Vanishing Paradise 2010-2012

 The collaboration that created the Vanishing Paradise (VP) campaign began in 2009 to reach out to sportsmen and women across the country to strengthen support for restoration of the Mississippi River Delta.  Vanishing Paradise is about America’s sportsmen and women joining together to demand the reconnection between the river with its wetlands and the reconstruction of the delta’s marshes, wetlands, cypress forests and barrier islands. As the Mississippi River Delta’s wetlands disappear, Louisiana is losing the habitats that support world-class hunting and fishing opportunities that the state is known for. By reaching out to the people around the country who utilize these hunting and fishing grounds, Vanishing Paradise is connecting people to action, collaborating with new partners, and lifting up more voices for Louisiana’s coastal restoration.

In 2010, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Ducks Unlimited (DU) and Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) began working together to nationalize the issue of coastal restoration through the following means:  

·         Staff working within the campaign and with volunteers in Louisiana and several states asked hunters and anglers to talk to other sportsmen women and their own congressional representatives about Louisiana’s coastal land loss and the need to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands by reconnecting it to the Mississippi River.  This targeted effort to sportsmen worked along with and in addition to the joint initiative of National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, and National Audubon Society to move large coastal restoration projects in the Mississippi River Delta from planning to action.

·         More than 750 businesses and organizations have signed Vanishing Paradise’s Letter to Congress urging them to support funding for large-scale land building restoration projects in coastal Louisiana including the businesses and organizations Duck Commander, B.A.S.S. Inc, Mercury Outboards and Yeti Coolers. In addition, most of the national sportsmen organizations have signed on in support, including the American Sportsfishing Association, International Game Fish Association, and Orion: The Hunters Institute.

·         In Louisiana alone, 168 businesses and organizations signed the Letter to Congress in support; however, the majority of signers are from outside the state. This broad support played a role in drawing attention to Louisiana’s coastal restoration needs as Congress debated the response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico through legislation such as the RESTORE Act and as President Obama’s administration considered how best to manage the process of penalties, fees and fines resulting from the oil spill and subsequent restoration work.  The show of support from sportsmen and businesses from around the nation also helped bolster support at the state level in 2012 as the state’s administration sought approval from the Louisiana Legislature for its most comprehensive coastal master plan to date.

·         Following the BP oil spill in 2010, Vanishing Paradise gave sportsmen around the country who were concerned about damage to wildlife, fisheries, and migratory waterfowl habitat along the northern Gulf coast an avenue for action as the discussion and decision-making process began on how to make the Gulf coast whole. This included two tele-town hall meetings with over 20,000 hunters and anglers listening in to NWF CEO Larry Schweiger and DU’s Dale Hall provide the latest updates and how to take action. The state of Louisiana, which took the brunt of the oil pollution, already had a planning process for restoring its coast and these restoration plans have proven crucial to a long-term response to the spill’s impact along Louisiana’s deteriorating coast. Vanishing Paradise provided updates on that process in 2011 and 2012.

Vanishing Paradise showed its most significant achievement to date in 2012 by educating people about the details of the RESTORE Act and helping galvanize people to speak out about the need for restoration after the oil spill and the long-term value of restoring the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana. 

·         VP conducted a congressional briefing with more than 100 congressional staff in attendance timed with a fly-in of volunteers that was crucial in getting the RESTORE Act added to the Transportation Act where it was ultimately passed.  Staff members and volunteers encouraged people throughout the process to contact congressional representatives. Thousands of people from around the country signed cards in support of the RESTORE Act, which were delivered to Congress.  These signatures were gathered in places that ranged from local boat shows to the Bassmaster Classic, and through presentations to civic organizations and visits with business leaders. 

·         In addition to postcards, hunters and anglers sent in thousands of emails, wrote opinion editorials and letters to the editor, and made phone calls.  Vanishing Paradise’s ability to reach across both sides of the aisle and help iron out many of the last minute details was part of the success in bringing together crucial support to back restoration of coastal Louisiana. Through its network of supporters the Vanishing Paradise campaign played a key role in the passing of the RESTORE Act.

