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New Atchafalaya Basin Coalition Wants In On Edwards' Task Force

The Atchafalaya River.
The Atchafalaya River.

A coalition of conservation groups on Friday announced the formation of the Atchafalaya Basin Coalition and sent a letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards imploring him to consider the Louisiana Nature Conservancy as a landowner, rather than a conservation group, when choosing members of a newly-formed task force.

Led by members of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, an environmental advocacy group that has worked in the basin for 16 years and opposes some of the state’s restoration efforts there, the coalition argues that the Nature Conservancy is biased toward defending landowners, in part because it owns land in the basin itself.

The letter requests that the governor choose members from the newly-formed group to represent environmental interests. Those members include the Louisiana Crawfish Producers Association West, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, Sierra Club and Healthy Gulf

Edwards announced earlier last week that he is creating a new task force to address long-standing issues in the Atchafalaya Basin and raise public awareness.

The basin is the largest wetland in the United States. It is an important ecosystem for cypress, tupelo and countless birds and animals. But it’s also a complicated place.

The 1-million-acre area is a mix of public and private land, which sometimes pits landowners against the interests of trappers and fishers. Oil companies also drill there. In the early part of the century, it was over-logged for cypress. Those operations have largely ceased.

It also serves as a form of flood control. The massive swampland absorbs water from the surrounding area when it floods, and officials think it could take on more when, for example, the Mississippi River is high.

“The irony of the Atchafalaya Basin is that while it is suffering from an abundance of sediment, the rest of our coast is experiencing a severe sediment deficit,” Gov. Edwards said.

Over the decades, dredging, logging and pollution have altered the hydrology and habitats of the basin. According to a statement from Edwards’ office, this has resulted in degraded water quality, excessive sedimentation, proliferation of invasive aquatic species, and rising conflicts.

Karen Gautreaux, director of government relations at the Louisiana Nature Conservancy and a former employee of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, hopes the formation of the task force will facilitate conversations between stakeholders and result in actionable solutions to improve the environment.

“Given that these issues are so complex, both the causes and the solutions, it would be good to get a cross-section of stakeholders to identify and help lay a path for addressing these challenges,” Gautreaux said.

Atchafalaya River Basin Restoration and Enhancement Task Force, as it’s been named, will submit an initial report to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board in September 2021.

Edwards has not yet appointed members.

Gautreaux hopes her organization is invited to participate.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and local listeners.

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