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Environmental Specialist Heads Cast of Top Conservation Award Winners

March 15, 2008 12:00 AM

Senior Environmental Specialist, Chris M. Piehler with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was honored Saturday evening (March 15) 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 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.

Chris M. Piehler

The award, a handsome statuette of a bald eagle, was presented at the 44th Conservation Achievement Recognition Banquet held at the Holiday Inn in New Iberia where the Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) convened for its 69th Annual Meeting.  The awards were presented by Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, Robert Barham representing Governor Bobby Jindal, and Dr. Earl Matthew, Region 8 Director of the National Wildlife Federation.

Piehler of Baton Rouge was recognized for his outstanding performance in managing DEQ's Mercury Program and developing the state's Mercury Risk Reduction Plan, including abatement measures that will help to reduce mercury contamination in the environment and citizen exposure to toxic levels and forms of this common earth element.  Through his efforts, the public is much more aware of Louisiana's mercury problem and the state has taken significant steps to address it.

Six other individuals, an organization and a business were also recognized by the LWF for their outstanding conservation achievements in 2007.  They are:

John A. Lopez of Springfield, coastal scientist and Director of the Coastal Sustainability Program of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, for pioneering the now widely accepted Coastal Lines of Defense strategy for restoring and protecting Louisiana's coast;

Carrie Brown of Prairieville, Ascension 4-H Shooting Sports Instructor, for organizing and providing shotgun, rifle and pistol instruction to the youth of Ascension Parish;

Eagle Scout John Hooper of Prairieville for leading fellow Scouts in a project to build wood duck nesting boxes for placement on a state wildlife refuge;

Forest Capital Partners, LLC for making over 99,000 acres of forestland available for public hunting through the state's Wildlife Management Area Program at no charge, and for donating services and materials to develop Physically Challenged Wheelchair Confined hunting areas on the 3 WMAs under its ownership - West Bay, Sabine and Clear Creak;

Harry Hurst Middle School science teacher Barry J. Guillot of Luling for his innovations in service-learning with the now famous LaBranche Wetland Watchers Program participated in by over 1200 5th thru 8th grade students each year;

Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte for shepherding the development and improvement of Lake End Park for public outdoor recreation and spearheading a cleanup and beatification campaign earning Morgan City a cleanest city designation;

The Advocate outdoor editor and co-host of "Paradise Louisiana," Joe Macaluso of Baton Rouge, for maintaining the traditions of the "Sportsman's Paradise" with two full pages of outdoor reporting a week, and weekly television programming bringing the outdoors into the living rooms of families throughout the Capitol Region and the state, highlighting the critical conservation issues of the day;

The Acadiana Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council, for its promotion and development of the Louisiana Native Plant Initiative and habitat enhancement programs for bobwhite quail and grassland birds, and other community-based conservation initiatives.

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation is a statewide conservation education and advocacy organization with over 10,000 members and 25 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.

Conservation Award Winners-2008

Conservation Award Winners - 2008

John A. Lopez, Ph. D.- Professional Conservationist of the Year

Dr. Lopez directs the Coastal Sustainability Program for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.  He is a coastal scientist, professional geologist, and a native Louisianan, having grown up hunting, fishing and exploring the outdoors.  This experience nourished the vision which led him to conceive and develop the now widely excepted "Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy" for restoring and protecting Louisiana?s coast, an idea magnificent in its intuitive simplicity.  It's about geologic processes and how Native Americans and the first Europeans lived on this productive, but squishy, landscape.  It's about barrier islands and oyster reefs and the slope of the shelf.  It's about ridges deposited by sediment carried by bayous and rivers reaching out and along the coast, and the forests of willow, cypress and hackberry that followed them, and the once vast intertidal wetlands.  It's about looking at the way it was and the way it is, and how to compromise with Nature so that we can still live and work in a place we love.  John will tell you, it's not rocket science.  It's really just common sense conservation, but far from common in our modern-day society.

