The 52nd Governor’s State Conservation Achievement Awards Program, hosted by Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF), celebrated six individuals, an education program, an organization and a business for their outstanding achievement in natural resource conservation in 2015 at a banquet held on Saturday, April 2, 2016 at Embassy Suites Hotel in Baton Rouge.

LWF President Barney Callahan presented each award along with Secretary Charles “Charlie” Melancon of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries representing Governor John Bel Edwards. State Representative Jerome “Zee” Zeringue of Houma served as master of ceremonies.

The awards are presented jointly by Louisiana Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation and the program is endorsed by Governor Edwards. The selections were made from among nominations submitted from the public by a panel of independent judges with expertise in a wide range of conservation fields. Photos by Teri Henry.

Banquet Sponsors were Shell Pipeline Company, LP; Land Trust for Louisiana; Warren and Jodie Singer; Van Kerrebrook & Associates, P.C.; Volks Constructors, LLC; Barney and Donna Callahan; Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana; Marsh Dog, LLC; Rapides Wildlife Association; T. Baker Smith LLC; Delacroix Corporation; Jim and Barbara Dodds; East Ascension Sportsman’s League; Cint and Virginia Mouser; Bob and Norma Stewart; and Edgar F. Veillon.

Danica Williams, Governor’s Award – Conservationist of the Year for 2015 

Danica Williams works as the Fisheries Extension Program Manager of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, leading programs to promote recreational fishing enjoyment and education. In 2015 Danica and her staff organized five Family Fish Fests, events for all ages that include fishing instruction and education on water environments, conservation, and career opportunities. Outside of her job, Danica is also volunteer leader and founder of the Wish to Fish Foundation, which in 2015 provided fishing opportunities to children with disabilities; children of deployed active duty parents; and young boys who have lost their fathers to violence, natural causes or long-term incarceration being raised by a single mother. Wish to Fish teamed up with Belle Chasse Academy in April 2015, the Son of a Saint Foundation in June 2015, and the Miracle League of Greater New Orleans in July 2015 to provide a day on the water or along the shore that these children might not otherwise be able to access.

Christopher Reid, Professional Conservationist of the Year – 2015 

Southwest Louisiana once had an estimated 2.5 million acres in coastal prairie, located just inland from the coastal marsh. Less than 3,000 acres of coastal prairie remain in Louisiana today. As the State Botanist for Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Natural Heritage program since 2002, Christopher Reid has dedicated his career to conserving Louisiana’s flora and imperiled habitats. Since 2010 he has focused on conserving the coastal prairies of southwest Louisiana and it is a priority area for the Department. Chris has worked with private landowners in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes to conserve and restore coastal prairies on their property, helping to conserve critically endangered coastal prairies in Louisiana and preventing its extinction. In 2014, Chris obtained grants to conduct research and stewardship on coastal prairie remnants. During 2015, Chris’s coastal prairie project accomplished prescribed burning on more than 1,000 acres. Chris’s colleagues describe him as the top technical expert on botany in Louisiana and successful at building partnerships. He volunteers with Louisiana’s Master Gardener program and teaches taxonomy. He lives his passion for botany on the job and as a volunteer.

Pamela Kay Connery, Volunteer Conservationist of the Year – 2015 

Pamela Kay Connery is the founder and volunteer executive director of the Louisiana Bobcat Refuge, located in Eunice.  It’s the only rehabilitation and refuge center for bobcats and other felids in the state, and one of only a few in the nation.  For more than eight years, Pamela Kay has devoted her time to caring for bobcats, to provide a safe place to be rehabilitated or, if they could not re-enter the wild, provide a safe home to live peacefully. Currently she is one of less than twenty who are certified to handle bobcats, as well as being a permitted rehabilitator by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The refuge is supported by the expertise of four veterinarians, volunteers and donors. The Refuge team offers free pickup and relocation for bobcats anywhere in the state.  The Refuge also offers haven to small exotic felids from zoos around the state that are retiring from public life.

Taylor Renee Wagner, Youth Conservationist of the Year – 2015 

Taylor Renee Wagner, a senior at E.D. White Catholic High School in Thibodaux, is an active environmental steward at her school and in her community. Besides academic success and membership in multiple organizations, Taylor spends the majority of her time on the school’s Ecology Club, which she founded in her sophomore year. Taylor has volunteered with the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, representing E.D. White High School at numerous programs and events, including the Marine Debris Prevention Program. She volunteers with the program in cleaning up trash from the estuary, planting vegetation to curb land loss, and going to fairs and programs to educate people on recycling and litter. She is a counselor at the summer programs put on by the Jean Lafitte National Park Service in Thibodaux, as well as serving on the planning team for the Wetlands Youth Summit.  Taylor has also been active in raising local awareness about the number one danger to marine life, which is discarded fishing line.

