Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lake Martin Swamp Tours and Plant Control

In the big picture of things, I guess it never ends.

photo courtesy of Claude Nall

But, we continue to fight for the protection and preservation of My Wild Louisiana, and at Lake Martin where I do my tours,

it is once again under assault in the name of plant control.

And as plants are destroyed, predators such as this alligator gar,

have an unfair advantage of preying on small immature fish, turtles,

A Red Crowned Turtle

baby alligators, and frogs, because they use use the floating mat of plants as a place to hide and thus survive predators.

Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to make garfish or alligators look like the bad guys here, they are doing their job as predators. But when there is no place to hide due to a lack of plants, the predators prevent the hatchlings from surviving to maturity.

A baby alligator hiding in the plants,

and it better hide because, because fish, turtles, alligators, and bull frogs prey on baby alligators which hide in the plants and feed on cricket frogs.

2 photos above and 1 below courtesy of Claud NallA Cricket Frog on a kayak

In a nutshell, the floating mass of plants is not only a food source in the food chain, it is a nursery.

And then when young birds are learning to fly and leave the nest, such as the immature Yellow Crowned Night Herons below,

they need a floating mat of plants as a landing zone until they are more skilled at flying.

The American Lotus which has also been severely targeted by plant control,

is not only beautiful to behold, it has a lot of shrimp flies on which the Prothonitary Warbler feeds as seen below.

A Prothonitary Warbler with feed in its beak

For 15 years now, the state of LA has declared war on aquatic plants

and systematically destroyed the ecology and natural beauty of Lake Martin on 3 sides.

The south side of the lake has, to some degree, been protected by protests from yours truly and the Nature Conservancy in regards to herbicide applications in the rookery.

Although only one application of herbicide last year in the end of September 2010, seemed to indicate that we were winning the war in defense of the aquatic plants

Claude Nall

and the wildlife, such as the White Ibis, which eats aquatic snails, and the Little Blue Heron above, that depends upon a mat of submerged and floating plants for food gathering at Lake Martin.

But as of this year, plant control came out twice in April

and again twice in May and there is no where in any of the swamp, on all four sides of Lake Martin,

where I could go and show people the emerald green natural beauty of a Louisiana swamp without a bunch of dead plants.

Virtually every road used by me and several other swamp tours has now been sprayed with herbicide. Due to the drought and lower water levels, the few little hard to reach places that were not sprayed this year will soon be inaccessible because the water is getting too low to go there.

My biggest issue with plant control is not limited to Lake Martin and the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Because plant control, by use of herbicides, is rampant across the countryside where utility companies spray powerlines and pipelines, then city, county, and state governments spray roadsides. Combined with agricultural application of herbacide. . .we are poisoning the environment and destroying the ecology for numerous species.

Claude Nall

My guess is, due to plant control, we no longer have Bobwhite quail in south Louisiana because they no longer have a place to nest and hide from predators. We are also taking a toll on cottontail and wood rabbits. These are three species which are obvious.

We also have to consider we do not see every plant, insect and vertebrae species which is also affected as a non targeted casualty by this war on plants. This abuse by the chemical companies who sell their products to the state, and use the media to promote and justify this war is a rampant plague of the natural environment as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Mississippi River Flood Of 2011

Because of levees that now "protect" the delta from flooding, we are losing 30-50 square miles of marshland in coastal Louisiana every year, due to salt water intrusion.

For milliniums, Mississippi River floodwaters distributed silt across the vast plain of the delta, and slowly the land we stand on today in south louisiana evolved into the richest pantry of wild foods in North America.

That same land today, is no longer allowed to flood in order to successfully cultivate cash crops year after year, such as sugar cane, cotton, wheat, milo, corn and rice.

A purple sunrise courtesy of Claude Nall

The geography of south Louisiana is flat, and often hard to determine where land ends and water begins, and vice versa.

The Bonnet Carey Spillway being opened on May 9, 2011

For your information, Lake Martin, where I launch my swamp tours, is not in the spillway that is about to flood.

The point I want to make is: my swamp tours are NOT in harms way. Lake Martin and the Cypress Island Swamp are "protected" by flood control levees and de la Houssaye's Swamp Tours is still in business.

After 25 years of doing my Louisiana swamp tours, I have been able to share the things about the Louisiana wetlands that I love with many people who truly appreciated them.

Prothonatary Warbler courtesy of Randy Mehoves

Interesting to note, that becoming a tour guide and operating de la Houssaye's Swamp Tours,

Your swamp tour guide circa 1989,
photo courtesy of Marc Garanger

has caused me to learn a great deal more about the wilderness wetlands that I have been a part of all my life, than I would have known, if I were not a tour guide.

Because I lived on a houseboat in the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp,

and was doing educational swamp tours in the spillway, I studied the hydralogy of the basin present and past. That experience and the knowledge gained has enabled me to understand and oversee an extremely complicated flood control system, which is impressive, but operates contrary to nature.

