While the city is well known for being the birthplace of jazz and a major part of the Civil Rights Movement, its surrounding environment is also unique, and home to wildlife like the American alligator, the white-tailed deer, and the Gulf Coast box turtle.
Like the tourists who visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras, the Beignet and Essence festivals, the migratory bird species arrive in this important stop on the Mississippi flyway. Some birds even find shelter here during the winter months.
Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge (part of the Southeast Louisiana National Wildlife Refuge Complex) is situated within the urban boundary. It not only serves as a refuge for 340 different bird species, it is also as a refuge for the people looking for a break from city life. New Orleanians come to this wetland and bottom land habitat and find peace through wildlife viewing, hiking/walking the trails, fishing, and much more.
The residents of this beautiful city have a deep connection to the their land, whether it’s a family fishing trip, an outdoor classroom lesson with school groups or running a shrimping business in the Gulf. Most people really love the bayou and have learned to coexist and find enjoyment in a landscape that visitors don’t quite get…until they visit.
Bayou Sauvage is facing challenges like never before, mostly due to rising sea levels and flooding. Saltwater intrusion makes the land dangerous for the animals and plants that have lived there for millennia and adapted to certain oxygen and saline levels.
The impact of Hurricane Katrina not only caused many residents to lose their lives and homes, many native plants and wildlife suffered too. The entire refuge was flooded for weeks and even the least threatened species faced declining numbers. Several years later, the excessive amount of oil pollution after the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher also contributed to declining number of wildlife species and native habitat.
However, with help from community volunteers and partners like the Friends of Louisiana Refuges, Common Ground Relief, LA Master Naturalist Association, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the city of New Orleans, these issues will matter less and less in the future. One of several solutions to combat the issues faced by Bayou Sauvage NWR was a successful tree planting project that began in 2016. It is just an example of the importance of being a community asset and working collaboratively to preserve and protect our public lands.