The 2013 crawfish season in the Atchafalaya Basin is one of the worst on record so far. Fishermen and their families who depend on crawfishing for their livelihood are hoping that when more water begins to come down the Mississippi and into the Basin, things will improve. We don’t know how much snowmelt we can expect this year, but we hope it’s enough to raise the water level in the Basin to a sufficient extent to get currents circulating and get a north-to-south flow going, with water rich in nutrients and dissolved oxygen–the two most important characteristics of high-quality water potentially productive of a healthy environment and a good catch. The water must be free to move freely through the swamps and bayous. In a show I did in Lafayette today I explained that crawfishing in the Basin is the last remaining cultural activity of French-speaking Cajuns that has not been kidnapped, adulterated, and dis-authenticated by the rest of the world, as Cajun cooking, dancing and music have. It would be tragic, I believe, if we Cajuns lost our long-standing ability to earn a living from the waterways and the big woods of the Atchafalaya. Very few young people are choosing to become crawfishers when they leave high school these days. Since they can’t reliably make a living that way, they choose to go into other kinds of work, though it has always been clear that many of them would far prefer to follow the path set by their parents and grandparents. In essence they no longer have a choice. With the cost of gasoline, crawfish bait, outboard engines and welded aluminum boats at an all-time high, they just can’t afford to get into fishing and crawfishing. These activities, as satisfying as they were in the good years of the past, are out of reach to the young and have become the nearly-exclusive province of much older Cajuns. Of course, far more crawfish have been produced, in the last couple of decades at least, on crawfish farms outside the Basin. It’s what goes on inside the Basin that concerns me at this time.
Sinker cypress pirogue project: Traditional boat builder Faren Serrette of Cecilia is building a full-sized sinker cypress pirogue from wood that I gave him a few weeks ago. When this 14-foot water craft is completed, it will be raffled to raise operating funds for the non-profit organization Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, the most effective group working on restoring the environmental health and productivity of the Basin for hunters, sport and commercial fishers, bird watchers and anyone who enjoys a beautiful and tranquil swamp experience, while at the same time fighting to protect the cypress trees that are a large part of our Cajun heritage and are always in danger of being clear cut by big landowners wanting to convert them into garden mulch. It’s a never-ending fight to save these trees for our own future and that of our children and grandchildren. The Atchafalaya Basin was totally clear cut of all its marketable timber a hundred years ago. That was a tragic mistake, and we should have learned by now that it doesn’t need to be done again. Join Basinkeeper and help us put an end to this potential tragedy. For more information on Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, go to www.basinkeeper.org An announcement about the pirogue raffle will be made on this blog site and elsewhere probably in the fall of this year, or sooner, if Faren gets to work on this rare and valuable boat.
Through the generosity of the Reilly Family Foundation of Baton Rouge, Lamar Advertising is donating to Basinkeeper a full-sized billboard for a year at no charge whatever. Many people are unaware of Basinkeeper and its courageous activities, but a billboard of 15-by-50-foot dimensions in the Baton Rouge area should make thousands of Louisiana people, as well as outsiders, conscious of the fact that we exist. Membership in this non-profit organization is now approaching 600. The more members we have, the more good we can do in the Atchafalaya. Please consider joining us before it’s too late to save the Basin. Basic membership is $30 a year.
Once again the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper organization is trying to prevent a large land company based in Iowa from cutting cypress trees in the Basin. Interviewed by Erin Nicole on Channel 10–Lafayette, the St. Martin Land Company’s forestry consultant recently made the most ridiculous statement that I’ve ever heard about the Basin, in defending the land company’s right to cut these trees…Mike Taylor said, “It’s abeautiful place, but only a couple of months a year is it really tolerable–the mosquitoes will eat you out there.” Is this man crazy, ignorant or just plain stupid? Does he not know that people are out in the Basin at all times of year, touring, bird watching, crawfishing, sport fishing, water skiing, hunting, etc., etc.? Really I believe he is neither ignorant nor stupid. I believe he’s lying in order to find an excuse that would allow the St. Martin Land Company build roads and bridges and dams, block bayous, cut millions of cypress trees and make off with a bundle of money while destroying the environment of our most valuable piece of natural heritage ever. Join Basinkeeper and help us keep this kind of thing from happening again. Meanwhile, don’t worry about the mosquitoes. I’m out in the Basin at least once or twice a week yeararound, and I have no problem with the mosquitoes. Thousands of other people have the same positive experience. The problem out there is not mosquitoes…It’s uncaring, greedy land companies trying to make a killing financially while destroying the wetlands.
Join Basinkeeper at www.basinkeeper.org
As you may know by now, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and several other environmentally concerned organizations have filed an intent to sue the Good Hope Logging Company and the St.Martin Parish School Board to prevent the cutting of cypress trees on Section 16 wetlands in the Atchafalaya Basin, hoping to discourage the wholesale logging of cypress forests all over the Basin. The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, led in this case by attorney Machelle Hall, will be handling the case. Most of the cypress trees cut in the Basin in recent years have been turned into low-quality garden mulch, since the wood is not sufficiently developed or mature enough to produce high-quality lumber. This is a sad commentary on our system of values. Asd I pointed out to the School Board at its last meeting, we have a bad environmental record in Louisiana, and we need to begin changing that image and that reality. Most states have what they recognize as their state tree, along with their state flower, state bird, etc. In Louisiana the state tree is a cypress stump. Do you want to help protect the cypress trees and change that image? Join Atchafalaya Basinkeeper at www.basinkeeper.org and any of the other organizations involved in this fight.
