Delta Dispatches: Invasive Species
On today’s show Nikki Cavalier, Community Outreach & Media Specialist from CWPPRA, joins the show to talk with Jacques & Simone about CWPPRA and Nutria & how they affect the Louisiana Coastline. On the second half the show, Andy Nyman Professor of Wetland Wildlife Ecology at LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources, returns to talk about Roseau Cane Mealy Bug.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Listen to the full recording here or subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Simone: I’m Simone Maloz with Restore Retreat. Hi Jacques.
Jacques: Hey Simone. How are you this Thursday?
Simone: You just broke your headphones.
Jacques: I accidentally did. I was able to fix it right before the show. It was kind of a pain.
Simone: B.J.’s gonna punish you.
Jacques: B.J. is our star producer, for those of you who don’t know. But no, we were able to get it fixed and handled before coming on air, thankfully.
Simone: We have a lot to talk about this week already. And we have a bit of breaking news.
Jacques: Yeah, there was a big announcement that came out yesterday from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. It’s an announcement I think we’ve all been waiting for with bated breath. They are moving forward with scoping meetings for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion.
Simone: Yes. So that’s always just a lot of information to handle about, well didn’t you just have us go to some public meetings? And they say, no that was on The Master Plan, so want to help clarify what this meeting’s about. It’s for a specific project, what the process is, so we’re gonna talk about it a little bit more on the show. But why don’t you give some quick details right now.
Jacques: Basically scoping process is what the Army Corp of Engineers needs to do to put together an environmental impact statement in order to issue a permit to actually construct the diversions.
Jacques: It’s kind of the first step in the process, and what’s really important is the public is able to give input and ask questions and have them consider things for that document. There are three upcoming public scoping meetings in July. The first is July 20th in Lafitte. Then July 25th in Belle Chasse, and July 27th in Port Sulphur, so a lot in the Plaquemines area.
Scoping Meeting Information
Simone: So coming up, yeah, in the next two weeks or so.
Simone: Yeah, it gives us a good opportunity here on Delta Dispatches to focus on kind of what to expect if you’re interested in going to a meeting like that, some of the things that you can talk about at these meetings. Hopefully we’ll talk about that on a future episode of Delta Dispatches. But on this one, we have two topics that just happen to be in the news quite a bit lately. It’s been two topics that we’ve wanted to cover for a while, both dealing with some problems that we have along our coast, but of the invasive kind.
Jacques: Yeah invasive species. For those of you who have lived in Louisiana, obviously you’re familiar with nutria and the problems they cause. We’re going to be talking about that first with a representative from CWPPRA and the program they have. Then we’re going to have Dr. Andy Nyman back on the show, the second half, to talk about this insect the scale that is just devastating Roseau cane across the coast, and it’s kind of a new problem.
Simone: Yeah, and both are impacting areas all along the coast and certainly the part of the world where I grew up, and where we work in, Terrebonne and Lafourche. But also, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, other places both are having problems with these particular issues. Let’s get right into it. We are lucky to be joined today by Nikki Cavalier who is the Community Outreach and Media Specialist from CWPPRA. CWPPRA stands for the Coastal Wetlands Planning and Protection Restoration Act. Welcome to Delta Dispatches Nikki.
Nikki: Hey. Great to be here. Thanks guys.
Simone: Yeah. Thanks for joining us. Nikki and I have a mutual friend in our great Victoria, so thank you for being on. We’ll get Victoria on the show one day. She’s doing something important this week.
Jacques: Is she Miss Louisiana-
Simone: Miss Louisiana United States, yeah so we wish her luck. Nikki, let’s start out, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, but certainly why don’t you tell us more about what CWPPRA even is. We talk about it a lot here. It’s kind of one of those long acronyms, but it’s important to coastal Louisiana. Tell us a little bit about yourself and about CWPPRA.
Nikki: Right. I am originally from Perryville, Louisiana, which is a little bit south of Baton Rouge. I’ve been living in Lafayette for about nine years now, and that’s where our outreach office for CWPPRA is located. I’ve been working with CWPPRA for about three years.