While many projects have been proposed and debated in developing a plan to protect and sustain Louisiana?s coastal resources, Dr. Lopez has taken action.  The Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy to Sustain Coastal Louisiana Report of which Lopez was the principle architect, was completed in 2007.  The Report recommends integrated coastal projects and levee alignments for the entire coast of Louisiana with the overriding goal of improving hurricane flood protection and sustaining coastal estuaries.  The Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy has been adopted by the state of Louisiana and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as the preferred strategy to select and manage projects designed to protect and improve Louisiana's coastal ecology.

Dr. Lopez's restoration strategy includes sediment source diversions, marsh creation, shoreline protection, barrier island restoration, and oyster reef restoration.  A multiple regional levee approach is also proposed which would protect both communities and coastal resources from the damaging effects of hurricanes.

Dr. Lopez was instrumental in the Corps of Engineers' decision to close the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet channel to better protect against hurricane storm surges.  He worked tirelessly with the Corps and groups such as the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation to develop a plan for implementing the closure which is scheduled to be initiated this year.

Carrie Brown - Volunteer Conservationist of the Year

The future of conservation depends on our youth. Recognizing this, Carrie Brown has done much to develop our future conservationists and conservation leaders.  Mrs. Brown is a certified shooting instructor for the Ascension Parish 4-H Club Shooting Team.  The team's primary mission is to educate 4-H members 9 to 16 years of age in the safe and competent handling and use of firearms.

Under Mrs. Brown?s guidance, the team has aimed for more than just targets.  She has expanded the mission of the shooting team to include a broad spectrum of conservation activities. Under her leadership the team participated in the construction of wood duck boxes and were instructed in the ecology of the wood duck.  They built over 45 bird feeders and worked with the CCA to learn about fish tagging and the biological information that can be obtained by tagging and tracking fish.

A field trip to LSU's deer research facility educated the group about antler growth, ageing deer, food preferences of deer and deer conservation.  A licensed trapper gave the team an introduction in trapping and why it is important to both the fur industry and the trapped species.  Coastal erosion issues and the roles of government and the public in working on this serious problem have also been presented to the 4-H members.

As a certified shooting sports instructor, Carrie Brown is knowledgeable in all aspects of shooting sports.  She uses her knowledge very effectively in the instruction and training of her students.  Her patience and dedication insures that these students will grow into ardent conservationists.

John Hooper - Youth Conservationist of the Year

Earning the elite rank of Eagle, the highest a Boy Scout can achieve and attained by only 4% of all scouts, is no small feat.  It takes dedication, determination, perseverance and hard work.  A scout must master many skills and complete rigorous requirements for a variety of merit badges on his path to Eagle Scout.  The importance of understanding nature is evident in merit badges such as camping, hiking and environmental science that are included in a scout's Eagle requirements.  An Eagle Scout candidate must also provide leadership in an approved service project of his own choosing.  And when John Hooper chose his service project, something fowl was in the air ... waterfowl, that is - specifically wood ducks.

As the public service part of his Eagle scout training, John chose the design and building of twelve wood duck boxes that will be placed in a state wildlife refuge to replace boxes and natural nesting cavities destroyed by recent hurricanes.  His project was done by a team of scouts that he organized and led.  John also participated in the Ascension Parish Trash Bash, an event sponsored by the Keep Ascension Beautiful Committee and the Ascension Parish President's office.  John played his part by picking up litter around the parish for proper disposal.

Forest Capital Partners, LLC - Conservation Corporation of the Year 

Louisiana in blessed with one of the best wildlife management area systems in the country.  Over 1.2 million acres are in the system. Privately owned land comprises 263 thousand acres and is under long term free leases to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  The rest of the WMA's are owned by the state. Approximately one third of the privately owned WMA land is under a lease agreement with Forest Capital Partners, LLC.  The property makes up portions of the West Bay, Sabine and Clear Creek wildlife management areas.  The terms of the 25 year free lease agreement grants the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries the right to manage the wildlife resources on these lands while Forest Capital Partners manages the land for sustainable and renewable timber production. All Forest Capital resources operations are staffed by professional foresters.  Management of the timber resources is under a rigorous set of standards subject to third party audits to insure that the guidelines for sustainable timber resource management are met.

