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State of Louisiana
État de Louisiane  (French)
Flag of Louisiana State seal of Louisiana
Flag Seal
Nickname(s): Bayou State • Child of the Mississippi
Creole State • Pelican State (official)
Sportsman's Paradise • Sugar State • The Boot
Motto(s): Union, Justice, Confidence
Map of the United States with Louisiana highlighted
Official language No official language
Spoken languages

As of 2010[1]

Demonym Louisianan or Louisianian
Capital Baton Rouge
Largest city New Orleans[2][3][4]
Largest metro Greater New Orleans
Area Ranked 31st
 • Total 50,000 sq mi
(135,382 km2)
 • Width 130 miles (210 km)
 • Length 379 miles (610 km)
 • % water 15
 • Latitude 28° 56′ N to 33° 01′ N
 • Longitude 88° 49′ W to 94° 03′ W
Population Ranked 25th
 • Total 4,681,666 (2016 est.)[5]
 • Density 93.6/sq mi  (34.6/km2)
Ranked 24th
 • Median household income $45,992[6] (45th)
 • Highest point Driskill Mountain[7][8]
535 ft (163 m)
 • Mean 100 ft  (30 m)
 • Lowest point New Orleans[7][8]
−8 ft (−2.5 m)
Before statehood Territory of Orleans
Admission to Union April 30, 1812 (18th)
Governor John Bel Edwards (D)
Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser (R)
Legislature State Legislature
 • Upper house State Senate
 • Lower house House of Representatives
U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy (R)
John Neely Kennedy (R)
U.S. House delegation 5 Republicans, 1 Democrat (list)
Time zone Central: UTC −6/−5
ISO 3166 US-LA
Abbreviations LA, La.
Website louisiana.gov
Louisiana state symbols
Flag of Louisiana.svg
Seal of Louisiana.svg
Living insignia
Bird Brown pelican
Dog breed Catahoula Leopard Dog
Fish White perch
Flower Magnolia
Insect Honeybee
Mammal Black bear
Reptile Alligator
Tree Bald cypress
Inanimate insignia
Beverage Milk
Fossil Petrified palmwood
Gemstone Agate
Instrument Diatonic accordion
Motto Union, Justice, Confidence
Song "Give Me Louisiana"
"You Are My Sunshine"
"State March Song"
"Gifts of the Earth"
State route marker
Louisiana state route marker
State quarter
Louisiana quarter dollar coin
Released in 2002
Lists of United States state symbols
Louisiana entrance sign off Interstate 20 in Madison Parish east of Tallulah

Louisiana[a] is a state in the southeastern region of the United States. It is the 31st in size and the 25th most populous of the 50 United States. Louisiana's capital is Baton Rouge and its largest city is New Orleans. It is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are the local government's equivalent to counties. The largest parish by population is East Baton Rouge Parish, and the largest by total area is Plaquemines. Louisiana is bordered by Arkansas to the north, Mississippi to the east, Texas to the west, and the Gulf of Mexico to the south.

Much of the state's lands were formed from sediment washed down the Mississippi River, leaving enormous deltas and vast areas of coastal marsh and swamp.[10] These contain a rich southern biota; typical examples include birds such as ibis and egrets. There are also many species of tree frogs, and fish such as sturgeon and paddlefish. In more elevated areas, fire is a natural process in the landscape, and has produced extensive areas of longleaf pine forest and wet savannas. These support an exceptionally large number of plant species, including many species of orchids and carnivorous plants.[10] Louisiana has more Native American tribes than any other southern state, including four that are federally recognized, ten that are state recognized, and four that have not yet received recognition.[11]

Some Louisiana urban environments have a multicultural, multilingual heritage, being so strongly influenced by a mixture of 18th-century French, Spanish, Native American, and African cultures that they are considered to be exceptional in the US. Before the American purchase of the territory in 1803, the current Louisiana State had been both a French colony and for a brief period, a Spanish one. In addition, colonists imported numerous African people as slaves in the 18th century. Many came from peoples of the same region of West Africa, thus concentrating their culture. In the post-Civil War environment, Anglo-Americans increased the pressure for Anglicization, and in 1921, English was for a time made the sole language of instruction in Louisiana schools before a policy of multilingualism was revived in 1974.[12][13] There has never been an official language in Louisiana, and the state constitution enumerates "the right of the people to preserve, foster, and promote their respective historic, linguistic, and cultural origins," whether English, French, Spanish, or otherwise.[12]


