Feds start to assess ecological damage to refuges near New Orleans

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is beginning to gauge damage from Hurricane Katrina to the 23,000-acre Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge east of New Orleans and the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain, home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Though Bayou Sauvage was flooded along with the city when the levees broke, many critters survived the deluge, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, alligators, egrets, and, to the chagrin of local agency official Dan Parker, pesky non-native wild hogs. But an influx of Lake Pontchartrain’s brackish waters into Bayou Sauvage damaged the refuge’s freshwater marsh grasses, the whole place smells of sewage and petroleum, and the receding floodwaters are leaving garbage in their wake. Says Parker, “It’ll take years to recover.”