Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hope for the Return of the Birds to Lake Martin

Does this really protect the rookery?

The pictures above shows one of The Nature Conservancy's defenses against human intrusion into the rookery at Lake Martin. I support The Nature Conservancy's policy of defending the environment and all species therein by buying and owning the land in order to control the use of said land for wildlife protection.

What I don't understand is why TNC uses the Texaco Hunting Club to oversee something like 6,000 acres of the Cypress Island Preserve by allowing that club to hunt the preserve and cannot cooperate with me a non consumer of wildlife, who was doing tours there for a number of years prior to the Conservancy acquiring the land where the rookery is.

For years I attempted to cooperate with TNC in protecting the birds from poachers by informing the enforcement authorities of poaching activities that I witnessed on my daily swamp tour forays into the rookery. I was never successful in my efforts to protect the birds or alligators from the poachers due to the logistics of enforcing laws in a wilderness area being such a great challenge and the fact that the poachers then lived on the side of the rookery and did not need to use the road or boat landing to enter or leave the crime scene.

As much as I would like to cooperate with The Nature Conservancy regarding all of the management policies at Lake Martin, I confess that I am against the application of herbicides to control plants, and the lowering of the water. Moreso, I am personally offended and against the placing of signage in this pristine wilderness area. These signs first went up about 10 years ago when only I, the duck hunters, and the poachers were in there and have served no other purpose but to spoil the natural beauty of Lake Martin. These signs have never stopped anyone from entering the rookery who was intent upon doing so. Furthermore, I am not aware of anyone getting a citation for entering the rookery by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who has been charged with upholding the laws designed to protect the birds who nest and roost there.

A few years back I was discussing my use of the rookery as a tour site with a member of The Lake Martin Advisiary Committe and informing them of my observations of the poaching of birds and alligators in the rookery. I attempted to justify my presence in the rookery as a tour guide by being an undercover informant of poaching activities.I explained how I observed birds in the nest one afternoon at sunset and the very next morning, nest after nest along my road was empty. Meaning, somebody in a boat followed my road through the rookery and took birds. I knew it was human consumption because predator birds, mammals, and reptiles would not use my road and would never take so many in one night. He asked if I had called the law enforcement agents to report the poaching and I said yes I had. And I added that as far as I knew nothing was being done to stop the poaching. The committee member then stated disbelief that nothing was being done by law enforcement to stop the poaching, if I had in fact called it in. Soon thereafter, I voluntarily stopped going into the rookery during the nesting season.

A year or two later in another discusion regarding a swamp tour guide who was crossing the boundary lined with the yellow signs and doing night tours in the rookery, the committee member expressed frustration with the lack of response by law enforcement to stop the tour guide who was in our opinion disturbing the birds by doing day-time and night-time tours in the rookery. I then reminded him of our previous discussion regarding the poaching issue and the lack of law enforcement and asked "Now you see how I felt when I called them about the poaching?"

In conclusion, I would like to propose that protecting the rookery from boats in the nesting season is not enough. If it is not safe to roost year round, in my opinion they will not nest there in the spring. And I would like to raise one last question. Should we also ban duck hunting in the rookery? I have a hard time believeing that as the birds are now beginning to build nests, we are allowing the hunting of ducks in the rookery. Furthermore, if we are allowing duck hunting in the rookery during nesting season, are the tour boats the biggest threat to the nesting birds?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Nature Attemps to Heal and Restore itself at Lake Martin

Yesterday, I did a Louisiana swamp tour for a couple from New york and I witnessed many new cycles beginning to unfold at Lake Martin. The first thing I noticed was a vigorous new growth of pennywort attempting to recreate the once abundant floating mats of plants that were destroyed by herbicides in the last 10 years.