In 2012 Vanishing Paradise began establishing a conservation pro-staff of 31 volunteers to be ambassadors across the country.  Many outdoors businesses have a pro-staff, but this is the first time a conservation group has used the idea to bring together a team of advocates to reach other sportsmen and women through outdoor shows, op-eds, and fundraisers.

·         VP’s pro-staff will educate elected officials through phone calls, in-district meetings and possible fly-ins to Washington to engage Gulf Coast Restoration Council when and where appropriate.  Already in 2013, pro-staff member Sonny Schindler in Mississippi testified at a meeting, as did youth member Sean Turner at a New Orleans hearing on the RESTORE Act and Louisiana’s Coastal Restoration Annual Plan. Five of Vanishing Paradise’s pro-staff members reside in Louisiana.  

Vanishing Paradise has been effective in using social media to reach more people and gaining statewide and national media attention on coastal restoration in Louisiana.

·         The website, www.vanishingparadise.org, features video of anglers fishing in areas of coastal Louisiana experiencing wetland loss and describing not just the impact of the loss but highlighting the value of the resource. Updates on the progress of key legislation, notice of public meetings, and links to news articles and video are sent out via Twitter, Facebook, and/or email blast almost daily.

·         In 2012, Vanishing Paradise helped host writers from Field and Stream and Outdoor Life in Plaquemines Parish, resulting in a web series on Louisiana’s coast and several other news stories.  Similarly, VP worked with writers from In Fisherman, North American Fisherman, North American Hunter and others who came to Louisiana in 2011. In 2010, writers and editors from Wildfowl magazine, Peterson's Hunting, and Dan Small outdoors were hosted on VP trips to see Louisiana’s coastal zone. A PBS station from Wisconsin also came to Louisiana and produced a story on the oil spill and coastal restoration.

In 2012, Vanishing Paradise established an Advisory Council of 13 volunteers who will give advice to VP on communication, political strength, and fundraising. The Council is comprised of some of the top names in the outdoor media and outdoor industry and will also help engage in educating members of congress through phone calls, in district meetings, fly-ins, and op-eds.  

 Vanishing Paradise team from 2009 to 2012:

·         Land Tawney, National Wildlife Federation’s Senior Manager for Sportsmen Leadership, managed the outreach planning and strategy and guided the team of people working on Vanishing Paradise in Louisiana and along the Mississippi River flyway.  

·         NWF’s field staff members Andy McDaniels in Oklahoma and Ben Weber in Louisiana worked on national outreach to corporate contacts  and brought the message of Louisiana’s coastal restoration needs to boat and fishing shows and other outdoor shows up and down the Mississippi River and Central flyways.  Their work helped establish a constituency of over 750 national and local supporters in the outdoor industry and outdoor media. They delivered the message of coastal restoration to hundreds of thousands people  through stories in national magazines and television shows, and radio programs across the country as well as features on the largest outdoor internet media sites.

·         Ducks Unlimited staffer Bart James based in Washington DC helped set-up meetings with key congressional members and organize the congressional briefing, and helped elevate the issue within DU’s membership. 

·         Louisiana Wildlife Federation’s coastal outreach coordinator, Chris Macaluso, worked closely in Vanishing Paradise’s effort in Louisiana to gather thousands of names of supporters and recruited 168 businesses and organizations from Louisiana to sign the Sportsmen’s Letter to Congress. His work generated more than a hundred radio or TV interviews and news articles about coastal restoration and sportsmen-related issues. In addition, he worked with agency staffers at the state and federal level on key coastal planning issues and attended public meetings. LWF's staff and volunteer have played a significant role in identifying and giving voice to local anglers and sportsmen.

 2013 is proving to be another year where support for significant coastal restoration in Louisiana requires vigilance and engagement in the process of planning, funding and implementation.  Through Vanishing Paradise, people who value Louisiana as a Sportsman’s Paradise can participate in a meaningful way wherever they live. Louisiana’s coastal wetlands are too important not to engage everybody possible to work toward our common goal of sustainability, resiliency, protection and restoration of Louisiana’s coast and the Mississippi River delta.