News & Resolutions

Coastal Documentary, Whooping Crane Project Lead List of Conservation Award Winners

March 16, 2012 4:00 PM

The documentary Turning the Tide produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting was honored Saturday, March 10, 2012 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 seven other awards were 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 48th Conservation Achievement Recognition Banquet held at the Clarion Inn & Suites Conference Center in Covington where the Louisiana Wildlife Federation convened for its 73rd Annual Meeting.

Those individuals and organizations honored at the reception and banquet for their outstanding conservation achievements in 2011 are:


From left to right: LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina; Liz Barnes, Christina Melton, LPB; Fernando Albornoz, National Wildlife Federation; Rex Fortenberry, LPB. Photo by Ray Bordelon.

Turning the Tide produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting
2011 Governor’s Award, Conservationist of the Year

When LPB released the documentary Turning the Tide in 2011, Dave Walker, a reporter with The Times-Picayune, called it “both straightforward and sophisticated, a one-stop primer about the challenges our coast faces. It’s also as up-to-date as documentary filmmaking gets, given Melton’s inclusion of research conducted during and after the Mississippi River floods of 2011. The film visits actual new coast, deposited by floodwater, at the bottom of the Atchafalaya Basin.”

It’s also notable for its honest presentation of the complexity of addressing coastal restoration in Louisiana and the often conflicting interests involved. It presents the sobering picture of what Louisiana could look like if scientific and public consensus isn’t soon reached. More than 50 scientists, policymakers, government agency officials and nonprofit leaders candidly explain the political, scientific and economic challenges faced at every level.

The documentary provides a comprehensive and objective look at the strategies being considered, allowing for true scientific debate with an examination of what is already working, what has not worked and what the best science suggests could work. It also examines what is being done in other parts of the world, like the Netherlands, to stop erosion. It presents strategies including river diversions and sediment piping on large and small scales, and land management techniques demonstrating that even private land owners can make a difference.

Christina Melton was the writer, director and senior producer. Liz Barnes was also a producer. The documentary was filmed and edited by Rex Fortenberry. According to Christina Melton, “For so long we've heard overly simplistic explanations of the problem and solutions to the problem. And so I really felt the need to do a very comprehensive explanation of why we are in the situation we're in.”

To truly understand why Turning the Tide has been selected for this prestigious award, you must watch it. The documentary is engaging, instructive and a terrific outreach tool to educate citizens and decision makers at every level about what is needed for comprehensive coastal restoration and the choices presented to stabilize Louisiana’s coastal zone and the Mississippi River delta.

Turning the Tide is just the latest programming LPB has added to their commendable work in educating citizens about conservation and environmental challenges facing us today and in the future. LPB plans to make the documentary available for viewing in PBS markets nationwide so more people will better understand what is at stake for not just coastal Louisiana, but the nation. 

From left to right: LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina; Tom Hess, Jr,; Fernando Albornoz, National Wildlife Federation. Photo by Ray Bordelon.

Thomas J. Hess, Jr.
2011 Professional Conservationist of the Year

With a height of approximately 5 feet, whooping cranes (so named because of their distinctive, loud, whooping calls) are by far the tallest and certainly one of the most interesting birds in North America. They are also one of the most endangered.

Before human interference, it is estimated there were as many as 20,000 whooping cranes in North America. Then in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, conversion of nesting habitat to agricultural acreage and unregulated hunting caused the whooping crane population to plummet. By 1941, their numbers had fallen to an all time low of 15 birds. All signs pointed towards the end of the great whooping crane.

The history of Louisiana’s resident “whoopers” follows a similar pattern. Whooping cranes had thrived in the marshes and ridges of our state’s southwest Chenier Coastal Plain and the upland prairie habitat to its north, for countless millennia. But on a sad day in March of 1950, the last lone surviving whooping crane in Louisiana was captured and removed from its home in the Vermilion Parish area now known as the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area.

Six decades later, in 2009, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the US Fish and Wildlife Service launched a long-range project to return this majestic bird to Louisiana. Through past experience it was recognized that this project would be long and difficult, so they looked for a project leader with a proven track record for bringing back endangered wildlife. They didn’t have to look very far.

Tom Hess had been working for LDWF at the Rockefeller Refuge for the past 20 years. Tom is an endangered species specialist who spent his entire career working on the successful restoration of bald eagles and brown pelicans in Louisiana. His experience was a perfect fit for the task of developing and implementing a comprehensive whooping crane repatriation and restoration program.

Tom had to start from scratch and as a first step, he assembled a team of experts from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; the US Fish and Wildlife Service; the US Dept. of Agriculture; Louisiana State University; the National Whooping Crane Recovery Team; the International Crane Foundation; and the Audubon Center for Research on Endangered Species.