Louisiana was named after Louis XIV, King of France from 1643 to 1715. When René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle claimed the territory drained by the Mississippi River for France, he named it La Louisiane.[14] The suffix -ana (or -ane) is a Latin suffix that can refer to "information relating to a particular individual, subject, or place." Thus, roughly, Louis + ana carries the idea of "related to Louis." Once part of the French Colonial Empire, the Louisiana Territory stretched from present-day Mobile Bay to just north of the present-day Canada–United States border, including a small part of what is now the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.


The Gulf of Mexico did not exist 250 million years ago when there was but one supercontinent, Pangea. As Pangea split apart, the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico opened. Louisiana slowly developed, over millions of years, from water into land, and from north to south.[10] The oldest rocks are exposed in the north, in areas such as the Kisatchie National Forest. The oldest rocks date back to the early Cenozoic Era, some 60 million years ago. The history of the formation of these rocks can be found in D. Spearing's Roadside Geology of Louisiana.[15]

The youngest parts of the state were formed during the last 12,000 years as successive deltas of the Mississippi River: the Maringouin, Teche, St. Bernard, Lafourche, the modern Mississippi, and now the Atchafalaya.[16] The sediments were carried from north to south by the Mississippi River.

In between the Tertiary rocks of the north, and the relatively new sediments along the coast, is a vast belt known as the Pleistocene Terraces. Their age and distribution can be largely related to the rise and fall of sea levels during past ice ages. In general, the northern terraces have had sufficient time for rivers to cut deep channels, while the newer terraces tend to be much flatter.[17]

Salt domes are also found in Louisiana. Their origin can be traced back to the early Gulf of Mexico, when the shallow ocean had high rates of evaporation. There are several hundred salt domes in the state; one of the most familiar is Avery Island.[18] Salt domes are important not only as a source of salt; they also serve as underground traps for oil and gas.[19]


Map of Louisiana
Aerial view of Louisiana wetland habitats.
A field of yellow wildflowers in Saint Bernard Parish
Sign upon a trail in the woods
Entrance to the Bald Eagle Nest Trail at South Toledo Bend State Park

Louisiana is bordered to the west by Texas; to the north by Arkansas; to the east by Mississippi; and to the south by the Gulf of Mexico.

The state may properly be divided into two parts, the uplands of the north, and the alluvial along the coast.

The alluvial region includes low swamp lands, coastal marshlands and beaches, and barrier islands that cover about 20,000 square miles (52,000 km2). This area lies principally along the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River, which traverses the state from north to south for a distance of about 600 miles (1,000 km) and empties into the Gulf of Mexico; the Red River; the Ouachita River and its branches; and other minor streams (some of which are called bayous).

The breadth of the alluvial region along the Mississippi is from 10 to 60 miles (15 to 100 km), and along the other rivers, the alluvial region averages about 10 miles (15 km) across. The Mississippi River flows along a ridge formed by its own natural deposits (known as a levee), from which the lands decline toward a river beyond at an average fall of six feet per mile (3 m/km). The alluvial lands along other streams present similar features.

The higher and contiguous hill lands of the north and northwestern part of the state have an area of more than 25,000 square miles (65,000 km2). They consist of prairie and woodlands. The elevations above sea level range from 10 feet (3 m) at the coast and swamp lands to 50 and 60 feet (15–18 m) at the prairie and alluvial lands. In the uplands and hills, the elevations rise to Driskill Mountain, the highest point in the state at only 535 feet (163 m) above sea level. From years 1932 to 2010 the state lost 1,800 sq. miles due to rises in sea level and erosion. The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) spends around $1 billion per year to help shore up and protect Louisiana shoreline and land in both federal and state funding.[20]

