News & Resolutions

Renown Bluesman Tops Cast of Conservation Award Winners

February 15, 2010 12:00 AM

Louisiana bluesman and conservation advocate Tab Benoit was honored Saturday evening (February 27) with the Governor's Award for conservation achievement.  The award is presented annually by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation to the person or organization deemed to have made the most outstanding contribution toward the protection and wise use of the state's natural resources - air, soil and minerals, forests, waters, fish and wildlife from among nominees submitted by the public.  The selection for this and 7 other awards was made by a panel of independent judges with expertise in a wide range of conservation fields.

The Governor's Award, a handsome statuette of a bald eagle, was presented at the 46th Conservation Achievement Recognition Banquet held at Cypress Bend Resort on Toledo Bend Reservoir near Many where the Louisiana Wildlife Federation convened for its 71st Annual Meeting.

Tab Benoit (L) receiving Governor's Award from LWF President Barney Callahan

Benoit, born in Baton Rouge but raised on the bayous of Terrebonne Parish in Houma, is an internationally-acclaimed musician and band leader who has used the stage and his music to convey the urgency and meaning of Louisiana's rapid land loss to a national audience.  Benoit established the nonprofit Voice of the Wetlands Foundation (VOW) to support outreach and education about Louisiana's wetland loss, and to advocate action.  Later he enlisted renowned fellow musicians for the loose-knit Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars band, amplifying the coastal restoration message.  Individually and with the VOW All-Stars he continues to speak out and garner support for the serious business of rebuilding a sustainable Louisiana Coast.

Three other individuals and four organizations will also be recognized by the LWF for their outstanding conservation achievements last year.  They are:

Scott A. Angelle of Breaux Bridge, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, for his guidance and leadership in the restructuring and implementation of the new Atchafalaya Basin Program;

Charles R. Caillouet, Jr. of Prairieville, president of the Friends of the Atchafalaya, for organizing and implementing an ambitious program of outreach and activities to involve citizens in the enjoyment and conservation of the Atchafalaya Basin;

The 6th, 7th & 8th-graders of the Lafayette Middle School Environmental Science Academy for recycling and habitat and species restoration projects;

Bob's Tree Preservation Company for establishing the annual "Acorns of Hope" bicycle ride and community education program with the commitment of donating and planting 10,000 native live oaks over a 5-year period to restore hurricane-damaged habitat along the Louisiana coast;

Frank C. Rohwer, Ph.D of Baton Rouge, Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Louisiana State University for the comprehensive, student focused, results-oriented, modern-yet-traditional, challenging, stimulating, interesting, inspiring, instruction and mentoring by which he is educating the next generation of America"s wildlife scientists and conservation professionals;

The LSU AgCenter for its new series of entertaining, educational videos, "Wet Work" produced to catch the attention of middle and high school students and pique their interest in conservation and natural resource management work;

The LSU Coastal Roots Program for its ever-expanding, school-based, student-teacher collaboration in growing and planting trees, grasses and other plant species to restore habitat and storm buffering capacity to the land along Louisiana"s coast.

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation is a statewide conservation education and advocacy organization with over 10,000 members and 25 affiliate groups.  Established in 1940, it is affiliated with the National Wildlife Federation and represents a broad constituency of conservationists including hunters, fishers, campers, birders, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts.  Click here for information about submitting a nomination for next year's awards program.

Scott A. Angelle - Professional Conservationist of the Year

Scott Angelle is known for stepping up.... and stepping it up a notch.  Tapped in 2004 by Governor Blanco to lead the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, he immediately embraced the challenge, taking the stage at every opportunity to raise the profile of Louisiana's disappearing coast, and advancing the critical organizational changes required to move the program from good ideas to effective action.  In fact, he did so well, he accomplished the improbable feat of being reappointed by Governor Jindal to continue to lead the agency in the new administration, a first for any DNR Secretary.  But with this award, Scott Angelle is being recognized for work closer to his heart, and his home.