After leading this team’s effort to develop a comprehensive design for the program, Tom and his team set out to identify the local stakeholders and gain their trust and consent. Numerous town meetings and individual visits were made with landowners, agricultural interests, the oil industry, elected officials, and the public, to share project details and gain consensus. Tom educated his staff to ensure that those who made these public contacts informed landowners and business owners of a key detail of the plan to categorize the new whooping crane population as a non-essential experimental population, which reduced federal restrictions associated with endangered species. The product of this effort was the broad-based enthusiastic public support for bringing home this long-lost Louisiana native.

Tom next led his team to devise a funding strategy followed by a very successful effort to raise private donations to help pay for his program.

Finally, on February 16, 2011, and again on December 1 last year, groups of whooping cranes arrived at their new home in the same area of White Lake where their long-lost ancestor lived many decades before. In less than two years under Tom’s leadership, after a 60 year absence, the call of the “whooper” could be heard in the marshes of southwest Louisiana once again. Secretary Robert Barham of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries proudly described it this way, “This is magical!”  Tom Hess’ dedication and hard work was crucial to bringing this Louisiana native bird home.


Dr. George Dugal could not attend the ceremony but sent a letter with these sentiments, "I would like to thank the Louisiana Wildlife Federation for giving me the Volunteer Conservationist Award Saturday night. You are the premiere wildlife organization in the state of Louisiana and this award mainly for work I have done with the smaller Louisiana Operation Game Thief organization really surprised me. It is deeply appreciated by me and will also be by the ... members when I explain to them what you'll have done for me and of course for them."

Dr. George Dugal, Jr.
2011 Volunteer Conservationist of the Year

Wildlife poaching is a serious and costly crime. The poaching of game, the illegal shooting of protected species, the destruction and degradation of wildlife habitat, all take a toll on Louisiana’s game and nongame wildlife species. Poachers not only rob legitimate sportsmen of game and fish, but also rob businesses and taxpayers of revenues generated by hunting and fishing, and they rob all of us of a valuable natural resource — our wildlife. Whether we are hunters, anglers, bird watchers, or just enjoy the occasional walk in the woods, poaching affects us all in a negative way.

Enforcement Agents with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries are highly trained professionals who are dedicated to their mission. They’re very good at what they do, but they can’t be in all places at all times. Without the cooperation of the public their efforts can never be expected to fully control the disregard some people have for our natural resources.

Louisiana Operation Game Thief is a non-profit organization funded and managed by volunteer sportsmen from around the state. Their mission is to eliminate poaching by encouraging members of the public to report wildlife crimes and by monitoring the judicial system to ensure that those who choose to defy our wildlife laws are properly prosecuted and adequately penalized.

Operation Game Thief (“O.G.T.”, as it’s known around the conservation community) was created in 1984 and Dr. George Dugal immediately recognized it for the important organization that it was, and for the opportunity that it presented for him to make a real contribution to Louisiana’s wildlife. He joined the organization right away, and has been a passionate leader and member of its board ever since. Dr. Dugal has spent most of his adult years working to create public awareness of the importance of environmental quality and natural resource conservation. On behalf of Operation Game Thief, he has written literally hundreds of letters to Judges, District Attorneys, Enforcement Agents and others, commending them for their role in apprehending, prosecuting, and punishing wildlife violators.

O.G.T. relies on donations to pay rewards to citizens who report wildlife crimes. Dr. Dugal’s efforts to identify and solicit donors to the program has enabled O.G.T. to payout well more than $250,000 in rewards.

Dr. George Dugal has been an avid conservationist all his life. He has given unselfishly of his time, energy, and talent, at his own personal expense, to the betterment of the wildlife of our state. His leadership, foresight, and imagination exhibited as a member and officer of Louisiana Operation Game Thief for nearly 30 years have contributed greatly to the conservation and preservation of Louisiana’s wildlife and wild habitats, and his volunteer spirit is an inspiration to us all.


From left to right: LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina; Cole Sevario, Cade Sevario, and Matthew Venable accepting on behalf of Amite River Preservation Association; and Fernando Albornoz, National Wildlife Federation. Photo by Ray Bordelon.

Amite River Preservation Association
2011 Youth Conservationists of the Year

It’s encouraging to know the ethic of conservation is being handed down and embraced by the next generation. The teenagers who started Amite River Preservation Association prove there is much to be hopeful for in the young people who follow us and will eventually become our leaders.

