Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Good News for Lake Martin

Before we get to the good news at Lake Martin, check out Anne's new book about Louisiana swamp tours, Louisiana Swamp Tours: The Definitive Guide. It is a must for anyone considering all of the swamp tour options available statewide.

I just got the news printed in a local St. Martin parish newspaper that the plan for water management at Lake Martin this fall, was to not drain the lake as usual! This is good news considering that the birds have been declining in population since the lake was first being drained in 2001!

An English couple doing a birding tour this week.

In fact based upon my inspection of the drain gate, the water is being raised higher than it has been all year!

I can't wait to see where the birds will start nesting in January this coming year. Maybe the Great Blue Herons will return to nest along Rookery Road the way they did before the lake was being drained each fall since 2001. Below are pictures of nests from last season, where the birds nested on trees that are growing in water year round near the lake.

It is common knowledge that wading birds nest in trees that grow in standing water year round. Specifically, Bald Cypress, Tupelo Gum, and Button Bush are the primary trees for nesting sites at Lake Martin.

I am not the only voice of opposition regarding mismanagement at Lake Martin. To read an article written by a birding photographer who witnessed the demise of the rookery, go here:

Unfortunately, at the time he wrote the article, Charles did not know me personally and we have since become acquainted through regular telephone conversations. His observation of several occasions of nesting birds departing overnight along with my personal witnessing of poaching of birds and a tour guide who did night tours in the rookery are suspect of too much human intrusion into the rookery. That being said, it was always my belief, untill recently, that the poaching of birds and alligators along with frogging and a swamp tour guide doing night tours in the rookery was the primary cause of the gradual decline in the population of birds in the rookery.

However, my observation of bird behavior has been very intense this year and that along with my lifetime knowledge of animal behavior has cause me to admit that water management and plant control(see photo below), has done more damage to the ecosystem at Lake Martin and more than anything has led to the decline in population of the birds nesting choices at the lake.

Cypress trees turning orange and the entire mat of floating aqautic plants suffer exposure to herbicide at Lake Martin Landing.

My relationship with Charles began and continues, because I talk to people and give my opinions and support to individuals who share in an interest of mutual concern regarding the management of Lake Martin. Although I feel I have failed to ever connect with employees of The Nature Conservancy, all my attempts made to cooperate and work with them at The Nature Conservancy were founded on my belief the we should all work together to protect the environment and the wild native inhabitants.

I may have issues with the micro-management of Lake Martin, but I do overall appreciate all that The Nature Conservancy does to acquire land and preserve it for the benefit of all wild inhabitants worldwide.

Their philosophy is simple: own the land to protect it from exploitaion and development. Judging from the difficulty they are having at Lake Martin, they need all the help they can get. I wish they would seek my help. I would like to work with them. When I have mentioned contributing my observations to the cause for the birds there, the response was usually to contribute financially, if I liked.

Hmmm...Let's think about this: Do the birds need my money?

Of course the Nature Conservancy doesn't need my money if they can afford to buy a TV advertisement during the Super Bowl!

Initially, I worked at Lake Martin, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as an undercover informant to end the poaching of birds and alligators there. My undercover status prevented me from telling too much to anyone in The Nature Conservancy at Lake Martin in order to preserve my undercover activities. Thus they were unaware that I was on their side, and was not doing tours in Lake Martin to exploit the birds, but to protect them.

When I voluntarily stopped going into the rookery in 2002 and 2003, I warned The Nature Conservancy: they would be sorry, I was not in there anymore.

When I noticed that no one was stopping the Chump from doing swamp tours in the rookery, I began to go in again in 2004 to do research, because I was aware something was causing the nesting birds to abandon Lake Martin as the prime nesting site it once was.

At that point, I was unaware that the Chump(who I started in the business 10 years ago), was doing night tours in the rookery. My assumption was, poaching of birds and alligators(at night), as the primary cause of human intrusion and disturbance of the nesting birds in the rookery at Lake Martin.

When in December of 2004, after I observed the night tour activities I spoke to Richard Martin about plant control and someone doing night tours in the rookery, he advised me he was glad I was in the rookery again. My jaw almost hit the floor in awe. This was the first time I felt The Nature Conservancy expressed any appreciation to me for my efforts to fight for Lake Martin and it's defenseless wild inhabitants.

Although I have every fall for the last eight years, been dreading the expected annual drainage of this wonderful ecosystem, it looks hopeful that we can now see what happens if the lake water is left alone to manage and balance itself by allowing water to rise and fall according to climate fluctuations.

Human controlled and scheduled water management began after a rare drought caused a fish kill in the mid 1990's. Water management and plant control are proposed to improve water quality and help attract the nesting birds. Looks to me like the experiment failed.

The lake water was being lowered or drained to flush out bird droppings and a so called nutrient overload resulting from so many birds that once nested there defecating in the water. But since the water of the lake was being lowered and the toilet flushed so to speak, the bird population has been in a decline.

The irony of this situation is that the herbicide plant control activity also designed to improve water quality, was reducing the plant mass and decreasing the ecosystem's ability to absorb waterborne nutrients in the floating plant mass in the rookery.

The floating mat of plants and the submerged plants, have the ability to filter and absorb nutrients which leads to natural, rather than man made improved water quality management.

In essence the state and corporate management at Lake Martin was doing everything wrong in my opinion.

In a discussion regarding plant control at the lake, I was advised by the executive director of conservation for the Louisiana Nature Conservancy that fish cannot live under floating mats of plants. I won't mention his name, I think I have already caused him enough embarrassment.

Below is a photo of a baby fish living below a thick layer of Wolfia and lesser duckweed in the rookery, proof that fish can and do live under floating mats of plants. Not only do the roots of floating plants provide cover, there are krill in there too, which is food for baby fish.

I stopped to examine the submerged coontail(as seen below) in the rookery and flushed the little fish up on the mat of plants.

Not only are the roots of the duckweed family important habitat for small fry fish, krill, and crawfish, also the roots of trifolium grass, pennywort, aquatic bladderwort and frogbit as seen in the floating mat of plants below.

Below are pictures of living button bush and an intact floating mat of plants in the rookery. This image is a good reference of what was once continuous all the way around the lake before plant control turned three sides of Lake Martin into an aquatic desert.

Today, due to plant control overkill, the north, east and west sides of Lake Martin no longer have the button bush and accompanying floating mat of plants, as seen below.

At least for the time being, we have the water rising to near where it was in 2001 before the birds began to depart. And... for 2009 during the spring and summer growing season, I witnessed only two episodes of plant control around the lake until the end of October.

In October, plant control returned for the third time and sprayed a large area of water hyacinth on the north west corner of the lake. This not only deminishes the plant mass important for fish, fisherman and feeding the wading birds, we tour guides like to drive through the water hyacinth to dimonstrate how we fish for crawfish.

For the future... how can we restore the floating mat of plants on the north end?

Simple: transplant indigenous plants like frogbit and pennywort(like the clump I started below) and...
convince the plant control people to control themselves!

But based upon my observations they don't know an indigenous plant from a non-native invasive species. Consider this: government efficiency, like government intelligence are contradictory terms and should never be used together.

Well, at least we can hope and celebrate one victory at a time.

See you in the lake,