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New Orleans Journalist Heads Cast of Top Conservation Award Winners

March 1, 2004 12:00 AM


Times-Picayune
environment reporter, Mark Schleifstein was honored Saturday evening (February 28) with the Louisiana Wildlife Federation's Governors' Award.  The award is presented annually 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 during the previous year from among nominations submitted by the public.  The selection for this and 8 other awards was made by a panel of independent judges with expertise in a wide range of conservation fields.

Schleifstein received the award, a handsome statuette of a bald eagle, at the 40th Conservation Achievement Recognition Banquet held at the Holiday Inn in New Iberia where the Louisiana Wildlife Federation convened for its 65th Annual Meeting.  The awards were presented by Dr. Earl Matthew, Region 8 Director of the National Wildlife Federation and LWF President Joe L. Herring.

Schleifstein was cited for his award-winning environmental writing and particularly for the series, "Washing Away," an expose on the Louisiana's coastal land loss and the increasing vulnerability of coastal communities to tropical storms.  The work has given renewed momentum to the coastal restoration effort and was influential in the adoption of 3 critical constitutional amendments at the polls last fall.  He was also commended for convening a major conference of environmental journalists in New Orleans that succeeded in informing hundreds of key communicators about the loss of America's WETLAND.

Five individuals, two organizations and a company were also recognized for their outstanding conservation achievements in 2003. They are:

(Professional Category) Robert E. Stewart, Jr. Director of the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette for developing and guiding the Nation's premier wetlands research facility and lending its expertise to better understand and preserve wetland resources;

(Volunteer Category) James Walker Moore, Jr. of Monroe for dedicating his time, skills and energy to conserve wildlife in his community though his work with Friends of Black Bayou and the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge;

(Youth) The Ascension Parish Youth Council for numerous clean-up and beautification projects in the parish, particularly the effort to restore New River;

(Business) Roy O. Martin Lumber Company for leadership in forest stewardship and wildlife management on almost 600,000 acres of company forest lands in Louisiana;

(Education) The Louisiana SeaGrant Extension Communications Committee for facilitating the delivery of fisheries and wetlands science and conservation information to the people of Louisiana through the development of the web site: SeaGrantFish;

(Elected Official) Senator Reggie P. Dupre, Jr. of Bourg for championing the cause of coastal restoration in the Louisiana Legislature;

(Communicator) John N. Fesher, Outdoor Editor for the Lake Charles American Press for advocating, in word and deed, the preservation of Louisiana's outdoor heritage;

(Organization) The Toledo Bend Lake Association for being Toledo Bend Reservoir's chief citizen stewards and tenacious guardians of its natural resources.


Mark Schleifstein - Governors Award - Conservationist of the Year

How do you inform the public about the most complex and difficult environmental problems and conservation issues so they are understood, so wise decisions are made?  You have to be accurate. You have to be compelling.  You have keep it as simple as possible. It seems like you have to be a scientist, a technician, an educator, and a little bit of a magician to get the attention required for comprehension to occur.  And you have to be steadfast in maintaining the objectivity essential to promoting the public debate that must happen for progress to be made.  Sounds like a job for Superman!

Mark Schleifstein has earned a reputation as one of the outstanding environmental journalists in the Nation.  With that reputation and the quality of his work, he has had and is having a major impact on the way Louisiana deals with its pressing environmental problems.  Particularly, last year, his comprehensive analysis of Louisiana?s coastal land loss problem and the increasing vulnerability of coastal communities to hurricanes gave renewed momentum to the coastal restoration effort.  The series "Washing Away," written in collaboration with colleague John McQuaid and published in the Times-Picayune, touched a nerve, and the overwhelming support at the polls last fall for 3 constitutional amendments critical to the coastal restoration effort is, in part, a manifestation of the impact the series had on the citizens of Southeast Louisiana.  Schleifstein has become a key player in this effort through his exceptional ability to translate complex issues into readily understandable terms assembled in interesting stories.  Despite the dramatic statistics, and the differing points of view on the causes of land loss, he explains without sensationalizing the subject, keeping everybody on board until the subject is explained, the facts are presented.  Testimony to the quality of his work, the "Washing Away" series received the 2003 Excellence in Journalism Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers.  Previous work Schleifstein has done in collaboration with colleagues at the Times-Picayune has, on two occasions, received finalist status in Pulitzer Prize competition and in 1997 won a Pulitzer.