Besides the waterways already named, there are the Sabine, forming the western boundary; and the Pearl, the eastern boundary; the Calcasieu (/ˈkælkəˌʃ/), the Mermentau, the Vermilion, Bayou Teche, the Atchafalaya (/əˌæfəˈlə/), the Boeuf (/bɛf/), Bayou Lafourche, the Courtableau River, Bayou D'Arbonne, the Macon River, the Tensas (/ˈtɛnsɔː/), Amite River, the Tchefuncte (/ɪˈfʌŋktə/), the Tickfaw, the Natalbany River, and a number of other smaller streams, constituting a natural system of navigable waterways, aggregating over 4,000 miles (6,400 km) long.

The state also has political jurisdiction over the approximately 3-mile (4.8 km)-wide portion of subsea land of the inner continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. Through a peculiarity of the political geography of the United States, this is substantially less than the 9-mile (14 km)-wide jurisdiction of nearby states Texas and Florida, which, like Louisiana, have extensive Gulf coastlines.[21]

The southern coast of Louisiana in the United States is among the fastest-disappearing areas in the world. This has largely resulted from human mismanagement of the coast (see Wetlands of Louisiana). At one time, the land was added to when spring floods from the Mississippi River added sediment and stimulated marsh growth; the land is now shrinking. There are multiple causes.[22][23]

Artificial levees block spring flood water that would bring fresh water and sediment to marshes. Swamps have been extensively logged, leaving canals and ditches that allow saline water to move inland. Canals dug for the oil and gas industry also allow storms to move sea water inland, where it damages swamps and marshes. Rising sea waters have exacerbated the problem. Some researchers estimate that the state is losing a land mass equivalent to 30 football fields every day. There are many proposals to save coastal areas by reducing human damage, including restoring natural floods from the Mississippi. Without such restoration, coastal communities will continue to disappear.[24] And as the communities disappear, more and more people are leaving the region.[25] Since the coastal wetlands support an economically important coastal fishery, the loss of wetlands is adversely affecting this industry.


Baton Rouge
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches
Source: [26]
New Orleans
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation totals in inches
Source: as above

Louisiana has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa). It has long, hot, humid summers and short, mild winters. The subtropical characteristics of the state are due in large part to the influence of the Gulf of Mexico, which at its farthest point is no more than 200 miles (320 km) away. The combined effect of the warm Gulf waters, low elevation, and low latitude create the mild subtropical climate Louisiana is known for.

Rain is frequent throughout the year, although the summer is slightly wetter than the rest of the year. There is a dip in precipitation in October. Southern Louisiana receives far more copious rainfall, especially during the winter months. Summers in Louisiana have high temperatures from mid-June to mid-September averaging 90 °F (32 °C) or more, and overnight lows averaging above 70 °F (22 °C).

In the summer, the extreme maximum temperature is much warmer in the north than in the south, with temperatures near the Gulf of Mexico occasionally reaching 100 °F (38 °C), although temperatures above 95 °F (35 °C) are commonplace. In northern Louisiana, the temperatures reach above 105 °F (41 °C) in the summer.

Temperatures are generally warm in the winter in the southern part of the state, with highs around New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the rest of south Louisiana, and the Gulf of Mexico averaging 66 °F (19 °C). The northern part of the state is mildly cool in the winter, with highs averaging 59 °F (15 °C). The overnight lows in the winter average well above freezing throughout the state, with 46 °F (8 °C) the average near the Gulf and an average low of 37 °F (3 °C) in the winter in the northern part of the state.

Louisiana gets some cold fronts, which frequently drop the temperatures below 20 °F (−8 °C) in the northern part of the state, but almost never do so in the southern part of the state. Snow is rare near the Gulf of Mexico, although residents in the northern parts of the state can expect one to three snowfalls per year, with the frequency increasing northwards. Louisiana's highest recorded temperature is 114 °F (46 °C) in Plain Dealing on August 10, 1936, while the coldest recorded temperature is −16 °F (−27 °C) at Minden on February 13, 1899.

