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Environmental Overview - Regional Description of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Contributors: Penland, McCarty, Beall, Maygarden
The term 'essential habitat' encompasses the environmental parameters crucial to the survival of wetlands, submersed aquatic vegetation, primary nursery areas and the plant and animal species such as fish and shellfish that are dependent on these habitats. The Lake Pontchartrain Basin's diverse essential habitats are important ecologically and economically and are home to a great variety of fauna and flora. Human activities in the Basin have resulted in the loss or degradation of essential habitats that support important natural communities. Loss and/or degradation of these areas are the primary reasons for loss of ecological function and the reduction in the numbers and health of plant and animal species.
There are many rare plant communities within the Basin that are declining. One example is the longleaf pine savannas in Tangipahoa and St. Tammany Parishes. These areas are rapidly disappearing due to urban development, suppression of the burning regime that controls the vegetative communities and changes in hydrology caused by draining or unnatural flooding.
The Louisiana quillwort has recently been placed on the endangered species list. In addition to rare plants, several threatened and endangered species of fauna exist in the Basin. Examples include the gopher tortoise, peregrine falcon, southern bald eagle and red-cockaded woodpecker. As essential habitat is lost, these animals will continue to decline in number.
Between 1900 and 1980, fish production in Lake Pontchartrain declined by 49% due to wetland loss (Stone, 1980). However, due to increased fishing pressure, the overall commercial catch increased between 1976 and 1983. If primary nursery areas continue to disappear at the present rate, fish production could decrease significantly. Further, all the shellfish beds in Lake Pontchartrain itself are currently closed to harvest while in other parts of the Basin shellfish beds must be monitored closely due to concerns about contamination.
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