Especially noteworthy is the roll Mark Schleifstein played in convening the major national conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists in Louisiana, specifically New Orleans, last September.  He served as chairman of the conference and used the opportunity to inform and educate the best environmental journalists in the country about the richness and the precarious status of America's WETLAND.


Robert E. Stewart, Jr. - Professional Conservationist of the Year

Put some water and soil together in the right proportions, add a little time, and in most places on this good Earth you get ....WETLANDS, magical places of high adventure, entertainment and discovery not lost on youngsters out exploring for the first time on their own, filling old buckets with tadpoles and crawfish, big water beetles and the occasional frog or turtle, amused by a bittern teetering in the reeds, startled by the shadow of a great blue heron, wondering about sneaking up and catching a rail.  How come that, if even kids can appreciate their value, our Society has treated wetlands with so much contempt?  We drain them; we fill them; we pollute them; we forget them.  Bob Stewart has dedicated his career to changing this misbehavior through science.

Although when he started out some 30 years ago he was doing the science, Stewart was soon directing the research efforts of other scientists in inventorying wetlands throughout the United States and documenting their extent, values and rates of loss.  His interest in the application of computer technology, remote sensing and geographic information systems guided that work.  Backed by dramatic map images, the stunning wetlands loss statistics that were produced by the research of the National Coastal Ecosystems Team got the public's attention.  Protecting and restoring wetlands became a mainstream issue. Through his vision and persistence, the National Wetlands Research Center (NWRC) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was authorized in 1989 and was dedicated in 1992.  Under Stewart's direction, the NWRC has become a world leader in wetlands science and a vital asset in Louisiana's coastal restoration effort.

Bob Stewart's positive, enthusiastic demeanor has been key to his success in creating the collaborations that are a hallmark of the NWRC work, and in getting the support necessary to build its capacity.  His effectiveness in guiding the science, securing the needed funding to support it and making sure the benefits of the knowledge produced are delivered to the field have been rewarded by the recent appropriation of funds by Congress to expand the NWRC to 160,000 square feet, doubling its size.  This will better accommodate interdisciplinary research among biologists, hydrologists, geneticists and other disciplines crucial to the understanding, design and implementation of effective coastal restoration projects.

During 2003 Stewart brought high-level federal officials to Louisiana and engaged them in understanding coastal wetlands loss and restoration needs. Under his direction the National Wetlands Research Center has provided technical support for the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Study (LCA) and Coastal Restoration Planning Protection and Restoration Act projects; continued research and related publication of findings on the "brown marsh" salt marsh dieback; enhanced collaboration on the concept of carbon sequestration as an incentive for the restoration of forested wetlands; studied the impact of invasive species on native habitats; provided technical support for conservation efforts in the Lower Mississippi Valley; and partnered with the Caddo Lake and Red River Watershed Management Institutes to provide science support, technical training and education assistance.

James Walker Moore, Jr. - Volunteer Conservationist of the Year

When some folks retire, that's the last you see of them.  They spend their time at the fishing and hunting camp, or traveling far and wide to enjoy their leisure.  Not Jim Moore.  He retired to the lake, alright, Black Bayou Lake.  But not just to kick back and watch the world go by.  He rolled up his sleeves and became a leading volunteer for the Friends of Black Bayou (FoBB), the local volunteer support group for the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  And he didn't just lend helpful hands to the group's many projects.  He brought his professional graphic design skills, given freely in creating the group's logo and promotional brochure as well as its newsletter banner, certificates and displays.  Most recently he has designed a handsome Black Bayou Lake NWR lapel pin for use in rewarding refuge supporters.

