Caddo Lake is a wetland between the states of Texas and Louisiana and covers more than 26,000 acres. The Lake hosts one of the largest cypress forests in the world. Within the vast stretches of bald cypresses draped with Spanish moss, live a variety of wildlife species. The lush vegetation of the wetland is the result of several sloughs, ponds and bayous. Caddo Lake is named after the Native American Caddoans who lived in the region till their expulsion in the 19th Century. In fact, Texas received its own name from the Caddo word ‘tay-shas’, which means friend or ally. The Spanish thought the word referred to the regions name and they transcribed it to ‘Tejas’, which was eventually anglicized into Texas. Caddo Lake is an internationally protected wetland under the RAMSAR convention. It is one of the few non-oxbow natural lakes in Texas and the second-largest in southern United States.
If the Caddoans are to be believed, the lake was formed by the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812. However, geologists think it was formed catastrophically or gradually when the ‘Great Raft’, a 100-mile log jam on Louisiana’s Red River, flooded the low-lying basin. The ecologist Lionel James dated cross-sections of the trees in 1913, and estimated that the lake was formed between 1770 and 1780. The region was the habitat of the Caddo Indians for thousands of years, but commercial development only came with the rise of the steamboat. In the 1800s there came to be several important ports on the lake which serviced riverboats. When the log jams were gradually removed, the lake emptied by ten feet, destroying the East Texas ports. Then came the discovery of oil in the early 1900s, and the Gulf Refining Company built the world’s first oil platform on water along with a dam on the lake. The well produced 450 barrels a day and soon oil derricks sprang up all over the lake, playing havoc on the already fragile ecosystem. After the oil czars left Caddo, they were replaced in turn by a U.S. Army munitions plant on the shores of the lake. The plant further polluted the lake till its closure in the 1990s and the Lake’s subsequent adoption by the government as a protected region.
Today, the Caddo Lake is a sprawling labyrinth of bayous and sloughs nurturing a 26,810 acres of cypress swamp. It is also a wildlife sanctuary for the Lakes rich variety of animal and bird species. The average depth of the lake is between 8 and 10 feet with the bayous averaging at 20 feet deep. The park protects one of the highest-quality bottom-land hardwood forests found in the Southern United States. Caddo Lake is an angler’s delight as it contains 71 species of fish, and is especially teeming with crappie and White and Large-mouth bass. The dense forest of stately cypress tree, the American lotus and lily pads are a naturalist’s haven. Visitors can enjoy watching the wildlife from safety and enjoy activities like camping, swimming, hiking, boating and picnics all free of cost. There are also canoe rentals in the park and motor rentals about 6 miles away.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established for the conservation of the resident and migratory waterfowl and the neo-tropical birds that make a stopover at Caddo Lake. The lake's forests and wetlands are a sanctuary for the wildlife and plant species, which can be found all or part of the year. As of 2003, the Caddo Lake refuge was home to 189 species of shrubs and trees, 42 woody vines, and 75 different grasses. The fauna consists of 216 species of birds, including owl and waterfowl, 90 fish and reptile varieties (the most prominent of which is the alligator), and 47 mammals. Forty-four species of the fauna here are either classified as "endangered", "threatened", or otherwise rare.
Environmental Threats and Conservation
Caddo Lake is currently under attack by an infernal Velcro-like aquatic weed called the Salvinia Molesta, commonly known as Giant Salvinia. The poisonous fern doubles in size every two to four days and rapidly kills off life beneath the lake’s surface. It was accidentally introduced to the park by boaters. Most of the growth is on the Louisiana side, where authorities were severely distracted by repairing the damages caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The weed is sought to be killed by biological means, but the beetles that normally feed on the Giant Salvinia cannot survive the Texas cold. The Caddo Lake Salvinia Eradication Project of the Texas Water Resource Institute is evaluating various techniques to kill the menace. The current weapon most frequently employed against the plants is an assortment of herbicides.