Simone: Great. Yeah, y’all are, I think USGS? Y’all have a couple of guys over there. Yeah, we hope to talk to Brady in the next couple of weeks about some of his work too.
Nikki: Oh great.
Simone: Yeah. CWPPRA is actually some federal legislation that’s been around for a while right Nikki?
Nikki: Correct. We’re federal legislation, and we were enacted in 1990.
Simone: Yeah. So you may know it, or some people may know it as the Breaux Act. But really it was, and correct me if I’m wrong Nikki, if I’m getting my history wrong on this, but it was a dedicated tax on small gas engine tax sales, something very specific. But it was dedicated to coastal Louisiana to identify, prepare, and fund coastal restoration projects. And for the longest time, while it was enacted in 1990, it was one of the few funding sources that we had for coastal restoration.
Nikki: That’s correct. And we’re a super-unique kind too because we’re, I think maybe, one of the only groups that combines federal and state. We’re managed by five federal agencies and also the state of Louisiana, so our projects are funded 85% federal and 15% state.
Simone: It’s been an excellent example of how partners can work together.
Jacques: And you know it’s referred to as the Breaux Act because Senator John Breaux, who was in office at the time, helped pass it. Nikki, tell us a little bit about some of the projects that have been made possible through CWPPRA funding.
Nikki: As of right now, we have 154 active projects. These range from marsh creation to shoreline protection, terracing, hydrology, vegetative planting, all of the above. We do it.
Jacques: And we talk a lot about the Coastal Master Plan here. Is CWPPRA one of the sources of funding for The Master Plan and some of those projects?
Nikki: Yes. All of our CWPPRA projects are compliant with The Master Plan, and then CPRA acts as our state funding source for all of our projects.
Simone: 154 projects, that’s a lot. I knew it was a lot, but I didn’t think it was that many. What kind of price tags do some of these projects have? What kind of money are we talking about Nikki?
Nikki: Well our whole program each year gets about, I want to say it’s about $72 million.
Simone: Yeah. So not insignificant money right? You know, if you tell somebody 154 projects, they’d say that’s great. But if it’s only $10,000 a project, but the budget for CWPPRA ranges anywhere between $30-$80 million dollars. And that includes design, planning, and construction. Like I said, a really significant program here for our coast.
Nikki: If you look at the acreages, it’s about like 97,000 acres that we’ve protected, created, restored so far. That’s a significant way to look at it as well.
Jacques: Yeah, definitely a sizeable footprint. I know I saw a recent Facebook post that you all shared because you have such a great outreach and education arm. I think it was a CPRA video of one of the marsh creation projects that are underway that you’re helping to fund. Tell us about some of the projects that are ongoing or kind of teed up from CWPPRA.
Nikki: We just recently started active dredging for marsh creation in both Bayou Bonfouca, which is in St. Tammany and Oyster Bayou.
Simone: Don’t say that too fast huh Nikki?
Nikki: And Oyster Bayou, which is in Cameron. Those are going to be really great marsh creation projects. We’ve also got a really exciting invasive species project as well that was approved in January. That one’s going to be to combat giant salvinia, which is one of the invasive plant species that we have. That’s going to be very exciting as well.
Simone: Nikki, y’all, to just kind of finish our CWPPRA talk. Then after the break, we’ll get back into another kind of invasive species. But y’all do projects per basin, right? Y’all do a call for projects. You have a process. So why don’t you tell us just a little bit about that.
Nikki: Every year, usually around the end of January, beginning of February, is when we hold our regional planning team meetings. We have four different regions where we have those. Landowners, parish representatives, state and federal representatives can all come together and propose the projects that they would like to see done in their area. From each of those meetings, I want to say we get about 10 projects from each. Then throughout the year, that list just dwindles down until we get our final, we call it a PPL, which is a Priority Project List. Usually, the January taskforce meeting of the next year, we’ll have about four or five projects that move on to engineering and design.
