National Wildlife Refuge System

Friend to Friend: Planting and Partying

Newly planted cordgrass is thriving on the restored marshes of Delta National Wildlife Refuge, LA. There should be enough food for wildfowl during the fall migration.
Credit: USFWS

Louisiana is losing its coastal wetlands to erosion and hurricanes at an alarming rate and the Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges pitched in to help reverse the trend in a big way this summer.

Delta National Wildlife Refuge combines the warmth of the Gulf of Mexico and the wealth of the Mississippi River to provide a rich food source for fish, waterfowl and other wildlife.  Hundreds of thousands of snow geese, gadwall, American widgeons, coots and more winter on the refuge. For human visitors, there is boating, birdwatching, fishing, hunting and photography in a refuge accessed only by boat.

The Delta Marsh Restoration Project uses natural silt movement from the Mississippi River to create new marsh. The plan called for excavating a crevasse that would allow sediment-loaded water to flow into shallow open water areas. The sediment would fall to the bottom and marsh would develop naturally.  About a dozen terraces resembling long, skinny islands would be built to direct the flow of water in a serpentine pathway through the open water.

Original plans called for Chevron Pipeline Company and Texas Petroleum Investment Company to complete parts of the work as mitigation for incidents involving their oil and gas wells on the refuge.  A joint venture was born when Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges treasurer Jim Schmidt said the refuge, the Friends and the two companies realized that “by combining forces we could accomplish much more than if we worked independently.” 

Schmidt said the Friends worked through a lengthy application process with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), initially being told the project didn’t qualify for a grant because it was on federal – not private – land.  The Friends persisted, found a sympathetic ear and an alternative funding source at NFWF, and ultimately received a grant of just under $100,000.

Friends of Louisiana Refuges supported a marsh creation project at Delta National Wildlife Refuge, LA, by planting 7,000 plugs of smooth cordgrass on five terraces in June 2013.
Credit: Friends of Louisiana Wildlife Refuges

Making Progress with Partners
Chevron, Texas Petroleum and the Friends each agreed to complete a specific portion of the massive project. Chevron excavated the crevasse and built five terraces. Texas Petroleum built two terraces. The Friends group was responsible for building five 600-foot terraces. All parties used the same contractor to make the project more affordable.  Construction was completed by December 2012.

Friends, volunteers and refuge staff planted smooth cordgrass on the Friends’ five terraces on June 6 – 7. “We had tremendous support from volunteers,” says Schmidt. “Part of the group stayed in a bunk house near Venice, LA and others stayed in a nearby motel. Food for volunteers was provided by Diversified Foods.”

Two months later, Delta Refuge wildlife specialist Keith Westlake says, “It all looks wonderful. The cordgrass survived and sediment is already collecting. We have submerged aquatic vegetation and come fall, there will be enough for the waterfowl.”

“This is an excellent example of the use of mitigation funds, grants and volunteers, via a joint venture partnership, to accomplish what will become a self-sustaining marsh creation project,” said Westlake, who also praised the refuge’s relationship with its Friends group. “They understood what we needed and they stepped forward to make it happen.” 

Schmidt’s advice for other Friends groups embarking on similarly complex projects?   “Never give up. Our refuges need our aggressive support if they are to achieve the objectives we all want.”

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Last updated: August 27, 2013