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."
Black Friday shopping begins; Pope visiting Turkey; oil prices decline and more national and international news for Friday, November 28, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.