The Big Picture Approach

November 8, 2012

The Louisiana coast nurtures one of the world’s great fisheries, it supports immense shipping and chemical industries and it’s the linchpin for our region’s cultural identity. These are diverse, and sometimes conflicting, roles, but they share one thing – all of them are endangered as the coast itself continues to slip away. Tying these interests together to reverse that tide of land loss is vital, it’s complicated, and it’s the mission of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

“The goal of our organization is to be a true coalition of those interests, to recognize that a solution for our coast has to incorporate those very diverse interests,” says Steven Peyronnin, executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. “And only by bringing those diverse interests under the umbrella of one voice can we achieve a sustainable coast that’s beneficial to everyone.”

The coalition works to move the issue beyond local turf wars, stumping for federal funding and for policy that can make a difference not just in one particular part of the coast or for one concern but for the entire coastal system.

“One of the things people may not understand about why we’ve lost so much of our coast is that it’s a very inter-related system, in that what you do in one area of our coast affects another area. Consequently we have to look at our coast as an entire system, knowing that if we take action to protect or restore one area it may have impacts to another area,” he says. “And our goal is to be a voice for the affected communities of Louisiana, from the Texas border to the Mississippi border, so we’re unusual in that we work across the entire coast without any financial support from federal, state or local governments.”

Instead, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana is funded by grants and by private contributions from people, businesses and other organizations interested in forging a sustainable coast here. That gives the coalition a certain freedom to speak plainly about issues that are often contentious, emotionally charged and politically loaded.

“One of the roles of our organization is to be a messenger of the very difficult news that we can’t continue to live in the same places we’ve lived with the same expectations,” Peyronnin says. “There are areas of our coast that we will not be able to build levees in, communities that will have to rely on the traditional protection of our coastal wetlands as well as the way our ancestors used to construct and live in their communities in order to be sustainable into the future. So the first thing we need to recognize is it’s time for us to shift our attitudes and approaches toward living in such a dynamic environment.”

That’s the big picture approach, which matches the scale of the challenge Louisiana faces. After all, he points out, Louisiana has already lost some 1,900 square miles of coastal wetlands, an area the size of Delaware.

“So with a problem of that scale, we’re not going to solve that problem through small-scale projects or volunteer efforts,” he says. “It’s got to be a coordinated effort from federal entities and state entities and organizations like ours, that push for the right funding, the right science and the right timelines to get a sustainable coastal restoration program in place.”

Written by Ian McNulty for the Community IMPACT Series and produced by WWNO in partnership with the Greater New Orleans Foundation. To learn more about Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, click here.

Photo by Jackson Hill, 2010, of Jimmy Dao.