Atchafalaya Basinkeeper Master Plan
"We recognize that we are only borrowing this Earth from generations to come. For every decision that must be made, we should always take into consideration the consequences for generations to come."           &mdash Atchafalaya Basinkeeper pledge.

The overall objective of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper is to truly protect and preserve the Atchafalaya Basin for future generations.

The Atchafalaya Basin is the basin of the Atchafalaya River, a 135-mile long natural distributary of the Mississippi River that empties into the Gulf of Mexico and is the last large remnant of the Mississippi floodplain. In terms of water volume, it discharges 30% of the combined flows of the Mississippi and Red Rivers with an annual flow of as much as 480,000 cubic feet per second during the high water months in the Spring and 80,000 during the low water months in the Fall and early Winter. The average annual flow is 229,000 cubic feet per second (1977-2001, USACE records).
The Atchafalaya Basin is the largest contiguous bottomland hardwood forest in North America. Situated at the mouth of the most important flyway for the continent of North America, it contains both the most critical habitat for migratory neotropical land birds and the most critical habitat for migratory water birds on our continent. According to Martin Reuss from the Corps of Engineers, the Basin includes some 1.4 millions acres. The most ecologically important part of the Atchafalaya Basin is 885,000 acres of forested wetlands, the largest river swamp in North America, and 517,000 acres of marshland. Altogether the Atchafalaya Basin has ten distinct aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The Basin supports half of America's migratory waterfowl, more than 300 bird species, and provides the most important habitat for neotropical migratory land birds and other birds of the Mississippi Flyway. The Atchafalaya Basin may be one of the last refuges for such endangered species as the peregrine falcon, the Florida panther, Bachman's warbler and the ivory-billed woodpecker. About 100 species of fish, crawfish, shrimp and crabs support sport and commercial fishing, and feed birds, reptiles and mammals. Other animals that call the Atchafalaya home are the endangered Louisiana black bear, white-tailed deer, bobcat, coyote, alligator, beaver, nutria, mink, otter, muskrat, armadillo, fox and opossum. Overall, the Atchafalaya Basin is home to nine federal and state listed endangered/threatened wildlife species, six endangered/threatened bird species, twenty-nine rookeries, greater than forty mammalian species, over forty reptile species and more than twenty amphibian species.
The Atchafalaya is also considered the most productive swamp in the world and is probably the most productive land in the Northern Hemisphere. It is considered three to five times more productive than the Everglades and the Okefenokee Swamp. The swamps and marshes in Louisiana are so productive that, until the fur industry collapsed about 15 years ago, Louisiana was the number one producer of fur in North America. By 1939 Louisiana produced three times more pelts than Alaska, with Alaska producing 481,479 pelts and Louisiana 2,500,000 pelts. (Information from US Wildlife Bureau.
The Atchafalaya Basin can be divided into three distinct areas: the northern part composed of bottomland hardwood forest, the middle, composed of cypress-willow-tupelo swamps, and the lower, which contains freshwater and brackish marsh. The Atchafalaya delta is the last remaining growing delta in Louisiana; this vast, newly-emerging delta acts as a prime wintering habitat for waterfowl.

Threats to the Atchafalaya Basin:
  • Increased siltation is turning most productive wetlands in North America into dry bottomland hardwood forests.
  • Dredging of oil field canals has changed natural hydrology of the Atchafalaya Basin, accelerating siltation, and creating water quality problems.
  • Lack of enforcement of our environmental laws contributes to more pollution, further degradation of wetlands and diminished mitigation for permitted activities.
  • Logging of our last cypress-tupelo swamps started mainly to supply cypress mulch.
  • Logging of bottomland hardwood forests continues even on public lands.
  • The Basin is mostly (over half) privately owned, which restricts public access and public use, thereby inhibiting the development of a strong ecotourism industry and decreasing support for conservation.
  • Pollution results from oil field activity including oil waste and mercury pollution.
  • Corruption exists at all levels in the state of Louisiana.
  • Wetlands are constantly being littered by commercial and sport users of the Basin, towboats and oil workers, impacting wildlife and the scenery.