Most of us are familiar with the iconic Atchafalaya Basin.  All would agree that our Atchafalaya is a world-class natural resource, cherished by those who frequent its fishing holes and deer woods, its cypress flats, its warbler and woodstork haunts; and by visitors from around the world who come to experience not only its remarkable wildlife resources but the rich human culture nurtured by them.

The Atchafalaya Basin has a fascinating history that the Louisiana Wildlife Federation has played a part in shaping.  From the days of the Atchafalaya Information Bureau and S. T. A. B. (Save the Atchafalaya Basin, Inc.) and the efforts of the late Charlie Bosch and Ben Skerrett to those present day advocates who continue to follow and participate in the Basin's planning and management.

At times, Basin conservation efforts moved swiftly and with great success, and at other times, for reasons not clearly comprehendible, they have languished.

When Scott Angelle took the DNR reigns he wasn't just the new boss overseeing the Atchafalaya Basin Program, he was (and is) a Native Son of the Basin, raised in the Crawfish Capitol of Breaux Bridge, bringing with him the political acumen developed as a member of the St. Martin Parish Council, and later as Parish President.  Recognizing that the state's Atchafalaya Basin Program had hit a snag, along with his team he set about reorganizing and restructuring the way the Program worked to focus on the fundamentals of managing the Basin?s habitat and improving its water quality - objectives long-recognized as critical to sustaining the great Atchafalaya Basin for the enjoyment of current and future generations.

LDNR Secretary Scott Angelle shares award with his Atchafalaya Basin Program crew (L-R): Steve Chustz, Toni DeBossier, Angelle, Lou Buatt and Bob Benoit. 

Under his leadership, a new paradigm for the Atchafalaya Basin Program was created, adopted by the Louisiana Legislature, and is now being vigorously implemented.  Angelle doesn't sweat the small stuff; he does the big stuff.


Charles R. Caillouet, Jr. - Volunteer Conservationist of the Year

Charles Caillouet also is knee-deep, so to speak, in the fertile mud of the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp.  Those who don't know him might think he's an Atchafalaya neophyte... NOT.  He has been hounding the Basin beat for years, as an advocate, and as practitioner of the visual arts, recording with his videography the nuances of the Basin's ever-changing landscape.  But this award recognizes Caillouet for something different, for stepping forward to take the reins of the fledgling Friends of the Atchafalaya, and making the rebirth of Experience Atchafalaya Days a big success.

Charles Caillouet receives Volunteer Conservationist of the Year Award from LWF President Barney Callahan.

In 2006 Caillouet joined with other veterans of the Atchafalaya Basin Advisory Committee to form the Friends of the Atchafalaya (FOA).   The purpose of FOA is to promote awareness and conservation of the Atchafalaya Basin, and to bridge the gap between the vigorous community outreach of the former Atchafalaya Advisory Committee and the new process of engagement offered by the state's restructured Atchafalaya Basin Program.

In a support role as member of the FOA Board of Directors, Caillouet created a website and developed a blog-style news page which keeps visitors abreast of activities in and around the Basin.  Last year he agreed to lead FOA, setting a brisk pace of accomplishment.  As FOA President, he met with the staffs of the Atchafalaya Basin Program and Atchafalaya Natural Heritage Area to identify ways to enhance public involvement and coordinate activities among NGOs and government agencies.  Caillouet serves as liaison with the state's Atchafalaya Basin Program, following the process and progress of its new structure, and reporting on meetings, actions, and opportunities for public involvement on FOA's basinbuddies.org website.

Caillouet led FOA in the task of bringing back Experience Atchafalaya Days (EAD), a month-long celebration of the Basin's natural and cultural heritage, held in October.  He coordinated the scheduling of dozens of activities designed to increase appreciation of the Basin's beauty and raise awareness of its conservation needs.  Applying his webmaster skills, he developed a "mission control center" on the Internet to both promote EAD events and provide management support for the volunteers executing them.