Jacques: And we’re going to talk about one of the specific projects after the break. First Nikki, I want to ask, I know you do a lot of great outreach and online engagement. So tell folks where they can go to learn more about your projects and the funding source on your website, Twitter, Facebook, all of that good stuff.
Nikki: We are all over social media for sure. Facebook and Twitter it’s @CWPPRA. Then our website is lacoast.gov, and you can find fact sheets for all of our projects and different publications that we have.
Jacques: Great. After the break, we’re going to come back and talk about nutria specifically.
Simone: Swamp rats.
Jacques: I know. Really a lot of the good work and the program that you all have to combat this invasive species. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’ll be back right after the break.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. This is Simone Maloz of Restore or Retreat. I’m joined by Jacques Hebert of Audubon Louisiana. Welcome back. We also want to welcome back Nikki from CWPPRA. Thank you for hanging with us Nikki.
Nikki: Thanks for having me.
Simone: Let’s talk about the swamp rat a little.
Nikki: All right.
Simone: Victoria wrote a blog for us, and she also wrote for CWPPRA as well. It’s Friend or Foe, and most people think that they’re probably furry little ugly boogers. But they don’t understand how much they really can hurt Louisiana. Nikki, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how they even came here, and why they’re harmful to our coast.
Nikki: The nutria was first brought here from South America in about the 1930s to be used for the fur trade, but since, I don’t know, I want to say around the 80s-
Simone: Jacques you got a nutria fur coat?
Jacques: I actually have a nutria fanny-pack.
Simone: That’s for a whole other show to discuss.
Jacques: It’s an amazing accessory.
Simone: I bet it is. Sorry about that Nikki.
Nikki: So since about the 80s, fur has drastically declined. That’s left these animals who have these massive appetites for plants and a super-high reproductive rate as well. They rapidly consume our marsh plants, especially the ones that really anchor into roots.
Simone: Yeah, they like the roots right? And they really dig in.
Nikki: Yep. We’ve had annual surveys that have showed that without any sort of program, the nutria can cause about 80,000 acres of damage at any given time.
Simone: It’s hard to believe that something so small and brought to Louisiana for a whole ‘nother purpose can do so much damage, but we see that time and time again. Somebody brought something in for what they thought was a good reason, but here it is all these years later, and it’s caused so much damage. Nikki, y’all have some programs in place, and y’all work with wildlife and fisheries to keep that population down as much as you can.
Nikki: Yes. We have what’s called the Coast-wide Nutria Control Program, and we selected this program in 2002. It works to reduce the damage caused by the nutria with an economic incentive payment of $5 per nutria tail.
Simone: A bounty. I like it.
Nikki: Yes, a bounty. So participants with a valid Louisiana trapping license can sign up on the website and participate in the program.
Jacques: And have y’all seen a lot of progress since enacting the program? I mean it’s been what, almost 15 years?
Nikki: Yeah. I want to say this past year, 2016, I think it was only down to about 65,000 acres that were impacted, instead of what could have been 80,000.
Simone: Yeah, nutria, it sounds like from what you said about how much they eat, I saw somewhere that they consume 25% of their weight daily. I mean that’s how much they eat, and they reproduce like crazy. So you have to stay on top of something like that, right Nikki? Or like you said, very quickly, it can turn back to as damaging as it was before the control.
Nikki: Yeah, exactly. We try and encourage a harvest of 40,000 nutria annually. Not 40,000. 400,000.
Jacques: Wow. Obviously it’s a coast-wide problem. If I’m a trapper who’s listening in, and I want to get out there-
Simone: With your nutria fanny-pack. Jacques is the trapper with his nutria fanny-pack, and he wants to know more.
Jacques: I’m also a consumer of other nutria products. We can get into that later.
Simone: Dog treats, right?
Jacques: Yeah, my dog loves nutria dog treats that are Marsh Dog.
Simone: They taste like grass because they eat so much grass. That’s what they say.
Jacques: But anyway, so getting back to the trapping. If I’m a trapper, and I want to learn more and get involved in the program, where do I go Nikki?
Nikki: Any trappers can go to nutria.com and register for the program and read all the rules and regulations. It’s really easy to remember, nutria.com.
Jacques: I’m surprised that URL wasn’t taken.
Simone: I know.
Jacques: You lucked out with that one. But that’s great, and you can learn more about what you need to do in terms of getting whatever kind of licenses or whatever to be able to do that. Kind of shifting a little bit to some of the innovative products that have come out. We’ve mentioned a few, fanny-packs and dog treats in particular. Have you seen, and have you encouraged business to take part in helping to control the nutria population?
Nikki: We definitely think it’s great when businesses want to make a creative effort to help promote the program, but also for them to find a way to make a use of the discarded carcasses. The bounty is just for the tails.
Simone: Right. Right, good point.
Nikki: So yes, the Marsh Dog treats are fantastic. There’s also a company called Righteous Fur that’s held fur fashion shows and that make jewelry.
Simone: Yeah, I think BidNip did a fur fashion show one time. Yep.
Nikki: Yep, yep. So we think things like that are fantastic. And if we can make a market for nutria products and have them in high demand, that’s even better.
Simone: You’re not worried about Beignet’s tail are you?
Jacques: Who’s Beignet?
Simone: Beignet is Jonathan Foret, with the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, Nikki this is right?
Simone: That’s Jonathan’s pet nutria and sometimes he teams up with CWPPRA at Terrebone Coastal Day. Actually Jonathan brought, you guys were there, and y’all brought Beignet to kind of get people … I mean, most people maybe don’t even get to see a nutria up close. Like I said, they look cute and furry. They have those really nasty teeth, but Beignet gives an opportunity to educate people.
Jacques: Educate. He also made an appearance at State of the Coast. I met him there.
Simone: You can take a selfie with Beignet I think. Jacques did you have your nutria fanny-pack on when you met Beignet.
Jacques: No, it was business casual, so I was trying to keep a-
Simone: He probably would have bitten you with those nasty yellow teeth, right?
Simone: Nikki, any other programs? Like you were talking about the invasive species, the giant salvinia right? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about that?
Nikki: Great. It’s called the salvinia weevil propagation facility.
Simone: Oh my.
Nikki: I know, it’s so fancy. The gist of it is that we’re bringing in these weevils, which is a little bug that apparently really like to eat giant salvinia. So we are … I’m trying to think where we’re shipping them in from. I think LSU Ag. Center.
Simone: I think I saw a picture the other day.
Nikki: They partner in that, yeah. So they’re providing us with lots of weevils, and we’re putting them on all the salvinia we can.
Simone: So Nikki, y’all do traditional restoration projects, but projects just like this and probably even the weevils. That comes to y’all as like innovative things too. So y’all also have a program where y’all look at new fresh ideas that y’all could basically test, right? Like demo projects?
Nikki: Yeah. Whenever we have those RPT meetings at the beginning of the year, businesses and people with these creative ideas can also propose demonstration projects.
Simone: Cool. Cool.
Nikki: We like to ask a fun question to Nikki. This is the part of the program where we ask fun questions. I think we already asked one of our last Asian carp guests if they were an invasive species what species would they be. But I like the question that we asked Alex Kolker last week. If you were stranded on a barrier island, what three things would you bring with you?
Nikki: Oh goodness. Some sunscreen.
Jacques: Very important.
Simone: That’s was better than Alex’s answer I think.
Nikki: Oh goodness.
Simone: No nutria. Then you’d be stuck on the island with them. Or you would have to bring coyotes to eat the nutria.
Nikki: Give me … Maybe a good book too. I don’t know.
Jacques: A good book. Maybe some water. You know you gotta stay hydrated.
Jacques: There you go.
Nikki: A water bottle with a little filter in it.
Jacques: Well Nikki, thank you so much for coming on the show. Again, can you remind our audience where they can go to learn more about CWPPRA as well as where to follow you on social media, get adorable pictures of Beignet and then learn about all the great projects that you’re supporting through your program.
Jacques: And if you are a trapper who wants to get in the game.