The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper
The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper is one of approximately 170 keeper programs under the umbrella organization Waterkeeper Alliance. As a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, we are held to the Waterkeeper Alliance Quality Standards, which we reference throughout this document. The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper is a 501c3 organization, as required by Waterkeeper Alliance Quality Standard # 3 that employs a full-time, paid, non-governmental public advocate for the identified waterbody, who identifies him with the Waterkeeper mark and who serves as the primary spokesperson for the waterbody as required by Waterkeeper Alliance Quality Standard #1.
The (defining) basic concept of the Waterkeeper movement is that of an individual who is publicly identified as the voice of a Waterway, a single individual who has committed him or herself personally and professionally to taking on the many giants who abuse and/or threaten his/her waterbody. A "regular" person willing to take on all adversaries of the waterway and community is a powerful image. It is this image that has attracted members, supporters, funders and the media for over two decades. A Waterkeeper is a recognized individual willing to fight the odds, to speak with a clear and honest voice, no matter what the personal consequence, in order to give his/her Waterbody a place at the table, in order to ensure that his/her waterway is given a priority place in all decision making, and that its needs are not subjugated to the needs of others for any reason - business, economic, personal or political.
Being a Waterkeeper is a full-time job. In fact, it is more than that. It is a way of life. The Waterkeeper should become so connected with their waterway that they defend it with all the love, emotion, commitment, time, energy and passion that they would care for a threatened child, parent or dear friend.
The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper maintains a vessel clearly identified as the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper vessel that is readily available and actively used for patrols as required by Waterkeeper Alliance Quality Standard # 2.


Monitoring and Enforcement
The primary job of a Waterkeeper is to advocate and enforce compliance with environmental laws, including the use of litigation and administrative challenges against polluters in appropriate circumstances, as required by Quality Standard # 8.
Waterkeepers are enforcers. They find and eliminate sources of pollution and waterway harm using the laws that empower us to protect our waterbodies and communities. This is our niche and a powerful tool. We use the law to support our in-court and out-of-court advocacy, to ensure that our voice is heard in all public forums, and to stop the pollution and degradation of our waterways and watersheds. Enforcing the law with our words and deeds ensures that polluters and decision-makers sit up and listen when we speak - they know that if they don't pay attention we will take whatever action necessary to stop pollution and waterway harm, to enforce the law and to hold them accountable. And they know we are organizations and individuals with the knowledge, tools, connections, track record and community backing needed to succeed. We are willing to use all available tools to stop pollution and other forms of damage.
The Waterkeeper program needs to undertake specific clean water initiatives, and not just public education or "feel good" activities. The Waterkeeper program needs to be actively monitoring the waterway, addressing both non-point source and point source discharges, advocating for enforcement of environmental and public participation laws, and enforcing these laws.
Until now, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and Mrs. Leigh Haynie have been representing the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper's best efforts to enforce the law. As a result we forced Carrizo (an oil & gas exploration company) to withdraw their permit application for a new canal in the Basin. As far as we know, this was the first time that an oil company was forced to withdraw its permit application in the Atchafalaya Basin. Other important victories were stopping the draining of Lake Rycade and restoring the lake, obtaining a cease and desist order on Lost Lake, stopping the dredging of a 33-foot-deep, 57.38-acre barrow pit in a wetland in St. Mary Parish, and stopping all illegal logging operations in South Louisiana. We helped to file a lawsuit in Georgia and joined the lawsuit as friends of the court; as a result of that incredible victory, the court directed EPA and the Corps to look into the past to decide whether a logging operation is normal silvicultural practice and that to be silviculture, spontaneous tree growth does not qualify and active planting and tree care must have taken place in the past. Early on, Basinkeeper threatened the Chlorine PPG plant in Lake Charles with litigation, and as result the plant uses new technology that allows no mercury releases into the air. Today, we have a sixty-day notice of violation on Bayou Postillion and another one on Lost Lake.
Business as usual in the Atchafalaya Basin is not acceptable. The main enforcer of our environmental laws, when it comes to operations in wetlands, is the Corps of Engineers. The Enforcement Department of the Corps has only two enforcers with an overall staff of nine people who also do other things like wetland determinations, and they do not even have access to a boat. It is as ridiculous to think that we can save the Atchafalaya Basin without any enforcement as to think that we can keep our banks open and full of money without a police force.
In order to turn the tide of lack of compliance with mitigation and permits, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper requires more resources than we have today. The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic has made a huge difference by representing Atchafalaya Basinkeeper's best efforts to enforce our environmental laws. Without the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, our huge successes in policy reform and enforcement could not have taken place. Despite the herculean efforts from Tulane, there is so much constant legal work that it is essential that we hire a full-time attorney.
We also must use best efforts to maintain representational standing as required by the Waterkeeper Alliance Quality Standard # 5. To fulfill this legal requirement and organizational obligation, it is important for us to have a membership base and to represent member interests in the waterway. A diversity of membership will help us gain access to justice for the Atchafalaya Basin.
Monitoring has taken another dimension with flights provided by South Wings, a non-profit organization in North Carolina that provides flights to non-profit groups in order to help them preserve the environment. With the help of the flights we managed to put the "last nail in the coffin" for cypress logging here in South Louisiana by easily identifying illegal logging activities. We have identified illegal logging on state lands in the Atchafalaya Basin, illegal discharges by oil companies, and an oil waste pond that was cleaned up just after we reported it to DEQ. We also have two boats that are being used for monitoring.
To identify and respond to citizen complaints we have a toll free hotline phone number. Citizen complaints and reports have provided invaluable information in the past.

