Conservation groups' purchase will preserve 675 acres of Maurepas Swamp
Higher ground on the properties in rural Livingston Parish also protects part of a land bridge used by Louisiana black bears migrating between the Atchafalaya River delta and forested areas to the north.
The three properties were purchased by the Conservation Fund from the Fritchie family, Canal Land Co. and Bilten LLC, and then sold to the Land Trust of Southeast Louisiana for about $1 million. The Conservation Fund connects willing landowners with conservation organizations and federal agencies, purchasing wildlife habitat with its own money and then getting repaid by the buyers.
In the Maurepas Swamp, property owners wanting to clear-cut cypress have run into problems in recent years with the Army Corps of Engineers, which has prohibited building log roads through wetlands, and with environmentalists intent on saving cypress from being turned into garden mulch.
“Buying property through these types of measures means circumventing the head-to-head conflicts between landowner and regulatory agencies, particularly as related to cypress logging,” said Ray Herndon, Louisiana state director with the Conservation Fund.
The land trust used a $1 million bird conservation grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to acquire the property. The grant allows the area to become part of the National Audubon Society’s West Pontchartrain-Maurepas Swamp Important Bird Area Habitat Conservation project.
The original landowners retain mineral rights for at least 10 years, but there are no plans to explore for oil or gas, said Dr. Jay Addison, president of the land trust. No forestry will be allowed on the property, except to remove invasive species, he said.
The trust, created in 2004 and based in Hammond, owns or controls 2,500 acres in Louisiana, including the 9 Mile Island property at Lake St. Catherine in eastern New Orleans.
The Maurepas wetland properties abut the state’s 68,000-acre Lake Maurepas Wildlife Management Area, which was established in the late 1990s with assistance from the Conservation Fund. The fund added 1,700 acres to the management area in 2009.
While this latest acquisition is small, compared with the 100,000 acres of cypress-tupelo forest already protected in Maurepas Swamp, keeping higher land along Chinquapin canal from being developed assures that protected wetlands to the east and south will not be fragmented, said Melanie Driscoll, director of bird conservation for the Gulf of Mexico for the National Audubon Society.
“The 675 acres is a critical parcel within the larger conservation landscape for many of the birds we’re interested in,” Driscoll said. Many of the species, including several that are threatened or endangered, need large areas not affected by development for both feeding ranges and breeding areas, she said.
Migratory waterfowl using the area as a resting stop during their migration and as a wintering ground include northern pintail, lesser scaup, and mottled and mallard ducks.
For hunters, protecting the land both guarantees their catch and a continued economic benefit from their hunting, she said.
The new property and another 800 acres nearby will protect 3,800 breeding pairs of the prothonotary warbler, considered the “canary” of the swamp and a rapidly declining species, and 3,500 breeding pairs of the northern parula, also believed to be in decline. It also will protect 200 breeding pairs of the painted bunting.
Other species found in the cypress swamp include the yellow-throated warbler, yellow-billed cuckoo and wood thrush.
The area also is used by species more likely to be recognized by Louisianans, including white ibis, bald eagle, little blue and green herons; and those rarely seen, including king and yellow rails and least bitterns.
More acquisitions of Maurepas Swamp land are likely, Herndon said, making it a hot spot for both conservation and wetland restoration efforts.
Mark Schleifstein can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3327.
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