Moore is manager of the refuge's "adopt-a-tree" program, a fundraiser supporting the development of the arboretum at the refuge headquarters.  He also serves once a week as the volunteer host at the refuge visitor center, showing the refuge film and guiding visitors through the exhibits and to the trails, pier, observation deck, prairie area and arboretum.  And he is a mentor to new volunteers.  He has participated in all but a handful of FoBB?s meetings since the group's inception 6 ½ years ago and volunteers to represent the group at Earth Day, National Wildlife Refuge Week and other events in the community, and he comes out for all of the trash clean-ups and project work days at the refuge, too.

In addition to his service with the Friends of Black Bayou, Jim Moore is a long-time member of the board of directors of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL), and was instrumental last year in spreading the word in Northeast Louisiana about the crisis of coastal wetland loss and the importance of supporting the 3 constitutional amendments further committing the state to address the problem.  His efforts resulted in extensive coverage by local media and ultimately helped pass the amendments.  He continues to provide his expertise and skills to assist CRCL with its campaign to save the coast even as he gears up for another year as "top-gun" volunteer for the Friends of Black Bayou.

Ascension Parish Youth Council - Youth Conservationists of the Year

Back in the old days it was common to hear kids asking their folks "What can I do?"  But today, with so many activities and amusements available, the challenge for kids is not so much finding something to do with their time, but doing things that will foster their growth and leadership.  That's exactly what the Ascension Parish Youth Council (Council) does, it provides the opportunity for growth and leadership through community service.

The mission of the Council is "uniting and restoring the future of our community through the hearts and lives of young people."  These students, from four Ascension Parish high schools, had a very busy and productive 2003 in pursuit of their mission.

Last February the Council helped organize a trash pick-up to remove litter and debris along the road adjacent to the Tanger Mall in Gonzales.  The group then focused on the Donaldsonville Dream Center, an after school program facility on the west side of the parish.  It worked with other individuals and groups to landscape the grounds with trees, flowers and shrubs and fill three 30-foot dumpsters with trash picked up in the neighborhood.  That was in March. In May, the Council organized a trash pick-up in the riverside community of Darrow, collecting 55 bags of trash in a little over 4 hours. On the Prairieville Cleanup Project in June, the Council enlisted the help of a loader and truck to clean up a corner lot that had been used as an illegal dump for refrigerators, stoves and other appliances.  With the help of some family members and friends, the Council assisted with the renovation of the African American Museum in Donaldsonville by building, painting and installing replacement lattice panels at the base of the building.  Although they couldn't save the "Dutchtown Oak" from new highway construction, they were able to "recycle" the trunk of this ancient live oak to be eventually fashioned into a sculpture of the mascot of Dutchtown High School.  Council members also engaged in a letter writing campaign to encourage the state to acquire and reopen Elmer?s Island for the traditional public uses of fishing, camping, birding and crabbing.

The biggest endeavor of the year for the Council was to renew the restoration campaign for New River that runs through Gonzales.  It partnered with "Revive New River" (the organization) to organize "Rescue New River"(the event) in October, soliciting the financial support and participation of business sponsors, individuals and other civic groups to clean up the river from St. Amant to the Gonzales Country Club.  The event was a huge success, with dozens of folks pitching in to show pride in their community and hope for the future.  A revealing statement in the program for the event sums up the resolve of this outstanding group of young people: "Ultimately, it isn't whether our local government leaders have vision or a desire to create an economic and pride-building resource from this natural resource God has blessed us with.  Since Christ's time, and long before that, God has cared for this bayou and saved it from a thousand threats, but he cannot save it from fools that have no vision.  Only the real shakers and movers of Ascension Parish can do that."