Founding members Grant Venable, Jacob Venable, Matthew Venable, Cade Sevario and Cole Sevario are high school students who grew up living near the Amite River in Greenwell Springs and spend their free time hunting deer, ducks, and turkey and fishing along the river. By Spring of 2011, they noticed the increasing amount of trash floating in this beautiful waterway. Grant Venable noted, “We were really motivated by our memories of how pretty the river was in the past. We figured someone had to pick it up and just do it”. That is how how the Amite River Preservation Association came to be organized.

In less than a year they secured a boat and purchased a motor to pick up trash along the banks. They also built a primitive launch to access the river that has also been used by local water rescue teams, created a website to show the progress of their efforts, assisted in clean-up of another local waterway, and engaged other volunteers to help. Their members removed more than 800 cubic feet of trash, including more than 200 pounds of aluminum cans, from the Amite River last year.

Last summer, volunteers, mostly youth, worked Saturday mornings, Sunday evenings and a few days a week to keep up with the trash that users, many of them people tubing on that part of the river, leave behind. Not wanting to send the boys out unsupervised, one of the fathers, Richard Venable, accompanied them on their outings. Each piece of trash is picked up one at a time and is often replaced the very next day by another piece. Their work is tedious, but they are undeterred. 

They have received recognition for their efforts by the Board of Commissioners of the Amite River Basin Drainage and Water Conservation District. Keep America Beautiful honored their efforts with the 2011 Youth Leadership Award and awarded the group a $2500 grant. They were selected as Citizens of the Year in the City of Central and given service awards from Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne.

Their stretch of the Amite River features beautiful bluffs and cliffs, lots of sandy white beaches, surrounded by hardwood forests teaming with wildlife. Archaeologists have found traces of Native American settlements along these banks. Richard Venable sees it this way, “We need to get people aware of what’s at stake if we continue to let it go. Many were here before us and what they left fascinates us.” The members of Amite River Preservation Association show us what a passion for conservation can do.


From left to right: LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina; Phil Precht, ConocoPhillips; Dave Cagnolatti, ConocoPhillips; Fernando Albornoz, National Wildlife Federation. Photo by Ray Bordelon.

2011 Conservation Corporation of the Year

The story of the whooping crane’s return to Louisiana in 2011 is exciting. Historically, both a resident and migratory population of whooping cranes were present in Louisiana through the early 1940s. And we haven’t had a flock since then until the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project brought in two different flocks to the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area last year.

The Department worked with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the US Geological Survey, the International Crane Foundation, and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit on the project. But it’s a costly program to run. Its success depends on cooperation from nearby communities, a robust outreach effort and financial support from many partners.

ConocoPhillips has been a key partner in the State’s whooping crane project through significant grant funding from ConocoPhillips’ SPIRIT of Conservation Migratory Bird Program at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The SPIRIT initiative provides grants for bird habitat conservation projects in areas where ConocoPhillips has an operating presence.

The first cohort of 10 juvenile cranes was delivered to the White Lake facility on February 16th in 2011, signaling the official start of the re-introduction effort. The Department could not have accomplished this start-up effort without ConocoPhillips’ contribution because the project’s funding model depends on one third of the overall project costs coming from corporate or private donors. A portion of ConocoPhillips’ grant funding was used in the first year for staff salaries and whooping crane pen materials.  A one and a half acre release pen was constructed at White Lake to hold, protect, and acclimate the arriving cranes. Starting the project with all the tools and manpower required is crucial to giving the cranes the best chance at long-term survival in their new – actually former – wetland habitat.

Simply put, the Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project is one of the most important North American wildlife conservation initiatives in progress today. The Department and the people of Louisiana are fortunate to have ConocoPhillips’ significant support as a partner in the initial stages of this effort.

ConocoPhillips is one of the largest private owners of wetlands in the US. The company owns nearly 640,000 acres in southeast Louisiana and over the past several years, has been involved in numerous coastal restoration initiatives. In coastal Louisiana, ConocoPhillips regularly provides access to its lands at no cost and works closely with government agencies and other groups on restoration projects. They must and do play a role in the overall management of the coastal zone of Sportsman’s Paradise. ConocoPhillips can be proud of helping bring back to Louisiana the magnificent whooping crane.


Left to right: LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina; Cindy Kilpatrick; and Fernando Albornoz, National Wildlife Federation. Photo by Ann B. Smith.

Cindy Kilpatrick
2011 Conservation Educator of the Year

After 34 years of teaching, Cindy Kilpatrick couldn’t be blamed, after her retirement last summer, for buying a new rocking chair and using it! But anyone that knows her history as an environmental educator would be surprised that she would simply retire  — especially former students who have benefited from her considerable skills and commitment as a teacher.

