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This paper examines causes and consequences of wetland losses in coastal Louisiana. Land loss is a cumulative impact, the result of many impacts both natural and artificial. Natural losses are caused by subsidence, decay of abandoned river deltas, waves, and storms. Artificial losses result from flood-control practices, impoundments, and dredging and subsequent erosion of artificial channels. Wetland loss also results from spoil disposal upon wetlands and land reclamation projects.

Total land loss in Louisiana's coastal zone is at least 4,300 ha/year. Some wetlands are converted to spoil banks and other eco-systems so that wetland losses are probably two to three times higher. Annual wetland losses in the Barataria Bay basin are 2.6% of the wetland area. Human activities are the principal determinants of land loss. The present total wetland area directly lost because of canals may be close to 10% if spoil area is included. The interrelationship between hydrology, land, vegetation, substrate, subsidence, and sediment supply are complicated; however, hydrologic units with high canal density are generally associated with higher rates of land loss and the rate may be accelerating.

Some cumulative impacts of land loss are increased saltwater intrusion, loss of capacity to buffer the impact of storms, and large additions of nutrients. One measure of the impact is that roughly $8–17 × 106 (U.S.A.) of fisheries products and services are lost annually in Louisiana.

Viewed at the level of the hydrologic unit, land loss transcends differences in local vegetation, substrate, geology, and hydrology. Land management should therefore focus at that level of organization. Proper guideline recommendations require an appreciation of the long-term interrelations of the wetland estuarine system.

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Environmental Management

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