By Nolan Storey, Community Member
About a month ago I had the chance to take a trip down to Jean Lafitte National Park with my human ecology class. For those that do not know, this park is about forty-five minutes south of New Orleans. I began to reflect on the human impacts on the natural environment of southern Louisiana even before reaching the actual trail on which I was going to walk.
The group I was with stopped our van about ten minutes from the actual park and considered one of the neighborhood developments off the highway. Our professor explained to us that for the houses that were in this development, as well as others like it, to even be able to exist, the wetlands had to be trained and transformed by people. This happens when a developer slowly drains an area of wetland in order to cause certain wildlife to move and plants to die off, effectively completely changing the natural landscape, and thus the native flora and fauna that rely upon it.
Once the area is no longer officially a “wetland” environment, the developer can legally build on it. In order to build on this land, tons upon tons of sand and gravel must be brought in so that the houses don’t sink into what is still basically a swamp. In short, these neighborhoods are built at tremendous cost to the environment and are about the furthest thing from sustainable.
Once we had discussed this for a while, our class continued on to the actual park. The first thing that our professor noticed was a small, thin tree growing off the side of the trail. He walked up to it and pulled it out of the ground. I was surprised, as was the rest of the class, and we stared on in disbelief. Wasn’t this the guy that was so upset about people abusing the environment and damaging it through their interactions with it?
He looked at us and explained why he had just pulled up that particular tree. This particular species of tree, the Chinese Tallow tree, is akin to a weed. These trees had been planted in small numbers in many of the neighborhoods within a few miles of Jean Lafitte National Park. The seeds from the trees in the yards of local residents had blown into the park and, naturally growing rapidly, the invasive species began choking out the native plant life.
Only through further human interaction, in the form of numerous volunteers coming into the park periodically and uprooting these trees, does the indigenous vegetation within the park have a chance to survive. Ironically, because we had already influenced the natural ecosystem of the park, it now takes even further human interaction to keep the environment sustainable.
Anyone who has a chance to make the forty-five minute drive down to Jean Lafitte National Park and take a stroll some afternoon should definitely do so. It’s a great learning experience.