For the last eight years of her teaching career, Kilpatrick served as the environmental coordinator for Oil City Environmental Magnet School. In this role she coordinated an environmental festival at the end of each school year and planned hundreds of field trips for all grade levels—field trips that weren’t just outings but opportunities for hands-on learning. The school’s rating, reflecting students’ test scores after the adoption of an environmental science curriculum, improved from just over 40 percent in 1999 to over 98 percent in 2011.

 In 2010, as a result of the school’s success as a K-6 school, the Caddo Parish School Board voted to add 7th and 8th grades to the school so that students would have the opportunity to continue with their successful environmental activities. Also in 2010, Mrs. Kilpatrick, along with her principal, Mike Irvin, and her husband—the co-coordinator of Louisiana Project Learning Tree—presented the successes of Oil City’s environmental program at two science education conferences in Denver, Colorado. While there they visited Cal-Wood, an environmental education camp near Boulder, Colorado. Principal Irvin decided right then that he wanted to take some Oil City students to the camp. So the goal for the newly added 7th grade became a week-long trip to Cal-Wood.

Kilpatrick helped the kids raise $15,000 in just six month and by June 2011 the fifteen students who qualified for the trip had the money to go. This trip would prove to be a life-long memory of visits to museums and Pikes Peak and learning more about the Rocky Mountain region. For Kilpatrick, too, the Cal-Wood trip was the big event of the year, coming just a month before her retirement.

Before retiring, Kilpatrick led a fantastic Arbor Day program in which the students shipped off a Louisiana Forestry Box to the American Forest Foundation. Their box joined only four other state boxes to be displayed at the International Project Learning Tree Conference, where Kilpatrick was named one of the five 2011 Outstanding Educators by the National Project Learning Tree office.

During 2011 she also coordinated an Earth Day Education Event on Caddo Lake for 4th-6th graders, presented the Oil City environmental program at the Louisiana Environmental Education Symposium, worked with a Centenary College biology professor to pair college biology students with 7th graders, and finally took six 8th graders to the Regional National Science Teachers Association Conference in New Orleans to present a report of their Green Schools! Project.  This last conference was in November 2011, several months after Kilpatrick’s retirement, but it was a 2-year project and she wanted to see it to its conclusion, which included the students’ data gathering and recommendations for energy-saving measures for their school. The school actually instituted some of the recommendations, resulting in an 18 percent reduction in utility costs.

After officially retiring in 2011,Kilpatrick soon began a new position as state Project Learning Tree coordinator in January 2012. Once again she finds herself in a place where she can devote herself to environmental education. Louisiana’s children are the richer for her dedication.


LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina presents award to Lafourche Parish President Charlotte A. Randolph, along with presentation by Fernando Albornoz, National Wildlife Federation. Photo by Ray Bordelon.

Charlotte A. Randolph, Lafourche Parish President
2011 Conservationist of the Year, Elected Official

The state of Louisiana faced many challenges in 2011, not only from social issues such as economic hardship, national security threats and unemployment, but also from an environmental perspective. Our citizens endured the continued clean-up from the Deepwater Horizon incident, flooding from tropical storm Lee and the Mississippi River, continued uncertainty of the long-term effects of oil pollution in the Gulf, and the ever increasing loss of our coastal wetlands.

History tells us that great battles are not won simply by brute strength, but by a combination of strength, leadership and the will to persevere. Lafourche Parish, in the center of our state’s battle for coastal survival can certainly boast of having the “right combination” in the strength of its people, its unshaken pride, its deep-rooted heritage and its chosen leadership, headed by Parish President Charlotte A. Randolph.

In her career as Parish President, Mrs. Randolph has brought her dynamic style of leadership to the fight for conservation and met the challenges of 2011 head-on. Her experience managing the impact from hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike proved to be valuable in August 2011 when the area was faced with the first tropical weather threat on the Louisiana Coast since the 2010 oil spill. President Randolph increased pressure on BP and the Coast Guard to develop a contingency plan to help protect Lafourche’s weakened coastal shoreline and the fragile ecosystems behind them to prepare for the worst. As tropical storm Lee rolled westward on to Texas, just as she had expected, the back wash of the storm battered the beaches of southern Lafourche, exposing yet another round of oil from beneath the waves and dunes along with significant beach erosion which was quickly addressed thanks to her insight.

She is a familiar and respected face in the conservation and restoration community, serving as President of “PACE” (Parishes Against Coastal Erosion) since 2006. That same year she received the EPA’s prestigious “Gulf Guardian Award” for her achievements in improving  dialog between the coastal parishes, forming local government strategies and increasing public awareness about coastal erosion.

