Breton NWR includes Breton Island and all of the Chandeleur Islands in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. The barrier islands that make up Breton NWR are remnants of the Mississippi River's former St. Bernard Delta, which was active about 2,000 years ago. These barrier islands are dynamic; their sizes and shapes constantly are altered by tropical storms, wind, and tidal action. The area above mean high tide is approximately 6,923 acres. Elevations on Breton NWR range from sea level to 19 feet above mean sea level. Early literature on Breton and the Chandeleur Islands mentions trees and a generally higher elevation than exists today. In 1915, several families and a school were located on Breton Island. Prior to the hurricane of that year, the island was evacuated. The hurricane destroyed the settlement, and it was never rebuilt.
All of the Federally-owned lands, except for North Breton Island, in Breton NWR became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System on January 3, 1975 (Public Law 93-632). North Breton was excluded because an oil facility, owned by Kerr-McGee, Inc., was located on that island. The Breton Wilderness, according to the Clean Air Act, is listed as a Class I Prevention of Significant Deterioration Area. Recently, the only visible improvement within the wilderness was the Chandeleur lighthouse on the north end of the islands; the lighthouse was constructed before the turn of the century.
Breton NWR also took a direct hit from Hurricane Katrina. There was significant erosion of the islands. Large areas of beach and marsh were destroyed and much of the vegetation that stabilizes the islands and provides habitat for the pelicans and other animals was uprooted or damaged. The Chandeleur Island Lighthouse was destroyed.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with our partners to respond to the many problems created by the damage to the islands. It would take many years for the islands to recover naturally (if ever) so we will do what we can to rebuild and re-vegetate the islands. We are also monitoring the brown pelicans and other birds that return to nest on the islands and nearby, less desirable habitat to determine the long term impact on this endangered species.
There is some good news to report regarding the endangered brown pelicans at Breton NWR. As many as 2,000 brown pelican nests have been reported on the refuge in 2007. The pelican nests, eggs and chicks remain vulnerable through the tropical storm season and until they have fledged and can forage on their own. As always, we hope to avoid damage from early tropical storms and devastating hurricanes.
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