The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) today announced a property acquisition that will conserve and preserve the largest contiguous tract of wetland forest remaining in the lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley.Partners in the transaction made the announcement at the Livingston Parish governmental complex.
The 29,630 acres acquired by LDWF will link with the eastern and western sections of the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area (WMA) to create a 103,374-acre public outdoor recreation property. The purchasefromThe Conservation Fund will ensure that the acreage remains undeveloped and continue to provide inland coastal protection to adjacent communities.
“Our citizens, and visitors to the state, now have additional outdoor recreation acreage available within easy driving distance from two major metropolitan areas,” said LDWF Secretary Robert Barham. “We commend the efforts of The Conservation Fund, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation, CPRA and Mr. M.C. Davis in the transfer of these lands to the state.The Louisiana congressional delegation played a key role in securing federal funding from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program for this acquisition.”
The newly-acquired land includes acreage in Livingston, Ascension, St. James and St. John the Baptist Parishes and is accessible from I-10 between Sorrento and Laplace, and located approximately 30 to 45 minutes from Baton Rouge and New Orleans. The acquisition, together with nearby protected lands, connects approximately 140,000 acres within the Maurepas / Pontchartrain Basin. The linking of these critical wetland areas enables LDWF and CPRA to meet various long-term goals that include:
- protecting important habitat for a myriad of wildlife species including habitat for threatened species, neotropical migrants, wading birds, and waterfowl, as well as resident game species;
- protecting important nursery grounds for a variety of aquatic species, whose sustained populations are important to both the commercial and recreational fishing industries;
- expanding public recreation opportunities, which contribute statewide more than $4.7 billion annually to Louisiana’s economy; and
- providing protection from future storm surges and their destructive impacts to personal property and municipal infrastructure within and adjacent to the Maurepas / Pontchartrain Basin.
Recognizing the environmental value of the property, the previous owner, M.C. Davis, sold the tract to The Conservation Fund in April 2011. The Fund utilized a generous program related investment, also known as a PRI, from The McKnight Foundation to purchase the property. CPRA, through its Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative, provided $4.5 million from the federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program and the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation (LWFF) provided $2 million, enabling the transfer of the property to LDWF last month.
“Coastal forests such as the Maurepas Swamp are one of the most effective natural barriers to hurricane storm surge. We must protect these assets. This partnership with Wildlife and Fisheries is a win-win. It allows us to protect these ecological treasures while providing additional hunting and fishing opportunities for our sportsmen,” said CPRA Executive Director Jerome Zeringue. “This acquisition is just the first through the Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative. And I want to point out that this is a completely voluntary program. Its primary focus is to acquire land rights from willing landowners like Mr. Davis to give us the opportunity to restore or enhance the sustainability of coastal forest tracts. They provide significant ecological value and serve to reduce storm damage.”
Significant hydrological restoration work on the property is expected to restore freshwater and nutrient flow, increasing the quality of the coastal wetland habitat and providing a buffer against the impact of storms battering the coast. Louisiana’s coastal forests face threats from levees, navigation, historic oil and gas canals, railway embankments, and other factors. Over time, these factors have contributed to degradation of the state’s coastal forests.
Additionally, alterations to hydrology have led to saltwater intrusion, prevention of river inflow (thereby accelerating subsidence and reducing nutrient input), and the retention of water on the forest floor for greater periods of time, lessening or eliminating the productivity that second-growth forests once had and severely compromising the potential for forest regeneration. The CPRA’s Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative is part of an overall strategy for restoring, protecting, and conserving Louisiana’s coastal communities.
“The expansion of the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area is a victory for Louisiana’s environmental heritage,” said Congressman Bill Cassidy. This will open new lands for hunting and outdoor recreation and preserve a pristine part of our outdoors. Louisiana should be proud of the Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative.”
“The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation is pleased to be a partner in this project as Wetland Protection and Wildlife Management Area Programs are part of our major initiatives,” said Kell McInnis, LWFF executive director. “The Foundation was formed to provide a means by which individuals and corporations can become partners with the Department and the Commission in the challenge of conserving Louisiana’s wildlife and fish resources. Funding from mitigation agreements required us to focus on land acquisition in the coastal zone and this opportunity is a perfect fit.”
“Our ultimate goal is to protect and enhance the connectivity of this quintessential South Louisiana coastal wetland environment across a large landscape, and this acquisition was a very important piece of the puzzle,” said Ray Herndon, Louisiana state director for The Conservation Fund. “To date, together with numerous partners,the Fund has conserved approximately 160,000 acres across the Lake Maurepas and Lake Pontchartrain Basin, much of which connects the Joyce, Manchac and Maurepas Swamp WMAs. We are proud to be a part of this partnership that has completed the very first Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative.”
“The Audubon Society is thrilled to see this tract of bottomlands set aside for conservation of birds and other wildlife in the West Pontchartrain-Maurepas Swamp Important Bird Area, a site that is continentally important for many bird species, including the Prothonotary Warbler, locally known as the golden swamp canary,” said Melanie Driscoll, Audubon Society’s director of Bird Conservation for the Mississippi Flyway.