Audubon in Action

Audubon CEO: Katrina’s Lessons Still Haven’t Sunk In

A decade after the devastating hurricane, New Orleans is still more vulnerable than it should be. David Yarnold explains what still needs to be done.

It’s a known fact that every three miles of wetland can reduce flooding by about one foot, Audubon Louisiana Executive Director Doug Meffert said during an interview on "Wake Up With Al” this week.

So a decade after the havoc wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, why haven’t we learned our lesson and committed to establishing more protective wetlands in the area? If you ask Audubon CEO David Yarnold, the answer is pretty simple: “Money. And political commitment,” he writes in an op-ed published this week in the Huffington Post.

Instead, wetlands are constantly disappearing from Louisiana’s coastline—at a rate of one football field an hour—thanks largely to oil and gas wells and shipping byways in the area, ProPublica's Losing Ground report found. But if wetlands were expanded instead, these critical coastal habitats could protect the city and its people in the (almost inevitable) event of another catastrophic storm.

The lack of restoration is not for lack of know-how. “Audubon has been experimenting with using dredges to build marsh in depleted wetlands,” Yarnold writes. “Within a matter of months, the marsh grasses and other plants spring to life and start spreading. And important waterbirds, such as Black-necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, and Tricolored Herons, and marsh birds, such as King Rails, Seaside Sparrows, and Marsh Wrens, start returning.”

Of course, these kinds of projects (and there are many promising ones) take money—lots of it (the estimated cost is in the tens of billions).

So what can we do? According to Yarnold, the place to start is with the $8.7 billion the state will receive from BP (thanks to the area’s other recent catastrophe). And even with that source guaranteed, ‘the challenge will be making sure every cent of that money goes to coastal restoration and isn't diverted to other state needs,” he writes.

Not only do we need to do this right, we need to do it fast: “If there's one thing we all learned from Katrina, it's that we waited too long,” Yarnold writes. “We have to invest in serious restoration of our coasts now. This is not just a Louisiana problem: It's the challenge of virtually every country on the globe that has a coastline.”

Read the entire op-ed here

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