Caillouet contributed 250 hours of in-kind professional services without compensation to support a modest grant FOA received from the Louisiana Office of Tourism in support of EAD.   All told, more than 60 Experience Atchafalaya Days activities were held, including 16 events, 7 outings such as birding and canoeing and 13 presentations on Basin conservation issues sponsored by FOA.  Thanks to the groundwork Caillouet has laid, and the support of many others, Experience Atchafalaya Days was so successful that it will be used as the model for future programs.


Lafayette Middle School Environmental Science Academy - Youth Conservationists of the Year

As go our youth, so goes our future - a cliché, but a truism as well.  So it's not hard to appreciate the need to nurture within our kids a sound understanding of and proper care and respect for the environment that supports us all.  But how do you make collecting recyclables, planting trees and feeding earthworms endeavors exciting enough to lure them away from the video monitor and the ipod?

It may be simpler than we think....; you let them do it.  Do what?  Well, collect recyclables, plant trees and feed (and play with) worms.  What's so hard about that?  Involvement and responsibility is compelling.  It builds confidence and fuels curiosity.  What?s more exciting than learning how nature works?

Shame on us for forgetting, and leaving our kids to be overwhelmed by distractions; for not taking the time to ignite the fire within them that binds us all in stewardship of our Good Earth.

Students Nicholas Sinanan, William Guilbeau, David Macoy & teacher Stacy Hess with Youth Conservationists of the Year Award presented to the Lafayette Middle School Environmental Science Academy

That's the fire in the students of the Lafayette Middle School Environmental Science Academy.  These 6th, 7th and 8th Graders have a deep passion and commitment to being part of the solution to the many problems that are facing Louisiana today.  They choose to be in the program and volunteer countless hours in service learning that include:

  • responsibility for recycling paper, glass, metal and plastic at their school, growing and planting bald cypress tree seedlings at Avery Island to restore habitat for the Louisiana black bear and other species;
  • propagating black mangrove seeds gathered from Grand Isle, Louisiana to plant later this year on Fifi Island just across Bayou Regaud from Grand Isle;
  • learning about our native paddlefish and raising them from eggs to fingerlings in the classroom for later release into the wild;
  • and raising red wiggler earthworms that they feed compostable waste from the schoolyard and spoiled produce from local grocery stores, using the worm castings to fertilize the growing stock of cypress and mangrove seedlings.  They are also experimenting with bagging and selling the castings as organic fertilizer to raise money to donate to the Children of the Congo Foundation to create a sustainable farm for a local orphanage.

The students of the Lafayette Middle School Environmental Science Academy would tell us that planting trees, and raising worms, and the other things they are doing to help conserve, protect and replenish natural resources is exciting, and that's how learning should be. 


Bob's Tree Preservation Company - Conservation Business of the Year

Why is planting a tree like learning to ride a bike?  The answer is easy.  Once it takes hold, it lasts for a lifetime.  That goes not only for the outcome but for the experience of doing that informs and drives all endeavors henceforth.  Our next honoree must have had that in mind when he set out to restore the native live oaks battered by Katrina... and Rita... and Gustav... and Ike, and the important habitats these iconic landscape fixtures of our coastal ridges support and protect from storms.  After these malevolent ladies and gents visited our coast, Bob's Tree Preservation Company made a commitment of donating 10,000 live oak trees to be planted in coastal and south-central Louisiana.  If that wasn't enough, owner of the business, Robert A. "Bob" Thibodeaux set about to engage his fellow arborist bike-riding buddies to plant them.  So was born "Acorns of Hope."

Acorns of Hope is comprised of nearly 50 arborists and tree advocates from across the country that visit South Louisiana annually for a week-long bicycle and tree planting "tour."  The group bike and travel 300 miles across the southern part of the state, planting live oaks at local schools, churches, parks and recreation centers, and areas that have lost significant tree cover.  Local sponsors provide food along the route and help with other support, but the participants pay their own way.  In addition to the compelling purpose of the ride, the food, hospitality and ambience of the unique culture and landscape has made this a popular and growing event that attracts riders from throughout the continent.

