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Massive Spill Shakes Foundation of Conservation in the Sportsman's Paradise

June 15, 2010 12:00 AM

Since April 20th tens of millions of gallons of oil have been gushing from the sea floor, fifty miles off the Louisiana coast, into the deep blue tuna, wahoo, swordfish, marlin and sailfish waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  All hope is focused on efforts to stop the gusher; to stop the assault on the Gulf ecosystem. 

Images of thick oil along Louisiana's barrier beachfronts and wetlands evoke a depressing realization that the damage will be great, and clean-up and recovery a long-term challenge once the flow is stopped.  It's possible, even after Mother Nature has time to heal her wounds, that the wonderful and productive Gulf of Mexico that has nourished us, shaped our culture, economy and lives, will never be the same.  This event has shaken the foundation of conservation in the Sportsman's Paradise.    

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation has been contacted by many individuals, organizations and businesses expressing concern about impacts to natural resources from the onslaught of oil, and to offer help.  To all, thank you.  We deeply appreciate your desire to help. 

Most of the ongoing response work is being done by BP employees and contractors and state and federal government workers who have received hazmat training and have other specialized skills such as for handling injured/oiled wildlife.  We anticipate that opportunities for volunteers to help will increase in the days ahead. 

The LWF is partnering with the National Wildlife Federation to establish volunteer surveillance teams to assist with the response.  Click here for details of that effort.  If you are unable to volunteer, your tax-deductible donation is welcome.  You can make a secure online donation by clicking the "Donate" button below.

The joint response website and the state emergency response website are good sources of information about action that is being taken by responders, reporting injured wildlife, clean-up help opportunities, status of fishing closures and other official reports and information.  The Louisiana Department of Widlife & Fisheries oil spill response website has updated fishing closures and coverage of habitat damage and wildlife rescue.  A NOAA website has the latest data on the oil spill's trajectory, fishery closed areas, wildlife and place-based Gulf Coast resources, such as pinpointed locations of oiled shoreline and daily position of research ships.  Many media outlets are covering the "spill."  Comprehensive coverage and investigative reporting is provided by the Times-Picayune.  Jared Serigne from St. Bernard Parish has created a blog to document the spill's effects on local communities.   

This massive oil "leak" has enormous implications for Louisiana, our coast, economy, and culture as well as for other communities throughout the Gulf Coast Region.  Here, the spill may accelerate already catastrophic rates of wetland loss by killing vegetation and promoting further erosion.  It may delay implementation of restoration projects as they are reevaluated in the wake of the spill damage.  Since restoration funding is closely tied to state and federal revenues from offshore energy development and response to the spill may curtail that activity in the short term, the funds available for restoration will diminish unless other sources are made available. 

The costs of this disaster are being felt disproportionately by the commercial fishing families who cannot fish, by recreational charter boat guides whose trips have been cancelled, by coastal communities reliant on tourism and by legions of anglers who flock to the coast for what is some of the best saltwater fishing in the world, at least until now.  The costs are manifested more directly and poignantly in the deaths of helpless sea and shore birds that find themselves "oiled" while going about their business, far from the helping hands of a rescue team.  These are the same birds that only weeks ago entertained and amazed us with their joie de vivre and prowess at survival.  And there are the other creatures that we seldom see but take pleasure in knowing are out there, making up the diversity and abundance of life in the great Gulf of Mexico.  What will become of them in a habitat strewn with deadly oil that is foreign to their instincts? 

What can we now think of LWF's 8-year campaign to restore public access to Elmers Island, achieved in part last summer, and the ongoing effort to establish a "state seashore" along the Caminada Headland where the waves now push globs of oil in to foul the shoreline and fishing is closed? 

What we can now think, and do, is to make sure something like this can never happen again and work even harder to restore the habitat that makes our state a unique and wonderful home. 

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