing a combined 21 square miles of wetlands a year (which is 60% of Louisiana?s total annual land loss, a total of 40% of the country?s land loss), making this site?s land loss higher than anywhere else in the United States. Consequences include not only habitat, wildlife and waterway loss, but also exposure of ports to open water and a loss of a protective barrier for some of the two million Louisiana inhabitants that live within fifty miles of the coast. This is in part due to sea-level rise as a result of global warming. Salt water intrusion, partially from past oil and gas canals, is killing marsh vegetation which leads to sediment loss and hastens subsidence. The occurrence of subsidence is also increased by fault blocks slipping into the Gulf of Mexico due to the weight of 30,000 feet of sediment accumulated above the Louann salt. Nutria, an invasive species, are also responsible for vegetation loss and hence sediment loss. Levee construction changes the hydrology of the site. Pollution and chemical spills from transportation barges and the chemical, oil, and gas industries also negatively affect the site.
Though the majority of the IBA is privately owned, 90,000 acres are owned and managed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). The Wildlife Management Areas functioning under the department are Salvador, Timken, Wisner, Pointe-Aux-Chenes, and Lake Boeuf. Grand Isle State Park and Bayou Segnette State Park are owned by Louisiana State Parks. Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge, on the other hand, is federally managed. Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is owned by the U.S. Department of the Interior and run by the National Park Service.
The IBA offers a number of habitats for wildlife, including salt and fresh marshes, freshwater baldcypress-tupelo swamps, brackish and freshwater environments, beaches, and a variety of forests. Barrier islands and barrier headlands also provide important habitat for many of the migrant birds. Significant man-made features include levees, canals, oil and gas wells, and the Gulf-Intracoastal Waterway.
The marshes are dominated by widgeon grass, wiregrass, and spike rush, but also contain other aquatic plants including spartinas, cattail, bull tongue, and maiden cane. On the spoil banks within the marshes grow various grasses and plants, including goldenrod and annual marshelder. A common forest type has live oaks dominating ridges and hardwoods and pines in the hammocks. Other forests types include live oak-pine-magnolia, longleaf pine savannahs, and slash pine-pond cypress. Barrier islands are invaluable to neotropical migrants as stopover sites. Their beaches are sandy and frequented by shorebirds. One such island is Grand Isle, which offers an oak-hackberry forest for birds to rest in and refuel.
The Barataria Terrebonne IBA?s public uses include crabbing, crawfishing, hunting, trapping, canoeing, birding, fishing, competitive fishing, boating, camping, swimming, beachcombing, picnicking, photography, ecotourism, and nature watching. Alligator harvest is also allowed. Commercial uses include fishing, shrimping, oystering, transportation, and oil and gas activities. The site is also used for research and environmental education. Several coastal restoration and conservation projects occur within the IBA. Water management for the purposes of flood control and navigation is a dominant land use in the site. It is also used to manage habitat for wildlife.