Louisiana is often affected by tropical cyclones and is very vulnerable to strikes by major hurricanes, particularly the lowlands around and in the New Orleans area. The unique geography of the region, with the many bayous, marshes and inlets, can result in water damage across a wide area from major hurricanes. The area is also prone to frequent thunderstorms, especially in the summer.[27]

The entire state averages over 60 days of thunderstorms a year, more than any other state except Florida. Louisiana averages 27 tornadoes annually. The entire state is vulnerable to a tornado strike, with the extreme southern portion of the state slightly less so than the rest of the state. Tornadoes are more common from January to March in the southern part of the state, and from February through March in the northern part of the state.[27]

Average temperatures in Louisiana (°F)
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec   Annual  
Shreveport[28] 47.0 50.8 58.1 65.5 73.4 80.0 83.2 83.3 77.1 66.6 56.6 48.3 65.9
Monroe[28] 46.3 50.3 57.8 65.6 73.9 80.4 82.8 82.5 76.5 66.0 56.3 48.0 65.5
Alexandria[28] 48.5 52.1 59.3 66.4 74.5 80.7 83.2 83.2 78.0 68.0 58.6 50.2 66.9
Lake Charles[29] 51.8 55.0 61.4 68.1 75.6 81.1 82.9 83.0 78.7 70.1 61.1 53.8 68.6
Lafayette[29] 51.8 55.2 61.5 68.3 75.9 81.0 82.8 82.9 78.5 69.7 61.0 53.7 68.5
Baton Rouge[30] 51.3 54.6 61.1 67.6 75.2 80.7 82.5 82.5 78.1 68.9 60.0 52.9 68.0
New Orleans[30] 54.3 57.6 63.6 70.1 77.5 82.4 84.0 84.1 80.2 72.2 63.5 56.2 70.3

Hurricanes since 1950

  • August 28–29, 2012, Isaac (Category 1 at landfall) hits southeast Louisiana 7 years after Katrina (2005).
  • September 1, 2008, Gustav (Category 2 at landfall) made landfall along the coast near Cocodrie in southeastern Louisiana. As late as August 31 it had been projected by the National Hurricane Center that the hurricane would remain at Category 3 or above on September 1, but in the event the center of Gustav made landfall as a strong Category 2 hurricane (1 mph below Category 3), and dropped to Category 1 soon after.[31] As a result of NHC's forecasts, a massive evacuation of New Orleans took place after many residents having failed to leave for Katrina in 2005.[32] A significant number of deaths were caused by or attributed to Gustav.[33] Around 1.5 million people were without power in Louisiana on September 1.[34]
  • September 24, 2005, Rita (Category 3 at landfall) struck southwestern Louisiana, flooding many parishes and cities along the coast, including Cameron Parish, Lake Charles, and other towns. The storm's winds weakened the damaged levees in New Orleans and caused renewed flooding in parts of the city.
  • August 29, 2005, Katrina (Category 3 at landfall)[35] struck and devastated southeastern Louisiana, where it breached and undermined levees in New Orleans, causing 80% of the city to flood. Most people had been evacuated, but the majority of the population became homeless. The city was virtually closed until October. It is estimated that more than two million people in the Gulf region were displaced by the hurricane, and that more than 1,500 fatalities resulted in Louisiana alone. A public outcry criticized governments at the local, state, and federal levels, for lack of preparation and slowness of response. Louisiana residents relocated across the country for temporary housing, and many have not returned.
  • October 3, 2002, Lili (Category 1 at landfall)
  • August 1992, Andrew (Category 3 at landfall) struck south-central Louisiana. It killed four people; knocked out power to nearly 150,000 citizens; and destroyed crops worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • August 1969, Camille (Category 5) caused a 23.4 ft (7.1 m) storm surge and killed 250 people. Although Camille officially made landfall in Mississippi and the worst damage occurred there, it also had effects in Louisiana. New Orleans remained dry, with the exception of mild rain-generated flooding in the most low-lying areas.
  • September 9, 1965, Betsy (Category 3 at landfall) came ashore in Louisiana, causing massive destruction as the first hurricane in history to cause one billion dollars in damage (over ten billion in inflation-adjusted USD). The storm hit New Orleans and flooded nearly 35% of the city (including the Lower 9th Ward, Gentilly, and parts of Mid-City). The death toll in the state was 76.
  • June 1957, Audrey (Category 4) devastated southwest Louisiana, destroying or severely damaging 60–80 percent of the homes and businesses from Cameron to Grand Chenier. 40,000 people were left homeless and more than 300 people in the state died.
  • August 15–17, 1915: A hurricane made landfall just west of Galveston. Gales howled throughout Cameron and Vermilion Parishes and as far east as Mobile. It produced storm surge of 11 feet at Cameron (called Leesburg at the time), 10 feet at Grand Cheniere, and 9.5 feet at Marsh Island; Grand Isle reported water 6 feet deep across the city. The lightkeeper at the Sabine Pass lighthouse had to turn the lens by hand, as vibrations caused by the wave action put the clockwork out of order. At Sabine Bank, 17 miles offshore the Mouth of the Sabine, damage was noted. Damage estimates for Louisiana and Texas totaled around $50 million.[36]
    • Over 300 people drowned below Montegut – four can be identified as white, none of the others have been identified and are assumed to be Indians. The Indian settlement was about 10 miles below Montegut, called by the Indians – Taire-bonne – is now in swamp and can only be reached by boat. This hurricane caused the survivors to move to higher ground.

