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Saturday, 25 June 2011 00:26
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The largest swamp wilderness in the United States; an area comprising nearly 600,000 acres encompasses most of Cajun Country in South Louisiana. The Atchafalaya Basin includes an area approximately 20 miles wide and 150 miles


Atchafalaya Basin in length. It’s landscape is made up of swamps, forested hardwoods, bayous, and back-water lakes. One-half of the North American migratory bird species fly through the Atchafalaya Basin each year. Sources report that the basin accounts for three-and-one-half times more fish and wildlife activity than the Florida Everglades.

Over 23 million pounds of crawfish are harvested annually from the waters of the Atchafalaya Basin and the area is home to over 200 species of birds. Outdoor activities here abound and people of South Louisiana have enjoyed what the basin contributes to Louisiana’s Sportsman’s Paradise reputation.

What many citizens may not be aware of, is that the Atchafalaya River (from Choctaw words, hacha falaia, meaning long river) served as a main channel of the Mississippi River many hundreds of years ago. And to this day, the Mississippi continues to exhibit tendencies to divert more than the present 30% of its flow into the Atchafalaya—an event that would be devastating to the people, wildlife, and economics of the area; not to mention the affect to the people and industry that depend on the Mississippi’s location downriver from that connection.

The Atchafalaya Basin includes four distinct geographical areas—the woodlands and farmlands to the north, the basin swamp in the middle, marshland further south, and the delta as the river empties into the Atchafalaya Bay.

As the river’s deltas at its mouth continue to grow, its characteristics will change to more of a river environment rather than a basin. This change would affect water temperatures, flow, and salinity ultimately reducing shrimp, oyster and fish production; it would then increase fur-bearing, waterfowl, and freshwater species.

Efforts by state and national agencies continue toward increasing the quantity of sediment into the basin beyond that deposited from annual floods. One such plan is the realignment of the entrance to the Wax Lake Outlet.

There have been several recognized threats to the basin. Most significant of these include the cypress logging that continues (although at a much reduced rate) even today. With so much of the basin being privately owned, public access is limited restricting its recreational use. Dredging in an attempt to widen and deepen navigational channels has altered the natural hydraulics and created dead zones with reduced oxygen content and virtually eliminating aquatic habitats. Lastly, the construction of levees has reduced the quantity of freshwater into many areas allowing salt water intrusion and harming recreational and commercial fishing.

From the inset map above one can certainly see the vast area of South Louisiana affected by what occurs in the Atchafalaya Basin. We should all remain informed and be willing to express concerns to our state, local, and federal representatives when decisions must be made regarding this most precious of Louisiana’s resources.

As a final, and less weighty note, on Saturday, November 22 over in Henderson, LA near Morgan CIty, the annual Atchafalaya Basin Festival will be held. You might want to get out, enjoy the fall weather, and spend the day enjoying the food, music, and festivities. Check out the Atchafalaya Basin Festival website for more details.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 July 2011 16:19