But Acorns of Hope is more than a bike ride.  At each stop, members of the local community come out to meet the riders, and Bob Thibodeaux or one of his partners provides instruction and education about the proper planting methods, the importance of trees in the landscape and the meaning of the program.  It's a total emersion experience for the riders and the community alike.

The live oaks being planted are propagated at Bob's Tree Preservation Company's nursery from acorns produced by oaks with characteristics that have allowed them to survive the storms.  This selection of superior trees will help to assure their long-term survival.

Neal Thibodeaux, Alexandra Futch and Bob Thibodeaux (and grandchildren) of Bob's Tree Preservation receive Conservation Business of the Year Award from LWF President Barney Callahan

Founded in 1964, Bob's Tree Preservation, Inc. is a full service tree care company which assists customers in not only tree and landscape maintenance, but also works to preserve historical live oaks, design and create hurricane resistant landscapes and improve and restore soils.  It manages 120 acres on which it grows quality tree species in an open setting without artificial irrigation, synthetic chemical fertilizers or growth hormones.  The open setting encourages strengthening of the branches and root systems to produce the most durable tree.  Portions of the property are designated for research on water quality and the benefit of organic cultural practices.  The company also recycles 95% of all tree removals and composts its own mulch for use in conditioning tree roots under the canopy.  This practice has proved the salvation of many historic, stressed live oaks on the LSU Campus and elsewhere.

So far, the Acorns of Hope project has planted 1800 of the 10,000 live oaks Bob's Tree Preservation Company has committed, using the quintessential model for inside-out public involvement: good idea; local support; national and international participation = awareness.  The project has produced a wonderful documentary video to further enhance outreach.  The company is doing its part to inspire the next generation of tree planters and conservationists by following the familiar motto of "practice what you preach."


Frank C. Rohwer, Ph D - Conservation Educator of the Year

When you think of a university professor, the good campus life comes to mind, surrounded by ivory towers, pretty coeds, and little familiarity with the rigors of the average working stiff's life.  Most academics will tell you that?s a fairytale that never really existed, and certainly is not representative of today's competitive university environment.  But when you consider the pace and production of Frank Rohwer, although you still may hold visions of an idyllic academic life, you'll parish any thought of it being anything less than the most challenging (and rewarding) of professions.

Frank C. Rohwer is the George Barineau, Jr. Professor of Wildlife Ecology at the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources in Baton Rouge where he has served on the faculty since 1991.  Over those years he has built a student-centered program of courses and training, both inside and outside the classroom and campus that is widely acclaimed by his colleagues, and especially his students.  He instructs with emphasis on civic responsibility, scientific integrity and practical field knowledge.

Frank C. Rohwer, PhD

Frank Rohwer's passion for teaching is illustrated by the broad scope of the courses he has created that stress, not merely gaining knowledge, but communicating it in an effective way.  That's not something all students readily take to, but Rohwer makes it compelling.  He demands high standards of motivation and work ethic from his students, but goes to great lengths, at significant personal sacrifice, to bring those students along who need his personal attention.

Rohwer serves as an adviser to 25 undergraduates, 3 Master's students, and 3 Doctoral students at LSU.  His courses are innovative and interesting in their presentation of the subject matter.  In 2009 he taught 3 classes to 59 students on Renewable Natural Resources Policy, Wildlife Management Techniques, Issues in Natural Resources Management and a seminar on Natural Resources Policy and Recurring Wildlife Issues with emphasis on scientific method, writing and presentation skills.  In addition, Rohwer overseas the training and research programs of 23 graduate students in his position as Scientific Director of the Delta Waterfowl and Wetlands Research station.

At LSU, Dr. Rohwer coordinates the School's professional seminar program.  He also serves on the Undergraduate Committee for the School and is editor of the RNR School newsletter.  He serves on the steering committee for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.  In addition, Rohwer conducts his own extensive research and is one of the most renowned experts on waterfowl in the nation.