Roy O. Martin Lumber Company - Conservation Corporation of the Year

Used to be in Louisiana, there was private land, public wildlife management area land, federal land and a very large category of land called "company land."  The abundance of game and other wildlife varied on these different types of land, but on "company land" one thing was for sure, you could roam it far and wide and not see many deer, or much deer sign, for that matter.  But "company land" was private land, too.  It was just regarded differently by the prevailing social and political values of the time.  That was before owners took wildlife management seriously and joined forces with hunters and resource management professionals to bring the wildlife, particularly white-tailed deer and wild turkey, back to abundance.  Roy O. Martin Lumber Company (ROM) exemplifies the new age in private commercial forestland stewardship and wildlife management.

Founded over 80 years ago and operated by the third generation of family members, ROM owns and manages nearly 600,000 acres of woodlands spanning 34 parishes.  The business also includes a plywood mill in Chopin, a pole treating facility in Pineville, and a hardwood sawmill and oriented strand board mill in LeMoyen, in all, employing 1200 citizens throughout its operations.  It was the first timber company in Louisiana to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and maintains its certification through annual independent third party audits to ensure professional management of its timberlands with respect to water and air quality, wildlife, and forestry Best Management Practices.  That means its products are "Smartwood certified," making it a leader in providing wood products to consumers made from trees harvested from sustainably managed forests.

The company leases its timberlands to over 1,100 hunting clubs and subscribes the clubs to the Quality Deer Management Association, providing the clubs with informative and educational material to guide improvement of the deer resource on its properties.  It also sponsors a quality deer management "short course" for clubs to attend and learn more about management strategies for deer. ROM's support of the Quality Deer Management Program was instrumental in bringing the Quality Deer Management Association national convention to Lafayette in 2003.  It publishes a newsletter for its hunting club leaseholders and solicits their support to contribute meat to the annual "Hunters For the Hungry" campaign.  Of significant benefit to public land hunters, ROM provides a free lease to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on 14,000 acres within the West Bay Wildlife Management Area in Allen Parish.

Last year the company Initiated the development of a Forestry Nature Trail for public education and enjoyment on 30 acres of its land 6 miles south of Pineville.  Plans are for the trail to illustrate the many facets of forestry operations, from harvest to regeneration with signage identifying plant and animal species and forestry practices such as site preparation, thinning, streamside management zones, fertilization and other standard forestry activities.  It has also entered into an agreement with the LDWF Natural Heritage Program to exchange information to better locate and monitor any rare, threatened or endangered species that may occupy its lands so that it can adjust management practices to avoid adversely impacted these species.

Louisiana SeaGrant Extension/Communications Committee
Conservation Educators of the Year

Louisiana is a state of fishers and fish consumers like no other.  So, as might be expected, a lot of research, writing and education about fisheries and fish resources has been produced over the years.  Much of it is still applicable to current questions and issues, especially with respect to the impacts of coastal land loss and the effects of restoration projects.  But when you need it, how do you get it?  The communications Committee of Louisiana SeaGrant Extension has solved that problem.  They have harnessed the capabilities of the Internet to bring a world of fish, fisheries and wetland conservation information to our fingertips through the web site: SeaGrantFish (www.seagrantfish.lsu.edu).

Since the inception of the Louisiana SeaGrant Extension program it has sought to help many audiences understand and sustain the resources that are the livelihood of thousands of commercial fishers and that provide the recreation for hundreds of thousands of others.  Hundreds of publications have been produced by this effort, and the dynamic nature of the changes being experienced in fisheries, estuarine habitats and coastal waters creates a continued need for them.  The SeaGrantFish web site was designed in early 2003 to archive and make this information available.  It includes the complete volumes of "Lagniappe," the popular fisheries newsletter where you can learn about everything from the peculiar behavior of the tilefish, to shrimp and crab landings, to the pros and cons of marine protected areas.  The members of the committee who created the site collaborate regularly to improve its function and content.  Most recently, a collection of the Louisiana SeaGrant Legal Programs' newsletters on fisheries issues, "Louisiana Wetlands News" and several out-of-print publications have been posted.  Publications on issues such as the effects of freshwater diversions on the state's wetlands and up-to-date information on size and bag limits can be found on the site, along with links to many state and federal agencies with fisheries responsibilities.  Since being launched in May of last year the site has experienced a steady increase in visitation, from 1,000 pages in May to almost 30,000 in November.

