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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Swamps and marshes absorb storms, prevent erosion, cycle water and nutrients, and provide habitat for fish and shellfish. Hundreds of thousands of acres of American wetlands have already disappeared. Here, Christopher Hallowell takes us on a tour of one of the most threatened such areas, the Louisiana delta, where an astonishing 80 percent of annual American wetlands loss takes place, mostly due to poor flood-control practices. Years of centralized planning by the Army Corps of Engineers to build up the Mississippi River's levees robbed the bayous of nutrients, which are normally deposited in the form of rich river silt. Meanwhile, rising sea levels are eating up the marsh at a staggering rate.
Hallowell is sympathetic to the intertwining of nature and culture that has long characterized this region. Oystermen, shrimpers, trappers, and hunters have wrested a living from the delta for centuries. And of, course, there is New Orleans, perilously poised between the river and gulf and thus seriously vulnerable to storms and floods. Only now are people realizing how important these wetlands are to the livelihoods of entire communities. Cajun culture, one of Louisiana's most popular exports, is rooted in the rich loam of the bayous. Hallowell's encounters with a variety of colorful characters, from a trapper named Peanut Michel to George Barisich, "the prince of shrimpers," bring out the issues of resource management that undergird the situation in a poignant way.
Much of the book looks at government efforts to stop the bleeding. But bureaucracy and dissension in the ranks still interfere with existing efforts -- which Hallowell compares, in any case, to "Band-Aids of mud, rock, and hubris" that only blunt the inexorable surge of water. His case study is really about how our attitudes towards nature are under pressure as we bump up against the carrying capacity of the New World. From other coastal ecosystems like the Chesapeake Bay to the deserts of the Southwest, "the cornucopia is emptying" -- and hard choices requiring compromise and sacrifice are needed if we are to continue living on this land. (Jonathan Cook)