The natural means of water management in the Mississippi River Delta is distribution through bayous and "allow" floodwaters to spread out over 200 miles of floodplain. The Corp of Engineers plan of managing big floods is containment in a 20 mile wide corridor called The Atchafalaya Basin Spillway. Roughly a million acres in size. The entire spillway will flood this month and all minor spillways in the Atchafalaya basin spillway complex will be opened to allow a controlled distribution.

The problem with the current flood control plan is that there is not enough distribution outlets to be really effective in major floods like what is bearing down upon us this month. The mindset of the Corp of Engineers has always been an unnatural goal of containment, rather than a natural distribution of flood waters, which is what nature would be doing if we were doing nothing. So if you are thinking of coming to Cajun Country and are worried that we are or will be under water, I have faith in the levee protection system we have in place here in south Louisiana, will protect us and deal with this flood.

I do believe we could have more protection if we "allowed" a controlled distribution because we would be able to handle an even worse flood than what is coming this month. And, on that note, may I say, this years flood is not our worst nightmare.

The positve side of this flood is crawfish!

Lots of crawfish...

And...the best crawfish are deepwater crawfish, and my point being we have not had a good season like this in a long time, y'all come get ya some!

So if the positve side of this flood is crawfish, don't feel sorry for us,

we are here in our backyards boiling crawfish and having a good time!

And how good is it?

How about Cedric Watson on the back porch,

and bread pudding for dessert after the crawfish.

And if you are just passing through, and don't have an invitation to someone's backyard,
you can always find a friendly Cajun restaurant to serve you such as McGee's Landing in Henderson.

Great food,

live music,

and an amazing view of the Henderson Swamp from their dining room, on the levee in Henderson.

Through the years, the people who came on my Louisiana swamp tours taught me ways to experience nature I had never known, such as bird watching and photography. In time, due to my Louisiana swamp tour business, I have come to recognize the importance of Louisiana tourism as a means of protecting the environment,

through education and the experience of being on Louisiana swamp tours in these wonderful wild places.

To preserve and restore coastal Louisiana we must first understand what it was before we began logging the cypress forests, building roads and bridges,

A Little Green Heron fishing from the rocks under a bridge...
photo courtesy of Claude Nall

digging canals for navigation and drainage, dredging and destroying the barrier reef,

Hooded Merganzers against a backdrop of a natural berm
on the barrier reef in Southwest Pass at Marsh Island

and worst of all constructing levees to “protect” the delta from flooding. The Mississippi River Delta is a flood plain, IT IS SUPPOSED TO FLOOD!

More recently, in observation of some of the projects being installed to fight coastal erosion,

one must consider the possibility that we are doing more harm than good.

To quote writer Wendell Berry; “We cannot know what we are doing(to preserve and restore coastal Louisiana), until we know what nature would be doing if we were doing nothing.” We will not preserve what we do not love and we cannot restore what we do not understand from a historical and ecological perspective.

I grew up in coastal Louisiana hunting and fishing the swamps and marshlands with my father and never imagined that in my lifetime I would witness the loss or collapse of this immense ecosystem.

We lived off the land and water eating fish,

frogs, turtle, alligator, shrimp, crab,

crawfish, oyster, deer,

rabbit, squirrel, duck, and goose. The abundance of seafood and game was so great in the wetlands that we always had a freezer full of seafood and meat, and a surplus to share with family and friends. It was a way of life, of living off the land and water.

Before I ever did Louisiana swamp tours,

photo below courtesy of Babette Dartez Romero

or had built my houseboat and moved into the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp to live full-time, I thought I would share that experience with family and friends, if I lived there. After I got there, nobody came unless they hunted or fished.

And too many of those “consumers” in my opinion did not really appreciate what we had, and therefore made no contribution to care for or guard the resources therein.

To truly love the vast wetlands you need to go out into it and explore the swamps and marshlands, experience the sunrises,

eat the fish, photograph the flowers,

hunt the game,

watch the birds,

smell the salt air,

feel the wind,

and hear the sound of silence.

If you love the swamps and marshlands like I do, then you will enjoy the content and pictures in this website for their entertainment, research, and educational value. Use the public facilities and support the commercial businesses listed here for your outdoor pleasure, and make every effort to educate our youth regarding responsible use and stewardship of these fine recreational, natural resources available in Louisiana.

This website has been created to help visitors coming to Louisiana understand what a swamp and marsh is and find quality tour attractions that present educational and entertaining recreational services without destroying the environment or threatening the wildlife that live in those environs.

I will give a list of restaurants, campgrounds, parks, and small businesses as well as free public access recrational locations that are my favorites and qualify to be mentioned.

Such as below, the Cypremort Point State Park and public boat launch into Vermillion Bay.

That list will evolve and be updated as quickly as I can evaluate new attractions and locations that I discover. This website is not now nor will it ever be a finished or complete list of locations or attractions. If you are a seasoned tourist or a newcomer to Louisiana, I encourage you to leave your comments and questions on the blog and assist in the creation and maintenance of this guide to Louisiana swamp, marsh, and lakes in the wilderness wetlands of Louisiana.

Marcus de la Houssaye

Should like to contact me for more info or to book a reservation for a Louisiana Swamp Tour, my cell phone number is 337 298 2630.