The web site creators envision SeaGrantFish as a clearinghouse of fisheries and environmental news and information.  For example, the "Current News" section contains articles ranging from the derelict crab trap clean up to changes in recreational boater education requirements and the results of the Elmer's Island survey.  Conservation Education never ends.  SeaGrantFish is available all day everyday, providing information online and easily downloaded.

Senator Reggie P. Dupre, Jr. - Conservation Legislator of the Year

 

 

It's well known that "there's trouble on the coast."  It's washing away in leaps and bounds.  It's not even news anymore. That sort of indicates that it's been going on a long time, and not much, or at least not enough, has been done about it.  But such a huge and daunting problem can be overwhelming.  It takes a little time to figure out what can be done and how much it will cost.  Then it takes political will and the support of the people to act.

Senator Reggie Dupre makes his home on the front lines of coastal erosion and he plies his trade on the front lines in Baton Rouge where the policy is made to fight it.  Through his efforts and with the help of his colleagues in the Louisiana Legislature last year, he was able to set the stage for making real progress in the fight to save the coast.

Because Louisiana does not have the resources to come up with the billions of dollars it's estimated to cost to do the job alone, it's crucial that the lion?s share of coastal restoration funding be provided by the federal government.  Even so, the state's financial and political commitment will have to be great to garner the support of the Nation to save America's WETLAND.  Dupre brought this message home loud and clear during the 2003 legislative session, convincing his colleagues to provide for a constitutional amendment expanding the state's Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Fund, the fund used to match federal dollars for coastal restoration.  It was placed on the ballot of the primary election last fall and received overwhelming support from the voters.  He also was instrumental in the adoption of two other related constitutional amendments, limiting the state's liability for damages caused by coastal restoration projects and dedicating funds from the sale of the remaining portion of the state's share of the tobacco settlement, if and when that occurs, to coastal restoration.

Not only does Dupre lobby his colleagues in the Louisiana Legislature for their support of coastal restoration, he has made frequent trips to Washington, DC to bring his firsthand knowledge of the problem to members of Congress.  A few years ago, he introduced and passed legislation, known as the 2% bill, that provided for a more consistent flow of funds for coastal restoration and has allowed the state, with its partners, to develop the Coast 2050 Plan and fund the feasibility studies necessary to support major federal funding for coastal restoration.

John N. Felsher - Conservation Communicator of the Year

 

When sportsmen gather around the coffee pot to swap stories on current events in the outdoors they frequently quiz, "Was it in the paper?"  If the information being discussed was, then the impression is that it must be true, or at least, important.  The "paper" and now the Internet, are primary resources for hunters, anglers, birders and other outdoor-loving conservationists to keep up with what's going on and to learn about the things they need to know to be more successful at their recreation as well as more effective conservationists.  The outdoor journalists who produce the stories and programs that the public relies on to make decisions about where they're going to fish or hunt on a given weekend, and even who they might vote for, wield great influence.  With that influence comes the opportunity to guide their audience to truth, understanding and action.

