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State Senator Heads Cast of Top Conservation Award Winners

March 5, 2005 12:00 AM

Louisiana State Senator Joe McPherson of Woodworth was honored Saturday evening (March 5) with the Governor's Award for conservation achievement.  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 7 other awards was made by a panel of independent judges with expertise in a wide range of conservation fields.

M
cPherson received the award, a handsome statuette of a bald eagle, at the 41st Conservation Achievement Recognition Banquet held at the Holiday Inn in Monroe where the Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) convened for its 66th Annual Meeting.  The awards were presented by Dwight Landreneau, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, representing Governor Blanco and Jerome Ringo, Chairman of the National Wildlife Federation.

McPherson was cited for his legislative achievements in support of sportsmen and conservationists including the "Freedom to Hunt, Fish & Trap" constitutional amendment, securing state management of the 71,000 acre White Lake Preserve, protecting scenic rivers, preventing the marketing of black bass and crappie raised in aquaculture, pursuing a resolution to the problem of loss of public access to public waters, and securing additional funding for the enforcement of fish and wildlife conservation laws, among others.  A testament to his dedication and perseverance, McPherson, now serving his 5th term in the Louisiana Senate, has been recognized on 3 previous occasions as the top conservationist in the elected official category of the Governor's Conservation Achievement Program.

Four individuals, two organizations and a company were also recognized for their outstanding conservation achievements in 2004.  They are:

(Professional Category) Chad James Courville of Carencro, Regional Biologist for Ducks Unlimited (DU), for outstanding achievement in delivering on the ground conservation programs and regrouping support among waterfowlers for DU's wetland conservation efforts through development and delivery of educational outreach programming;

(Volunteer Category) Ann Bloxom Smith of Monroe, president of Friends of Black Bayou, for her outstanding leadership of the nation's top Friends (of National Wildlife Refuges) organization; 

(Youth) Boy Scout Troop 405, Evangeline Area Council, Lafayette for its energetic program of community service through conservation projects;

(
Business) Shell Pipeline Company, LP for its initiative and leadership in the effort to save and restore Louisiana's eroding coast;

(Educator) Barry Joseph Guillot of Luling, Hurst Middle School instructor, for innovating an award-winning service-learning program, LaBranche Wetland Watchers, reaching 1200 students annually with lessons about wetland conservation;

(Communicator) Philip J. Timothy, Jr. of Deville, former outdoor writer for the Alexandria daily Town Talk and editor of the bi-weekly Louisiana Hunting & Fishing section that was formerly featured in 5 Gannett daily newspapers, for bringing outdoor and conservation news to an eager but under-served readership in central and north Louisiana;

(Organization) The Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program for its comprehensive program of educational outreach and projects to restore and conserve Louisiana's largest estuary.

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation is a statewide conservation education and advocacy organization with over 13,000 members and 30 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.

Chad James Courville - Professional Conservationist of the Year

Ducks.  Seems like everybody, but especially duck hunters, wants to know about ducks these days.  Where were the ducks?  Have you heard that question lately?

In an age when instant gratification is sought and instant communication is available, it's a real challenge to meet the goals of waterfowl conservation while maintaining the allegiance of waterfowlers -- an allegiance crucial to conservation success.  But even as expectation, disappointment, uncertainty and change continue to fuel the sometimes rancorous debate about the ducks, Chad Courville has been steadily looking to the future, and working to make it a bright one for our waterfowl resources.

Courville is a Regional Biologist with Ducks Unlimited.  In that capacity he has played a key role in regrouping support among waterfowlers for the organization's wetland conservation efforts through development and delivery of educational outreach programming.  He has melded a strong working relationship with farmers and marshland owners, particularly in South Louisiana, that has led to thousands of acres being managed for the benefit of ducks and other wetland-dependent wildlife.  Restoration of coastal wetlands in conjunction with creating and enhancing duck habitat gets special emphasis in Courville's work, and the relationships he has developed with state and federal agencies, landowners and industry has led to millions of dollars in North American Wetland Conservation Act funds applied to habitat restoration and enhancement in Louisiana,  and additional major corporate gifts in support of DU's wetland conservation work.

For his accomplishments last year, Courville was recognized with Ducks Unlimited's Top Flight Award, an award presented annually to a DU staffer for outstanding achievement in delivering on-the-ground conservation programs. 