Grassroots constituency
Developing a grassroots constituency is essential to accomplishing our goals of preserving the Atchafalaya Basin and is also required by the Waterkeeper Alliance Quality Standard # 4.

Numbers matter! We are representing the waterway and the community. Community support equals credibility and success. Having a strong grassroots constituency:
  • Provides information and observations on pollution events and the many issues that we are or should be working on
  • Provides the multiplicity of individual voices that can speak individually and collectively to press our message
  • Provides a heightened level of credibility and priority in the eyes of politicians and decision-makers who are very aware of who and how many they are hearing from
  • Provides us with legal standing in court - and the more members the greater likelihood we will have needed members impacted by each and every issue we are pursuing legally and need standing for.
  • Provides a source of needed, and often unrestricted, funding
  • Demonstrates to grant funders that we are a true grassroots and community organization worthy of their support.
At the time we have about 120 members and many more are needed. To increase our membership we need to develop our quarterly newsletter, write columns to newspapers, (The Plaquemine Post agreed to print our monthly column), and recreate and maintain our website with a GIS system.
Starting fall/winter of 2008, we plan to begin a series of town meetings all around the Atchafalaya Basin.

Education and research
From the beginning, education has been one of the main tools to protect the Atchafalaya Basin and Louisiana's swamps. We very successfully educated EPA on why most cypress logging should not be exempt from permitting under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. We educated most of the environmental groups in Louisiana and many abroad about the cypress mulch issue, and spearheaded the Save Our Cypress Coalition. Today, people from all over the nation know about cypress mulch and millions of people know about the Atchafalaya Basin.
We have education programs that are taking place in local schools and civic groups.
Last year we started citizen-based scientific research in the Basin with juniors and seniors from St. John School in Plaquemine. The idea is to combine research with education to increase people's interest in the solutions to solve the many problems and challenges the Atchafalaya Basin faces.
For the program to be truly successful we must to expand it all over the Basin, and more staff must be hired.
We are also looking into expanding the idea of nature centers in all the parishes around the Basin, like the one paid for by the city of Lafayette, so students can learn on location the basics of wetlands, the Atchafalaya Basin and environmental stewardship.

