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Cameron Prairie, Lacassine, and Sabine National Wildlife Refuges in Louisiana: Healing from Rita


October 7, 2005

Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291

Cameron Parrish, La. — As residents of the Rita and Katrina-affected areas of Louisiana return home, find some means of surviving the requirements of just living from day to day, and begin to get back into their regular routines, some of the less-life-threatening, but nonetheless quality-of-life impacting situations will inevitably come to the forefront. Among these situations, the impact of the storms, and, more detrimental, the impact of some of the results of the storms on wildlife and habitat in the area will become apparent. The Southwest Louisiana Refuge Complex, which includes Cameron Prairie, Lacassine, and Sabine National Wildlife Refuges, will suffer the effects of Rita for years to come.

“As we get past the damage to our homes and towns and move forward with recovery in these areas, we are all starting to notice the effect the storm has had on our local fish and wildlife as well as our coastline,” said Steve Reagan, refuge biologist. “Freshwater fish are floating dead within many of our waterways because of saltwater intrusion or oxygen depletion. Oxygen will continue to decline within local waters as the plant material in these waters decays.”

The carcasses of deer, muskrat, otter, alligators and other terrestrial wildlife dot the landscape because they could not escape the hurricane’s tidal surge. Hurricane Rita’s damaging winds affected local birds too. Among those that survived, many have broken wings or damaged legs. Other wildlife without obvious bodily damage are also casualties of Hurricane Rita. Much of their habitat on which they were dependent for their daily needs has been destroyed by salt water or coated with toxic materials including gas and oil. Louisiana’s coast has also pushed farther inland decreasing the amount of marshlands.

“Even though the winds are gone and the sun now shines, some damage will continue to occur,” Reagan continued. “Southwest Louisiana is also very important to many species of wildlife that are soon to arrive, migratory waterfowl and neotropical songbirds. Louisiana coastal bottomland hardwoods offer some of the last food and rest available to these birds prior to their flights across the Gulf of Mexico. The effects of the saltwater surge and high winds on these forests are just now becoming apparent. Some trees will not be able to survive the increased salinities.”

The impact will continue as the seasons change and new years begin their life cycle of these wildlife species.

“Louisiana is also home to many colonial nesting birds including pelicans, herons, and egrets. Each of these has been affected from Hurricane Rita,” Reagan said. “Much, but not all, of Louisiana’s fish and wildlife habitats will heal. This is not the first hurricane to our area, nor will it be the last. Recovery takes time, and what does return may not be exactly what was there before.”

Project Leader for the complex of national wildlife refuges, Don Voros, described the damages to refuge facilities.

“The majority of the facilities at Sabine National Wildlife Refuge have been irreparably damaged, “said Voros. “It is our hope that the existing structures can be demolished, the sites cleared of debris, and new structures can be constructed immediately. But, we’re aware that ‘immediate’ isn’t something we can expect with this much damage at the refuge and throughout the community. At Lacassine and Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuges, we are still assessing damages to the buildings. It appears that the structures at theses sites may still be salvageable and in some cases fully functional.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service Hurricane Response Team is aiding local residents by clearing debris from their driveways, helping ranchers find cattle by helicopter, serving as a staging area for feeding and watering cattle by helicopter, taking residents to their homes by airboat when possible and providing the Cameron Parish Emergency Operations staff, FEMA, National Guard, U.S. Army and government officials with a temporary site to operate from at Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge in Bell City, Louisiana.

Cameron Prairie, Lacassine, and Sabine National Wildlife Refuges will remain closed to all public recreational activities until further notice.

“There are all kinds of contaminants on these refuges—some we know what they are, but I’m sure there are problems out there that we haven’t even begun to identify,” said Safety Officer for the Response Team, Brian Hardison. “Until we can be sure our refuges are safe places to visit, we need to keep them closed—for public safety.”

The Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Office is now up and running, fully staffed, and working on getting things back to normal. For more information about the effects of Hurricane Rita on these refuges visit

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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