Farm storiesStories by Wilson J. Gaidry, III

9. Disciples of Percy Viosca

Percy Viosca

Percy Viosca Jr. was one of the first native born Louisiana naturalists and was considered the father of the wildlife conservation movement in Louisiana in the early 1900's.

He was a Tulane University graduate and later taught at Tulane. He must have formed an acquaintance with Uncle Langdon Gaidry who was attending Tulane about that time period. Uncle Harold Langdon Gaidry, born May 27, 1898 at Volumnia Farm in Houma, was my father’s only brother, three years his senior, and graduated from Tulane University with a BS in engineering in 1922. He worked for the New Orleans Public Service, now Entergy and lived in New Orleans on Sycamore Street.

Uncle Harold was an avid hunter and fisherman and went to his camp near Robison Canal in Terrebonne Parish every weekend. On the way to and from the camp he would stop and visit us at Volumnia Farm. In 1917 he and my father Wilson J. Gaidry II, born September 9, 1901 at the farm, flipped a coin to see which one would attend college and which one would stay and run the Farm. Thus it was decided that Langdon would go to college.

One day in the late 1940’s my father and I stopped to visit Uncle Langdon in New Orleans and Mr. Percy, (Percy Viosca) was at my uncle’s house. The three soon became involved in a heated discussion regarding the U. S. Corps of Engineers and the levees on the Mississippi River.

Mr. Percy maintained that breaches should be cut through the levees at various locations and if this would not be done the marshes and fish and game that depended on the fresh water and sediment brought down by the river would suffer and deteriorate.

Uncle Langdon contended that the breaches would have to have mechanical means of controlling the water flow and that the water salinity could be controlled that way to provide optimum benefits to the wildlife and the marshes. My father being a farmer praised the Corps of Engineers for stopping the seasonal river floods and making farming less dependent on the whims of mother nature, although he admitted that after the 1927 flood the crops grew better and required less fertilizer. It was later at college that I realized the tremendous contribution Mr. Percy gave in understanding the complex ecosystems of the Louisiana Mississippi River Delta.

At a very young age I became fascinated with maps of Louisiana marshes and could picture how the delta building hydrological processes were working, the progression and regression of the Louisiana Coast. Later in the late 1950’s while attending college I read some of the papers of Percy Viosca. I agreed with his conclusions about the levees on the Mississippi River.

Dr. Lyle St Amant

In 1964 I worked for the Louisiana Wild Life and Fisheries Commission under Dr. Lyle St Amant, who was also very well acquainted with Percy Viosca and shared his views on the Levees of the Mississippi River. Dr. St Amant and I had a long conversation on the areas of the Louisiana Marshes that were deteriorating the most and where sediment diversions could be placed along the Mississippi River to be most beneficial. The first meeting that I can remember on wetland losses was in New Orleans at Roosevelt Hotel and a person from the press asked Dr. St. Amant what he felt was the biggest threat to the Louisiana marshes. He replied the Corps of Engineers and the dragline. The room was full of Corps people.

Dr. St Amant and I were afraid that the dredging of the Houma Navigation Canal (HNC) and Falgout Canal south of Houma would allow for salt water intrusion to occur at an accelerated rate. In 1965 with Dr. St Amant’s blessing I went before the Terrebonne Parish Police Jury and told them that locks should be placed in the HNC to prevent salt water intrusion and that massive sediment diversion projects would have to be in place or by the year 2000 we would lose half the parish. Everyone just sat there being courteous, not saying anything but not believing anything except Mr. R.B. Edmonson who after the meeting came to me and said ”you are right, but they aren’t going to do anything until it’s too late”. Drive across the parish road from Dulac to Bayou Du Large and look at the dead cypress trees. They began to die as soon as the HNC was completed and we have lost half of the land in Terrebonne Parish due to salt water intrusion, rise in sea level and lack of sediment diversions.

I sincerely wish that our predictions did not come true, to see the vast areas of open water that were once marshes and swamps breaks my heart. Maybe I could have done more.