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Home > Communications > Newsroom > 2003


Matching Funds Could Be Key To Stopping Wetland Loss
September 11, 2003

The U.S. Congress acted on two pieces of environmental legislation in 2000. One was the 20-year, $7.8 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan in Florida, and the other was the 15-year, $4.5 billion Conservation and Reinvestment Act targeted at Louisiana.

The Everglades program was funded. The one that would have benefited Louisiana was not.

A new report offers a side-by-side presentation of the similarities and differences in Louisiana and Florida wetlands and conservation programs. A major point made in the report is that Louisiana’s wetlands washed away into the Gulf of Mexico while Florida’s "lost wetlands" simply were converted to domestic uses. One of the authors responsible for the report also emphasized that state matching funds may be the key to getting federal dollars to help fight Louisiana’s wetland losses.

The report, "Coastal Louisiana and South Florida: A Comparative Wetland Inventory," was released in August.

It was written for the Coastal Wetland Planning and Preservation Act with funding from the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program.

"What we have is, in some ways, a case of working wetlands versus preservation," said Dr. Rex Caffey, a Louisiana Sea Grant Extension wetlands and coastal resources specialist with the LSU AgCenter (one of the report’s authors).

Caffey said that while half of the Everglades are in a national park, most of Louisiana’s wetlands support commercial fisheries and other private enterprises.

Caffey and Mark Schexnayder, a Louisiana Sea Grant Extension economic development and fisheries agent and the other author of the report, point out that Florida’s lost wetlands have mostly been converted for agricultural production.

"In 1999, Florida saw deterioration, and Louisiana saw disappearance," Caffey said of the time leading up to Congress considering both pieces of legislation in 2000. "Florida’s wetlands loss is conversion; Louisiana’s wetlands are vanishing."

The report from Caffey and Schexnayder points out many similarities between Florida and Louisiana, including land area, water area and, until 50 years ago, population.

At one time, the Everglades and coastal Louisiana were both viewed in a similar manner – as wilderness areas to be conquered for settlement and commerce, according to the report.

Over the 200 years leading up the 1980s, both states lost between 50 percent and 55 percent of their wetlands. In the next 20 years, Florida lost barely an additional 0.2 percent, while Louisiana lost an additional 11 percent.

"Regulatory actions combined with agricultural conservation have all but halted wetland loss in the Everglades," Schexnayder said. "But such policy has no effect in coastal Louisiana."

If current loss rates continue, the Everglades could possibly lose an additional 40 square miles of wetlands by 2050, Caffey said. Louisiana is expected to lose that much in the next 18 months.

In July the U.S. Senate passed an energy bill containing an authorization of $195 million from oil and gas royalties for coastal restoration.

"The final bill contains authorization for coastal impact assistance, which could mean millions annually for Louisiana alone," Sen. Mary Landrieu said in July.

Caffey said that while federal funding may be on the horizon, a state match will likely be needed to get coastal restoration programs moving in Louisiana. He said one reason Florida succeeded in getting the Everglades restoration legislation passed was because the state provided equal matching funds for the federal project.

"Louisiana has to come up with an ante," Caffey said. "We have to come up with a match."

That match, Caffey said, could come in the form of the first two constitutional amendments on the Oct. 4 ballot.

"According to the Coast 2050 report published in 1999, the state’s current level of restoration funding is less than one-tenth of what would be required to merely sustain the coastline as it exists today," Caffey said. "Without a way of generating a larger state match, Louisiana will not be able to embark on the $14 billion restoration program needed to fully address coastal land loss."

Amendment 1 could let the state use at least $35 million a year in mineral settlement money and in other one-time revenues to match federal dollars for coastal restoration, according to a column Gov. Mike Foster published on the Internet in August. It also raises the cap from $40 million to $500 million for unobligated funds that can be deposited into the state’s Coastal Restoration Fund.

Amendment 2 says the state can use up to 20 percent of the proceeds it would get if it sells the remaining 40 percent of the tobacco settlement for coastal restoration – but only if the federal government matches the money. The governor said those measures could mean up to $130 million for the state to use as its share of the costs of coastal restoration efforts.

For more information, contact Rex Caffey at (225)578-2393 or rcaffey@agcenter.lsu.edu

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