Well, tree lovers (and others), the St.Martin Parish School Board voted 4 to 3, with a couple of abstentions, not to postpone the cutting of cypress trees on their Section 16 lands in the Basin not far from Butte LaRose. As sad and unwise as this seems to me, the trees are still standing, and we will continue to fight for them until they are actually lying on the swampy ground. In spite of Harold Schoeffler’s plea to fully investigate how much money could be made by selling carbon credits on uncut forest, and my plea to set an example of caring for the natural environment, the vote went against us. No one on the Board seemed even interested in the carbon credit idea, though that money could potentially benefit the School Board budget in a big way. In spite of this disappointing vote, all is not yet lost. As the saying goes, we have not yet begun to fight. But we will, and soon.
On Wednesday, May 2, the St. Martin School Board will once again consider the matter of the controversial contract signed with a lumber company to cut down trees on Section 16 wetlands not far from Butte LaRose. I’ll be speaking in opposition to carrying out the contract, as will Harold Schoeffler. The meeting begins at 5PM sharp. Please consider showing your concern for the permanent destruction of cypress trees in the Basin by attending this meeting on Courville Street in Breaux Bridge. The more public support we have, the better our chances to save the trees. Thanks.
Water levels are still dropping in the Basin, and the 2012 crawfish season there has been a disaster. The current issue of Louisiana Life magazine has a feature article on crawfishing, referring to one of the most delicious foods on earth as “mudbugs.” This is unfortunate, insensitive and downright stupid. Crawfishermen and -women are having a hard enough time already trying to make a living without their gourmet food product being called “mudbugs.” People who have not eaten crawfish before will certainly not be encouraged to do so by reading this kind of pseudo-cleverness. Print, radio and TV media in South Louisiana make this unfortunate mistake all the time, apparently trying to use cute language rather than to be accurate and articulate. Shame on them all. In my 70+ years living on the edge of the Atchafalaya Basin, I’ve never once heard a crawfisherman refer to crawfish as mudbugs. They know better, and unlike media people, they are aware of the meaning of words and expressions.
The canoe/kayak event at Lake Fausse Pointe went very well on Saturday. The wind made paddling a little difficult for some of the more inexperienced participants, but everything worked out anyway. It was overall a beautiful day to be out on the water and to eat fried catfish, hushpuppies and chocolate cake. About $1500 was raised to help Basinkeeper continue its worthy activities. Many thanks to Pack and Paddle and to David Allemond of McGee’s Landing, who lent his catfish-frying expertise and equipment to the fundraising effort.
Water level in the Atchafalaya Basin continues to drop. For April this is the lowest level I can remember since the crawfishing disaster year of 2000. There was not much of a winter up-river on the Mississippi, and there has been no snow-melt to provide water to the Basin. Moving water carries oxygen and nutrients, but not much water is moving through the fishing grounds at this time. Hundreds of Cajuns and others who depend on crawfishing in the Basin for their livelihood are suffering through a bad year.
As it happens, the canoe/kayak paddle trip, followed by a catfish fry, on the 14th, is filled up. The event, created as a fundraiser for Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and an opportunity to inform the concerned public about issues in the Basin, will be occurring again on a regular basis, so if you have to miss this one, please consider participating in a future paddling event. To join Basinkeeper, go to www.basinkeeper.org It’s the most effective way available to protect and restore the Atchafalaya Basin.
The water level in the Basin is dropping again, and we’re about halfway through one of the least productive crawfish seasons in recent history. There are theories about why the season is so poor, but no-one knows for certain why the catch is this bad.
My son Andre insisted that I needed to have a blog, and he set me up with one, since I barely knew what a blog is. I’m just trying it out tonight. I have little to say right now, but with people cutting cypress trees for mulch in the Atchafalaya Basin and a terrible crawfish season underway, I’m sure it won’t be long before I find something specific to talk about.
If you have your own canoe or kayak, consider joining me and Dean and Cara Wilson, Stacy Scarce (sp?) and John and Becky Williams of Pack and Paddle, at Lake Fausse Pointe on April 14th for a fundraiser paddle to benefit Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, followed by a fried catfish feast, etc. We’ve done this before , and it’s been fun and productive. Call Pack & Paddle for details and sign up….(337) 232-5854. If you can’t come, at least join Basinkeeper by calling the office in Baton Rouge (225) 685-9554 or (225) 692-4114, or go to www.basinkeeper.org It’s our best chance to restore the Basin’s environmental health and productivity, and we need your help to fight the polluters and developers and to help re-establish good water quality for everyone who fishes, hunts, canoes or watches birds out there. Thanks for whatever you can do.
Please don’t buy cypress mulch. Cypress trees cut in the Atchafalaya Basin do not regenerate…..EVER.