Some things are national treasures, and the protected Atchafalaya Basin, a cypress swamp, bayou and part of the Mississippi and Red River water sheds, is one of those treasures. Thankful that the bald and tupelo cypress, (totally cut, not ONE was saved,) will some day rise again as the prehistoric giants of...whoa! Wait a minute. Jim and I took a ride with the only Basinkeeper on the Atchafalaya, Dean Wilson. He used to be a professional crawfisherman and he actually lives there and sees the swamp everyday. Our national treasure is in trouble. The Corp of Engineers has two people watching the area, and the State of Louisiana hired one person to oversee the swamp. "I never see them unless I call and complain about infractions," he told us.
In recent years, logging companies moved in and began cutting young cypress, grinding it up and selling it for mulch to two major chains, WalMart and Home Depot. They were reported to the state, and issued cease and desist orders, and they would. Temporarily. The laws had no teeth in them. No power to fine them and make non-compliance hurt.
"Filing suit would net a small "settlement", and they'd start up operations again."
The Basinkeepers Organization attacked WalMart and Home Depot. WalMart took cypress mulch off their shelves locally. Home Depot ignored them. Big Corporations care for profits above National Treasures, so, wherever you shop, don't buy Cypress Mulch. (The companies also clear cut cypress on private lands even though it is a protected species.)
We asked Dean, "How do you find your way around this swamp without "road" signs?
Big oil and the logging companies left a damaging legacy of "roads" into the swamps. Deep channels that allowed invasive species in, that drowned native species, affected the nesting and migratory birds feeding grounds. The state subsidized levees giving the companies access which allowed hard woods in that can't withstand hurricanes. The Corp changed the course of the river and silt-building to provide more dry land for farming and houses. Oil companies were supposed to return the land to the condition in which they found it. The state didn't enforce those contracts and the oil companies simply ignored them. Yes, but this was all years ago before we were wise to the folly of...Wait! "Dean, why is the alligator grass on this side of the channel big and clumpy and on the other side its dry and barely living?
"The oil pipe lines are located under the dead grass. The oil companies don't want stuff to grow over their lines and they come though with planes and spray herbicides from above."
We actually didn't go on this boat ride to castigate corporate practices and weak state laws. We were shocked at what we learned by asking questions. That current enlightenment is so crassly ignored, and that such damaging practices are allowed to continue, took us by surprise.
I get on a rant but I want to say Dean's tour was educational but a lot of fun. His dog, Chucka could smell a nutria, detect a squirrel in a tree, or a bird before Dean could ever spot it. Spring is unseasonably cold and late but the cypress are greening quite heavily now and the smell of flowers was in the air. The real treat was getting to see how the crawfishermen work their traps.
The traps are tied to a tree, baited with fish or meal, and checked periodically for crawfish. There was little to be had. Above, the bait is alone in the trap. The fishermen nail brightly colored ribbons to the trees with their traps to identify them from each other.
The boat is flat bottomed. Dean had to push several floaters, like the one above, out of the way. Once the boat got hung up on a floater. Dean joked, "My customers have to paddle.!" The boat can glide over some obstructions, but not all.
Dean told us new laws on the books this year allow for heavy fines that should discourage illegal logging in the Atchafalaya.