For generations, Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge has been a popular destination for all sorts of outdoor enthusiasts: from hunters and anglers, to birders, beachgoers, and boaters. Whether you enjoy surf fishing for speckled trout along the beach or birdwatching any of the 170+ bird species, Elmer’s Island is the place to be.
As of October 31, 2016, vehicles are no longer allowed to drive on the beach due to the completion of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s (CPRA) Caminada Headland Beach and Dune Restoration project. With a price tag of over $200 million, this project “is the largest single coastal and habitat restoration project in CPRA history,” said Johnny Bradberry, CPRA chairman. The project protects inland communities from storm surge, enhances fish and wildlife habitat, and provides improved recreational opportunities for visitors.
In order to protect this $200 million investment, access to the beach is now permitted by foot traffic only. Under paragraph (A)(2) of RS 49:214.5.5, “riding, driving, operating, or hauling” vehicles (except on public roads) is prohibited on any dunes in the coastal area.
Per RS 38.213, “no person shall ride, drive, or haul upon the public levees or integrated coastal protection projects or their rights-of-way except where…ample provision has been made to guard against any damage to which the levees or integrated coastal protection projects may thereby be exposed from wear, tear, and abuse.”
In addition to protecting inland communities, the restoration project helps protect fish and wildlife habitat. Many species that will benefit from the project are protected. Birds such as the Wilson’s plover, mottled duck, and least tern are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
About 40 bird species on Elmer’s Island are species of conservation concern in Louisiana, including the piping plover, which is federally listed as threatened and for which Elmer’s Island has been designated as Critical Habitat. The red knot is also a threatened species that uses the island as a stopover point during migration, a trip that can span over 9,000 miles.
Diamondback terrapins, which are imperiled in Louisiana, and loggerhead sea turtles also utilize the island and have been affected by nest disturbance, habitat loss, commercial take, and mortality due to derelict crab traps.
Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge is managed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). LDWF has a management plan for the refuge that is updated periodically. Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) strongly supports a robust, comprehensive plan that includes expanded opportunities for recreational users (such as the long history of successful fishing along the beach) while balancing protection for wildlife and habitat.
LWF recommends including an educational visitor center on the refuge, an elevated boardwalk, and adequate parking places for vehicles and launches for kayaks.
It is also suggested that an updated management plan include a coyote control program to protect nesting bird species. Coyotes are known to prey on species that use Elmer’s Island for nesting, feeding, and resting.
Additional funding to the refuge would also allow for improved facility maintenance and enforcement of refuge regulations. Currently, it is the visitors’ responsibility to take trash with them when they leave the refuge. However, littering is a significant problem on Elmer’s Island. Other issues include damage to dunes with 4-wheel drive vehicles, nest disturbance, and violations of safety and environmental regulations.
LWF feels that while the Marine Fisheries Division (which currently manages the refuge) does an excellent job of managing fisheries, management of Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge would be better suited under the Division of Wildlife with collaboration with the Fisheries Division, when appropriate.
Elmer’s Island is a Louisiana gem. There is strong potential for it to be an even better resource for both recreational users and fish and wildlife species. In order to reach its full potential, Louisiana must prioritize the refuge by securing additional sources of funding for expanded opportunities and adequate management.
Read LWF’s official resolution at http://www.lawildlifefed.org/resolutions_detail.cfm?id=275.