Water Management.
More than anything else, the future of the Atchafalaya Basin will be determined by the way we manage water and its sediments. Nothing becomes more personal to us than this.
The Atchafalaya Basin, with its cypress-tupelo swamps, is truly one of the wonders of America, contains some of the most productive wetlands in the world, and is the last great habitat of its kind in North America. Millions of migratory birds depend on these wetlands for their survival. Many people believe that siltation is a natural process and that it would happen any way. They believe that change is okay. However, in the case of the Atchafalaya Basin's swamps, that line of thinking leads to the loss of the most productive wetlands in North America. First of all, most of the Atchafalaya Basin's swamps are extremely old. Cypress trees over a thousand years old are living in areas where the water levels are the maximum depth that would have allowed them to become established when they were saplings-proof that there have been few changes in sediment accretion in those areas. In natural systems some swamps may change into bottomland hardwood forests while new swamps are created elsewhere, but with human intervention this is no longer the case. The system is no longer natural. The Atchafalaya Basin is silting in at an alarming rate because of human activities. Poor farming practices all over the nation have increased the sediment load into the Mississippi River. The Corps' manipulation in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Basin are unnatural; diverting 60% of the Mississippi's sediment load into the Atchafalaya Basin is not part of the natural process, nor is the dredging of thousands of miles of canals throughout the Atchafalaya Basin and the building of a levee system that cut the surface of the Basin to less than half of what it once was. We no longer have other habitat like the swamps of the Atchafalaya Basin; this fact demands that we stop the trend of siltation in the Basin. Furthermore, the western hemisphere cannot afford to lose these swamps (to be replaced by acres of bottomland hardwood forests) because they are the last sizeable habitat critical to the survival of many bird species.
Although research is desirable and will always be needed, in this case, we require no further research to begin taking immediate action against siltation. The Corps' policy of diverting 60% of the Mississippi River sediments into the Atchafalaya Basin must stop, and the Simmesport structure must be managed in a way that will improve water quality and increase the productivity of the Atchafalaya Basin's wetlands.
Water quality projects should stop in all management units until a sediment-trap system is developed and a long-term management plan is developed and financed, including monitoring and long-term management of the sediment traps. The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper will develop a sediment management plan for the entire Basin and will work to obtain the grass roots support to implement it. At the same time, we will try to prevent the future misspending of funds on projects in the Basin that will reduce public access or benefit industry to the detriment of the swamp.
All of our water management work will be entered into our GIS system that will be accessible through our website, including sedimentation of bayous and lakes throughout the Basin.

Save our cypress forest campaign

Cypress wetland forests are among the most productive wetland ecosystems in the world. Bald cypress trees are deciduous conifers and are very closely related to the redwoods and sequoias in the western United States. Because cypress wetlands have trees, they are much more diverse than open marshland. Baldcypress grows to be thousands of years old and produces a big mass of cypress balls and leaves that many animals can eat. Baldcypress sheds its bark and many insects live under the loose bark making Bald cypress the most important trees for all species of woodpeckers. Perhaps the biggest contribution of Baldcypress to the habitat comes in the form of the many cavities that older trees develop and that provide nesting places for otters, minks, raccoons, black bears, beavers, wood ducks, owls and many species of birds and bats. The branches of Bald cypress come out perpendicular to the trunk, making them the chosen trees for most nesting waders like herons, egrets, and ibises.
In Louisiana, cypress swamps and forests provide unique and irreplaceable habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife like the Louisiana black bear, bald eagles, and the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpeckers. These cypress wetlands provide critical habitat for the entire Eastern North American population and several species of the Western population of migratory and neo-tropical songbirds. The cypress swamps are part of Louisiana's national image and support our economy through eco-tourism, including bird watching, swamp tours, wildlife photography and outdoor recreation including fishing, boating and camping. Cypress wetlands also sustain freshwater and coastal fisheries, naturally filter pollutants and excess nutrients before they contaminate swimming and fishing areas, and alleviate global warming by acting as carbon sinks.

Going into a southern swamp 150 years ago was like going into a heavenly cathedral. Huge trunks would rise into the sky 150 feet tall, forming a very thick canopy like a huge ceiling over the swamp. All cypress swamps in the southern United States were logged around the turn of the century. Many of those forests never regenerated. Today, most of the trees in our swamps are only 80 to 120 years old. They are small in size especially in the deep swamps and it will take several hundred years for them to grow back to the size they were at the turn of the century and to provide their full benefits to those ecosystems. A few old-growth trees were left uncut because they were defective or hollow. Many of those very old trees are dying out and it will take several hundred years for the younger ones to replace them.
There were once over 2 million acres of cypress-tupelo swamps in Louisiana; only 800,000 acres recovered from the first logging. Logging to produce cypress mulch started in the year 2000.

