What To Do With Bayou Bienvenue?: James Stram

Jun 6, 2014

James Stram.
Credit Eve Troeh / WWNO

The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle of today is what is called a “ghost swamp”. Until the 1960s, it was a full of cypress trees, part of the central wetlands system that ran from the Lower 9th Ward all the way to Lake Borgne. But destructive forces — from levee and canal construction to invasive species — turned this freshwater swamp into a saltwater marsh, killing all the cypress trees in the process. You see their dead trunks like scarecrows in the water, and don’t see much else.

"If this became a success story it would be a really good thing to encourage people that it's not impossible to restore some wetlands."

When the Wetland Triangle was a swamp it provided the surrounding community with natural resources like fish, game and timber, and protected the area from storm damage and coastal erosion. Most of the wildlife that inhabited the swamp is gone, as is the native vegetation that safeguarded the land.

Now, the Bayou Bienvenue Triangle has been included in the “Master Plan” to restore the Louisiana coast. Few dispute this as good news, but there are varying perspectives on how and why the landscape has changed, and differing opinions on how it should be restored. What happened here? What restoration strategy now makes the most sense for this specific area? Should restoring this small section be prioritized compared to other, larger parts of the central wetlands?

Five people walked out to the Bayou Bienvenue platform, a wooden walkway at Florida and Caffin Avenues, to overlook the land as it is now and consider these questions.

Proposed Bayou Bienvenue and Ducross Marsh re-vegetation project.
Credit Southeast Flood Protection Authority - East

James Stram is the Wetlands Coordinator for Common Ground. Common Ground has been planting new freshwater grasses along the shore that were destroyed from wave action erosion, as well as the degradable wooden boxes put in place to protect the young cypress from the salinity levels.

Stram doesn’t fully agree the Triangle should be restored exactly how it was years ago. “It’s too hard to try to restore it to exactly what it was then, and also that would be doing a disservice to what it is now,” he says. Stram envisions a canoe trail — an active water recreation space close to the city.

“In a lot of environmental issues there’s a lot of sad, bad news. And it’s nice every now and then to hear a success story. Since this is somewhere that people come all the time, if this became a success story it would be a really good thing to encourage people that it’s not impossible to restore some wetlands.”

Support for coastal reporting on WWNO comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Kabacoff Family Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.