September 8, 2005

Scientists expect major environmental damage

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - Biologists expect to
find major destruction when they take their first close-up look
at Hurricane Katrina's impact on wildlife habitats and
Louisiana's vital fishing industry, the state's top
conservation official said on Thursday.

Dwight Landreneau, Louisiana's secretary for the department
of wildlife and fisheries, said until now biologists had been
part of search and rescue efforts but would soon begin damage
assessments to coastal areas, marshes and forests that surround
New Orleans.

"We're going to see some massive destruction of the habitat
in the coastal area when it deals with wildlife and with the
fisheries," Landreneau told Reuters.

"With everything that is involved in dealing with the
seafood industries, we're going to have some very high
numbers," he said.

Louisiana provides as much as 40 percent of all seafood
enjoyed in the United States, especially oysters and shrimp.

"We will do what we need to do to help those families that
are involved in the seafood industry and also those businesses
that are involved in recreational aspects," Landreneau told an
earlier news briefing.

Louisiana also is home to cypress and tupelo swamps that
cover hundreds of thousands of acres of coastal Louisiana and
inhabited by migratory birds, alligators and snakes.

Landreneau said the department's fisheries division will
focus on evaluating hurricane damage to coastal and inland

Surveys also will be conducted in 12 wildlife management
areas and the storm's impact on waterfowl and even smaller
species like squirrel and rabbits.

Landreneau said he was concerned about the impact on fish
and wildlife from the contaminated floodwaters being pumped
into the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain from New
Orleans, raising the specter of an environmental disaster.

"Any type of contaminant that goes into the Gulf area is a
concern because you're dealing with filter feeders like
oysters, which processes this through their system," he said.
"We're going to have to do some very close evaluation of that,
also with shrimp and finfish," he said.