In the sense that none of those forests have fully recovered from the first logging and that if logged again today even under the best conditions it will take another one hundred years to grow back to their former size and provide the same ecological benefits that we get today, I do not think that we can consider any of those forests renewable.
If the question is whether this species of tree will be present again one day if they are logged now, we can find the answer in the most comprehensive study ever done on this issue. In 2004, the Governor of Louisiana commissioned a Science Working Group to study and assess our coastal wetland forests and to provide recommendations for their conservation and use. In April 2005 the group released their final report. The report can be found on the Coastal Forests Working Group Website. In this report, the scientists divided Louisiana's coastal wetland forests into three condition classes. Condition class III wetland forests are forests that will never regenerate and cannot be replanted.
Condition class II areas are wetland forests that only have the potential to regenerate if replanted and artificially supported. Because of herbivores like nutria and deer, the only way to restore a Class II swamp is to provide protection from foraging herbivores, which is very costly.
Class I wetland forests have "potential" for regeneration. Many Class I swamps in the study were not regenerating because other faster growing, invasive tree species like the Chinese tallow and box elder were crowding the b aldcypress out.
Cypress forests provide critical protection for coastal communities by protecting those communities from the worst of hurricane and tidal storm surges and minimize flooding by capturing excess water. Restoring or improving natural wetlands is much cheaper than large-scale man-made flood protection methods in most cases. For example, the cost of replacing the flood control function of the 5,000 acres of wetlands drained each year in Minnesota alone would be $1.5 million, compared to the billions lost to flood damage (Source: The Wetlands Initiative). Recent literature has estimated the monetized annual benefits of Louisiana's coastal wetland forests at $6.7 billion per year or more than double the monetized benefits of the harvested timber ($3.3 billion one-time deal).
Hurricane Katrina dramatically illustrated the costs of inadequate flood protection. The loss of more than 1,000 lives and billions of dollars is a wakeup call. The construction of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet navigation channel in St. Bernard parish allowed a huge storm surge funnel to form which contributed greatly to more intense flooding in Chalmette and in New Orleans East which includes the Lower Ninth Ward. The creation of the MRGO channel directly caused the loss of hundreds of acres of cypress wetlands, New Orleans and St. Bernard's natural flood protection barrier. Wetland restoration and protection is a key part of an overall strategy for reducing future risks.
Harvesting our beautiful cypress forests, for the most part, is not sustainable and should be stopped. Much of the clamor for a new wave of logging is driven by consumer demand for cypress mulch, a product that is cheaper for the industry to bring to market than high quality cypress lumber. Also, cypress trees can be harvested for mulch even before they are mature enough for profitable harvesting for lumber. Because a 100-year-old cypress tree is still a young and usually small tree, this is exactly what is happening in Louisiana.
The cypress mulch industry has severely reduced Florida's cypress forests and has now fully moved into Louisiana. It is obvious that as long as there is a market for cheap cypress mulch, the industry will not stop until they have depleted all cypress forests in the country. Consumers are attracted to cypress mulch due to its out-dated reputation as an insect-repellant, more durable mulch. The truth is that those characteristics existed only in older trees that had the time to develop heartwood and today's trees are too young to possess those traits.
Cypress logging for mulch started again in the year 2000. At one time enquiries about the legality of logging over half a million acres of cypress forests went through the Army Corps of Engineers Office. From the year 2000 to the year 2006 (in six years) over 80,000 acres of cypress-tupelo swamps were logged in the state of Louisiana-that is over one-tenth of the remaining cypress-tupelo swamps in the state. In some years swamps were being logged at a rate of 20,000 acres a year. Today we have managed to stop most of the logging with only a few hundred acres logged in south Louisiana in 2008. Undoubtedly, without the work of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, most cypress-tupelo swamps in the state of Louisiana would have been made into mulch. Today the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper is a national leader in the movement to stop the cypress mulch industry in the United States.

