A new poll released a week before the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (August 29, 2005) shows that voters in south Louisiana are more concerned about coastal erosion than they are about crime or the economy. The poll also shows South Louisianans are almost as concerned about coastal erosion as they are about their highest-ranking worry -- gas prices.

The poll of 500 registered voters in 16 Louisiana parishes was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies/Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates for three leading national conservation groups: Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation and National Audubon Society.

"Katrina showed us that we can't rely on levees alone for protection," said Maura Wood, Senior Program Manager of Coastal Louisiana Restoration for the National Wildlife Federation. "This poll shows Louisianans overwhelmingly believe that we need to preserve our wetlands and coastal areas in order to protect our people, communities and jobs. The good news is that the vast majority of those polled believe we can rebuild the wetlands and coastal areas we've lost."

Southeastern Louisiana was traditionally sheltered from the full power of hurricanes by 80 miles of wetlands that lay between the Gulf of Mexico and the city of New Orleans, but those wetlands have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Every day, Louisiana loses an area of coastal wetlands the size of 32 football fields.

The new poll shows Louisianans see wetlands as the first line of defense against storms and hurricanes. Those polled also believe that the continued loss of coastal areas and wetlands will result in worse damage from hurricanes, loss of communities, and threats to the economy of south Louisiana. Three-quarters of those polled said that restoring the wetlands is an issue that requires urgent attention.

"Voters overwhelmingly said that the wetlands are Louisiana's first line of defense against hurricanes," said Paul Harrison, Louisiana Project Manager for Environmental Defense Fund. "They also said they are deeply worried that the disappearance of the wetlands will continue to compromise the safety of their families and communities. This poll shows that government efforts to fund and fast-track coastal restoration efforts will get broad popular support."

According to the poll, 84 percent of southern Louisiana voters said coastal erosion and the loss of barrier islands was an extremely serious or very serious problem, and 81 percent said the loss of wetlands and marshes was an extremely serious or very serious problem. The only issue that ranked higher was gas prices, at 87 percent. These issues ranked well ahead of concerns about the economy (68 percent), crime (65 percent), and rebuilding from Katrina taking too long (70 percent).
Almost 80 percent of those polled said that Louisiana's wetlands and coastal areas can be protected, and even more – 87 percent – believe that eroded areas can be rebuilt.

An overwhelming 90 percent of those polled supported rebuilding barrier islands and wetlands using sediment dredged from rivers. Another 87 percent supported diverting water and sediment from the Mississippi River into undeveloped wetland areas in order to rebuild damaged wetlands and protect existing ones.

"This poll bodes well for vital efforts to restore Louisiana's wetlands," said Paul Kemp, Vice President of the Gulf Coast Initiative for the National Audubon Society. "These projects won't be easy, but Louisianans clearly recognize the importance of restoring and protecting our state's first line of defense against hurricanes. The poll confirms that Louisianans support immediate action to protect and rebuild these natural hurricane barriers."

For an executive summary of the poll, click here.

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