Forest Capital Partners has gone far beyond their obligations under the terms of the lease.  The company actively works in partnership with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on many projects to increase and improve public use of the lands under lease.  Forest Capital Partners allows portions of its lands to be dedicated to provide accommodations for physically challenged wheelchair confined outdoorsmen and women.  Forest Capital Partners cleared food plot openings, built roads and built stand locations at their cost. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries built special stands designed to accommodate wheelchairs. In addition, Forest Capital Partners and the Department worked together to develop a system of low maintenance roads which also accommodates physically challenged ATV users.

While Forest Capital Partners primary mission is the production of timber products, they have given and continue to give freely of their time and equipment to make these projects happen.  The company's genuine interest in enhancing public enjoyment of their lands creates high standards for other private landowners in similar lease agreements.

Barry Guillot - Conservation Educator of the Year

Among the friends of LaBranche and other wetlands, this award-winning educator has risen to the top of the list.  Barry Guillot is a seventh grade science teacher at the Hurst middle school in St. Charles Parish and the founder of the Hurst Middle LaBranche Wetland Watchers.  The remarkable effort that the students and project partners put forth each year through their work in the community and the surrounding wetlands has provided positive benefits to the education of St. Charles Parish students, improvements in the local environment and greater public awareness of wetland issues.  The efforts of his students are nationally recognized including in publications such as the School Administrator Magazine, the Scholastic Administrator Magazine, area newspapers and a special recognition in the new 8th grade Louisiana History text book.  A video documentary of the work of the Wetland Watchers was produced by the George Lucas Foundation and recognized by the Foundation as one of its top videos.  Wetland Watcher participants have appeared on Radio Disney's Kids Concerns Talk Show twice and worked with Disney specialists to produce a public service announcement about wetlands which ran for two months.

The many projects and accomplishments of the LaBranche Wetland Watchers are far too numerous to all be mentioned here, but some of them are:

  • Provided over 60,000 hours of volunteer service to the wetlands;
  • Planted over 2800 trees;
  • Involved over 6000 students in wetland awareness programs;
  • Over 150 students earned Presidential Volunteer Service Awards;
  • Spoke to over 165,000 adults and children through outreach events;
  • Collected over 1700 bags of trash and truckloads of junk from an area they adopted;
  • Spoke to 2500 people from all 50 states and 42 countries while accepting the National Youth Leadership Council?s Excellence in Service Learning Award in Philadelphia;
  • Planted 180 cypress trees grown on the LSU campus with the assistance of Dow Chemical and LSU personnel;
  • Conducted a water quality clarity survey on the near shore waters of Lake Ponchartrain;
  • Participated in many outreach events such as Earth Day in Baton Rouge, the Storm Warning II event at City Park in New Orleans and the Storm Warning III event at the port of New Orleans;
  • Were instrumental in securing a $40,000 grant from Dow Chemical to construct a boardwalk and other improvements on land adopted by the students 10 years ago.

Their awards and national recognitions are too numerous to list.

Barry Guillot was honored with the St. Charles Parish Citizen of the Year award by the Rotary club for his work in the community.  He has been honored as one of eight Louisiana citizens to receive a 2007 Louisiana Angel award sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.  The award came with a $20,000 donation toward projects in progress.  He was one of eight people honored with a 2007 New Orleans Saints Community Award of $5,000.  He also has earned many other recognitions - both local and national.  The work of the Hurst Middle LaBranche Wetland Watchers has united their local community and has brought national attention to the issues concerning Louisiana wetlands.

Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte - Conservationist of the Year(Elected Official Category)

Morgan City Mayor Tim Matte is an avid advocate of outdoor recreation and has dedicated much of his time to improving his city's recreation facilities and environment during his three terms.  Early in his first term, Mayor Matte recognized that Lake End Park, originally established in the 1920s, was in serious need of a major restoration.  He made this one of the top priorities of his administration and under his leadership the park has been transformed and is now one of the busiest parks in the state.  The first phase was the replacement of the Park's outdated electrical and utilities infrastructure.  The Mayor was successful in brokering an agreement with FEMA to contribute the infrastructure in exchange for temporary use of the site for FEMA trailers.  RV sites were built and a maintenance building and equipment were provided. The Park has over 75 RV sites, pavilions, a tent camping area, large open spaces, a sand beach, a walking trail and a conference center.

The Lake End Parkway which runs along Lake Palourde was in danger from erosion from the lake side.  Mayor Matte worked with the Corp of Engineers on a project to build up the threatened area with dredged material from the Atchafalaya River.  Fifty-two acres with a rock dike retaining wall were created by this project.  Again, the Mayor brokered an agreement with FEMA to improve the area in exchange for temporary use.  After eighteen months, the park was ready to accommodate RV's.  Over 200 cypress and live oak trees have been planted on the area.  Plans for construction of cabins at Lake End Parkway were approved and construction will begin this year.

To improve recreational opportunities for children, the city constructed two playgrounds under the elevated highway bridge.  The playground is the beginning of a trail which loops around the city.  A special needs playground was provided to serve the needs of handicapped children.  A fifteen million dollar interpretative center to be located across the street from Lake End Park has been planned and funding has been secured in the Water Resources Development Act.

The Mayor has spearheaded numerous cleanups resulting in massive amounts of trash picked up from area waterways.  These and other efforts resulted in Morgan City winning a clean city award.  The Mayor worked with Cajun Coast Tourism to bring in 200 people for a seminar on Bald Eagles and observation of dozens of nesting pairs in the surrounding swamps and lakes.

The Mayor actively seeks public input and participation in his many projects.  He serves on the board of directors of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and is an articulate spokesman for Louisiana and an advocate of coastal restoration.  He has a vision for the betterment of the State and is passionate about it.

Joe Macaluso - Conservation Communicator of the Year

When it comes to the hunting and fishing beat, The Advocate reporter Joe Macaluso has it covered from top to bottom.  His outdoor page on Thursdays and Sundays are eagerly read by the hunting and fishing public.  His enthusiasm and commentary keeps all informed about the latest issues; where the deer are moving and the fish are biting around the state.  Wherever outdoor issues are debated, Macaluso is there to report the outcome and keep his audiences informed.  His grasp of technical issues and the ability to communicate them in understandable terms makes him a relied-on news source.

In addition to his work at The Advocate, Joe Macaluso has for six years been the co-host of the state and regional TV show, "Paradise Louisiana."   He also has a weekly segment on WBRZ Channel 2 News.  Through these and other efforts, he makes a significant contribution to everyone's enjoyment of our State's great outdoors.

Some recent examples of Macaluso's work include his coverage of the campaign to acquire and reopen Elmer's Island for public use, a high priority of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.  The closing of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet has gotten a lot of attention from Macaluso.  He has kept us all focused on the critical need for this project to go forward.  His coverage of the issue of diminishing public access to state lands and waters has helped to focus public attention on this problem and keep the concern in front of government officials.

Macaluso has always devoted a lot of coverage to youth hunting and fishing, bringing the need to increase these opportunities to the forefront.  His detailed calendar of outdoor events helps to keep us on schedule and increases public participation in these important meetings and activities.