These mats are present in areas where it was too shallow for the plant control boats to access. On those mats we saw wading birds feeding upon the snails, shrimp, fish and crawfish. The birds we saw are egrets, herons and ibis. We also saw the first Great Egret taking a stand upon her chosen nesting sight, and about a hundred yards away two Great Blue Herons were standing upon nests in the treetops of a cypress grove. We also saw the pair of mature Bald Eagles together near the oldest and I believe tallest tree in the Lake Martin area. I assume, although I am not certain that they are nesting in the area. But, considering Bald Eagles normally lay eggs in the first week of December, I must consider that they may not be presently nesting at Lake Martin, because one adult usually stays with the nest to protect the young, otherwise I doubt I would see them together at this time of the year, unless they were at a nest site.

Another first we witnessed was the pump running on the other side of the lake replenishing the water that was drained off last year in the autumn season. Out of respect for the fisherman, I was not able to get as close as I wanted, so it is difficult to see in this photo to the right but in the distance just above the dog on the bow of my boat, you can see the water gushing from the levee where the pump is located.

Also on the north side I showed them the results of plant control having killed hundreds of acres of button bush. If you look at the photo to the right you can see the dead trunks of the button bush that were once very thick all the way around the lake. I then explained that it was anchorage for the floating mats of plants and pointed out that button bush not only provided support for nests but was also the source of nest building materials in that it is a prolific provider of twigs which the birds can easily break from the bush and carry to the nest.

I went on to describe how the male gathers the twigs and carries it in his beak back to the nest site where the female awaits his return. He passes the twig from his beak to hers, she places it upon the top of the nest, they then do the wild thing and he flies off to fetch another twig. At this point, I then observe Morgan breaking a twig and handing it to his girlfriend! Too cute!

In my opinion the loss of hundreds of acres of button bush demonstrates the unintended consequences of plant control and shows the dangers of meddling with an ecosystem — even with the best of intentions — without thinking long and hard. Lake Martin has been there for thousands of years without any help from us and has provided hunting and fishing opportunities for local residents for decades without plant control. The justification for the application of herbicides is that it benefits the fish and thus the birds and fisherman who prey upon them. Supporters of plant control claim that fish cannot live under floating mats of plants. Ironically, according to locals who have been fishing there all their life, the fishing was much better before plant control and the drainage of the water in last decade. When I first arrived at Lake Martin 20 years ago, I was intrigued by the variety and abundance of plant and wildlife and wondered why it was so different from every other place I had ever visited in south Louisiana. After plant control began to reek havoc upon the food chain, I realized my initial observations of Lake Martin were based upon an area where plant control had never been allowed to devastate the ecosystem. Hopefully, decades of conservation effort are not permanently compromised and widespread ecosystem collapse and devastation are not ignored. We can and should learn from our mistakes of the past. I will no longer observe these activities in the environment that I love and cherish and not speak up about them. I am a defender and protector of wildlife and the environment that supports all species.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Ecological Disaster at Lake Martin

I have been doing Louisiana swamp tours at Lake Martin for 20 years and I have been there fulltime now for the last 12 years. Here is an image I recently photographed while on tour of an area that was once covered with floating mats of plants that provide food for wading birds. That area was attacked with herbicides by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Division of Plant Research and Control about 10 years ago. When I called Richard Martin with the Nature Conservancy and asked him why were hundreds of acres of button bush being killed all around the lake he did not believe me. I invited him out to see and when he came out and saw for himself he agreed that the plant control activities at Lake Martin were out of control. Bear in mind that the button bush that were killed were not targeted as a problem plant but were merely in the way of herbicide being applied to the floating mat of plants. What is more absurd is the the plants being killed were indigenous species that support the food chain leading to the wading birds that roost and nest in the rookery. Specifically I am speaking of pennywort and aquatic bladderwort. The area in the photo above once allowed wading birds to walk around on these floating mats of plants and feed upon shrimp, crawfish, snails, and small fish. As the birds walk upon the mat it is forced down slightly and flushes the small fry up where the birds can prey upon it also large fish like bass, bream and crappie are congregated under the mats and feed upon the food above and in some respects there is a symbiotoc relationship between the fish below and the birds above driving food bothways to the benefit of each other. Below is a photo of birds walking around on a floating mat of plants feeding on shrimp, crawfish, snails and fish.