Government-owned land

Owing to its location and geology, the state has high biological diversity. Some vital areas, such as southwestern prairie, have experienced a loss in excess of 98 percent. The pine flatwoods are also at great risk, mostly from fire suppression and urban sprawl.[10] There is not yet a properly organized system of natural areas to represent and protect Louisiana's biological diversity. Such a system would consist of a protected system of core areas linked by biological corridors, such as Florida is planning.[37]

Louisiana contains a number of areas which, to varying degrees, prevent people from using them.[38] In addition to National Park Service areas and a United States National Forest, Louisiana operates a system of state parks, state historic sites, one state preservation area, one state forest, and many Wildlife Management Areas.

One of Louisiana's largest government-owned areas is Kisatchie National Forest. It is some 600,000 acres in area, more than half of which is flatwoods vegetation, which supports many rare plant and animal species.[10] These include the Louisiana pine snake and Red-cockaded woodpecker. The system of government-owned cypress swamps around Lake Pontchartrain is another large area, with southern wetland species including egrets, alligators, and sturgeon. At least 12 core areas would be needed to build a "protected areas system" for the state; these would range from southwestern prairies, to the Pearl River Floodplain in the east, to the Mississippi River alluvial swamps in the north.[10]

National Park Service

Historic or scenic areas managed, protected, or otherwise recognized by the National Park Service include:

US Forest Service

  • Kisatchie National Forest is Louisiana's only national forest. It includes 600,000 acres in central and north Louisiana with large areas of flatwoods and longleaf pine forest.

State parks and recreational areas

Louisiana operates a system of 22 state parks, 17 state historic sites and one state preservation area.

Wildlife management areas

Louisiana has 955,973 acres, in four ecoregions under the wildlife management of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheriess. The Nature Conservancy also owns and manages a set of natural areas.

Natural and Scenic Rivers

The Louisiana Natural and Scenic Rivers System provides a degree of protection for 51 rivers, streams and bayous in the state. It is administered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.[39]


The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is the state government organization in charge of maintaining public transportation, roadways, bridges, canals, select levees, floodplain management, port facilities, commercial vehicles, and aviation which includes 69 airports.

Gulf Intracoastal Waterway near New Orleans

The Intracoastal Waterway is an important means of transporting commercial goods such as petroleum and petroleum products, agricultural produce, building materials and manufactured goods.

In 2011, Louisiana ranked among the five deadliest states for debris/litter-caused vehicle accidents per total number of registered vehicles and population size. Figures derived from[40] the NTSHA show at least 25 persons in Louisiana were killed per year in motor vehicle collisions with non-fixed objects, including debris, dumped litter, animals and their carcasses.


