Profiles in Resilience: Biohabitats, Inc.

This piece builds on the “Profiles in Resilience” series started on Environmental Defense Fund’s Restoration and Resilience blog. Please check back here for future installments.

By Audrey Payne, Environmental Defense Fund

“Restoring the earth, one community at a time.…” This tagline appears on the website of Biohabitats, Inc., an ecologically-driven company based in Baltimore, Md. Biohabitats specializes in conservation planning, ecological restoration and regenerative design and does restoration work in the Everglades, Big Cypress and Tampa Bay, Fla.; Texas and Louisiana; and has several office locations across the country, including Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico and New Jersey.

Company president and founder Keith Bowers has been a strong supporter of the RESTORE Act — legislation currently making its way through Congress that would bring 80 percent of the $5 to $21 billion in expected Clean Water Act penalties from the gulf oil spill back to the five gulf states for ecological restoration and economic development. Passage of the RESTORE Act would help companies like Biohabitats increase work along the Gulf Coast.

Economic Benefits of Coastal Restoration

“The Mississippi River Delta is home to millions of acres of coastal wetlands, providing habitat for commercial fisheries, recreation, natural filtering and storm surge protection,” said Mr. Bowers. “The ecological and economic value of these wetlands is undeniable, yet we are losing thousands of acres each year to overdevelopment, poor management and neglect. Restoring these wetlands will not only begin to reverse this decline, it will also add thousands of jobs in the process.”

“Coastal habitat restoration typically creates at least 3-4 times as many jobs as road infrastructure or oil and gas projects for every $1 million invested,” continued Bowers, who readily acknowledges that ecological restoration can be a real catalyst for job creation, economic vitality and ecosystem resiliency throughout the Mississippi River Delta. “Passing the RESTORE Act would help revitalize local communities while simultaneously increasing the natural capital that we all depend on for clean air, fresh water, healthy soils and wholesome food. It’s a win-win for everyone!”

Introducing Biohabitats, Inc.

The Biohabitats mission is twofold: To “restore the earth and inspire ecological stewardship” and to “inspire communities to rediscover a sense of place through preserving indigenous ecosystems, restoring biodiversity and inspiring ecological stewardship.” Biohabitats believes it has an ethical responsibility to protect nature and to restore it for future generations, and it does so with practices that are defined by blending sound science, place-based design and ecological democracy. Biohabitats stays true to its mission through a multifaceted approach to its work that revolves around ensuring that its actions respect and celebrate life, by engaging people and communities and by constantly evolving and improving its practices.

Some examples of Biohabitats’ work include performing ecological baseline studies, using geographic information systems, conducting focus groups, ecological modeling, ecological restoration, landscape management, invasive species management and stormwater management. The company has won several awards for its exemplary work, including three this year: The Texas ASLA Honor Award for Planning & Analysis, the Texas ASLA Merit Award for Residential Design Constructed and the Texas ACEC Engineering Excellence Silver Award for Water Resources.

Biohabitats and the Mississippi River Delta

Wetlands at Jean Lafitte National Historic Park before restoration, with Chinese tallow growing along dredge disposal embankments, severing flow to adjacent marshes. Credit: Biohabitats, Inc.

Years of building canals through Louisiana’s wetlands for fossil fuel extraction have contributed to major ecological problems throughout the Mississippi River Delta. During canal construction, soil was piled up in mounds on the sides of waterways, creating opportunities for invasive species, such as the Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum), to move in and disrupt the surface flow of fresh water. Kevin Heatley, a senior scientist at Biohabitats, works on restoring the wetlands of Louisiana. In a recent OnEarth Magazine article, Mr. Heatley described the Chinese tallow trees as “biological pollution.” In order to fix the environmental damage caused by these canals, they must be filled in with dirt and the invasive trees extracted, thus creating habitat for native species and restoring the natural flow of water and sediment in the wetlands.

The Barataria Preserve is one of the wetland areas that were disrupted by canal construction. It is a 20,000-acre forest and marsh that is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve. Located south of New Orleans, it is part of the greater Mississippi River Delta region. Biohabitats is working with the National Park Service to repair damage to the landscape and restore healthy marsh ecology by removing invasive tree cover, placing excavated soil back in the canals, preserving native trees, restoring native soil levels to where they were before the canals and allowing the free flow of water and recolonization of native marsh species in the area.

Wetlands at Jean Lafitte National Historic Park after restoration. Credit: Biohabitats, Inc.

“The backfilling of canals is one of those rare restoration initiatives where the results and gratification are almost instantaneous,” said Heatley. To date, Biohabitats has restored over five linear miles of marsh within the preserve, eradicated the invasive Chinese tallow trees, allowed the natural free flow of water and created habitat for native vegetation.

“I work across the United States on restoration projects and our work in the Barataria Preserve is something that I am particularly proud of,” said Heatley.

There are over 10,000 miles of exploratory canals in coastal Louisiana, so these five restored miles are just a start. Hopefully, the passage of the RESTORE Act will lead to many more successful restoration opportunities like this one.

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