Restoration Ecology

Tradeoffs in habitat value to maximize natural resource benefits from coastal restoration in a rapidly eroding wetland: is monitoring land area sufficient?

Sep 18, 2021

Author(s): Carey Perry (Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana), Camille Stagg (U.S. Geological Survey, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center), Kelly Darnell (The University of Southern Mississippi), Leland Moss (Abt Associates)

Louisiana contains nearly 40% of estuarine herbaceous wetlands in the contiguous United States, supporting valuable ecosystem services and providing significant economic benefits to the state and the entire United States. However, coastal Louisiana is a hotspot for rapid land loss from factors including hurricanes, land use change, and high subsidence rates contributing to high relative sea-level rise. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) was established after major hurricanes in 2005 to coordinate coastal restoration in Louisiana and develop the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan. The LA Coastal Master Plan uses numerical modeling of multiple scenarios to select a suite of restoration projects based on maximum land area created and flood reduction (as proxies for ecosystem value). Using potential value to aquatic, terrestrial, and social resources, our work compared habitat value of shallow open water areas to emergent wetland. While potential resource benefits varied by emergent wetland salinity type and emergent wetland versus water, they were similar, suggesting that restoration planning based primarily on wetland land area may not achieve the maximum possible ecosystem benefits. After nearly 20 years of integrated restoration planning in coastal Louisiana, a reassessment of restoration planning decision drivers may be beneficial to ensure maximum benefits from coastal restoration. As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, settlement funds will be a major support to coastal restoration in Louisiana for many years. Assessing potential habitat value to multiple natural and social resources in Louisiana has potential to maximize synergy with large northern Gulf of Mexico restoration programs.