The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission (LWFC) approved a notice of intent on October 3, 2013 to amend the rules governing the Natural and Scenic Rivers System.
Recommendations to amend the existing rules were made by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF).
Some of the NOI proposed changes include:
- Prohibiting the use of a motor vehicle or other wheeled or tracked vehicle on a designated system stream, except for permitted uses and direct crossings by immediately adjacent landowners, lessees, and persons who have written permission from the landowner for non-commercial activities that do not significantly degrade the ecological integrity of the stream.
- Requiring a permit for a moored houseboat or floating camp, except when moored to a legally permitted piling, pier or bulkhead or moored to trees using connections that do not damage the trees and with written permission of the owner of the trees. A permit or letter of certification from the parish health unit, verifying an approved sewerage disposal system is on board, would also be required.
To review the full NOI document, go to http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/action-items.
Interested persons may submit comments on the proposed changes to Keith Cascio, Scenic Rivers Coordinator, P.O. Box 98000, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-9000, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org through Dec. 20, 2013 [the original Nov. 29, 2013 deadline for comments has been extended].
Scenic Rivers Oct. 2013 NOI Questions and Answers
Scenic Rivers NOI Questions and Answers
PART 1. ATV’s, Motorized Vehicles and Other Wheeled or Tracked Vehicles
Q: Has LDWF studied the biological impact of ATV’s usage in the stream bed of scenic streams?
A: The LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ original stream study took place from 2010-2012 and a large number of Louisiana rivers and streams were sampled from April through October. This three year study was not focused on off road vehicle disturbance but the data collected from it is useful since it included multiple sampling days at different times of the year. The biologists did go back to the same sites during different seasons. Since the Comite River was one of the streams sampled in this study, LDWF was able to do additional sampling in 2013 in response to concerns regarding potential negative ecological impacts caused by the use of ATV’s, motor vehicles, etc. in the stream bed and compare it to the previously collected data. We found a significant difference between those reaches subjected to this activity and those that were not.
Q: Have neighboring states taken steps to prohibit or regulate ATVs on rivers and streams?
A: There are numerous studies conducted in neighboring states, including a study published by the US Army Corps of Engineers, a study published by the Texas Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, etc., and all come up with the same findings – the use of ATV’s and other vehicles in stream bottoms is detrimental to those streams and associated flora & fauna. Four southeastern states (i.e., Texas, Mississippi, Missouri and Georgia) have legislation banning and/or strictly regulating this activity in stream beds statewide.
Q: Has LDWF considered allowing ATV use on scenic streams for only a few months a year?
A: There has been the suggestion that LDWF allow use of vehicles in scenic streams during the summer months and prohibit their use the rest of the year. Slow moving animals like mussels, crawfish, larval fish and aquatic insects cannot simply relocate and return nor successfully reproduce since the majority of off road vehicle disturbance occurs during the warm months in which they breed.
Even an isolated disturbance of this type during the warm reproductive season of resident aquatic organisms will cause significant decreases in diversity and density of those populations. It will also indiscriminately crush various age classes of slow moving animals such as freshwater mussels (some of which can live for decades), crawfish, larval fish, and aquatic insects. Unfortunately, vegetation and other structural habitat necessary for wildlife survival cannot simply “get out of the way”, and is destroyed by even light ATV traffic at any time of the year. One-time events that cause such impacts establish reduced carrying capacities in these ecological systems and thereby affect these systems year round and not just during the activity itself (carrying capacity is the maximum number of organisms of a particular species that can be supported indefinitely in a given environment). Additionally, these disturbances will adversely affect the food chain as many of these plants and animals are food sources for both local and transient wildlife, such as wading birds, otters, and raccoons. Reduction of these forage organisms will also result in reduced carrying capacities of these higher animals.
Since the Scenic Rivers Act requires that we regulate “activities that have the potential for significant ecological degradation”, we cannot ignore, in any season, the use of motor vehicles or other wheeled or tracked vehicles within these stream beds.
The Louisiana Scenic Rivers Act states:
RS 56:1841. Policies; purposes
A. The Legislature of Louisiana hereby finds that there exist in Louisiana many unique and diverse free-flowing rivers, streams, and bayous which should be preserved, protected, and enhanced for the present and future benefit of Louisiana citizens. In order to assist in fulfilling its duties to protect, conserve, and replenish the natural resources of this state in accordance with Louisiana Constitution Article IX, Section 1, the legislature does hereby establish the Louisiana Natural and Scenic Rivers System.
