Jeremy Alford

Louisiana not alone in coastal land loss

by Jeremy Alford

While Louisiana's erosion problems are well-documented, new research has surfaced that shows a continuing loss of coastal wetlands in the eastern United States. The additional attention being given to the issue surely has it benefits, but it could also mean more competition for Louisiana when it comes to federal funding.

The report, conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, shows a loss of 59,000 acres each year in the coastal watersheds of the Great Lakes, Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico from 1998 to 2004. One reason provided by the report for why wetland loss is concentrated in coastal watersheds is the large numbers of people living there (more than half of the nation's population lives in coastal counties in densities five times greater than inland counties).

Due to the trend, Jim Balsiger, acting NOAA assistant administrator for NOAA's Fisheries Service, says it's time to take the message beyond the bayou. "This report shows the nation's need to expand the effort to conserve and rebuild valuable coastal wetlands," says Balsiger.

His argument might sound familiar, since it mirrors the case Louisiana officials have been making for generations. "Coastal wetlands are nurseries for important commercial and recreational fish and are vital to many threatened and endangered species," says Balsiger. "They also provide natural protection to coastal communities from the most damaging effects of hurricanes and storm surges."

Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is onboard. Michael Shapiro, acting assistant administrator for water at the EPA, issued a written statement saying, "This report emphasizes the need for action to protect these valuable resources."

The "Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Eastern United States, 1998 to 2004" study is available online. The next national five-year study on wetlands produced by the two agencies will include the Pacific Coast, as well as more of the eastern United States.