Ann Bloxom Smith - Volunteer Conservationist of the Year

Everybody needs a friend, and in the case of our land and water and wildlife resources, the more the better.  A few years ago, after an intriguing round of land swaps and acquisitions, the vision of Monroe-area conservation leaders became a reality with the establishment of the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few "urban" refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) system.  In addition to their natural resource conservation services, urban refuges present a unique opportunity for conservation education and outreach; precisely what community refuge advocates had in mind.  But success requires support, and shortly after the refuge was established, so was Friends of Black Bayou (FoBB).  In its seven years of existence FoBB has achieved extraordinary results and set the standard for citizen support of NWRs.
 
Energetic leadership and a strong supporting cast has been the key to FoBB's success.  But Ann Smith, the group's president for the past two years, has "kicked it up a notch."  Under Smith's wing, support for the refuge has skyrocketed.  During 2004, she spearheaded the capital campaign that has raised over $400,000 in mostly private funds for the Wetlands Learning Center now under construction near the refuge headquarters.  When completed, the Center will provide a large classroom/lab facility for students' use as well as an exhibit of live native animals including a 20-foot floor to ceiling aquarium and other exhibits to complement the already-existing Refuge Visitor's Center.  With her support and guidance, over $25,000 in grant funds have been secured to construct a photo blind in a remote refuge area and an exhibit about bird watching and environmental art.

Last April, Smith organized the first Southeast Regional Refuge Friends Conference, a 3-day meeting held in Monroe and attended by over 150 friends group volunteers and refuge staff.  The conference is being used as a model for such regional conferences throughout the country.  She was selected to give a keynote presentation at the National Conservation Summit held last May at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia and returned for a repeat performance in November.  On a more recent trip to Washington, DC, Smith led a delegation of FoBBers to receive the Refuge Friends Group of the Year award at the National Friends Conference where she was once again a featured speaker.  Her plans for 2005 reveal no slack in FoBB's pace to support the community and the Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Boy Scout Troop 405, Evangeline Area Council - Youth Conservationists of the Year

There's a world of things for youngsters to do these days, some of which we couldn't have imagined 30, or even 20 years ago.  And some of it's not so good.  But the old, traditional things, spiced with learning opportunities using modern technology, are still available as they have been for over 100 years through Scouting.  Scouting, the outdoors and conservation are synonymous, so its no surprise that the members of Evangeline Area Council Troop 405 have gotten their hands dirty, feet wet, eyes widened and hearts opened as they marched through 2004 serving their community and conservation.

BSA Troop 405 is sponsored by Knights of Columbus Council 1286 based at St. Johns Catholic Church in Lafayette.  The Troop has 25 Scouts age 10 to 17, and 10 adult leaders.  It meets weekly, camps out once a month and is involved with 3 long-term camping events.  One of the projects the Troop completed last year was marking storm drains in the downtown Lafayette area with the logo "Dump No Waste -- Drains To Bayou."  Over 400 storm drains were marked, reminding citizens that protecting the environment is everyone's responsibility, and that storm drains are not the place to get rid of old paint, pesticides, motor oil and other pollutants.  In a swap of labor for fun, the Troop spent a weekend doing cleanup chores on the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, and got to camp and do a little fishing on the refuge in return.

Bayou Vermilion, running through Lafayette, received a lot of the Troop's efforts last year.  In addition to hauling out several boatloads of litter during the annual "Trash Bash," the scouts made several outings to the Bayou to plant willow trees and native Louisiana irises to prevent erosion and beautify the Bayou's banks.  The Troop helped organize the first Vermilion Paddle Fest, employing 15 unmotorized watercraft to plant and clean up along a 3-mile stretch of the Bayou.  The Bayou Vermilion District has purchased 12 new canoes in support of the event and over 60 watercraft are expected to participate this year.  Individual Scouts and leaders performed other conservation services for the community including planting irises and baldcypress trees near the Acadian Memorial near St. Martinville, and conducting hunter education and winter survival courses.  The Troop, in cooperation with the Sierra Club, directs and produces "Ecologic," a live one-hour call-in television program about conservation and the environment that appears on the 3rd Friday of each month on the Acadiana Open Channel.  The Scouts operate the cameras, arrange the set and gather photos from the field as they earn credits for service hours and work toward the Cinematography Merit Badge.  In addition to all their hard work for conservation, the Scouts (and Scout Leaders) got to have some big fun last year, taking a road trip through 10 Western states where they rafted wild rivers, hiked wild mountain ranges and generally wore themselves out as they expanded their appreciation for the wonders of nature, the wilderness and their stewardship responsibilities.