Simone: Yes, nutria.com.
Jacques: Nutria.com. I’m gonna check that out.
Simone: I like it. Nikki we are so grateful that you joined us today and shared your information, not just about CWPPRA, but about some of the great programs that y’all do to help our coast. Thank you Nikki. We hope to have you on soon.
Jacques: Thanks. Take care.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. I’m Simone Maloz with Restore and Retreat.
Jacques: And I’m Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana. We are discussing an important topic that’s been in the news a lot lately, invasive species. We were just talking nutria with Nikki Cavalier from CWPPRA, and we’re excited to have back on the show Dr. Andy Nyman, Professor of Wetland Wildlife Ecology with LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources. Welcome back to Delta Dispatches Dr. Nyman.
Andy: Oh thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Jacques: Let’s talk a little bit. The last time you were on the show we were talking about the abundance of wildlife and flora and fauna that comprise the coast, and why the coast is important for that reason. But there are also some species that are not as welcome, correct? Tell us a little bit about invasive species, how they come up to be, and why they’re a problem.
Andy: Invasive species are just things that are upsetting the way that people are used to having the environment work. We depend upon the environment for food, seafood, people like to hunt, eat those things. When a newcomer comes in and upsets the cards it affects our things we eat, things we sell, and people don’t like it. So invasive species is just something that’s becoming more common than it used to be, and causing problems that we don’t like.
Simone: Dr. Nyman, a lot of the problem is that they don’t also have predators, right? So in the case of some of the species like nutria or like even little organisms and plants, they don’t have anything to really attack them because they’re not supposed to be here in the first place.
Andy: Well now you’re talking about exotic species. Exotic species are not from here, but sometimes even our native species can become invasive.
Simone: Good clarification.
Andy: Yeah, so like the Florida Everglades is having a big problem with cattail taking over the cut grass. And cattail was there in rare amounts but because of nutrients the cattail’s taking over. That’s changing the vegetation, which changes the fish, which changes the birds, and having a big effect over there. You’re right. Most of our invasive species are exotic, and they are not from here. They don’t have their predators, but sometimes even native species can become invasive and cause a problem.
Simone: I clearly should have taken your class.
Jacques: There’s still time Simone.
Andy: You’re a fast learner.
Jacques: So we were talking a little bit before, in the prior segments about nutria. I know you’ve studied and been out in the coast. Have you noticed any noticeable trends with nutria and kind of how they’re managed, or how that problem is dealt with?
Andy: Yeah, well first of all, don’t call them a swamp rat please? I can’t get my wife to eat them.
Simone: Oh, they taste like grass. I’m telling you that’s what they say because they …
Andy: They do have a good taste. I enjoy them. They taste to me like rabbits, which is a little bit of something different but not very gamey at all. But that’s the problem, back in the 1970s, I’m that old, I first started going out in the marsh, you didn’t see a lot of nutria because there was a market demand for them. People went out and trapped them and sold them. We didn’t eliminate the nutria that way, but we kept them at populations low enough that you didn’t see a problem. When that demand ended in the 1980s, that’s when we started seeing nutria be a problem including in the canals of Jefferson Parish and throughout the coastal marshes.
Then also the bounty. As a wild-lifer, I was taught that bounties fail. When CWPPRA proposed that nutria control program, I gotta admit, I predicted it’d be a failure because these things have usually failed. I take that back. We always talk about the failures, but this program was done right. They focused on the damage to the vegetation, and that’s their goal is to reduce vegetation damage. And they measure success by measuring vegetation damage not by measuring how many nutria they kill or how many dollars they spend. You saw a lot of damage early in the 1990s and early 2000s, and you don’t see that much anymore because of that CWPPRA program y’all talked about.
Jacques: That’s great, and again, nutria.com if you want to kind of be a part of that. So shifting gears a little bit to another invasive species that really started to come in the news I think several months ago. There’s been more and more coverage of it as it’s spread. There’s an invasive insect that’s damaging Roseau cane along the coast. Tell us a little bit about this and how this insect came to Louisiana, and what it’s doing to our Roseau cane.
