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Sierra Magazine
Befriending and Defending the Bayou

After 30 years of advocacy and public education, Louisiana Sierra Club activists' mantra, "Keep the Atchafalaya Wet and Wild," has become the basis for a historic change in the management philosophy in the river basin. The Corps of Engineers' once-neglected and inactive land-acquisition program has become the largest in the country. In four years, conservation easements will protect 338,000 acres of Atchafalaya bottomland hardwood forest, wetlands, and marshland from incompatible development and deforestation. Another 50,000 acres has already been purchased outright, which gives the public access for fishing, boating, and birding.

Club efforts are also helping programs to restore crawfish and fishery habitat by improving water quality and flow damaged by pipeline canals. New recreation facilities, including boat launches, boardwalks, hiking and camping areas, and interpretive centers are in the works. And the Club helped spark a nature-based tourism program that will further protect the Atchafalaya.

But the Atchafalaya faces a formidable challenge to its water and air quality. Last year GTX Incorporated proposed reopening its hazardous-waste incinerator on the basin's upwind banks. The facility would spread airborne pollution across much of the region, and its runoff would threaten water supplies. A lawsuit resulted in revocation of GTX's permit, but the corporation successfully appealed the ruling. While most Americans would be outraged at the prospect of a hazardous-waste incinerator on the edge of the Everglades, the Atchafalaya faces continual attempts at exploitation-unless it's protected.

You can help the Atchafalaya Basin. Write to Louisiana governor Mike Foster (P.O. Box 94004, Baton Rouge, LA 70804) reminding him that he presides over a national treasure, and that allowing polluting industries to set up shop on the banks of the basin will destroy it. Express your support for the Atchafalaya Trace Heritage Corridor, a program to protect the Atchafalaya's natural, cultural, and scenic resources.

Also, let the Corps of Engineers know that you support full funding of the Atchafalaya Basin management plan, particularly its land-acquisition program. The agency has reached its authorized goal of purchasing 50,000 acres from willing sellers, yet more such land is available. Congress could remove the cap on acreage and spending so that we do not miss an opportunity to protect more of the basin. Write or call Honorable Joseph Westphal, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, 108 Army Pentagon, Washington, DC 20310; (703) 697-8986.

Finally, we invite you to learn firsthand about the amazing Atchafalaya. Paddle a canoe among the grand cypress stands dripping with Spanish moss, or enjoy a bird-watching safari unmatched in the United States. For more information, or to schedule a tour led by local Sierra Club members, call the Sierra Club Alabama/Louisiana field office at (404) 888-9778, extension 223, Sarah Craven

Read about Louisiana's Atchafalaya River Basin

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