The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.

The Mobile-Tensaw river delta is one of the most diverse places in the world. According to E.O. Wilson, professor emeritus of Harvard who was born in Alabama and popularized the theory of sociobiology, the leafy banks of the delta provide a home to more turtles than any other place on earth. Of course, in todays world there is no place that is untouched by man and the Tensaw delta is no exception. It’s diversity also gives it a propensity for extinction. Over the past fifty years, as industrialization has crept deeper into Alabama, drawn by cheap labor and easily accessible pollution permits, more species have been lost in Alabama than in any other state in America.

The heart of the Tensaw delta has been preserved through a patchwork of purchases and made largely untouchable to developers. Part of this was done through the states Forever wild program, which purchases land for the sole purpose of preservation. However purchases alone will not save the delta, since, according the Ben Raines’s article “America’s Amazon” which appeared in The Huntsville Times, the most damaging factor to the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is nonpoint source pollution in the form of runoff.

When mud from construction sites and farmland, and runoff from parking lots is added to tributaries they deposit silt that obscures light for photosynthesis and clogs the fine filaments of the filter feeders like mussels and clams. One of the main contributers to this problem is a lack of logging regulation. Though Alabama officially discourages clear-cutting up to a water source there are no laws prohibiting it, and so these suggestions largely fall on deaf ears, since it is cheaper for a logging company to ignore them. Alabama is second only to Oregon in its logging production, but Oregonrequires loggers to leave a strip of trees around water sources and prohibits machinery and cutting within 20 feet of a water source. This rim of trees protects a water source from runoff and also keeps the water at a stable temperature and provides habitat via the logs and branches that fall in.

Certain experts believe that if Alabama could convince its legislators to enact regulations similar to the ones in Oregon, then the Mobile-Tensaw River delta might have a chance of remaining the majestic jewel that it is today. But its not clear that matching Oregon’s regulations will be enough. Currently there is a lawsuit going on between the EPA, NOAA, and the logging industry which is forcing Oregon to rethinking its logging practices.An environmental advocacy group alerted the EPA and NOAA to shortcomings in logging regulations that were threatening the Oregon Coho salmon.Stricter regulations may come in the form of an increased buffer zone around rivers regarding cutting and pesticide use.

A similar ecosystem is being slowly disassembled by water demand in LA. There the biodiversity alone is what keeps California’s central valley from being pumped to Hollywood, leaving the delta like another Owens Valley which has been turned into a salt flat. Though something along the lines of 47% of California is protected land, that protection is starting to show stress around the delta. The bottom line is that the endangered delta smelt was used to keep water in the valley, since for legal reasons it’s harder to argue for a community than for an endangered species. Fortunately for Alabama, the Tensaw is loaded with endemic and endangered species and doesn’t have nearly the drought concerns that California does. But bringing the west’s logging and environmental standards to the deep south has its own set of challenges. And even if the logging regulations in place it is uncertain whether the greatly diminished Alabama EPA can keep up with enforcement.

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