National Audubon Society with Partner Universities, NGOs, Private Companies and Public Agencies / Mississippi River Delta Initiative

Douglas J. Meffert, D. Env., MBA
Executive Director/Vice President
6160 Perkins Road, Suite 135
Baton Rouge, LA 70808
225-768-0820 (p)
504-319-3438 (c)
225-768-0821 (f)
dmeffert@audubon.org

Initiative Description and Primary Objectives 

The Mississippi River Delta Initiative is a 1.5 year old initiative of the NAS and numerous partners to utilize science-based knowledge to develop and implement large scale restoration and conservation across a broad array of land use types to promote the sustainability of the Lower Mississippi River Basin and its wetlands.  It is an integral part of the NAS’s Mississippi Flyway Project Plan which seeks to use a variety of land use strategies from Minnesota down to Louisiana in support of birds, other ecological species, and humans. Principle objectives include:

1) Support 2012 Louisiana State Master Plan as the basis of future gubernatorial budgeting requests and agency action

2) Ensure that all USACE and related planning efforts, whether authorized under WRDA 07 or not, can be integrated with the State Master Plan
3) Direct funding (NRDA, CWA, appropriations, etc.) to key restoration projects

4) Develop new tools to justify ecologically-driven management changes to Atchafalaya Basin and, by extension, the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&T)

5) Start project aimed at the development of a comprehensive, feasibility-level, vision of a new navigation channel

6) Ensure coastal restoration priorities are included in the Lower Mississippi River Resource Assessment report to Congress

7) Assist in creation of new state-level funding for Coastal Louisiana

8) Maintain and improve broad public support for Mississippi Delta Restoration as measured through periodic polling

9) Engage national science leadership that can be persuasive with key federal and state agencies through multidisciplinary Science and Engineering Special Team (SEST) 

10) Promote alliances with the navigation community that will foster and support agenda for coastal restoration 

11) Connect Louisiana coastal issues to Louisiana grassroots and grass tops values.

Key Academic Disciplines 

Coastal, river, and ocean science, engineering, and sociology are the key academic disciplines.  Methodological approaches include hydrodynamic modeling, field monitoring, GIS analysis, ecosystem level restoration/mitigation methods including the Wetland Valuation Assessment and the Modified Charleston Method. In addition, the use of ecologically-driven approaches for Atchafalaya River Basin and, by extension, the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&T) management.

Key Partner Organizations and Individuals 

Academic partners include Tulane University, Louisiana State University, University of New Orleans, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Auburn University, Portland State University, University of South Carolina, Florida International University, Southeastern Louisiana  University, and University of Missouri-Rolla.

Non-profit partners include the Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, and the Ocean Conservancy.

Industry/private partners include Arcadis, Moffet and Nichols, Tierra Resources, Waggoner & Ball Architects and others and numerous landowners (individuals and corporations).

Agency partners include the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and others.

Initiative History and Champions 

The increased awareness of the need for large-scale restoration of the Louisiana/Mississppi Delta and related coastal habitats was heightened due to dramatic losses between the 1930’s and early 21st century from a variety of modifications to the natural systems that built this landscape.  Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010 not only further heightened the vulnerability of this landscape and its ecology, economies, and cultures.  Legislation resultant and pending from these events stand to provide large-scale funding for restoration and conservation of this habitat; thus, requiring a unified concerted effort among stakeholders to ensure funds are used wisely.  The early champions of this particular initiative are primarily the National Audubon Society, the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Wildlife Federation.  However, this particular initiative would not have been possible with the multi-decadal efforts of stakeholders including many of those listed above.

Distinctiveness and Strategic Significance of the Initiative 

1) Uses the advocacy and conservation-based missions of three national/international NGO’s as the vehicle for applied field research to help ensure that the research translates into innovative conservation and restoration practices.

2) Partners NGO’s with academia, industry, public agencies, and landowners to achieve its objectives.

3) As part of the National Audubon Society’s larger Mississippi Flyway Initiative, this initiative uses birds and their migratory pathways as the ecological foundation for a suite of restoration and conservation initiatives from Minnesota down to Louisiana across “working” natural landscapes, farms, ranches, cities, and towns to ensure the health and survival of birds, other ecological species, and humans.

It’s strategically significant in that it:

1) Strives to work with all landscapes described above (and their owners and users) to achieve conservation goals on a continental scale

2) Strives to sustain one of the most vulnerable deltas in the world.

Measurable Effectiveness of the Initiative 

Each of the objectives above has key activities and measureable outcomes associated with it.  Long-term proven success can be assessed the extent that coastal master plan restoration and risk reduction goals are met.

Transferability of the Initiative 

Research performed through the work of advocacy organization to be transferred to other projects.  In addition, working with landowners at the beginning of large scale restoration/conservation plans rather than in the middle or the end could also be transferrable.  Finally, if successful, this model for this particular initiative could be applied to other vulnerable deltas worldwide.

The Initiative’s Ability to Endure 

This particular initiative (led by the NAS, EDF, and NWF) has funding for 2 ½ more years.  Enduring beyond that time frame will depend on diversifying funding streams.  Given the spatial and temporal scale of this initiative, however (looking 50-100 years forward), the impacts (whether they are ultimately successful or not) will endure throughout the 21st century.

Engagement Strategies 

Partners listed above engage continually in a variety of activities including those listed below.

1) Continued advocacy at the national and state level for allocation of funding to coastal Louisiana as part of ongoing 3-year campaign. 

2) Develop modeling and visualization tools to connect eastern Atchafalaya Basin to western Terrebonne.

3) Introduce State Atchafalaya Basin Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to the hydro model and work with them to determine ecological significance of water management options based on data in the 'Assessment Tool.'  A report detailing Integration of hydromodel with USFWS EcoAssessment Tool

4) Draft and vet proposed Atchafalaya Basin management changes with agencies and stakeholders (initial changes proposed by summer 2012, ongoing after that)

5) Complete mini-dredge testing, research, and business planning in collaboration with LSU

6) Release SEST "white paper" on state of science related to the navigation channel and birds foot delta

7) Partner with The Nature Conservancy to engage with USACE as a Non-Federal Sponsor on the USACE Lower Mississippi River Resource Assessment (summer 2012)

8) Based on the results of research, develop a proposal to create a permanent state funding stream for coastal restoration and protection

9) Create at least four short-turnaround white papers that advise the collaborative and form basis for products developed by Communications Team, and perhaps for science news articles

10) Write a minimum of 5 synthesis articles that are accepted for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals (2011 and 2012)

11) Conduct additional research and produce a synopsis on the bird’s foot delta with a focus on calibrating the Delft 3D sediment model in West Bay with M&N and Plaquemines Parish. 

12) Synthesize existing geological analyses and data relevant to the stability of the birds foots delta as a navigation entrance and produce a paper detailing the results

13) Develop targeted national media addressing threats and potential solutions to bird's foot delta

14) Conduct national message research (including periodic polling) and testing to build on previous work, to include significant ongoing evaluation of messaging effectiveness (ongoing)
15) Employ social media to reach new constituents in an interactive way so that they help push solutions forward (ongoing)

16) Provide Mississippi River Delta advocacy kits for Audubon, NWF and other organization’s chapters and activists – distribute ~1000 kits
17) Work with sociologists and communications experts to develop an analysis of how to do communications in the unique environment of Louisiana

18) Build communications research/social change campaign aimed at state and local audiences