Andy: Let’s start with the Roseau cane. People familiar with the marsh probably know what it is, but maybe not everyone is. It’s like a skinny bamboo. It can be very tall, over 10 feet tall. It’s got bigger leaves than bamboo. It grows in patches the size of a room to an acre to hundreds of acres. There used to be some along Bayou St. John in New Orleans 15 years or so ago. I don’t drive that way much anymore. I’m not sure if it’s still there or not. That’s the plant we’re talking about. That plant’s been a part of our landscape for decades here in Louisiana. Now that same Roseau cane, which the Latin name is phragmites by the way and spelled with a “ph” in case anyone wants to Google it.
Simone: That’s a good Scrabble word.
Andy: It is a great Scrabble word. It is a great Scrabble word.
Simone: My husband would get triple bonus or something on that.
Andy: Yeah. It would be a good one. The Roseau cane is considered invasive on the Atlantic Coast of the United States and up in The Great Lakes. But here in the Gulf Coast, it’s not a problem. In Europe, they love it. In Asia, they love the Roseau cane. So our Roseau cane is part of our landscape, a small part of almost all of our landscape. It’s very important at the mouth of the river.
Now this bug you mentioned, people tried to tell me about it last fall and winter, but I wasn’t getting it. It wasn’t until April when the first news reports hit that then I got my eyes opened, and I can see what’s going on. We’ve got an insect out there that seems to be killing the Roseau cane. The Roseau cane is dying and in some places is not coming back and not being replaced by anything.
Jacques: So in terms of why that is important, right? I think this Roseau cane provides important habitat for birds and other species. Why else is this a problem, and something that we should really be paying attention to?
Andy: Most places of the coast, it’s a small part of the landscape, and you’re right. It’s so thick. It’s a great nesting habitat for rails for example. Also, the red-wing black birds seem to like it, probably more birds use it than that. But at the mouth of the river down around Venice, it is the dominant plant on the landscape. The Roseau cane’s what dominates all the passes of the river as the river discharges out to the Gulf of Mexico. It also dominates a lot of water two to three feet deep that other plants can’t survive in, only the Roseau cane can. As we’re losing the Roseau cane, it’s dying, and then it sprouts back up again from the roots. Then that seems to be dying. We see the process, it looks like it’s been happening for at least a couple of deaths and re-growths, and nothing’s replacing it in the shallow water.
At the mouth of the river, it’s the dominant wildlife habitat. It also protects the local gas facilities and the camps down there from storm surge. It slows the speed at which saltwater from tropical storms pushes up into the mouth of the river. It also helps keep the water in the navigation channels so that helps reduce our drudging cost.
Simone: And because it’s at the mouth of the river where so many things and ships and everything pass, I mean there was this fear initially that it could spread quickly. It seems like it may already have to places like Terrebonne and Lafourche. And that’s probably because some of the same ships or barges that may brush up against it in the mouth of the river end up in the GIWW and those kinds of things, right?
Andy: Yeah, well that might be what has been going on, but we’re really not sure. I’ve gone back and looked at some of my pictures. I don’t go out and take pictures or Roseau cane, but I have pictures from the marsh that have Roseau cane in it going back to 2009, often the mouth of the river. And all of a sudden, looking at my pictures, I think it may have started as early as 2014. Mr. Armstrong is a landowner down there. I asked him about a month or so ago, and he thinks in hindsight, it’s been there for a couple of years.
It may be coming on the ships that you mentioned, but the tiny insects may have come in on a duck. You know some ducks go up and nest up far north of Canada, Alaska. Sometimes they can make a wrong turn and go to Asia. Sometimes birds that are … There was duck banded in Japan, probably about 10-15 years ago that about five years ago was shot in Mississippi. So ducks move around. It could have been by bird, could have been by people on ships like you say. It could have been with the bamboo poles that come in, and we put all over the marsh for surveying. We just don’t know how long it’s been here, or how it’s spreading.
