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Crawfish and Water Birds

Jay Huner

End of an Era?

Thanks to the rise of crawfish aquaculture, Louisiana provides the wintering and spring nesting grounds for a major portion of the wading birds inhabiting North America. What is more, the marginal areas around crawfish ponds shelter countless owls, hawks, eagles and ospreys, as well as migrating shorebirds and neotropical songbirds, not to mention their more sedentary cousins. The agricultural community in this one state has thus helped to maintain the legacy of an entire continent's birds—while doing quite well for itself—over the past half-century.

But crawfish farmers now need incentives to continue their traditional practices. A healthy crawfish industry is certainly important to the economy of Louisiana—and so is a healthy suite of wetland birds. Such flocks improve the quality of life for all residents and, in places like Lake Martin, can increase opportunities for eco-tourism, an avenue to greater income that crawfish farmers need to pursue more vigorously. Private and government conservation agencies can also help by subsidizing the construction and maintenance of crawfish ponds, just as they now pay for the creation of other sorts of artificial wetlands. Scientists, too, might be able to bring crawfish farmers and environmentalists closer together, if we can figure out how predatory birds can serve to thin overpopulated crawfish ponds in a way that boosts the size of those remaining. It is my hope that such efforts will effect meaningful changes soon, so that two treasured natural resources—crawfish and water birds—can be sustained on into the 21st century.

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