B.(1) This system shall be administered for the purposes of preserving, protecting, developing, reclaiming, and enhancing the wilderness qualities, scenic beauties, and ecological regime of certain free-flowing streams or segments thereof.
(2) This system shall further be administered for the purpose of preserving aesthetic, scenic, recreational, fish, wildlife, ecological, archaeological, geological, botanical, and other natural and physical features and resources found along these streams or segments thereof.
Given this directive, we would be remiss in our responsibility to protect the ecological integrity of these streams by allowing an activity within them at any time that has a detrimental impact on them. Using them as trails for motorized vehicles has both documented and obvious negative ecological impacts to the very characteristics we are charged with protecting. Aside from disrupting and/or displacing fish and wildlife resources, this activity crushes everything in its path including sessile wildlife, nests and eggs (both aquatic and terrestrial), botanical elements, the various sizes and sorts of woody debris and other stream bottom configurations and characteristics that make up these streams’ habitat diversity.
Q: What recreational activities can take place on scenic streams?
A: These streams offer many year-round recreational activities that can be supported simultaneously, such as fishing from boats, banks or wading, canoeing, tubing, kayaking, swimming, sunbathing on their beaches or banks, hunting on adjacent lands, viewing and appreciating their wildlife or just peacefully enjoying their wilderness qualities and scenic beauty. Using them as trails for motorized vehicles conflicts, or has the potential to conflict, with all of these.
PART 2. “One Hundred Foot” Rule
Q: Is LDWF attempting to expand its regulatory authority beyond 100 feet from Scenic Streams?
The Louisiana Scenic Rivers Act (the Act) states that LDWF “shall have the authority to regulate those activities that may directly and significantly degrade the ecological integrity of a natural and scenic river.” The Act does not contain any distance limitation. Our currently adopted regulations for administering the Scenic Rivers Program stipulate that these “regulations shall apply to all uses proposed to be undertaken on the stream or on adjacent lands within 100 feet of the designated System stream.” The current regulations do not indicate how LDWF is to review activities located more than 100 feet from a system stream. However, in compliance with the Act, LDWF does review proposed activities occurring beyond 100 feet to determine whether those activities may directly and significantly degrade the ecological integrity of the stream. If it does, the activity requires a Scenic Rivers Permit. The proposed regulation change brings the regulations into conformity with the Act and current LDWF practice. This proposed rule clarification will not change LDWF’s current practices.
For example, LDWF has the authority to regulate point source discharges of pollutants into Scenic Streams. If an entity wishes to discharge pollutants to a Scenic Stream via a pipe and that pipe ends 101 or more feet from a Scenic Stream, it may have the potential to significantly degrade that stream. If it does, the Act requires that the activity fall within LDWF’s regulatory authority. While these situations are fairly rare, LDWF has, in the past, required a permit for several activities located in excess of 100 feet from a designated stream, including a landfill located approximately one mile from a designated Scenic Stream that was determined to significantly degrade the ecological integrity of the stream by discharging colloidal clay into the stream via a tributary. Another example is gravel mining. There is no arbitrary distance that can be fixed to how far back a particular gravel mining operation must be from a Scenic Stream to guarantees it will not have a negative impact on that stream. Each proposal to mine gravel near a stream, river or bayou is unique and factors such as topography, stream migration, flooding patterns, and existing forested buffers play a significant role in determining the mining activity effect on the stream.
PART 3. Houseboats and Floating Camps
Q: When is the owner of a houseboat or floating camp required to obtain a Scenic Rivers Permit?
A: If someone has a houseboat or floating camp fitted with a sewage and wastewater treatment system approved by the Parish Health Unit, AND it is moored to their own dock, legally installed pilings, their own trees or anchored they already comply with the proposed rules and are exempt from the Scenic Rivers Permit requirement.
Houseboats and floating camps should already be using a certified treatment or holding system and not discharging sewage and/or wastewater to waters of the State. This is currently required by the State's Health Code.
LDWF is seeking to ensure that houseboats and floating camps are moored legally and in a manner that does not harm the environment. Being "moored legally" means moored at a point where written permission has been obtained. Trees growing in a State-owned waterbottom and used as mooring points may require permission from the State Land Office. The revised Scenic Streams rules would also require that houseboats and floating camps, when moored to trees, be attached in a manner that does not girdle or otherwise damage the trees.