Shell Pipeline Company, LP - Conservation Corporation of the Year

It's widely acknowledged that the loss of coastal wetlands is the most dramatic fish and wildlife habitat conservation challenge facing Louisiana.  The impacts extend well beyond our state's borders, and are economic as well as ecologic in their reach.  Although a lot has been learned and much accomplished in the 30 or so years since efforts have been applied to stem the loss, the rate of loss has far outpaced progress in abating it.  The problem is daunting, and likely insurmountable without a unified effort by all those affected, both near and far, to pursue the awareness, funding, projects, programs and policies that are essential to saving the coast.  That's why it's so important for the business community to step up and lend its support.
 
Shell Pipeline Company has set the example for corporate participation in Louisiana's coastal restoration effort.  Because of the nature of its business -- transporting crude oil through Louisiana's sensitive coastal wetlands -- it has firsthand experience with coastal erosion and the risk posed to its pipeline infrastructure.  Many of Shell Pipeline's employees live and recreate in the areas threatened, so its involvement is grassroots as much as it is business.  The company is prominently represented on the Management Conference of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program and the Governor's Coastal Advisory Commission.  Through its participation in national and international conferences, it brought the story of and the need for coastal restoration to audiences at over 30 events last year.  Its Community Council, which informs and educates the communities where it operates about pipelines and safety, incorporated information on coastal restoration in its outreach programming.  It has been active in recruiting other members of the business community to join the effort to save the coast.

Last year Shell Pipeline Company officials joined a delegation from the state in testifying before a congressional committee in support of expanding the federal role in coastal restoration.  It contributed 2 separate grants of $100,000 each to restore habitat on the Fourchon Ridge and at Pass a Loutre, and donated new pipe to Ducks Unlimited for a habitat restoration project.  It has participated in developing the promising prospect of using pipelines to transport dredged sediment from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers to replenish wetlands too far from the rivers to receive sediment from diversions.  And as a business unit of Shell Oil Company, it shares in the major support provided by Shell to the America's WETLAND Campaign.

Barry Joseph Guillot - Conservation Educator of the Year

Service-learning.  What's that, you say?  Well, it's different than what kids normally get in the classroom.  And it's extremely effective.  It's learning to give, and giving to learn; sort of learning twice from two different sides of understanding.  And it's experiential, so it's compelling -- an antidote for A D D.  Hurst Middle School educator, Barry Guillot has innovated a service-learning program themed on the wetland habitat in his home region and the need to restore and preserve it.  LaBranche Wetland Watchers, the name of the program, is now in its 6th year and has received national and international acclaim for its innovation and success.

Wetland Watchers involves 1200 5th through 7th grade students and has over 30 partners who provide funds, materials, expertise, and other needs of the program.  It is primarily sponsored by the Louisiana Lieutenant Governor's Office.  Students adopt a wetland site near the Bonnet Carre Spillway and make frequent field trips to observe and undertake projects to improve the habitat.  Participating in LSU SeaGrant's Coastal Roots Program, students plant seeds and nurture seedlings for the following year's students to plant in the wetlands in an ongoing cycle of restoration.  Guillot, along with local conservationist Milton Cambre, helped secure the donation of 28 acres to St. Charles Parish for the LaBranche Wetlands Scenic Area.  The students are helping to design nature trails on the area.  Guillot has written $23,000 in grants to fund the acquisition of special computers to help the students analyze and understand water quality data derived from the samples they take.  Students perform litter clean-ups 11 times during the year and host 2 weekend community litter collection events.  Last year they were recognized with a 1st Place award from Keep America Beautiful for their efforts.  Guillot has integrated environmental education into the curriculum by aligning all of the student service activities with required state standards so they can apply math, science, social studies and language arts to real-life situations.  The Wetland Watchers lead over 800 elementary students from 4 other schools on field trips, sharing their knowledge with the younger students who are particularly receptive to this new form of instruction.  Wetland Watchers make presentations at numerous outreach events like Earth Day.  At the end of each project year, Guillot's students organize, facilitate and host a Wetland Celebration for nearly 400 5th graders who will one day participate, as 7th grade presenters.  Last year the event included 40 interactive stations, 7 tents, the Zoomobile, Bugmobile, and numerous other features emphasizing the ecology and culture of the coastal wetland region.

