In the image (right) that was used Sunday over social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) to promote the conversation Lester Gauthier and I had regarding the upcoming U.S. Senate and Third Congressional District races, you might have noticed that Louisiana looked a little different than what you’re accustomed to seeing. Our boot looks a little weird.
It might be weird but it is more accurate than the boot that is the standard graphical representation of our state’s outline. The map first appeared in 2014 in a Medium article by Brett Anderson. The article goes to considerable lengths to describe coastal wetlands loss in Louisiana and to depict it using official maps.
The map image used in the show graphic was produced by Matthew Woodson based on maps from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and work by a scientist at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) identified in the article as Andrea Galinski.
The traditional boot maps are based on information that is 50 to 70 years old. The image that Woodson created was based on 2011 USGS imagery that showed Louisiana in two different ways (click on the article link and scroll downward). The first map shows Louisiana “including non-walkable, non-inhabitable land.” It looks pretty similar to the traditional boot.
The second map shows “Louisiana’s walkable/inhabitable land.” It is a startling image that shows the reality of land loss in Louisiana. The images are from 2011, so at the daily rate of a football field an hour of wetlands loss, things have not gotten better in the past five years.
The walkable map was achieved by depicting Louisiana in an either/or state —making all wetlands water. Brett Anderson admits that the image is somewhat misleading but says it is closer to reality than other maps that still depict Louisiana as being boot-shaped.
In the article, Anderson explained the decision this way:
On our map, the real map, the boot appears as if it came out on the wrong side of a battle with a lawnmower’s blades. It loses a painful chunk off its heel in Cameron and Vermilion parishes. A gash cutting off the bird’s-foot delta, where the Mississippi empties into the Gulf of Mexico, from the center of the state is reason to consider amputation. Barataria Bay has joined forces with Bay Dosgris to take over Lake Salvador. Golden Meadow, Galliano, Montegut: They’re barely there, clinging to strands of earth as flimsy as dental floss. Lakes Maurepas, Pontchartrain, and Borgne form a contiguous mass flowing into the gulf.
Some people might criticize us for taking out the wetlands entirely, and there are places that do exist in real life—like Isle de Jean Charles—that aren’t on our boot (although they are visible, if barely, on the map we used to create the boot). Maps are approximate, as this story has made clear, even the big ones with lots of detail; symbols like the boot are even more so. Where ours errs, at least it errs on the side of the truth.
In my recent video about I-49 South, which questioned whether DOTD was ignoring or just was not aware of what sea level science is projecting for southeast Louisiana, I was critical of the I-49 South Coalition for the unrealistic maps they use to promote their project. This immediately came to mind as I was working to put together the “Show Day” graphic for the Senate race discussion with Mr. Gauthier. I remembered this more realistic boot map, tracked it down and used it in the Senate graphic.
You can’t understand how exposed our coastal communities are to storm surge if you don’t have imagery of what the coast actually looks like. And, you can’t comprehend the cost of climate change denial in terms of the negative impact it has on our ability to respond to the changes in sea level rise (combined with subsidence of land in coastal areas) unless you have images that accurately reflect our situation and our plight.
That tattered boot map is the closest thing to an accurate map of Louisiana we have available to us. Enjoy it while you can. The coast is changing as you read this.