Dear Audubon Member,

Photo by Claire Rosen

The losses are staggering, almost incomprehensible. More than 1,900 square miles of marsh along the Louisiana coast have been lost since the 1930s, and an area the size of a football field disappears every 38 minutes. Louisiana accounts for 40 percent of coastal marsh in the United States but 80 percent of coastal marsh losses in the entire Lower 48 every year. And that was before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed an additional 75,000 acres.

We know the primary cause. In the past 75 years the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has diked, dammed, and diverted the entire Mississippi River and its major tributaries, converting the river, in essence, to a publicly subsidized shipping canal. As the Mississippi was squeezed between levees, more than 3 million people in Louisiana were encouraged to live in places less than three feet above sea level—a development with tragic consequences, as Katrina and Rita revealed. The dikes and dams prevent vital sediments in the river from reaching coastal wetlands to renourish them and prevent further losses, and when the river’s concentrated, nutrient-rich sediment load is delivered to the Gulf, it contributes to a “Dead Zone” that can reach the size of New Jersey.

Just as we know the causes of the problems, we know the solutions. Even before Katrina, the state of Louisiana launched Coastal 2050, an ambitious plan to stem wetland losses and make people safe. It was not a total solution, but it was a bold step in the right direction that Audubon endorsed. Since then Katrina has exposed additional problems, focused national attention on the plight of the river, and created an opportunity for even more comprehensive solutions.

Audubon is responding to this opportunity. The Louisiana coast is at the mouth of a much larger Mississippi River watershed that begins in the Upper Midwest and even southern Canada. It includes dozens of dams and more than a thousand miles of levees along the river. The problems in coastal Louisiana cannot be fixed without addressing management of the entire river. Audubon’s Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico Program looks at the entire ecosystem from top to bottom, pulling together all of Audubon’s resources to work toward a common solution.

Up and down the river, Audubon Centers are educating people about the importance of the river, local Chapters are building grassroots support, state programs are advocating in state capitals, and staff in Washington is leading federal advocacy efforts. Our Important Bird Areas program has thus far identified 86 sites along the river of critical value to migrating and nesting birds.

I recently appointed Roger Still, one of our most skilled and experienced staffers, to pull all of these resources together in a coordinated effort. Our goal is restoring the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast to a more natural and sustainable ecosystem with benefits for wildlife and safety for people. In this expanded effort, we will continue partnering with numerous other private and public organizations that share our mission. If you want to learn more and help, visit www.audubon.org.


is to conserve and restore
natural ecosystems, focusing
on birds, other wildlife, and
their habitats for the
benefit of humanity and the
earth's biological diversity

John Flicker
National Audubon Society

© 2006 National Audubon Society

Sound off! Send a letter to the editor about this piece.

Enjoy Audubon on-line? Check out our print edition!