Sitting at McGee’s Landing in Henderson, overlooking their beloved swamp, members of the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper group on Sunday honored their outstanding members, acknowledged their accomplishments and talked about the future.
The Atchafalaya Basinkeeper is a group of individuals who fight to preserve the basin and the rest of Louisiana’s wetlands.
Staff scientist Kara Leverett said the group has seen much success since its founding in 2004. The organization has prevented canal dredging and fought against cypress mulch companies who were cutting down the trees after claiming they would only use pieces of cypress that had already broken off or fallen down.
Keeper Dean Wilson opened this year’s ceremony by honoring David Mauritson, a pilot who assisted the group by flying members over areas in the basin where they suspected illegal activity.
Mauritson recently died in a plane crash in Mobile, Alabama. Wilson said it is because of the work by people like Mauritson that the group is able to continue fighting to protect Louisiana’s wetlands.
Wilson presented the Super Swamper Award to David Brown. Wilson said Brown works tirelessly for the organization by serving on the board, as well as providing crucial legal support.
“We don’t have a fight without litigation,” Wilson said.
Brown said he has been with the organization nearly since its inception.
He said he helps however he can, but most of his work is with a legal team that looks over permits or potential projects to be conducted in the basin, helping to determine their legality and filing lawsuits if necessary.
Brown said the group has had many past successes, but there are still constant challenges.
In particular, Brown said, his current effort includes working with the biofuel pellet industry to make sure it remains a sustainable business and leaves Louisiana’s cypress trees alone.
The pellet industry uses wood to create pellets, which are, in turn, burned for fuel.
Brown said the industry has been receptive to talks.
“We’ve gotten assurances from (the pellet company) that they are going to be harvesting yellow pine and from upland areas and not from our cypress wetlands,” he said.
Wilson said it is important to protect cypress trees because they take so long to grow back and sometimes never do. Cutting down Louisiana’s cypress forests drastically changes the shape of the environment.
Wilson showed pictures of areas of the basin in which cypress had been logged. What was once filled with trees became overgrown with shrubs, plants and small trees.
He said cypress trees grow to be incredibly old, some living thousands of years, and when they are cut down, it is rare for them to grow back. Instead, they are replaced by brush or other trees like willow.
In addition to protecting the basin from commercial interests, the group also works to stop private landowners from changing the environment.
Wilson showed pictures of private land in which the owners dammed parts of bayous in order to prevent water flow and create ideal habitats for duck hunting.
This type of activity inhibits fish habitats and can hurt commercial fisherman who use the area, he said.
A couple dozen members of the organization attended Sunday’s awards banquet.