The Pontchartrain Basin is a 10,000 square mile watershed that includes 16 Louisiana parishes and 4 Mississippi counties. It is one of the largest estuarine systems in the Gulf of Mexico receiving fresh water from rivers and streams and salt water from the Gulf. From rural farming communities to highly urban regions, the basin supports a population of approximately 2.1 million people.
The Pontchartrain Basin habitats range from pine upland to estuarine to marine and have the 630 square mile Lake Pontchartrain as the centerpiece. The habitats can be divided into four Sub-basins including: Upland Sub-basin (north of Interstate 12), Upper Sub-basin (Lake Maurepas region), Middle Sub-basin (Lake Pontchartrain region) and Lower Sub-basin (St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes).
The Upland Sub-basin north of Interstate 12 contains two major habitats, longleaf pine upland forests and flatwood savannahs. Over the last hundred years these habitats have been greatly degraded by logging and poor land use. Increased conservation areas are needed to preserve these forests. These habitats serve as homes to many plants and animals including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Additionally forests of pine, oak and hickory trees are found here. This region also includes riverine habitats of streams and rivers where freshwater mussels and the threatened Gulf sturgeon can be found.
In the Upper Sub-basin of the Lake Maurepas region and adjacent wetlands, habitats are made up of alluvial river swamps and disappearing Bald Cypress-Tupelo swamps. These habitats are suffering from reduced plant growth as a result of the cypress logging and saltwater intrusion from the Gulf of Mexico. As protective swamps are logged out more salt water comes into the Maurepas area and prevents new growth. Fresh water diversions in this sub-basin are a valuable means to reduce salinity and increase productivity.
The Middle Sub-basin, including Lake Pontchartrain and its surrounding wetlands, contains shoreline (littoral) habitat as well as marshes and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV’s). The health of these habitats is vital to sustaining the ecology of Lake Pontchartrain. A dead zone near the southeastern end of Lake Pontchartrain resulted from saltwater intrusion from Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). With the MRGO’s closure in the summer of 2009, the habitats in this area should show signs of renewed health.
The Lower Sub-basin (St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish) have habitats made of an historic chenier called the Bayou la Loutre ridge, brackish and saline marshes, shallow bays and sounds and the Chandeleur - Breton barrier island chain. This expanse of open water is fringed by swamps and marshes. It is home to the bountiful crop of crabs, shrimp and oysters that depend on proper salinity levels. These fisheries provide recreation and livelihoods for many in the basin.
From the latter part of the 20th Century to the present, the estuary has been plagued by the results of poor planning and overdevelopment. Urban and agricultural runoff, sewage overflow, nonpoint source pollution and saltwater intrusion are the most pervasive of these problems. Loss of wetlands and their capacity to filter pollutants increases the damaging effect.
Our Pontchartrain Basin habitats provide important ecological, cultural, and economical benefits. LPBF works to protect all the habitats of the basin for the diverse array of plant and animal life which are critical to maintaining a healthy, vibrant community. To achieve these goals LPBF created a Comprehensive Habitat Management Plan that focuses on a variety of projects in the basin. Citizens are encouraged to join in the efforts to protect these valuable resources. For more information, please see Land Use Planning and Conservation and Protection.
Comprehensive Habitat Management Plan
The Comprehensive Habitat Management Plan (CHMP) was created to provide a blueprint to give guidance for actions needed to restore and preserve the natural resources of the Pontchartrain Basin within a 50 to 100 year time frame. The report outlines a selection of goals, strategies and methods based on the collective expertise of natural resource specialists who share LPBF’s mission. The CHMP includes recommendations that are potentially far-reaching, visionary, and wherever possible, coupled with strategies that are most likely to achieve a healthy and sustainable habitat.
A Guide to the Wetlands of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin
This guide was originally produced in 2000 by a partnership between the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation Education Program and UNO’s Coastal Research Laboratory. This second edition is a production of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences at UNO and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
The purpose of this publication is to help educators, students, and interested members of the public explore and learn more about the beautiful and varied wetland habitats of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin. We hope that a deeper understanding of the wetlands will lead to a greater appreciation and a desire to help to preserve what is left.
Download the Guide
A Guide to the Wetlands of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin (Part 1)
A Guide to the Wetlands of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin (Part 2)
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation