Louisiana is disappearing. Every year, it’s as if an island the size of Manhattan is lost—simply washed out to sea. Outside the state there has been a remarkable silence about this rapid disappearance of some of America’s most vital coastal wetlands. Nearly half of North American bird species use the Gulf Coast during their migrations. The threatened Piping Plover flies across the entire country to the Gulf Coast from nesting grounds on the Canadian border, around the Great Lakes, and in New England. Large numbers of Piping Plovers depend on Gulf Coast wetlands and the Mississippi River delta for their winter survival.
My travels across Audubon’s states and flyways lead me to say, sadly, that for most of America, Louisiana’s crisis is out of sight and out of mind. That’s stunning when you look at the facts: The Louisiana delta is the seventh-largest system of its kind in the world and one of only two in the Western Hemisphere. And what’s at risk is nothing less than the state’s people, economy, culture, and wildlife.
Louisiana has developed a bipartisan coastal master plan, which identifies 109 different projects that should be completed over the next half-century to help preserve and expand existing wetlands. Those projects come with an estimated $50 billion price tag over the next 50 years. That might sound expensive, but the cost of doing nothing is even higher.
We need to stop slicing and dicing coastal wetlands with canals and industrial infrastructure. We need to set up a structure of state and federal agencies with the authority to end the bureaucratic turf wars that have left some restoration efforts in limbo for years. Louisiana politicians and citizens need to keep the state’s ambitious master plan on track.
Federal and state authorities need to make sure the money from all sources—public and private—intended for coastal protection and restoration goes to protecting our wetlands, not to building civic centers and highways or to plug other holes in the state’s budget.
This is not Louisiana’s problem; this is America’s Great Delta. To see how you can take action, visit mississippiriverdelta.org.