Work in progress

[an excerpt from Evan’s blog:http://ponderinnola.blogspot.com/]

I also haven’t explained really what I’m going to be doing, so I will try my best to do that here. My job is a “work in progress”. In some ways I will really get to make this job my own throughout the course of the year, but there are some general aspects that will remain consistent. I am working with Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church in Gray, LA and the Center for Hazards Assessment, Response, and Technology (CHART) at the University of New Orleans, and am working mainly on advocacy and educational outreach about the importance of wetlands and other environmental concerns in Louisiana. Basically, a large part of my job will be talking with volunteer groups that come to New Orleans about what wetlands do, why they are important, why they are disappearing, and what we can do about it. I will follow up by sending newsletters monthly to these and former volunteers with updates about current news and issues in Louisiana. Bayou Blue Presbyterian Church is about an hour and a half drive from New Orleans, and I’ll make that drive pretty regularly.

I have been discovering that Louisiana’s coast is disappearing very fast (about a football field sized piece of land is lost every 45 minutes), and communities that are on what has become the frontier between land and water are at great risk of being lost. The other thing that I’ve discovered is that the speed and degree at which land is being lost is due to human intervention in the ecosystem, mainly caused by the building of levees on the Mississippi following the 1927 flood which diverted sediment into the gulf of Mexico and away from wetlands that needed the soil and nutrients, and the creation of canals for gas and oil that dissected wetland areas, allowing salt water to enter farther up into formerly freshwater areas, killing plants and beginning a cycle of erosion as root systems no longer hold together land at the edges of these canals. So with no new sediment providing nutrients, and areas being eroded, land is going fast. I am just beginning to see the connections.

Photo taken from USGS

Another aspect of my job will be working in some capacity to get a new project started that involves using raised bed gardens. The basic idea is this: communities along the South Louisiana coast have suffered the loss of a huge amount of land that was previously used for a variety of purposes (hunting, agriculture, etc.) and can no longer can be used for these purposes, because it is either water, or too water-logged. Raised bed gardens would provide a place to grow food, raise chickens, and plant native trees that would provide communities with more of an ability to provide a portion of their food for themselves, promote education in communities about wetlands issues and local ecology, and would begin to restore some of the natural habitat in the region. I will need to become better informed about this, but I know that there is some funding that has already been raised to start working on this, and I am excited to be a part of it. It will also help me to better understand how wetland loss affects people and communities.

I spent Sept. 11-13 visiting Bayou Blue and some surrounding communities with my supervisor Kris Peterson, and her husband Dick Krajeski. We drove “down the bayou” to visit a few communities that are now, due to land loss, are literally at the end of the road, before you get to mainly open water. I attended the worship service at Bayou Blue on that Sunday and was greeted with great hospitality, kindness and food by the congregation. I am looking forward to working and worshiping there this year.

And then there’s the oil spill. On Sept. 13th, I sat in on a town hall meeting with Kenneth Feinberg, who is now managing the gulf spill damage claims, in Houma, LA. Many, many people whose livelihood has been fishing, shrimping and crabbing have been suffering these past few months from not being able to work, and are concerned about their future options for work. The oil has not disappeared and is still washing up onshore, according to reports in the Times-Picayune and local monitoring organizations. I pray that people will be treated fairly and justly in this process.

Everything still fells like it is just beginning, and I look forward to digging into my work more, and being able to take time to reflect.

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