In the early 1990s, landowners in the Atchafalaya Basin were talking about logging everything in the Basin, removing even the big old growth stumps left from logging times, to make cypress mulch, and no group was taking serious actions to deal with the threat looming over the Atchafalaya Basin and the rest of Louisiana. This eventually convinced Dean to become the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper.
Today the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper is a national leader in the movement to stop the cypress mulch industry in the United States. We got there by fighting logging on all fronts:
  1. LEGAL
There are two laws that could be applied to protect forested wetlands forests: Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.
Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act was being enforced by the Corps of Engineers at the time that we came into the environmental arena. Louisiana's congressmen tried to put pressure at the Washington DC headquarters to stop the New Orleans District from enforcing Section 10 and we were very fortunate that the general public supported the district's attempts to enforce Section 10. There were two problems: Section 10 applies only to swamps that are under the ordinary high water mark and are connected to navigable waters, and the Corps had only 8 people in the field from the entire New Orleans District and they did not even own a boat.
The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper started to help the Corps identify illegal logging, making it very clear to the industry that they could no longer get away with more illegal logging under Section 10. The industry responded by trying to get rid of the law. Senator Vitter of Louisiana amended his water bill to ask for nearly two billion dollars for wetland restoration in Louisiana. The amendment would have effectively crippled Section 10 and not only would have allowed for massive logging operations in those wetlands but also for massive destruction to the land itself. Protecting Section 10 became one of our main goals.
Meanwhile, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act was not being enforced by the Corps of Engineers because the EPA was dragging their feet in making a determination on whether cypress logging on wetlands was exempt from a Section 404 permit as a normal silviculture practice, although it was clear from scientific studies that many of those forests will not regenerate, disqualifying this practice from being silviculture. (Today, thanks to our lawsuit victory in Georgia, to qualify for the silviculture exemption, the cypress trees in question must have been planted and tended.)
First, we warned U.S. Senators from other states about the amendment; Senators Clinton, Lieberman, Boxer, Jeffords, Carper, and Chafee responded with a paper of their own explaining the truth about Section 10 and that was against the Vitter amendment. Vitter was defeated and forced to remove his amendment from the bill.
Next, we organized a coalition of environmental groups and went to Washington D.C. to speak with our senators and U.S. representatives and to educate EPA about the cypress logging issue in Louisiana. In those meetings several groups were represented, including Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, National Sierra Club, Louisiana's Delta Chapter of the Sierra Club, Baton Rouge Audubon, National Audubon, and America's Wetlands. We did a power point presentation with graphic pictures of the logging and a scientist from the Louisiana Governor's Science Working Group was on hand to answer questions about regeneration.
After our trip to Washington we took top EPA officials from their office in Dallas and the head enforcer of the New Orleans District of the Corps of Engineers into the Atchafalaya swamps in an attempt to show them that regeneration was not possible for most of our swamps. EPA agreed with us and took our position. Today EPA, for the first time ever, is enforcing Section 404 of the Clean Water Act on illegal logging operations.
There is no feasible way to control or determine which mulch is coming from a potentially renewable forest and which mulch is coming from a certainly non-renewable forest. Corporations like Corbitt who produce "No Float" cypress mulch, have shown us that they will go to any length to deceive retailers and the public about where they are getting their mulch just so they can sell their product. Big retailers are selling an illegal product and using false advertising to sell it.
We helped to create a lawsuit in Georgia and joined the lawsuit as friends of the court; as a result of that incredible victory, the court directed EPA and the Corps to look into the past to decide whether a logging operation is normal silviculture practice and that to be silviculture, spontaneous tree growth does not qualify and active planting and tree care must have taken place in the past. More lawsuits will follow, broadening the enforcement powers of the EPA.

The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper is the only group that directly helps the Corps of Engineers to identify, document and ultimately stop logging operations. We are also the only group that documented and still documents the chain of command, which was critical to stopping the massive cypress logging operations that were taking place in Southern Louisiana.
We fly several times a year over the Atchafalaya Basin, Maurepas Basin, Upper Barataria-Terrabonne Basin, and the Pearl River Basin looking for logging operations. We also fly over the mulch plants to monitor cypress mulch activity. We also rely on the general public to report to us cypress-logging activities.
Once a lumber company gets notice from the Corps, that company is out of illegal logging for good.

One of Dean's first priorities as a Basinkeeper was to educate The Waterkeeper Alliance and other environmental groups and share with them the ugly facts and the mounting evidence against the mulch industry. With the help of LEAN and the Waterkeeper Alliance we had our first great victory with an agreement from Lowe's and The Home Depot not to sell any more cypress mulch from coastal Louisiana. Soon after the Save Our Cypress Coalition was created and thanks to a joint effort from all members of the Coalition, Wal-Mart announced that they would stop selling cypress mulch harvested, manufactured or bagged in the State of Louisiana. Today Lowe's and The Home Depot have a boundary and they will not sell cypress mulch harvested below the I-10 I-12 corridor.
We expanded our Coalition to other states and I am actively teaching other groups from other states how to monitor for illegal logging in their states. I am also meeting with forestry associations from other states to educate them about the problems with the industry and the exploits of the Louisiana Forestry Association.
SouthWings' board of directors approved making cypress logging one of their main priorities. Together with LEAN, the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, other Waterkeeper programs, SouthWings and The Gulf Restoration Network, we hope to put a halt to this scourge once and for all; our swamps will never be completely safe until we do.
The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, as the lead group on these efforts, has the moral obligation to push this issue to the end.