John Felsher presides over the outdoor scene in what is perhaps the most fish and wildlife rich part of Louisiana.  Last year he reached thousands of readers twice a week with his outdoor page, one of the most popular features in the American Press, and many more listeners with his weekly outdoor radio program broadcast over KLCL in Lake Charles and KJEF in Jennings.  He provided an in-depth analysis of the whys and why nots of the 2002/'03 waterfowl season, dispelling wild rumors about efforts to keep the ducks from migrating to Louisiana, and giving his readers a sound lesson in waterfowl behavior.  He also promoted and participated in the Southwest Louisiana Duck Forum, where local, state, federal and Ducks Unlimited representatives talked about duck migration issues and answered questions from the nearly 200 people who attended.  Felsher provided extensive coverage of the coastal land loss issue, taking his readers through the logic behind the causes of the problem and emphasizing the critical need to do something about it.  He was instrumental in planning and promoting several events to provide youngsters an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors that they otherwise never would have.  Such events included the annual "Take a Kid Fishing" day and the "Boys and Girls Fishing Village" that serves hundreds of youngsters, many of whom do not have the opportunity to experience the fun of fishing.  He inaugurated the American Press Youth Sportsman Essay Contest, requiring entrees to submit an essay on why wetlands are important.  The winner, an 11-year-old boy, was treated to a hunt of a lifetime at the Hackberry Rod and Gun Club where he learned how to tame a 12 gauge magnum pump shotgun enough to take a limit of ducks, which he brought home along with a well bruised shoulder to show for the experience.  Felsher turned the youngster's experience into a thoughtful, entertaining story that will encourage other youngsters and their parents to get involved with the contest this year.

In addition to his local work, Felsher contributes stories and photos to dozens of magazines and websites.  He also uses his influence to promote charity events such as the annual bass fishing tournament to raise funds for the Children's Miracle Network and Hunters For the Hungry food drive.

Toledo Bend Lake Association - Conservation Organization of the Year

 

 

The work of a dedicated group of volunteers, united for a cause, can be truly inspiring, especially when it's driven by a love of place and a sense of community.  When the cause is to protect, preserve and enjoy a magnificent resource like Toledo Bend Reservoir, it's not hard to understand the motivation.  But success takes hands as well as heart, and the members of the Toledo Bend Lake Association (TBLA) know a lot about that.  When the TLBA president calls for "all hands on deck" you better get out of the way (or line up to help).  Like a fellow who has observed the cooperation and success of their work says, "It's like stepping on an ant hill, first comes one, then here come the rest."

Last year the Toledo Bend Lake Association had unprecedented success in looking after Toledo Bend and its future.  They joined with Bass Unlimited to hold a fundraiser, and due to their hard work and planning, almost 600 people showed up for the event, netting over $30,000 to support projects to benefit the lake.  With these funds they were able to continue with their fish stocking program, adding 11,800 4-6 inch Florida strain largemouth bass fingerlings to the lake on one occasion and 18,500 on another.  The stocking effort also included the addition of 3,700 crappie fingerlings.  Along those same lines, the TBLA dedicated $3,000 to develop nursery ponds for the lake which will allow for the release of even more game fish at a reduced cost.  All these efforts to enhance fishing and the fishery in the lake are accomplished in consultation with professional staff of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

To promote conservation, the TBLA co-sponsors a program to encourage anglers who catch a black bass weighing 10 pounds or more to bring it to an LDWF biologist for potential use as a hatchery spawner.  The angler is presented with a fiberglass replica of his or her catch in return.  Another of TBLA's highly successful programs gets fifth-graders from Sabine Parish schools involved with fishing by sponsoring a field day.  Every fifth-grader in the parish is eligible to participate, and last year 500 students learned about boat operation and safety, casting, spincasting and pole fishing, rigging a pole and baiting a hook, as well as how to recognize the various species of fish that make their home in the lake.  It's a first-time experience for many of the kids and the beginning of a lifetime of enjoying and respecting the outdoors.

These folks like to do a little fishing themselves, so, with the LDWF and Sabine River Authority they initiated an artificial reef development program last year.  And soon, thanks to their generosity, the underside of the Pendleton Bridge will be lighted, providing an excellent opportunity for anglers to catch crappie and bass at night.

TBLA had another major accomplishment last year, a political one. After many long years of struggle, it looks like an agreement to establish a minimum lake level will be achieved whereby the lake cannot be lowered below 168' mean sea level to generate power at the dam.  This is a major victory for shoreowners and businesses along the lake who have struggled with low water levels that have left their piers and landings high and dry on many occasions when the lake has been drawn below 168' for power generation.


 
 
 
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