Last year Guillot received a Gulf Guardian Award sponsored by the EPA Gulf of Mexico Program, and Wetland Watchers was awarded first place in the Youth Education category.  As a result of that recognition, the Gulf of Mexico Foundation sponsored the production of a documentary on Wetland Watchers that has been distributed around the country.  The George Lucas Education Foundation also chose Guillot and Wetland Watchers to feature in a video to demonstrate exemplary innovative education programming.  The Corporation of National and Community Service has also selected Guillot's Wetland Watchers Program to be filmed for an upcoming video featuring the nation's best service-learning projects.  In addition, Guillot launched wetlandwatchers.org to highlight student activities and share information and resources concerning Louisiana wetlands and service-learning.

Philip J. Timothy, Jr. - Conservation Communicator of the Year

In a state like Louisiana where so many citizens spend leisure time hunting and fishing, birding and boating, the outdoor press plays a major role in keeping us informed, not only about where the fish are biting, or what youngster took his first deer, but about important conservation issues.  Even though there are outdoor-oriented websites a-plenty, and enough slick magazines sporting covers with fish, game and colorful birds to clog the mailbox, we look forward to the daily paper and the outdoor page to keep up with the latest.

For organizations like the Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the outdoor page is a necessary compliment to our conservation efforts.  There we find out about the rules being proposed by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission, what's going on down at the Legislature, and about events like National Hunting and Fishing Day and National Wildlife Week.  The outdoor page is also a focal point for rallying support on conservation issues.

For the past several years, Philip Timothy has been the voice (or pen) of the outdoors in Central Louisiana, taking over from Chuck Buckley as outdoor writer for The Town Talk in Alexandria.  In that capacity, Timothy covered a wide range of issues and events.  Recognizing the status of the LWF annual convention as a forum for cutting edge conservation issues, Timothy made a point of attending each year, reporting on the debates and outcomes to his readers.  Last year he devoted a full page of coverage to the convention, highlighting the panel discussion on "Where the Ducks Were."

To provide a wider reach of outdoor coverage, Timothy edited the popular "Louisiana Hunting and Fishing - your guide to the Sportsman's Paradise," appearing as a bi-weekly supplement in 5 of the state's daily newspapers ? Alexandria, Opelousas, Lafayette, Monroe and Shreveport.  Although very popular, the publication was discontinued last June.  Since then, The Town Talk has also discontinued its routine outdoor coverage.  With such a large and avid readership, and with a greater per capita percentage of hunters and anglers above I-10 than below, that's hard to figure.

Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program - Conservation Organization of the Year

An estuary is Mother Nature's cornucopia - a place of incomparable abundance where sweet river water meets the sea.  An estuary is a place where you can make your living off the land and water, and still have time to share and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Understandably, such places, though fragile and soggy, are popular places to live.  Add to that their use for waterborne commerce, and in Louisiana, energy development, and they present a real management challenge: how to use them, but not lose them.

T
he Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary, comprising 4.2 million acres between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers in south central Louisiana, is one of the richest in the world, and the challenge of its conservation is being met by the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program (BTNEP).  Established in 1991, BTNEP is one of 28 National Estuary Programs administered by the EPA under Section 320 of the Clean Water Act.  BTNEP is guided by a Management Conference of representatives of the various stakeholders in the estuary, from chambers of commerce, landholders and oil companies to environmental groups and commercial fishermen.  Using a collaborative, consensus-building approach, the Management Conference drives implementation of plans to address wetland loss, water quality, habitat protection, invasive species and the preservation of the culture of the region.

Some of BTNEP's projects last year included restoration of maritime forest ridges and marsh habitat, and the evaluation of herbaceous and woody plants for use in stemming coastal erosion.  BTNEP has an exceptionally strong education and outreach component and is well known for producing high quality educational materials including both print and video.  BTNEP is a partner with the Louisiana Wildlife Federation in its campaign to acquire, conserve and reopen Elmer's Island to the public, and maintains a website - www.elmersisland.org to garner public support for the campaign.

