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.
"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
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
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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