Monday, April 11, 2005

Coming soon to a zoo near you...monkey on a stick

May 10th is the last day for the public to submit comments on the Audubon Commission's 90% Master Plan. After that, the commission will finalize its Master Plan, defining the development goals and maintenance strategy for Audubon Park over the next 20 years.

About 30 people attended the commission's April 11th public meeting. It was a poorly advertised event, with no mention of the meeting on the Audubon Institute's web site (no surprise). The majority of the vehicles in the parking lot were luxury suv's and sedans.

Among a dozen or so comments made, New Orleans residents offered praises for the plan to build a labyrinth, complaints about encroachment onto park property by residents bordering the park, concern over road-building plans, and requests to build a skate facility.

Only one person complained about the newly expanded golf course (, with its bleak, sun-scorched, surreal hills in the middle of a natural lowland habitat. I paid token respect to the commission by applauding the plan to renovate the rest rooms and existing facilities like the ball parks, but I protested any endeavor to build new facilities. Complaining that I've seen more developed space and less natural space since the golf course expansion, I argued that the park commission should manage its existing assets, not expand them or build new facilities.

While I praised the commission's tree inventory project, I deplored the lack of any audit of migratory birds or other wildlife in the park. Perhaps the commission realized the futility of such an endeavor now that they've created a wide open lunar landscape in the middle of what used to be a rich canopied space woven throughout the park. I asked the commission to consider creating more of a buffer to block the view of the golf course for park users who don't appreciate what the Audubon Institute praises on its web site as offering "beautiful new vistas enjoyed by all park users." Sounds like Stalinist doublespeak. Excepting myself from that enjoyment, I argued that the golf course expansion was an abomination which James Audubon would not have approved.

The Audubon Commission pats itself on the back for showing in its 90% Plan an increase from 3520 to 3912 trees between 1992, and the 2002 tree inventory. The commission does not, however, enumerate the numbers of trees it eviscerated from the park over that period of time, and especially during the golf course expansion. Furthermore, the 90% Plan has identified an additional 331 trees for removal without making any specific plans to replace them. The public is simply supposed to trust the Audubon Commission's " achieve a sustainable, multi-generational asset in its tree population."

Meanwhile, perhaps reflecting its members' love of golf and greens, permitting native understory species to promote wildlife habitat "would directly conflict with public safety and the historic landscape aesthetic." What's historic about grass? And...oh yeah...we're long overdue a New Orleans B-movie horror flick about killer weeds.

I uncovered another little tidbit from the Audubon Institute web site illuminating the upside-down priorities of the institute. The web site highlighted the mission to benefit the community at all levels, including "nurturing economic development," and emphasizing the institute's success in celebrating and preserving the wonders of nature "even in the face of great challenges."

Since when was economic development a mission of the Audubon Institute? I submit that the greatest challenge to the Audubon Institute's mission is the Audubon Institute itself.

How many visitors to New Orleans will go home shouting praises of the newly expanded golf course? It's absolutely no different from any other pitiful golf course limited to the confines of a relatively small urban park. Okay, I admit it. I hate golf courses. I'd much rather walk a trail in the woods than get burned like a beet chasing a ball around a treeless moonscape.

Alternatively, how much different would visitors' impressions be if, for example, the Audubon Institute actually strived to perpetuate for all generations that unique appreciation for the natural habitat that James Audubon inspired in us through his illustrations? How much more might be said of New Orleans if, instead of clearing Live Oaks to make way for a golf course expansion, Ron Forman and the Audubon Commission had the vision to put Audubon Park on the map as a bird sanctuary, planting more trees and expanding the habitat for migratory birds seeking a safe place to rest in their long journey across the Gulf of Mexico? Places like St. Francisville are trying to do just that, with an incredibly unique habitat on the Mississippi that was purchased by the Nature Conservancy and donated to the National Park Service.

Ah well, little should be expected from the small minds of Ron Forman and his elite clique who rebuilt the Audubon Tea Room out of pure mahogany. When criticized by the New Orleans community for exhibiting such a callous disregard for the destruction of rainforest habitat where mahogany is found, Forman lamely retorted that the lumber came from a mahogany plantation. Now, I can't say I know everything there is to know about Latin America, but I've traveled around a good bit over a number of years. I've never heard of mahogany plantations. They are hardwoods that take somewhere around 100 years to mature. In any event, if such a thing existed, it would obviously require the destruction of a lot of natural habitat to make way for a very large plantation. You see, the problem with harvesting mahogany, and other rare species of trees, is that the whole ecosystem has to be razed to get to a few logs.

As I recall it, a letter to the editor of the Times-Picayune stated that if a "mahogany look" was what the Audubon Institute wanted, it could have simply bought a few cans of mahogany-colored stain instead of killing monkeys in a rainforest somewhere for the appeal of the real thing. A former boss of mine joked that Ron Forman and the Audubon Institute might just as well have posted monkey skulls in front of the zoo.

Post your comments folks! You're a taxpayer? The Audubon Institute gets your money--gobs of it--more, in fact, than the New Orleans Recreation Department and many other city agencies according to one resident at the public hearing. That entitles you to have a say in whether your money gets spent on improving golf courses and cages, or planting more trees and keeping the public bathrooms safe and clean. The Audubon Institute might like you to think that it exists as a private club for its rich patrons, but it belongs to everyone--so far.

Here's a postscript to the story. I just confirmed by asking the Audubon Institute directly--they proudly claim that the floors are Brazilian Cherry, and the rest of the construction is mahogany.


Post a Comment

<< Home