Last year, BTNEP provided funding, logistical support and technical expertise for the Jason Project, focusing on Louisiana's disappearing wetlands, which will reach 2 million students and teachers across the country.  It also publishes an extremely popular and educational tidal graph calendar that is eagerly awaited by coastal anglers and educators alike.  BTNEP was a primary collaborator in the first derelict crab trap cleanup effort in Terrebonne Parish which this year has expanded to include 5 areas along the coast.  It annually organizes and sponsors the Grand Isle Migratory Bird Celebration, a highly popular and educational field day exploring and learning about this barrier island and the importance of chenier forests to migratory birds.  Other annual educational outreach programs include La Fete d'Ecologie, celebrating the region's culture with a focus on creating a sustainable estuary, and the 4-day excursion, "Paddle Bayou LaFourche," attracting hundreds of paddlers and featuring evening lessons in history, culture and the ecology of Bayou LaFourche.  BTNEP financially supports the efforts of many other conservation education projects such as C. C. Lockwood's "Marsh Mission, " the LSU AgCenter's "Marsh Maneuvers," the "Wetlands Summer Camp," and "Students and Teachers as Educational Partners in Science."

Senator W. Joe McPherson, Jr. - Governor's Award - Conservationist of the Year

To say that 2004 was a big year for Louisiana State Senator, Joe McPherson, is certainly an understatement.  His conservation record is long and began over 25 years ago, even before winning a seat in the Louisiana State Senate.  In fact, the story has it that his conservation activism as a private citizen, those many years ago, was what provoked him to run for public service - to cut through the bureaucracy and get something done to protect our water quality, conserve our wildlife habitat, and look out for the public's interest in conserving our natural resources and the right to use them.

Now in his 5th term in the Louisiana Senate, McPherson is the legislator who all of his colleagues respect for his depth of knowledge on conservation issues, and who they can turn to for leadership when these issues come before the Senate.  He mostly plays offense, carrying important conservation bills through the process, but he is well known for his ability to spot, and kill, a "crappy" bill when he sees one, which he did once again last year.

Tops on the list of McPherson's accomplishments last year was the adoption of the bill that placed the "Freedom to Hunt, Fish and Trap" constitutional amendment on last November's general election ballot.  It's all history now, but 81 percent of the largest voter turnout in Louisiana history agreed that it was time to acknowledge these time-honored traditions in the Declaration of Rights of our constitution.  With that kind of support, you'd think the Legislature would have adopted McPherson's bill the first time around.  Not so.  It took 3 tries to let the people have their say on protecting this important part of our conservation heritage.  And judging from the onslaught of anti-hunting, anti-fishing and animal rights legislation being proposed in other states, Louisiana voters acted just in the nick of time.

Most folks have heard of White Lake: 71,000 acres of freshwater wetlands and wildlife habitat donated to the state almost 3 years ago by oil giant BP.  The problem, as McPherson immediately recognized, was that the state was left holding the liability, but did not have management authority for the property -- an unprecedented, unusual, and some would say, stinky deal.  While others acquiesced to the power of the Governor, McPherson said no.  It took a couple of years, but he prevailed, passing legislation to right the White Lake donation and set the stage for management of this wonderful resource for the benefit of wildlife and the people of the state.

Something was mentioned earlier about a "crappy" bill.  Well, it really was a bill that would have allowed the Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry to authorize the aquaculture of native and exotic species of fish in Louisiana, including black bass and crappie, species that otherwise cannot be sold because they are game fish.  McPherson smelled something fishy and took the mic on the floor of the Senate to expose the legislation not only as a crappie bill, but a "crappy" bill.  Black bass and crappie were promptly amended out of the legislation which ultimately passed with adequate safeguards for our game fish.

McPherson's other accomplishments last year included legislation protecting several creeks in Southwest Louisiana by designating them Scenic Streams; working to resolve the problem of loss of public access to coastal waters; restoring habitat on his own private property; and leading the organization of the Louisiana Legislative Sportsman's Caucus.  McPherson has been named Legislative Conservationist of the Year by the Louisiana Wildlife Federation on 3 previous occasions and has received the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association's Arthur Van Pelt Award for a lifetime of conservation achievement, among other recognitions of his commitment to conservation.


 
 
 
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