I know, I know, we’ve been in Louisiana for two weeks now, but when I look back at some of the photos and think of our trip I see a lot in common between public lands there and public lands here. Because of a lot of political demagoguing and hypocritical chest-thumping about fiscal conservatism with one hand while passing obscene subsidies on to the most lucrative energy companies in the world with the other hand, over the past few years, public agencies like the National Park System, the National Forest Service, National Wildlife Refuges and state and local parks have come to depend on “Friends” groups for basic undertakings like education, outreach and research.
Most everyone in Western North Carolina is familiar with groups like Friends of the Smokies, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway and others. Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Monroe, La. has it’s own stellar “Friends.” Friends of Black Bayou (FoBB) came into existence in 1997 just one month after the opening of the refuge in July. FoBB has been instrumental in forging a vibrant, eclectic outreach, fundraising and educational component at BBLNWR. They were instrumental in moving and renovating an original “planter’s” home on the property to create the refuge’s visitor center.
In 2004 FoBB was cited as the top Refuge Friends group in the country. The next year they helped add the Conservation Learning Center next door to the Visitor’s Center. They continue today to support the refuge through educational programs, celebrations like their annual Fall Celebration, guided kayak/canoe trips and so much more. They sponsor an annual photography contest plus help with upkeep of the photo blind and the refuge trails.
One of the areas made possible by FoBB is a small demonstration prairie with a boardwalk trail. I am especially fond of this area, being from the land of the red sea – Mer Rouge. Legend has it that when French explorers made it to Red Hill a bump in the landscape just west of Mer Rouge they looked down on a prairie swimming with the russet heads of switchgrass and/or little bluestem – thus the name Mer Rouge (red sea.)
We were so fortunate on the day we were there for the Great Backyard Bird Count to meet new FoBB president Allen Dunn and former president, now vice-president Ann Smith. Dunn, who also does outreach for FoBB at local schools, took Izzy and Maddie over to the Conservation Learning Center and let them hold baby alligators and endangered Louisiana pine snakes.
And now for all the wonderful work these Friends and all Friends groups around the country do – they are going to get dumped on again by the people in D.C. we elected, whose responsibility should be to upkeep our public lands in such a manner that Friends groups, should be lagniappe, rather than nuts and bolts.
According to a National Resources Defense Council study the budget cuts that just went into effect because of more political posturing and line drawing in the sand like bullies on a playground that want to take their ball and go home rather than let everyone play will cost our public lands about $220 million dollars. And will cost those highly profitable energy companies who are receiving $8 billion in subsidies a whopping $0 – c’est la vie.