Simone: That’s all part of the process, so trying to figure out where it came from. Then also, how to deal with it, right? I think when we get back from the break Dr. Nyman, if you’ll stay with us for a little bit, we’ll get a little bit into it a little bit more. But during the break, if you want to find out more information, Tristan Baurick who we’ve had on the show before with the Times-Picayune, has done a lot of reporting on this topic. He, online right now, has a visual guide to the plague killing Louisiana’s Roseau cane. We suggest that you check it out. It’s a great overview of it. He does really dive into some details too. That’s on NOLA.com. Right now you’re listening to Delta Dispatches, and we’ll be back with Dr. Nyman.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. This is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat.
Jacques: And this is Jacques Hebert with Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: Dr. Nyman, I don’t know if Jacques did this when he interviewed you earlier, but we like to ask a fun question of everybody. So we want to open up with that, I hear you’re a big LSU baseball fan.
Andy: Towards the end of every season.
Jacques: Good answer.
Simone: Well I was gonna ask you who your favorite player was, but that’s such a great answer. I’m going to leave it alone at that. I love to watch-
Andy: I had a pitcher in one of my classes about a decade ago, Louis Coleman-
Simone: I do. He was very good. He played in the Majors for a long time, right?
Andy: Yes he did. He took a wildlife class.
Simone: He probably knew your invasive versus exotic species.
Andy: I’m sure he’s forgotten all about that by now.
Simone: He’s probably counting his money right now, would be my guess. Well let’s get back to the matter at hand.
Jacques: We were talking a little bit about the problem, right, with this invasive scale, and how it’s affecting Roseau cane. You know, why people should care about it. I want to talk a little bit about the response and some of the solutions people are throwing out there. When something like this happens, Dr. Nyman, who is responsible or who’s called together? Can you tell us a little bit about the groups that are working to address this issue right now.
Andy: If we were dealing with an agricultural crop, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a section called Wildlife Services that would deal with this. This isn’t into the crops that we know of, so they’re not involved yet. Right now, it’s kind of up to the state to do something, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is very concerned because they manage some of that land down there. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned, but budgets are tight. So they’re trying to put some money together to do some of the research that the situation calls for. I guess there are four things we could do. One, we could just do nothing and hope everything gets better and everything comes back. That certainly is an option for us. If we’re gonna do something, we’ve gotta figure out what to do.
Jacques: So what are some of those options that are being considered? I heard something about a wasp. I also heard burn-offs, introducing European Roseau cane. Can you talk through some of the things that are being considered as a way to manage this invasive species?
Andy: Yes, all of those are on the table, before I get to that one though, one of the first things we need to do is really be sure that this insect that we think is new to North America … It’s from Asia. This is the first time it’s been reported in North America. We need to make sure that it’s really the thing that’s killing the Roseau cane. Most of the pieces of the puzzle suggest that it is. You know you go to a dead patch of Roseau cane, and you almost always find that bug there. But not always. I’ve seen several dead patches over by Golden Meadow, I looked at a couple of weeks ago, and they were dead but there were no bugs on them. And over by Rockefeller Refuge, there are dead patches and no scale bugs that I could find.
We’re not positive yet, that it is that bug. It probably is, but we’re not positive yet. So one thing we’ve gotta do, is figure out if it’s a bug. We have enough information saying that it is a bug, so let’s go ahead and talk about the wasp that you mentioned. You think of the scale bug as a parasite on the Roseau cane. It’s sucking the sap out of the Roseau cane, sucking all the life out of it, and it’s a parasite. It turns out that the scale bug has its own parasites. Actually they are parasitoids, which is different. If the Roseau cane dies, then the scale bug dies.
A parasitoid is different, it’s more like the movie Alien. A wasp will lay its eggs inside the living scale bug. Then before she can finish her life cycle and reproduce, the eggs will kill the scale bug. The babies will crawl out and kill her, and they’ll go on and make a new generation of these wasps. In fact, we’ve got three of these wasps here already, which is one of the things that suggest that the scale bug is not new to coastal Louisiana. It’s kind of odd that a new insect would show up with three parasites all of its own right away. Just like early on we talked about exotic species lacking natural predators. We’ve already got three natural predators of the scale bug here. That’s some of the research we need to do.
