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.