When John James Audubon first visited Louisiana in 1821, he was amazed by the rich variety of bird life here. What he saw in Louisiana revolutionized the way he saw nature and captured it in pictures, helping him to become the most famous bird artist in the world. Audubon created more pictures for his landmark “Birds of America” series in Louisiana than any other single place. He said that of all the states in the Union, Louisiana was his favorite.
It’s fitting, then, that the society which bears Audubon’s name is continuing to do so much to preserve bird life in Louisiana. As The Advocate recently reported, the Louisiana arm of The Audubon Society is working hard to preserve Louisiana coastal areas that are a critical home for birds that come from far away. “Forty percent of the migratory birds in North America spend part of their life cycle here in Louisiana,” Audubon Louisiana executive director Douglas Meffert told The Advocate. “These lands are very special for birds and have been for centuries.”
The presence of so much avian life in Louisiana has special appeal for bird watchers, of course, but one doesn’t have to be a wildlife hobbyist to recognize the importance of this natural resource for our state. Bird-watching is big business, bringing millions of dollars in economic activity to birding hotspots like coastal Louisiana. And as birding destinations goes, a place like Vermilion Parish has few rivals. The Audubon Society has recognized the region as one of the most significant habitats for birds on the continent.
Louisiana is a crucial way station for many species of birds migrating across the Gulf of Mexico from Central and South America. The loss of Louisiana coastline for these birds, who exhaust themselves on their long journey, is like the loss of an airport for planes that desperately need to land and refuel.
It could be an ecological disaster of the first order, one that touches everyone, even those of us who don’t think much about birds. The health of bird populations is a good measure of the planet’s general health. As bird life declines, many other forms of life, including human life, could be diminished, too.
That’s why we all have a stake in the success of coastal restoration projects undertaken by The Audubon Society in Louisiana. The society is exploring a few forms of coastal restoration that private landowners might be able to implement with modest resources.
Those small-scale initiatives have a place, of course, but they must be complemented by larger restoration projects requiring the support of state and federal governments.
That’s the best hope of preserving a landscape that changed John James Audubon’s life. It’s a legacy that can continue to be a source of transformation and renewal for future generations, but only if we act to save it from peril.