ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LOUISIANA — When Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last visited the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge in 2010, he stood on a barren strip of land that looked more like the surface of the moon than a flourishing marsh.
When Salazar toured the same area Wednesday, he saw a dramatically different scene: thick oyster grass and other invasive marsh plants now thickly covered the same territory.
“It demonstrates how when you work at something together, you can make something happen,” said Salazar, who was visiting the Gulf Coast region to meet with area residents and visit the refuge as one of his final acts as secretary of the Interior. “People used to say we could not restore the marshlands or the wetlands of the Mississippi River Delta.”
But, Salazar said, the joint federal-state wetlands protection initiative that actually began here in 2007 is a model for continued efforts to restore the Gulf Coast, after decades of erosion and negligence that preceded even Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the oil spill in 2010.
“We look out on the horizon and see how healthy it has become,” said Salazar, as he stood among reeds that stretched as high as his chest. “What we’re seeing here is that it really does work.
“I think it’s safe to say this area is now more protected and more resilient than ever before,” Salazar added.