ORA Estuaries, Business Conservationist of the Year – 2015

Artificial oyster reefs are becoming a popular means of combating damaging storm surges and waves. Oysters are also an important part of the seafood industry in Louisiana. Tyler Ortego’s company, ORA Estuaries, has a solution for both coastal erosion and dwindling oyster habitat by offering the company’s patented product, OysterBreak. It’s a stackable ring of concrete and oyster shell that is placed along the coastline to help prevent erosion while also serving as a breeding ground for oysters. The concrete cylinders help protect the coast from storm surge. They can be stacked as high and as wide as needed for any project. The rings also have an oyster substrate to attract oysters. Once established, the oyster grow creating a thick wall of shell, providing further protection to the coast. OysterBreak can be found currently working along Louisiana’s coast in Cameron, Vermilion, St. Mary, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes. In 2014 ORA Estuaries won the Water Challenge business pitch competition at Entrepreneur Week in New Orleans. In 2015 they won New Orleans Entrepreneur Week’s Big Idea competition. Accepting the award for ORA Estuaries is Tyler Ortego.

LDWF’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Program, Conservation Educator of the Year for 2015 

Each year, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) program offers women specialty courses that cover hunting and shooting, fishing, and non-harvest activities like paddling, camping, photography, and camp cooking. LDWF’s first BOW workshop held in September 1994 was a sellout and has a waiting list due to its popularity. Testimonials from participants describe the unity and fellowship that flourishes at these workshops along with appreciation for increased outdoor skills. Stephanie Herrmann, volunteer kayak instructor, wrote in her nomination letter, “It’s rare that state agencies are recognized as we often see this as ‘their job’, but the women of BOW feel that this event goes well beyond mandatory governmental service and moves into the realm of changing lives.” Accepting the award on behalf of LDWF’s Becoming an Outdoors-Woman is program coordinator Dana Norsworthy.

Representative Gene Reynolds, Conservationist of the Year – Elected Official 2015 

In 2012, an uncontrolled explosion at Camp Minden rocked the small community nearby and soon people realized there were millions of pounds of chemicals and explosives improperly stored and exposed to the weather at Camp Minden. When the US EPA and the state of Louisiana agreed to clean up the propellant using an open burn method, local community members objected. In 2015, Representative Gene Reynolds quickly became an early and vocal spokesperson for the concerns of the community about how the disposal of the highly volatile chemicals would impact the area using an open burn process. He engaged Louisiana’s congressional delegation members and contacted state and federal agencies. Reynolds wrote letters to the editor of area newspapers and candidly explained and criticized aspects of the process at the state and federal level. Representative Reynolds served on EPA’s Minden Dialogue Committee along with members of the community. He filed a resolution in the 2015 legislative session to stop the open burn at Camp Minden. Within months, EPA and the State agreed to use the more costly but safer closed burn method. In February 2016, the equipment to conduct safe disposal arrived at Camp Minden. Representative Reynolds is seeking to protect all of Louisiana’s citizens by promoting a ban on open burning of munitions in Louisiana.

Bo Boehringer, Conservation Communicator of the Year – 2015 

Bo Boehringer recently retired from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as public information officer for the Office of Wildlife after a 23-year career in state government. He capped his career by leading a robust public awareness campaign to educate the public about the re-introduction of whooping cranes to Louisiana, their historic native habitat. With an increase in random shootings, it became more urgent to remind citizens of the presence of whooping cranes and the need to observe them from a distance, and ask for the public’s help in alerting the department about efforts to harm the cranes. Under Bo’s direction and planning, the department produced and ran TV ads and billboard ads in areas where cranes were known to move. Radio ads were produced and run statewide. Bo utilized the department’s website, Facebook page, and in-house publications to boost whooping crane messaging. His work on the Whooping Crane Public Awareness campaign earned a 2015 Award of Excellence from the Southern Public Relations Federation. He is a member of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association and Public Relations Association of Louisiana.

Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Conservation Organization of the Year – 2015 

Louisiana is the largest producer and consumer of oysters in America. Yet all that production and consumption comes at a cost, termed an “oyster shell deficit”.  Oyster shells get disposed of inland, away from the oyster reefs where they are needed to rebuild reefs.  Seeking to reverse this, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana established its Oyster Shell Recycling Program in 2014. It started with twelve New Orleans restaurants and Coalition members volunteered to collect 800 tons of shells that were left over from these restaurants instead of being discarded like garbage.  Then, with permission and assistance from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the program deposited the collected oyster shells into a designated reef. In 2015 the program collected more shells from twenty-six restaurants in the New Orleans area. The collections from 2015 alone were enough to build a reef off of Biloxi Marsh a half-mile long. This amount made the Coalition’s Oyster Shell Recycling the largest shell recycling in the nation. For comparison, a program based in Maryland recycled 700 tons from more than 230 restaurants.  The Coalition plans to increase shell collection in 2016 and expand collection to the Baton Rouge area.  Jimmy Frederick and Deborah Visco Abibou accepted the award on behalf of the organization.

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation is a statewide conservation education and advocacy organization. Established in 1940, it is affiliated with the National Wildlife Federation and represents a broad constituency of conservationists including hunters, anglers, campers, birders, boaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts.

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