With the news that the NBA was backing Tom Benson's decision to change his team's name from the Hornets to the Pelicans, Louisiana's state bird was back in the news. It had faded from the nation's attention for a while, after images of the majestic bird drenched in oil seared themselves into our retinas during the aftermath of the 2010 BP drilling disaster.
Some say the name isn't sufficiently menacing (unlike "the Miami Heat" or "New York Knickerbockers"?!?), but I think it's perfect.
In addition to the role they've played as the icon of the state, and more recently as the BP disaster, they're also a story of restoration and resiliency. Unfortunately, that story is still unfinished and the outcome is in question.
The first two National Wildlife Refuges were created by Teddy Roosevelt to help protect brown pelican nesting sites, the first in Florida, the second, Breton NWR, off Louisiana's coast. Teddy only actually visited Breton in person, and was moved to protect the bird from hunting pressure tied to harvesting their feathers for ladies hats.
Eventually, thanks to the creation of the Endangered Species Act, and the EPA's decision to ban DDT (a pesticide which was linked to weakened egg shells), the stage was set to re-import brown pelicans from Florida to breeding sites along Louisiana's coast, and for the species to thrive. Imagine that, passing a sweeping environmental protection law, and banning a toxic chemical! Hard to envision either action occurring in today's political landscape.
Finally, in November of 2009, the brown pelican was removed from the Endangered Species List. Interestingly, Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal used the occasion as a cautionary opportunity, saying without a significant expansion of efforts to restore the coastal wetlands of the Mississippi River delta, we might find the pelican back on the list before too long.
Six months later, and the plight of Gulf pelicans was front page news again.
Beyond the oil soaked birds, their oil soaked mangrove nesting habitat could threaten their long-term health even more. Pelicans need nesting sites far removed from predators to hatch and fledge their young, and it's becoming clear that the eroding barrier island rookeries did not weather the oil storm well.
Cat Island in Barataria Bay is falling apart around these amazing animals. According to the Advocate, this critial rookery spot was 360 acres in 1930, 40 acres in 1998 and 4 acres in pre-BP 2010. Now the island has been split in two, its magroves are dead, and it's roughly the size of a football field. A plaquemines parish plan to protect it has run into significant funding shortfalls.
Of course, if BP would follow through on their restoration commitment to the Gulf, we could be doing far more to defend pelicans' habitat. In a high profile announcement, BP agreed to spend $1 billion to fund 'early restoration' in advance of the more cumbersome Natural Resource Damage Assemement (NRDA) process. Intending to get ahead of the severe impacts, the agreement envisioned spend the money in a year or two.
That timeline has elapsed, and the early restoration effort has only programed $70 million in projects. Less than 10% of the initial promise. None of the projects will restore pelican nesting habitat, despite the fact that Louisiana has proposed a number of different barrier island projects to BP. I haven't seen that admission in a press conference from BP or in any of their glossy ads.
Take action today and urge BP to spend the money they promised, and help restore habitat of our fearsome Pelicans.
Aaron Viles is GRN's deputy director. You can follow him on twitter here.