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|Parish students learn importance of Louisiana's wetlands|
Hundreds of students across Ouachita Parish learned the importance of wetlands conservation this week.
The LSU AgCenter, with funding from the state Department of Natural Resources, helped sponsor the third annual Youth Wetlands Week to provide wetlands education to students in fourth through 12th grade.
The week-long curriculum aimed at teaching children the need for wetlands rehabilitation.
Wetlands conservation is something that Ouachita Parish Junior High School teacher Paula Webb strongly supports.
Webb has seen the devastating effects of hurricanes in Louisiana's coastal parishes, and she knows it will only get worse as the state loses its natural buffer from the storms. She is currently teaching her students about wetlands rehabilitation, using resource materials from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Webb also plans to have her students do some water sampling and animal identification activities soon.
"My goal is to get to some wetlands as soon as possible," she said.
Several of her students also plan to enter a state-wide art contest being held to show the importance of Louisiana's wetlands.
"This is a major issue in Louisiana right now," Webb said. "We've got to save our wetlands. It's something that is near and dear to my heart."
We will lose our way of life if New Orleans is gone in 50 years," Webb added.
She said the loss of wetlands became a problem with the advent of paved roads in Louisiana.
"Huey Long said farmers needed a way to get their crops to the market, so he vowed to pave roads in Louisiana," she said. "But what happened as a result is we had more paved roads than most other states, and then everyone wanted an automobile. Then, when oil was found in the coast of Louisiana, engineers said we needed to cut canals to move it on barges."
Webb said salt water from the Gulf of Mexico began to creep into the canals, killing vegetation.
"We lost our buffer zone," she said.
The recent devastation from hurricanes is "just a prelude of what's to come."
"Today, hurricanes tear up even more because we don't have that buffer zone anymore, and they are bringing in more salt water, which is the worst enemy of vegetation," Webb explained. "We're also losing wildlife. Washington never worried about this much. No one listened until recently. People are beginning to realize this is a global problem, and not something that just affects Louisiana."
Hilary Collis, an LSU AgCenter associate in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences, agrees.
"Louisiana's wetlands face a crisis, and the youth of the state need to understand this so they can do something about it," Collis said.
He said that's the philosophy behind the third annual Youth Wetlands Week.
"The program offers hands-on lessons for students to participate in, along with ideas for field trips and educational experiences outside of the classroom," Collis said. "We expect to reach 50,000 students in 54 parishes this year."
Curriculum materials were delivered to 800 teachers across the state through local LSU AgCenter 4-H agents. The curriculum is designed to correlate with grade-level expectation for each age group, Collis said.
Youngsters may learn about animal habitats, while older students can take part in experiments designed to show how wetland plants filter out sediments.
"The program definitely affects the students' science knowledge," said Ashley Mullens, LSU AgCenter associate in 4-H. "Last year's test results showed a 26 percent increase in science scores in students that participated in the program."
The Youth Wetlands Week program is not just for science teachers, though. The curriculum includes lessons in English, math, social studies and geography.
Youth Wetlands Week activities also included trash clean-ups around waterways, tree and vegetative plantings and building and installing wood duck boxes.
"A goal of the program is to teach students they have the power to make a difference," Mullens said. "We hope they will go out and act as an advocate to their parents and friends and other people in the community and have a sense of ownership in the state's wetlands."