Wetlands are among the most important and highly productive ecosystems on Earth (Mitsch and Gosselink 1993). Although coastal wetlands account for only 5% of the land within the contiguous United States, they account for almost one-third of the nation’s total wetlands (Field et al. 1991) and have provided the population with valuable renewable services and resources since the beginning of the country’s settlement. Coastal areas have become heavily populated and often overdeveloped, resulting in both direct and indirect destruction of wetlands. Today, over half of the nation’s people live and work within coastal communities that encompass less than 10% of the U.S. land mass (Watzin and Gosselink 1992).
The Louisiana coastal zone was formed by sediment deposited during a series of 16 major Mississippi River deltaic episodes over the past 7,000 years (Kolb and van Lopik 1958), creating a region of coastal wetlands covering 3.3 million acres of the state (Field et al. 1991). However, with current wetland loss between 25 (Dunbar et al. 1992) and 35 (Barras et al. 1994) square miles per year, Louisiana is experiencing the vast majority of coastal wetland deterioration and loss in the United States.
Concern exists over the loss of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands because of the numerous hydrologic, habitat and infrastructure functions they provide, along with resultant economic and social impacts. Numerous studies have provided action plans and general recommendations for restoring Louisiana’s coast and offsetting the severe land loss (EPA/LGS 1987, Boesch et al. 1994, Gagliano 1994, van Heerden 1994, Edwards et al. 1995). In an effort to offset this loss, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) began planning and implementing coastal restoration projects in 1981 through the Coastal Protection Trust Fund (Act 41 of the 2nd extraordinary session of 1981, R.S. 30:311-316). Although approximately 100 restoration projects have been funded by the state, most projects initiated since 1991 have been supported (at 75%) with federal funds (with a 25% contribution from the state of Louisiana) under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (Public Law 101-646, Title III—CWPPRA). The Act is currently referred to as the "Breaux Act" referring to its major author, Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. CWPPRA was enacted and signed into law by President George Bush on November 29, 1990. The law directed that a task force consisting of representatives of five federal agencies–U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Department of Interior (USDOI), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Department of Commerce (USDOC) and the state of Louisiana–develop a "comprehensive approach to restore and prevent the loss of coastal wetlands in Louisiana" (section 303b, subsection 2). The designated lead agencies for the USDOI, USDA and USDOC are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), respectively.
Figure 1. Hydrologic basins comprising Louisiana's active delta, inactive deltaic plain and chenier plain regions.
Through a planning process involving all Task Force members, CWPPRA directed that a restoration plan be developed and submitted to the U.S. Congress. This restoration plan, "Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Restoration Plan" (hereinafter, Restoration Plan), was completed in November 1993. Since enactment of CWPPRA, six priority lists, with a total of 80 restoration projects, have been submitted to the U.S. Congress. Selection of these projects was based on multiple criteria, including anticipated wetland benefits, costs and contributions toward the restoration objectives of each of Louisiana’s nine coastal hydrologic basins (figure 1). CWPPRA also requires that a report (hereinafter, Evaluation Report) evaluating the effectiveness of projects in creating, restoring, protecting and enhancing Louisiana’s coastal wetlands be submitted to the U.S. Congress every three years. This report serves as Louisiana’s first CWPPRA Restoration Plan Evaluation and provides the status of CWPPRA restoration activities in Louisiana as of January 1997.
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