July 25, 2014
By Karen Westphal
To keep our staff focused on Louisiana issues by maintaining a connection with the landscape, a small seaplane flew our newest staff and our Washington DC representative across south Louisiana to land at Audubon’s oldest and largest Sanctuary in southwest Louisiana. Tours like this are integral to our staff’s understanding of the scale of conservation issues that cannot be easily garnered otherwise.
The Louisiana staff Ashley Peters and Harriett Pooler joined Brian Moore from the national office in Washington DC at the Southern Seaplane base in Belle Chasse. While they were flying across the Louisiana marshes, barrier shoreline and Atchafalaya/Wax Lake delta complex, I (Karen Westpha) and Doug Meffert headed out by boat (in the Avocet) to join Timmy Vincent (pronounced “Van-saw”), Senior Sanctuary Manager of the Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary.
I towed the Avocet down under overcast and drizzly skies, which cleared by the time Doug arrived at the boat ramp and we headed out to the Rainey headquarters through a glassy Vermilion Bay.
At 10 AM the Seaplane flew over the house, which was the pilot looking the canal over before landing. It was a smooth landing and alligators and egrets scattered as the plane taxied to the dock.
Brian, Ashley and Harriett disembarked and we greeted one another as the plane taxied away and went aloft. The group moved inside for discussion and map orientation of the Sanctuary landscape.
While Timmy and Doug were otherwise occupied, I took the group for a short tour of the headquarter grounds and up onto the camp-under-construction for an overlook.
The heat and insects shortened our walking tour, and we boarded the Avocet for a boat ride. At the Bay Coast weir, I explained our attempts to manage water levels and salinity for the best intermediate marsh health. Where the canal enters Vermilion Bay, I showed them the multitude of commercial crab traps clustered at the outlet as one of many indicators of marsh health by the number of crabs it produces.
We stopped next at the small dredge marsh restoration site and toured the new marsh that is the result of our efforts. There was a bit of excitement as Harriett walked by an unnoticed 7-ft alligator lying partially under the main walkway. It was our resident gator and didn’t react to our presence at first. With Harriett on one side and the rest of us on the other, it was prudent to make a gator of this size move away. With some experience, I pulled up one of the many 10-ft PVC poles nearby and gently bumped the gator in the side to let it know we could see it. It flinched and slowly moved off to a more comfortable distance.
We continued with our marsh tour. I brought along one of the Dredge Log-books containing blog reports to show them photos of the area before fill. I also explained the LSU research plots as we walked the route through the filled cells.
By the time we finished at the dredge site, it was past noon and we were getting hungry. As if on cue, Timmy texted that it was crab time. We returned to the house to cool off and eat boiled crab.
Thunderstorms were closing in, so the visit came to an end. I dropped the top on the Avocet to stow it and headed directly back to the boat ramp to pull the boat out of the water. The others were transported back to the parking lot by Timmy on the Goose, and they arrived at the boat ramp as I was unloading the Avocet and securing it for travel. The clouds rolled in as we departed.
It was a long day, but an important one. The staff now has a better understanding of the work they do and how conservation and political issues are connected to the landscape.