Jacques: Yeah, just showing the importance of really understanding the problem before you act because right? Some of these solutions that are being considered could have effects that may not be necessarily … I mean they could be harmful in some ways. And I know this has been a problem I read, in China as well. I think there they’ve managed it with burn-offs. Is that correct?
Andy: Yeah, they burn it. So their Roseau cane grows … They kind of cultivate it for paper and fiber. So they can burn it off, and it burns off the insect and knocks it back. Burning it will work in some of our marshes where the elevation’s higher. But at the mouth of the river where Roseau cane is extremely important, the water’s too deep, and there’s not enough litter on the ground to carry the fire. Fire probably isn’t going to work for us where we most need to fight the problem.
Other things they mentioned is using, you know we spray for mosquitoes all the time. Why don’t we spray for the scale bug? Well there’s two reasons. One, the scale bug, when they’re tiny, they crawl down in between the stem and the leaf right next to the stem. So they’re really protected. They’re not open to the air, so an insecticide wouldn’t get on them. You’d have to get an insecticide that would be absorbed into the plant and then go into the bug. Then it’d be easier for insecticides to kill those good wasps that are killing the scale bug. Insecticides are not something we want to jump onto.
Jacques: What about introducing European Roseau cane? Is that an option as well?
Andy: Well sort of, but it’s already here. In fact, there’s some preliminary data collected by Dr. Jim Cronin and Rodrigo Diaz here at LSU, shows that there are patches of European phragmites, Roseau cane, already down in the mouth of the Mississippi River. And those stands are much healthier and have much fewer bugs on them, the scale bugs on them than the stands right next to them that are dying. This would really irritate some people on the Atlantic Coast and The Great Lakes, to hear that we were actually spreading the European because they hate it. But it might spread on its own without our help, or maybe we could actually accelerate its spread into some of the areas that are lacking, losing its vegetation.
Simone: Well Dr. Nyman, thank you for being on with us today. I’m glad I got to join in this interview. I know Jacques had you all to himself last time. We’re very grateful for all of the information that you shared. I think LSU Ag. you just mentioned some guys that work there, but they have some great information and even like a little handout available for people who want more information on Roseau cane. Again, Times Picayune has done a really great job covering it. And we’ve also on MRD right, have a blog?
Jacques: We have a blog on our website, mississippiriverdelta.org. Dr. Nyman, thank you so much for being on. Clearly this isn’t a problem that is necessarily going to go away anytime soon, so hopefully we can have you back on for an update.
Andy: All right. Thank y’all very much.
Jacques: Thank you.
Simone: All right Jacques, what do you have coming up this week?
Jacques: Well, next week actually is an important hearing on Capitol Hill. The House Natural Resources Committee is doing a hearing on GOMESA, right? We’ve talked a lot about the importance of protecting funding under GOMESA. Our coalition, Restore the Mississippi River Delta still has an action alert live that will go to members of Congress asking them to protect funding for GOMESA. You can go online to mississippiriverdelta.org and take action there and support GOMESA.
Simone: Great, great and you can still find this episode and all of our previous episodes online as well.
Jacques: Yeah, go to mississippiriverdelta.org/deltadispatches. I think we’re up to, oh my gosh, Episode 18. We’ve been doing this for a while.
Simone: It just flies by.
Jacques: We’re just pros. Yeah, but you can get all of the archives and listen to previous episodes, catch up, subscribe. We appreciate your listening.
Simone: Yep. And you can check out a nutria blog on our Facebook page, which is Restore or Retreat. We’ll see you guys next week with more information about the Mid-Barataria Scoping Meeting.
Jacques: Yeah, we’re going to have hopefully some experts on to discuss that, but you can also go on our Facebook, Restore the Mississippi River Delta to get details on those scoping meetings. You’ve been listening to Delta Dispatches, thanks again and have a great week.