Randolph has also served on numerous national-level environmental committees and organizations including The Environment, Energy & Land Use Steering Committee, and is an active leader in the battle to restore the Gulf coast thru her participation in The National Association of Counties and the America’s Wetlands Foundation’s America’s Energy Coast Initiative and it’s Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities initiative.

Today, through the many “hats” she wears, President Randolph continues the fight for Louisiana’s struggle to overcome its unprecedented land loss challenges by seeking funding through increased offshore oil & gas revenues, and Louisiana’s fair share of the pending Deepwater Horizon fines, ideas for which she is personally and passionately committed to achieve.

She is recognized by her peers, the public, and the media for her leadership in conservation efforts, with accolades for her work from Governor Jindal, Senator Landrieu and officials in Washington, DC, including New Orleans Magazine’s  Top 10 Female Achievers list.  The Conservationist of the Year - Elected Official award adds to her many prestigious accomplishments on behalf of Lafourche Parish and the state of Louisiana.

From left to right: LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina; Red River NWR manager Pat Stinson; Nancy Menasco, President of Friends of Red RIver NWR; Fernando Albornoz, National Wildlife Federation; and Jerry Bertrand, Treasurer of Friends of Red River NWR. Photo by Ann B. Smith.

Friends of Red River National Wildlife Refuge
2011 Conservation Organization of the Year

Imagine a newly established National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) of over 13,000 acres, including parts of 5 parishes in northwest Louisiana, scattered over 120 miles along the Red River. Imagine that 450,000 citizens live in the direct vicinity of the Refuge, including children in need of environmental education and adults in need of both consumptive and non-consumptive outdoor recreation. And imagine that its contingent of full-time employees is exactly two, plus, at present, one term employee.

Now, imagine that this Refuge is hosting public outreach events, has a newly opened Visitors’ Center including exhibits and a nature store, and has renovated an old farm house to use as an educational and research center. And that’s just the beginning
Add in a small but committed army of volunteers called the Friends of Red River National Wildlife Refuge, and the impossible becomes possible.

Established in August 2005, Friends of Red River NWR members and volunteers have contributed more than 10,000 hours of work, received more than $200,000 in funding from various sources, and partnered with 35 organizations to benefit Red River National Wildlife Refuge. They have been active in promoting the Refuge, engaging children in on-the-ground projects and educational programs, and assisting staff with maintenance and renovation of facilities and visitor services improvements.

During 2011 the Friends group accomplished several milestones, including the completion of the project renovating a 1930s farm house on the Bayou Pierre unit of the Refuge. They organized many workdays for their own volunteers as well as corporate partners from Shell Oil and Questar/QEP Energy plus youth volunteers from middle and senior high schools.

The brand new Visitor Center at the headquarters unit of the Refuge includes a nature shop that is managed and staffed by Friends putting in volunteer hours. Volunteers also funded taxidermy mounts of bird species in the exhibit area as well as landscaping for the Visitor Center.

Public outreach is a specialty of this group, with programs in 2011 including Breakfast with the Birds, Night Sounds on the Refuge, International Migratory Bird Day, the Big Sit bird count, and the annual Rail Rope Drag and Bird Walk. Annually, for the last seven years, the Friends of Red River has sponsored and organized the Red River National Wildlife Refuge Celebration, which now includes the Louisiana Natural Treasures Art in Nature student art contest and exhibit. The group also paid for travel for teachers and Friends members to attend the Louisiana Environmental Education Symposium, and paid for two members to attend the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Conserving the Future conference in Madison, Wisconsin, in July 2011, when a new vision for the Refuge System was ratified.

Advocacy for the National Wildlife Refuge system and its associated habitats and species has been a major function of the Friends of Red River NWR. During 2011 the group submitted testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives in support of the National Wildlife Refuge System and requesting full funding in such areas as maintenance, state wildlife grants, wetlands conservation, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Ongoing projects include Backpacks for Birders, development of a Bird-finding Guide to the Refuge, implementation of a Nature of Learning citizen science project, photographic documentation of fauna, and bird surveys. Members are responsible for running the Refuge’s Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship program and conducting weekly shorebird/waterbird surveys. Such mundane activities as mowing grass and keeping bird feeders filled at the Visitor Center are some of the everyday duties of Friends members, along with leading educational and public use activities.

Without these and other volunteer efforts by the Friends of Red River National Wildlife Refuge, many of the most valuable functions of the Refuge would not be fulfilled.  With these volunteer efforts, staff can focus on resource management without sacrificing visitor services and environmental education. Imagining what a Friends group can really do for a national wildlife refuge is easy to see in action every day at Red River NWR.

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