NERR Selection Process Begins
Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) is spearheading the effort to determine where a possible National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) might be located in the state’s coastal zone.
The multi-year process began in July 2019 when Gov. John Bel Edwards sent a request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to proceed with a NERR initiative in Louisiana. Edwards appointed LSG as the lead organization to manage the site pre-designation process. The entire process of establishing a NERR typically takes four to six years.
“We had hoped to roll-out the site development phase in the late spring,” said Robert Twilley, LSG executive director. “But COVID-19 derailed the schedule for several months, but we are now moving forward with a great team. We are reviewing six proposed zones ranging from the Calcasieu Estuary in the southwest to Lake Pontchartrain in the southeast with multiple estuarine zones in between.”
The Site Development Committee, made of 80 members representing state, federal, non-profit and university institutions, has begun evaluating the merits of the six proposed estuarine zones in order to develop candidate sites for a NERR. Before the end of the year, various stakeholder groups will be asked for feedback on the pre-designation process and the six proposed zones. In early Spring 2021, the Site Development Committee will be identifying more specific candidate sites within the zones that have proven to have merit for a NERR. As those candidate sites are developed, town halls will be held to engage local communities near those locations to participate in the selection process.
NERR sites are centers for research, education, stewardship and training design to protect and study estuarine ecosystems. Currently, the NERR System is a network of 29 coastal sites, with Louisiana being one of the few coastal states along an ocean without one. Established through the Coastal Zone Management Act, the reserves represent a partnership between NOAA and the coastal states.
“Establishing a Louisiana NERR will provide federal support for applied science, monitoring, education and outreach opportunities at a specific location along our coast,” said Twilley. “We’re evaluating several estuarine zones that have existing publicly owned lands and adjacent public trust waters as potential candidate sites. We are also reviewing the potential to expand the area of each candidate site with municipal and non-profit property and with donated or purchased land.”
NOAA would not own or manage the site. The NERR site may be a combination of property owned by Louisiana along with federal, non-profit and private land holdings, and the state would be responsible for the day-to-day management of the site, in cooperation with other landowners.
“The establishment of a NERR wouldn’t add any new regulations to the land,” Twilley added. “Designation doesn’t preclude existing uses – such as hunting and fishing – nor does it result in the total preservation of the area. It creates opportunities for education, monitoring, research and training that can help address coastal management issues.”
For more information, visit www.laseagrant.org/deltanerr. Facebook and Twitter pages have been established: www.facebook.com/deltanerr and twitter.com/deltanerr. Questions and comments also can be sent to [email protected].