Further north in the prairie lands of Caddo Parish, hordes of buffalo traveled the Sabine River from as far south as Cameron. The monstrous animals were once abundant in Louisiana's grasslands, roaming free alongside other curiosities like the prairie vole, a hamster-like creature that lives in colonies, and the so-called Greater Prairie Chicken, which is more like a quail on steroids, complete with spiky head and tail feathers.
Industry and agricultural began to claim these lands in greater numbers during the 1950s, when its original inhabitants started disappearing at a shocking rate. Prairie land still exists in Louisiana, but it's dwarfed by neighborhoods, interstates and chemical plants. If you want to see a 5-foot-tall Louisiana whooping crane, try the LSU Natural History Museum in Baton Rouge, where a specimen donated by the federal government sits stuffed inside a glass diorama. Still wondering about those prairie chickens, which once numbered in the millions in Louisiana? They're endangered now, so visit the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Eagle Lake, Texas, which boasts a few birds of Louisiana lineage.
The problems started when multi-acre farms began dividing the prairies. Farming has come to at least partially define Louisiana and offers a culture that many residents still cling to, but there are now 100,000 fewer farms in Louisiana than there were in 1950, according to the most recent U.S. Census. The culprit of land-loss above I-10 nowadays is urbanization, which is shuttering historic farms and covering up Louisiana's plains.
When city populations pour into rural areas, they have a wide range of sociological, cultural and economic impacts. The global proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13 percent in 1900 to 49 percent in 2005, according to a 2005 United Nations report, and urban population could continue to grow to 60 percent by 2030. That's also a local worry, says Keith Ouchley, director of the Nature Conservancy in Louisiana. He points to a pre-Katrina federal study that estimates Louisiana loses 27,000 acres of forest, farm and prairie each year due to urban and suburban development.
To put that figure in context, consider that Louisiana's coastline loses up to 25,000 acres annually due to erosion and other natural and manmade causes. "Everyone knows about the challenges facing the coast, but you never hear about the pressures that are gobbling up farmland," Ouchley says. "We're losing wildlife habitats and much more. Additionally, I think the acceleration is only going to become greater in the near future as Katrina's and Rita's diaspora forces more people away from the coast. I see the development every day driving around Louisiana."
While coastal erosion and restoration issues are finally receiving desperately needed attention and support, Louisiana's overall conservation efforts lag behind. Yes, Louisiana has maintained $1.5 million in annual funding in recent years for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to preserve a long list of open spaces and farmland, but other states have gone much further, creating huge funds dedicated solely to the cause.
Alabama, for instance, earmarks money from offshore oil and gas royalties and has spent $83 million on conservation efforts since 1992. Arkansas has spent $325 million over the past decade; Florida raised $3 billion for a quasi-state fund in 2000 through bond sales; and Georgia's program has protected more than 100,000 acres. Ouchley is presently working on a Pelican State fund for next year's regular session in association with the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and other groups. "This is something we are very interested in," he says. "And on a local scale, parishes like St. Tammany, West Feliciana and Tangipahoa are drawing up plans for smart growth and taking these concerns into consideration."
As for more immediate responses, state Sen. Robert Barham, a Republican from Oak Ridge, a small Morehouse Parish village that is home to a few hundred residents, amended legislation earlier this month that was specific to coastal restoration and broadened it to include conservation money. "I'm worried we might get tunnel vision," Barham says. "We need to protect our forests and other natural lands, and we may be hamstrung by this if we want to do something in that area in the future."
That may mean creating new wildlife refuges to stave off development, or offering developers incentives to mitigate losses. Barham, who is term-limited and undecided on future election plans, says coming generations will have to create momentum for the cause and increase awareness ' and hope people pay attention. "Some other group of lawmakers is going to have to pick this up soon enough," he says, "and you never know, you can never predict, what issue is going to catch people's attention. But this might be it."
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, March 11, 2014:
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.