Don't Fool With Nature!

Lyle Johnson
Plaquemine Post South

With all the other stuff going on today, we’re not hearing about or paying attention to some of the things we usually talk about. One of those things that is getting little mention is the Mississippi River.

The “Big River” hit flood stage in Baton Rouge in late January and is close to 42 feet at present. It’s expected to get up to 43 feet by April 12 and begin a slow fall. 20 bays of the Bonnet Carre Spillway were opened on Friday, April 3 for a record, three-year consecutive opening. The fight continues every year, even twice last year.

You just might be telling your age if you remember a commercial back a few years ago that depicted Mother Nature tasting a Parkay margarine. When told what it was, she replied, “Oh no, this is my sweet, creamy butter.” When the truth was discovered, a scowl came on her face, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

I’ve never forgotten that commercial through the years because of the things nature has experienced. But I have always added one word to the phrase: “It’s not nice to foolwithMother Nature!”

Fooling with nature usually starts with direct human activity to “fix” something in nature that has turned out wrong. The levee built along the Mississippi River is one of those mistakes we’ve made, although well intentioned. It’s flooding, so we need to do something to fix it.

The levee on the mighty Mississippi got its start really early. In 1717, the first manmade levee system was started by Bienville, the founder of the city of New Orleans. The construction of the first levees, which reached only three feet in height, was completed in 1727. But man's effort to stop flooding caused the beginning of the end of the building of new land in Louisiana and began the demise of our coastline.

There have been other boondoggles with good intentions along the way as well. In 1772, Benjamin Franklin sent some tree seeds to a Georgia farmer to plant some trees that could be used in the manufacture of candles, soap and fuel.

One of the names for the tree that would change this farmer’s life was “money tree” and had the intention of promoting industry. What we got was the Chinese Tallow tree and now we can’t get rid of them.

This started a long list of exotic species that were imported purposefully for some desirable characteristic, only to later become an environmental scourge in need of control. The tallow was finally listed as a noxious weed species at the state and federal level.

Another species that’s been around a long time is the beautiful but troublesome Water Hyacinth. Its introduction to North America is believed to be during the Centennial Cotton Exposition in Audubon Park in 1884. The hyacinth was brought in from South America to decorate the ponds of the park during the fair.

A well known tale in Florida states that Mrs. W.F. Fuller brought some of the very attractive plants back from the exposition and put them in the St John’s River accelerating the spread that has entrenched all of southern United States. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries spends a fortune just trying to control them on our waterways.

Another very familiar non native specie that has become part of our heritage is the infamous nutria. Introduced in the United States in 1889 to enhance our fur industry, the rodent’s infestation really became a problem in the 1940s, when the fur trade bottomed out.

The Louisiana connection came in 1938 when E.A. McIlhenny, President of the Tabasco pepper sauce company, opened a nutria farm on Avery Island, where he bred, sold and occasionally let nutria escape into the wild.

Sales of nutria hides for fur had its ups and downs in Louisiana, peaking in the 1970s as 1 million of the animals were harvested each year; pelts sold for $8. Due to the culture change toward fur clothing in general, a price collapse began in the '80s and has never recovered causing the population to soar.

The overgrazing of vegetation in our marshes by the nutria contributes to the coastal marshes already suffering from land loss that prompted the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to put a bounty on the critters to help keep the population under control.

The common carp, one of the five species of Asian carp (grass, silver, bighead & black) now in our nation’s waters, was brought here by immigrants in the 18th century trying to recreate one of Europe’s favorite fisheries.

The grass, silver and bighead carp were all introduced into our waters by the aquaculture industry. Grass carp are supposed to be sterile for use in controlling aquatic weeds, but the process is not fool proof.

Silver and bighead carp are relative newcomers and the danger with these are their feeding habits. They are filter feeders that consume mass amounts of plankton and tiny larval fish.

This will certainly have a detrimental effect on our fisheries in the future. Silver carp spook easily as boats approach and jump out of the water causing injury and even a few fatalities to unsuspecting boaters.

These are only a drop in the bucket as far as man’s intrusion into the way nature was set up long ago. Our so-called great ideas along with invasive species of animal and plant life that have been introduced intentionally or unintentionally to our environment have a price associated with it. Usually done with good intentions, many of them have or will have wreaked havoc upon the ecosystem they’ve established themselves in.

The lady in the commercial was right; You see, it’s not nice to foolwithMother Nature! Remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. So until next time have fun in the outdoors, be safe and may God bless you.