BATON ROUGE - Louisiana’s Cameron Creole Watershed – Marsh Terracing Project received the 2003 Coastal America Partnership Award today at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in Bell City, Dr. Kam Movassaghi, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), said.
Emil Frankel, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy, U. S. Department of Transportation, presented the award to the multi-agency community project partners. Working cooperatively on this project were representatives from 16 local, state and national organizations, including DOTD, the Federal Highway Administration, the Cameron Parish Police Jury, Ducks Unlimited, the staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge and the North American Wetlands Conservation Council.
Others involved were the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, the Gulf Coast Soil and Water Conservation District, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Miami Corp., North American Land Co., Shell Oil Co. Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The Bush administration is committed to environmental stewardship as one of its top transportation priorities,” Frankel said. “Flexible federal programs allow states to develop creative solutions like the one we are celebrating today, and we intend to do even better. Our six-year surface transportation legislative proposal will help us work with states to protect, preserve and restore our coasts and wetlands.”
After improvements were made to Louisiana Highway 27 that made the road safer and improved it as a hurricane evacuation route, the Cameron Creole Watershed – Marsh Terracing Project was conceived. Compensating for the wetlands impacts triggered a much larger marsh restoration project than originally conceived. The duck wing marsh terracing will also reduce coastal wetlands loss from erosion and provide nesting sites for wildlife, such as the mottled duck and American alligator.
Accepting the team plaque for the Cameron Creole Watershed – Marsh Terracing Project was Dr. Movassaghi. Columbus Brown, Special Assistant to the Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Frankel presented each of the organizations involved with a plaque and a letter from President George Bush.
“This project is an example of how public agencies and private groups can work together for the benefit of all,” Movassaghi said. “The resulting collaboration yielded a better result for the money spent than a multitude of smaller projects individually pursued for the same money. The ultimate winners are Louisiana and the nation. We are delighted we had the opportunity to participate in this coastal marsh restoration project.”
“I commend the great cooperation and hard work of the 16 state, federal and private organizations who have come together to improve our marsh wetlands and protect wildlife at the Cameron Creole Watershed – Marsh Terracing Project,” Senator John Breaux said. “Our Louisiana wetlands boast some of the world’s most unique wildlife, and thanks to this coalition, we can protect this Cameron Parish habitat for generations to come.”
Louisiana has lost more than 1,500 square miles of marsh during the last 70 years – the highest coastal wetlands loss rate in the nation. Man-made navigation channels have contributed to changes in the landscape’s natural water-flow patterns, allowing salt water into the marsh which results in the death of its vegetation. These areas, stripped of submerged aquatic vegetation, become turbid, open water areas that are being eroded by wind and wave action. About 25 to 35 square miles of the coast’s wetlands are being replaced each year by open water habitat.
Such impacts were causing the erosion of the East Cove Prairie Unit of the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. Because Louisiana Highway 27 is one of the state’s emergency coastal evacuation routes, existing ditches that contained wetlands needed to be replaced by shoulders along the road. To compensate for the loss of wetlands, it was decided to restore the deteriorating marsh area of the East Cove Unit that is close to Highway 27.
“The staff of the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, appreciate the innovative habitat restoration work accomplished by our many partners,” said Columbus Brown. “Their success has benefitted the entire community and serves as a model for other projects.”
Since March 2002, about 27 linear miles of V-shaped terraces, planted with plugs of smooth cordgrass, have been constructed. From the air, the terraces resemble duck wings. The successful project that began on the refuge has expanded to other public and private lands within the area. These terraces buffer wind and wave action, and calmer water encourages the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation that is vital to wetlands. Wintering, migration and breeding habitat is restored for migratory birds.
“Not only has this project showcased the use of cutting edge science and technology in ecosystem conservation, it also demonstrates how highway agencies, in partnership with other federal, state and local agencies can mitigate project impacts with flexible, regional approaches, rather than site-specific mitigation plans that are often more costly and less environmentally valuable,” William A. “Tony” Sussmann, Federal Highway Administrator, said.
The Coastal America Partnership was established in 1992 to protect, preserve and restore our coastal watersheds by integrating federal actions with state and local government and non-governmental efforts. The federal partners include the Departments of Agriculture, Air Force, Army, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Navy, State, Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Executive Office of the President. Through multi-agency teams, the partnership process enables national policy issues to be identified and resolved, regional plans and strategies to be developed and local projects to be implemented. To recognize outstanding partnership efforts, Coastal America established a national awards program in 1997.
Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge is one of America’s 542 national wildlife refuges. The National Wildlife Refuge System, America’s only system of lands dedicated to wildlife conservation, celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2003. The refuge system was established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt at Pelican Island, Florida. It was expanded in 1904 with the establishment of the second national wildlife refuge at Louisiana’s Breton Island.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95 million acre National Wildlife Refuge System that encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores fisheries of national significance, conserves and restores wildlife habitat, such as wetlands and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hinting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.