The commitment that Frank Rohwer makes to the educational development of his students is extraordinary.  His actions far exceed institutional requirements.  They are based on his belief in the importance of teaching and on the impact his students can make on the future of our natural resources.  


LSU AgCenter ' Conservation Communicator of the Year

The LSU AgCenter is well-known for serving up outstanding educational programs, many focused on the conservation and wise use of our natural resources.  Its new educational video series, "Wet Work," continues that tradition of excellence by taking a different approach to reaching young people and engaging them to think about the future of conservation and the roles they can play in shaping it.

Created by video team members Randy Labauve (video producer, videographer & editor), Craig Gautreaux (videographer), Ashley Mullens and Hilary Collis (content directors) and starring Vermilion Parish 4-Her, Austin Mouton as Wet Works host, the series is a take-off on the popular television series "Dirty Jobs."  In each episode, Mouton tags along and pitches in with conservation professionals as they do their work.  Wet Work gets and keeps the attention of the program's target audience with its upbeat, action-packed presentation.  It is particularly effective because the members of the audience can identify with Mouton, one of their own generation, as he poses many of the same questions they might about the activities featured in each of the episodes, from checking wood duck nest boxes and planting marsh grass in the mud to hauling a seine and dredging for oysters.  And, he always seems to be having fun... and getting wet.

Wet Works' Randy Labauve, Austin Mouton & Craig Gautreaux

Wet Work was created to be part of the LSU AgCenter Youth Wetlands Education and Outreach Program.  It was introduced to the program in 2009.  Since then hundreds of teachers and thousands of students have viewed the videos which are available to teachers and 4-H agents throughout the state at no charge.  The videos come with lesson plans and activities designed to follow Louisiana's Grade Level Expectations (GLEs).  There are 3 "episodes" in the series with additional productions planned.  They can be viewed on You Tube and via the AgCenter's website at www.lsuagcenter.com.  The series is funded by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. 


LSU Coastal Roots Program - Conservation Organization of the Year

Planting and growing is a fundamental conservation strategy, whether applied to rooting seedlings in the fertile earth, or sowing the seed of stewardship in the fertile mind.  The LSU Coastal Roots Program has been doing both for the past decade by helping teachers and students take action to restore coastal wetlands.  During that time, 4,769 students in grades 2-12 have planted more than 41,106 tree seedlings and grass plugs on 114 restoration field trips.  Plants have included, black mangrove, wax myrtle, hackberry, red mulberry, bald cypress, live oak, bitter panicum, smooth cord grass, swamp red maple and loblolly and longleaf pines.

A unique and compelling feature of the program is the establishment of school-based nurseries where students plant the seeds collected from native coastal plant species, grow them to transplantable size, and then plant them at restoration sites along the coast to help in the coastal restoration effort.  Schools participating in the program create a "can yard" on or near the school grounds where the plants are started from seed.  Because it often takes more than a growing season from planting in the nursery to planting in the field, the program requires a significant commitment from teachers and school officials as well from the students who sometimes have to pass the baton to succeeding classes to complete the work they started.  This essential continuity fosters an understanding of natural processes and the role individuals can and must play to sustain habitat and a healthy environment.

Dr. Ed Bush, Tina Savoie, Connie Conner, Dr. Pam Blanchard, and the family of David Bourgeois accepted the Conservation Organization of the Year Award for the LSU Coastal Roots Program.

Originally supported through the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, LSU Coastal Roots is now an initiative of the LSU College of Education Department of Educational Theory, Policy and Practice.  The program includes 43 schools located in 20 parishes in South Louisiana. 

In 2009, students participating in the program grew 11,592 plants in their school-based nurseries, then transported the seedlings to 13 restoration sites across the coast and planted them.  Sites included Bayou Segnette State Park, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife  Refuge, Woodland Plantation, the Golden Meadow Hurricane Protection Levee, Wetland Watcher Park, the Maple Bayou Hunt Club and Fontainebleau State Park.

