Make Wetlands, Not Oil Company’s PR Campaign

A congratulatory picture appeared in the T-P’s Metro section today(p. B-3) in which Mike Dunne, a reporter for Baton Rouge’s “The Advocate,” was awarded America’s WETLAND Foundation’s first conservationist of the year award (at the Port of New Orleans HQ no less). Dunne wrote a book describing Louisiana’s wetlands, a coffee table sort with adequate research and myriad scenes from the swamp, but without a significant critical analysis of the human elements damaging them. He writes well and clearly. However, he only mentions oil companies a few times, limiting his discussion on the 8 to 10,000 miles of canals across the state to one sentence. Funny. The book is even titled “America’s Wetland” because he was paid by the foundation to write it. The foundation, further, is supported by Shell Oil as a means to maintain good public relations in an age of disdain for oil companies and their overwhelming profit margins.

The award, then, is tinged with a self-serving air: Dunne, who might be worthy of a writing award, received a “conservationist” award from the organization that paid him to write a book about the subject. Why not sage wetland advocates and policy shapers like Mark Davis or Carlton Dufrechou? Or scientists working on actual conservation projects in the wetlands?

The accompanying article below the picture describes how a group called “Women of the Storm,” formed by the wife of America’s WETLAND chairman, is bringing awareness about the loss of Louisiana’s wetlands. This is great. Wetlands desperately need to be saved and even more re-created to lessen the amount of hurricane storm surge and salty water from reaching farther inland. Not doing so could result in destroying a way of life for shrimpers and fishers across the gulf even if hurricanes veered from New Orleans’ path. (I recommend Mike Tidwell’s “Bayou Farewell” as a wonderfully tragic account of these fishermen.)

Surprisingly, there is not even the usual mention of how much wetlands has been lost, how it is lost and in what ways nature can be restored. There are romantic gestures to “the heart of that river, America’s wetlands” and the mention that gas prices “could soar” if the nation continues to ignore the issue. The rest, sadly and thinly disguised, discusses the wetlands as only a means to the protection of economic interests: the economic waterway system, the Port of New Orleans and oil infrastructure. It is in this fashion that the T-P has been complicit in the co-optation of the wetlands restoration movement by the Port and Big Oil.

Not surprisingly, the article fails to mention how the oil companies have participated in the erosion of wetlands through reckless dredging of canals over the last century. Look at a google map of southern Louisiana and it appears to be a maze of oil pipelines, some dried up and abandoned, others that never panned out and were left incomplete. Besides destroying habitat, the canals allowed salt walter to enter the interior of the bayous, which becomes inhabitable for the plants and their roots that hold the loose, fine soil together. Once the roots die, the soil becomes a part of the canal. Over time this dramatically increases the canal’s original width and more habitat.

And all this done with little oversight from the state (that has been notoriously in the oil business’ pockets since the first gush) or the EPA, an administration born out of the environmental movement and now granting permits to oil companies and the Army Corps of Engineers (whose levees on the Mississippi have starved the delta of sediment for decades) with little follow-up.

In the past few years it appears companies have started being held accountable for mitigation projects–to form an equivalent amount of wetlands somewhere else to balance the destruction of nature. Yet, even this compliance and admittance of unethical practices in the past has not resulted in the epiphany that oil companies should pay for the 8 to 10,000 miles of erosive canals.

And so the candy-coated interpretation of our wetlands dilemma continues, pushed in front of the public eye by the Times-Picayune and the $3 million Shell start-up foundation “America’s Wetland,” which distracts the public from those who are culpable in making the wetlands, our hurricane protectors, a disappearing breed.

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Published in: on June 1, 2007 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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