November is the third year anniversary of the Louisiana Wetland Action Program and we have made great strides of engaging wetland owners and government officials across Southeast Louisiana.
For communities to be resilient in Southeast Louisiana, wetland loss and degradation must be addressed. Since 80% of Louisiana's wetlands are privately owned, the Louisiana Wetland Action Program is dedicated to meeting with wetland owners to update them on current restoration efforts in the region and to find restoration opportunities that they can participate in.
One wetland owner is not the same as another in Southeast Louisiana -- each landowner that we have met with is unique. Some own thousands of acres of wetlands while others hold only a few hundred acres. Some wetland owners are engaged and updated on restoration projects while others are too busy to attend meetings and read reports.
However, the wetland owners we have met with share common trait: concern. These landowners are literally watching their land disappear. While wetland loss is disadvantageous for everyone in Southeast Louisiana, it especially hits a soft spot with wetland owners. Much of these wetlands have been a part of their families for generations. Instilled in these wetlands are memories, history, and culture that are sadly being washed away into the Gulf of Mexico.
Beyond that, landowners are left with degraded land that has little use. Exploration of oil has pushed out of the wetlands and into the Gulf, leaving behind land that generates little or no money. The little money that is generated from wetlands comes from camps or leases for duck hunting and fishing. Even then, this is not enough to cover the taxes that landowners have to pay to maintain the ownership of their land.
Many people naturally assume that landowners are wealthy; however, many of the wetland owners that we work with will tell you that they are "land rich and cash poor." By taking this issue into account, our Louisiana Wetland Action Program seeks to connect these wetland owners to carbon markets. Since wetlands sequester six times or more carbon than traditional upland forests, wetland carbon offset projects could provide a source of revenue for wetland owners. Is it a cash cow? Not at all. But it may be just enough to help cover land taxes. We see wetland carbon offset projects as the perfect marriage of economics and environmental restoration in Southeast Louisiana. It could it mean restored wetlands for wetland owners and provide a way for them to monetize their wetlands through carbon offsets. Something that we would call lagniappe down here in Louisiana.