Is it again time for a change?

Breaking News

The 2014 budget proposal from Governor Bobby Jindal contains the following entries.


 • The Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Department of Environmental Quality will consolidate and share management and finance functions such as human resources and information technology for the three agencies. Consolidation will eliminate duplication of effort in these agencies in desktop support, server and network support, operating cost and personnel. As part of this consolidation effort, there is a statewide savings in State General Fund of $2.3 million and a reduction of 36 Authorized (Appropriated) Table of Organization Full Time Equivalents (T.O. FTEs).

 • The Atchafalaya Basin Program in the Office of the Secretary has been eliminated, and its functions will be taken over by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Reference: 2014 Budget Proposal by Gov. Jindal

(Note that this relates to the Atchafalaya Basin Program, not the Atchafalaya Heritage Area in the Lt. Governor’s Office.)


In the late 1990’s, the Atchafalaya Basin Program was envisioned as an agency that would create an official process for protecting a resource considered by many of us to be invaluable to all of us, the area in and around the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway.

A volunteer committee met with resource agency personnel and professional planners to create a Master Plan that addressed water quality, public access, environmental protection, and public recreation aspects of floodway management.

In 1999, the Louisiana Legislature approved the Plan and enabled the Atchafalaya Basin Program for 15 years in the LA Department of Natural Resources.

In its early years, the program was most successful in addressing recreation and public access projects; water management efforts proved difficult, expensive, and frought with controversy. As the State’s Federal partner and the agency responsible for managing the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System (ABFS) , the US Army Corps of Engineers moved ahead slowly with purchases of land and environmetal protection easements in the Floodway System. Frustration grew in many supporters with the lack of environmental progress; other groups collected State and Federal dollars and built impressive recreation projects.

A Course Correction

In 2008, the Program was modified to address the difficulty of completing water management projects by directing the focus of the Basin Program away from recreation features and toward water management and public access projects, adding a more formal structure to project selection, and enhancing the scientific review process.

Since that time, strides have been made in increasing transparency and public access to planning and review processes. A Technical Advisory Group of scientists from Federal and State resource agencies and academia now reviews all project proposals, most originated by public participants and local government offices. Historical trend data and remote sensing technologies are used to analyze and predict the effects of the proposals. With these improvements, the Program still struggles with landowner resistance and fiscal issues. In 2010, the public accepted a constitutional amendment setting up a potentially ongoing fund to provide money for restoration projects but the conditions for income to begin building have not been met and the Program continues to exist year by year.

It has also become clear in the past few years that the original design of the floodway, completed before the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and with little regard for environmental issues, has degraded habitat and human recreational resources, and that a new approach is needed for ABFS management. Data collected during the major flood of 2011 indicated that more areas than had been anticipated were isolated from life-giving flood water and subsequent drainage.

In addition, powerful interests have thwarted efforts to use the construction permitting process to improve water quality and curb degradation. Land owners and resource extraction and tranport companies have minimized expenditures on environmentally sound construction practices and long term maintenance of modifications, at the expense of wildlife habitat and public recreation opportunities. These practices ultimately translate to public subsidies when government tries to rehabilitate damaged areas.

But failure to maintain adequate wild areas is not just a wildlfe and receation issue; increasing development around populated areas requires adequate forests, wetlands and grasslands to sustain human existence on this crowded planet.

The dangerous situation in which we find ourselves demands leadership. It requires more than mindless rhetoric about cutting costs; it needs thoughtful consideration of our survival needs and intelligent policy decisions that can actually improve the dire conditions that we find in the Great Swamp.

In case we haven’t noticed, the choices are no longer between sacrifices or not; they are  between which sacrifices we are willing to choose. Whatever you believe is the cause, climate change is upon us and many are already feeling effects, from stronger storms and worse floods to forced relocation as our land is washed away. Coastal land loss was aggravated by past decisions on flood control approaches and by our desire to minimize the cost of fuel and building materials, and future impacts will depend on future decisions.

The argument about whether to eliminate the Atchafalaya Basin Program and move the responsibility for  protecting and/or restoring the Floodway to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is a distraction and could be positive or negative, depending on whether we have the courage to look past the budget implications and address the importance of protecting our remaining quasi-natural areas. These are not isolated issues of specific wildlife habitat or hunting and fishing locations; these are subjects that affect our survival as a species and the priorities need to be addressed calmly and thoughtfully, by all the affected individuals. That is the way that the Atchafalaya Basin Program started, and it is how it should proceed, in whatever form it takes.

Charles R. Caillouet, Jr.
Friends of the Atchafalaya Secretary/Treasurer webmaster
(The opinions herein are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of the FOA Board or membership.)
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