Over the past three years I have given hundreds of presentations about the issue to environmental groups, schools, civic groups, politicians, agencies, and the media. Today, thanks to the hard work of many groups, people from all over the nation know about the issue, and the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper planted that seed.

Fundraising has been the Achilles' heel of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper. Most of the funds to operate until now have come from the generosity of Marylee Orr and LEAN. Until now we have had a few grants; one important one from the Sierra Club and donations from some members. Some of our board members have made strong contributions in the past. All together the organization has never managed to pay even 50% of the Basinkeeper's salary.
The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper board already approved a fundraising plan that included three different ways to obtain money:
  1. Memberships: At the time we have over one hundred members. With new funding coming from the National Audubon Society we hope to aggressively pursue an increase in membership through the opportunities that our grass roots constituency plan will provide.
  2. Sponsorships from companies and non-profits: Because of lack of funds and personnel this part of the fundraising plan was never launched. After the new web site becomes active we will launch this part of the fundraising campaign. We hope the board will actively participate, especially with the creation of a board of trustees, whose sole purpose will be to raise funds. Some companies have already offered to sponsor Basinkeeper; our grassroots constituency plan will provide great opportunities in this area.
  3. Grants: We will be writing some grants, but it is essential that we fill the Development Director position as soon as possible.
Involvement from the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper board of directors in the fundraising campaign is greatly needed, especially until the Development Director position gets filled or the board of trustees is created.

The following basic facts are essential in order to move forward on a plan that could ultimately preserve the Atchafalaya Basin:
    • First of all the environmental community and recreational and commercial users should create and share a basic common vision about what the future of the Atchafalaya Basin should be.

    • No more politics. Enough is enough!! We cannot please, and should not try to please, everyone. Some interests in the Atchafalaya Basin will not be compatible with our vision because they are not compatible with the future of those ecosystems. Remember the pledge; we must work for generations to come.

  • Enforcement of the law and finding ways to compensate landowners or to buy their land for preservation purposes could be our only options for dealing with interests in the Atchafalaya Basin that are contrary to its future.

    • The Atchafalaya Basin is the last great remnant of the Mississippi River floodplain that once stretched from Louisiana to southeastern Missouri and to the southern tip of Illinois.

    • The system is fixed with inflexible boundaries by development and levees and it is not natural any longer. Swamps that are filled in by sediments will not be replaced.

    • Sediment deposition can and should be managed; this can be done at a relatively low cost.

    • The Mississippi Flyway is the most important flyway on the continent. The Atchafalaya Basin provides the largest forested ecosystem in the Mississippi Flyway for migratory landbirds and very likely the most important wetlands for waterfowl and waders.

    • Most cypress-tupelo swamps in the Atchafalaya Basin are Class III swamps. The water gets too high for too long to facilitate cypress regeneration.

    • An old-growth cypress-tupelo forest is a completely different ecosystem from a second growth cypress-tupelo forest.

    • Cypress-tupelo swamps are the most biodiverse wetlands in North America.

    • Much of that biodiversity relies on cavities found in old-growth trees.

    • Cavities and crevasses are essential for many birds and mammals, such as warblers, whose populations are in serious decline.

    • The original old growth cypress-tupelo ecosystem was completely wiped out by the late 1920s.

    • It will take many human generations and hundreds of years for the old-growth cypress-tupelo ecosystem to fully recover.

    • In many swamps, the original species of trees never recovered after the first and only logging. Today those swamps are mainly open water or willow-buttonwood bush-swamp privet forests instead of cypress-tupelo forests.

    • The few large old-growth trees left today are remnants of the original old-growth forests that were not cut because they were hollow. Many trees are dying due to lightning strikes and old age. It will take hundreds of years for the second growth trees to replace them. These old trees provide an essential habitat for countless species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians.

    • The Atchafalaya Basin's swamps are irreplaceable and a true wonder of America.

  • Because of the facts listed above, timber harvesting of cypress-tupelo swamps is not compatible with the preservation of the Atchafalaya Basin.
Ultimately, the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper will use its resources mentioned above to fulfill the vision and to truly help preserve the Atchafalaya Basin for future generations.
Atchafalaya Basinkeeper
P.O. Box 410
Plaquemine, LA 70765
cell: 225-685-9439
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