Pre-colonial history

Louisiana was inhabited by Native Americans for many millennia before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. During the Middle Archaic period, Louisiana was the site of the earliest mound complex in North America and one of the earliest dated, complex constructions in the Americas, the Watson Brake site near present-day Monroe. An 11-mound complex, it was built about 5400 BP (3500 BCE).[41] The Middle Archaic sites of Caney and Frenchman's Bend have also been securely dated to 5600–5000 BP, demonstrating that seasonal hunter-gatherers organized to build complex constructions in present-day northern Louisiana. The Hedgepeth Site in Lincoln Parish is more recent, dated to 5200–4500 BP.[42]

Nearly 2,000 years later, Poverty Point, the largest and best-known Late Archaic site in the state, was built. Modern-day Epps developed near it. The Poverty Point culture may have reached its peak around 1500 BCE, making it the first complex culture, and possibly the first tribal culture in North America.[43] It lasted until approximately 700 BCE.

The Poverty Point culture was followed by the Tchefuncte and Lake Cormorant cultures of the Tchula period, local manifestations of Early Woodland period. The Tchefuncte culture were the first people in Louisiana to make large amounts of pottery.[44] These cultures lasted until 200 CE. The Middle Woodland period starts in Louisiana with the Marksville culture in the southern and eastern part of the state[45] and the Fourche Maline culture in the northwestern part of the state. The Marksville culture takes its name from the Marksville Prehistoric Indian Site in Avoyelles Parish.

These cultures were contemporaneous with the Hopewell cultures of Ohio and Illinois, and participated in the Hopewell Exchange Network. Trade with peoples to the southwest brought the bow and arrow.[46] The first burial mounds were built at this time.[47] Political power begins to be consolidated as the first platform mounds at ritual centers are constructed for the developing hereditary political and religious leadership.[47]

By 400 CE in the southern part of the state the Late Woodland period had begun with the Baytown culture. Population increased dramatically and there is strong evidence of a growing cultural and political complexity. Many Coles Creek sites were erected over earlier Woodland period mortuary mounds. Scholars have speculated that emerging elites were symbolically and physically appropriating dead ancestors to emphasize and project their own authority.[48]

The Mississippian period in Louisiana was when Plaquemine and the Caddoan Mississippian cultures developed and extensive maize agriculture was adopted. The Plaquemine culture in the lower Mississippi River Valley in western Mississippi and eastern Louisiana began in 1200 CE and continued to about 1400 CE. Good examples of this culture are the Medora Site in West Baton Rouge Parish, and the Emerald Mound, Winterville and Holly Bluff sites in Mississippi.[49]

Plaquemine culture was contemporaneous with the Middle Mississippian culture represented by the primary settlement, the Cahokia site near St. Louis, Missouri. This group is considered ancestral to the Natchez and Taensa Peoples.[50]

By 1000 CE in the northwestern part of the state, the Fourche Maline culture had evolved into the Caddoan Mississippian culture. The Caddoan Mississippians covered a large territory, including what is now eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas, northeast Texas, and northwest Louisiana. Archeological evidence has demonstrated that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present. The Caddo and related Caddo language speakers in prehistoric times and at first European contact were the direct ancestors of the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma of today.[51]

Many current place names in the state, including Atchafalaya, Natchitouches (now spelled Natchitoches), Caddo, Houma, Tangipahoa, and Avoyel (as Avoyelles), are transliterations of those used in various Native American languages.

Exploration and colonization by Europeans

Louisiana regions

The first European explorers to visit Louisiana came in 1528 when a Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narváez located the mouth of the Mississippi River. In 1542, Hernando de Soto's expedition skirted to the north and west of the state (encountering Caddo and Tunica groups) and then followed the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico in 1543. Spanish interest in Louisiana then faded away for a century and a half.

In the late 17th century, French and French Canadian expeditions, which included sovereign, religious and commercial aims, established a foothold on the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast. With its first settlements, France laid claim to a vast region of North America and set out to establish a commercial empire and French nation stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.

In 1682, the French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle named the region Lo