Environmental Defense Praises Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse for Working to Protect Wetlands

February 26, 2007


Sharyn Stein, (202) 572-3396, sstein@environmentaldefense.org

(New Orleans, LA - February 26, 2007) – Leading national conservation group Environmental Defense praised Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today for his part in a special hearing to restore the Gulf Coast wetlands after Hurricane Katrina.

Whitehouse and half a dozen other U.S. Senators took part in the New Orleans hearing on comprehensive approaches to storm protection in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. A main focus of the hearing was the need to restore Louisiana’s disappearing natural hurricane buffer – its coastal wetlands.

“We need to do a better job of protecting the ecosystems that protect us, and that’s true in Louisiana as well as Rhode Island,” said Paul Harrison, Coastal Louisiana Project Manager at Environmental Defense. “Senator Whitehouse has a long history of protecting wetlands and promoting conservation on Narragansett Bay. His experience will be a great asset as we rebuild New Orleans.”

Louisiana was once ringed by cypress forests and marsh lands. For centuries, the vegetation in the bayous helped protect the area from the vicious winds and storm surge of the annual hurricane season. But in the past century we’ve lost more than 2,000 square miles of trees and wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico. The land loss is primarily man-made, a result of poorly planned levees and shipping canals that shut off Mississippi River freshwater and sediment flow to the wetlands and allowed saltwater to flow in and poison the area.

“We need better levees, but we can’t rely on levees alone. We’ll never be able to wall off Louisiana from the sea; it would be too expensive, too technically difficult, and destructive to the remaining wetlands. Our main focus should be restoring our natural storm barriers, and today’s hearing is a good step in the right direction.”