As noted in today’s Daily Grist (you do read the Daily Grist, don’t you? Of course you do!), Fish and Wildlife Service staff are just getting to work assessing the ecological damage to two wildlife refuges near New Orleans: Bayou Sauvage and Big Branch Marsh.

I’ve never been to New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. I avoid places that might serve up more heat and humidity than I endure on the average August day in New York City; find blackened anything inedible; and own my heritage as a repressed Northeasterner who finds the whole Mardi-Gras-public-nekkidity-license-to-debauch thing a little scary.

But reading about places like Bayou Sauvage makes me really regret it. Below the fold, a description from some student journalists who attended the Society of Environmental Journalists’ 2003 annual confab in New Orleans:

Though elusive, gators abound in Louisiana’s swamps, as do marsh deer, snowy egrets, and myriad other birds often seen from the deck of Captain Frenchie’s boat as it explores the recesses of Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, a 22,770-acre preserve contained wholly within the city limits of New Orleans. Frenchie is a wiry Cajun with a thick French accent whose roots in the swamp extend back nearly as far as some of the aged, moss-draped trees. He works in partnership with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that administers the refuge to share the bayou’s abundant treasures, often inaccessible on foot, with visitors.

… In this case, the issues involve how to protect these lush natural wetlands in the face of encroaching development. Once slated for infill in the 1980s to make way for a new suburban shopping complex, Bayou Sauvage was set aside as a wildlife refuge in 1990. It has remained remarkably wild, despite two freeways transecting it and a garbage dump on its flank. For many New Orleans school kids who never get outside the concrete bounds of their inner-city neighborhoods, a field trip to Bayou Sauvage is as exotic as an expedition to the equatorial jungle and a chance to see up-close the beauty and value of nature, perhaps for the first time.

So maybe I’ll plan on chipping in my tourist dollars to helping The Big Easy’s renewal.

Got a wilderness tale from the Gulf Coast? Please share it in the comments.