Last May, Coastal Roots (CR) conducted the first Louisiana Wetland Ambassador Day with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) Bayouside Classrooms Programs.  Seven Coastal Roots schools sent 2 students along with their teachers to engage in activities that included water quality testing, identifying trawl samples, bird identification, and net and bucket fishing.  Participants took their experiences back to share with their schools and communities.

To keep Coastal Roots participants and supporters up to date, the program published 2 colorful 8-page newsletters in the spring and late fall, and conducted a Winter Workshop and a Summer Institute to update both veteran and incoming CR teachers on Louisiana's most pressing coastal issues and review best program practices.  Also, nine CR teachers and one student made a presentation about the program at the annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association.

The Coastal Roots Program received a boost in 2009 with a gift from two LSU alumni that was used to purchase a van to transport materials and equipment to and from school visits, plantings and public exhibitions.  The van is colorfully wrapped with depictions of plantings from 11 CR schools and is the first decorated and dedicated vehicle of its kind in the LSU fleet.

To complement the growing and planting activities, eight hands-on lessons were designed to introduce the importance of plants to Louisiana wetlands.  The lessons have been shown to significantly increase students' awareness of their role in the environment.


Tab Benoit - Governor?s Award - Conservationist of the Year

It?s not all that uncommon for a television, Hollywood, music or sports celebrity to take on a cause, whether it's fighting hunger, relief for victims of disaster, help for the disadvantaged and disabled or curing disease.  And we're grateful for those efforts.  But there are many more who do not, and few who make the cause of conservation an enduring hallmark of their persona and performance.  Houma blues artist Tab Benoit is one who does.  Living, working and playing while growing up in and around the bayous and wetlands of Terrebonne Parish, Benoit knows firsthand the urgency of the plight to save the wetlands of the Louisiana coast.

While Benoit was developing his musical talents he worked as a pilot flying pipeline surveillance in the oil patch of South Louisiana.  That experience gave him the perspective to understand better than most the emergency facing coastal communities as wetlands disintegrate into open water, jeopardizing lives and livelihoods.  He experienced the personal effects of the encroachment of the sea upon the wetlands when a family camp at Lake Decade near Theriot was lost to a tropical storm.

It's hard to separate Tab the musician from tab the wetlands crusader; no, it's impossible.  Benoit is made that way.  He has built his career with music inspired by the culture of his home, a culture shaped by once endless swamps and marshes - all filled with life.  It's a background for the blues, conveyed in soulful words and astonishing guitar solos.  Benoit is acknowledged far and wide as one of Louisiana's top bluesmen, thus ranking him with the best in the country.

Voice of the Wetlands All Stars

In 2003 Benoit established the Voice of the Wetlands Foundation to create an independent voice for coastal wetland restoration.  Since 2004 the foundation has sponsored the Voice of the Wetlands Festival held each October in Houma to educate about the importance of conserving coastal wetlands and the need to act aggressively to restore them.  Benoit organized the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars with fellow music artists Cyril Neville, Dr. John, George Porter, Jr. Waylon Thibodeaux, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux Johnny Vidacovich, Anders Osborne and Jumpin' Johnny Sansone and cut a VOW album to bring the message of Louisiana?s coastal crisis to a larger audience.               

Benoit is on the road performing 250 days of the year.  The stage is a powerful platform and Benoit uses it relentlessly to educate and advocate for Louisiana's coast.  At each show he tells his audience his tale... that wetlands play a major environmental, economic and cultural role affecting the entire United States.  He explains how the wetlands of Louisiana are the inspiration for his music.  The jackets of many of his album CDs carry a similar message.

 

Tab Benoit Family

Louisiana Bluesman Tab Benoit is a tireless advocate for restoring the coastal wetlands of Louisiana and he lends his award-winning talent and showmanship to selflessly promote that cause. 


 
 
 
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