Some examples of Joe Macaluso's recent coverage of outdoor and conservation issues are:

  • A three part series about the impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita on wildlife and its habitat, seafood and its habitat, and the financial challenges in the wake of these storms;
  • Restocking of black bass in area water bodies by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries;
  • Grand Isle's recovery from the hurricanes and the rebuilding of its fishing economy;
  • The state's only native duck - the mottled duck;
  • Storm impact on invasive species.

Macaluso is always willing to publicize worthy conservation causes and events.  His passion, work ethic, tenacity and his love for all outdoor recreation serve him well in his profession.  Keeping the public informed about outdoor and conservation issues is something he brings to all of his efforts.  He is a vital part of Louisiana's great outdoor scene and does much to preserve the State's recognition as the "Sportsman's Paradise".

Acadiana Resource Conservation and Development Council  Conservation Organization of the Year

Acadiana Resource Conservation and Development Council is a non-profit organization that addresses the social, environmental and economic concerns of south central Louisiana.  The Council's primary mission is the conservation, development and utilization of natural resources in Acadia, Avoyelles, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary and Vermillion Parishes.  The Council works with stakeholders, the public and government to accomplish many projects which benefit Louisiana's environment and natural resources.

The Council's Louisiana native plant initiative utilized a number of partnerships with other organizations and agencies to harvest native plant seeds, which are being released to commercial growers to produce Louisiana native plants for distribution throughout the state. This project has involved 17 organizational and agency partners to facilitate the success and acceptance of this initiative.  A monthly newsletter is published and distributed to publicize this important initiative.

In another project, the Council purchased a no-till native grass drill to rent to land managers to help establish native grasses and forbs on 171 acres across the region.

The Council led a project to demonstrate the feasibility and benefits of deriving energy from sustainable crops.  This project reduces on-farm energy costs, promotes sustainable agricultural practices, opens markets for farmers and businesses, encourages rural development, displaces fossil fuel use, lowers the market price of renewable energy, provides a forum for education out reach and reduces dependence on foreign oil.

Workshops and conferences are used extensively by the Council to educate about its projects and to develop new initiatives.  Other projects and initiatives that the Council is promoting are the Black Bear Conservation Initiative, the Coulee Baton Micro Watershed Home Septic System Demonstration and numerous community development projects such as nature trails, little league baseball, numerous sporting initiatives and a fire training center in St. Laundry Parish.

Chris Piehler - Governor's Award - Conservationist of the Year

As an organization of conservationists, people who spend a lot of time outdoors enjoying fish and wildlife resources and the environment in which we find them, the Louisiana Wildlife Federation has a special appreciation for the importance of maintaining clean air and water to support those resources, and us.  The thought of having to refuse a meal of fresh-caught fish out of concern for the health risks posed by consumption is repugnant, and alarming.  But along with the advances of modern society seems to come pollution and associated risks of environmental contamination.

Mercury is one of those particularly troubling contaminants.  It is ubiquitous in air and soil, the long-term consequence of coal-fired power generation.  It is also enters the environment from many other sources.  When it gets in the water and reacts chemically, it can become available to organisms and a process of bioaccumulation, increasing in toxicity at each higher level of the food chain until it winds up on the dinner table.  That's something to be concerned about, especially in the Sportsman's Paradise, and something to do something about.

Chris Piehler, Senior Environmental Specialist with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has headed DEQ's mercury Program for the past seven years, devoting a significant part of his career to assessing the extent of Louisiana's mercury contamination problem and informing the public of the risks and how best to minimize them.  To date, there are 41 waterbodies in the state with mercury-in-fish advisories targeting high risk segments of the population like pregnant and breast-feeding women, and children under 7 years of age.  But only in the last few years has the state, primarily through Piehler's work, developed a mercury reduction strategy.  In a state like Louisiana, not known for its aggressive pursuit of pollution or polluters, what Piehler has been able to do, working within the system, has been truly remarkable.

Four years ago, Piehler began to lead an effort to take the step from assessment and warning, to reduction.  There was a consensus-building process among industry and environmentalists.  Then there was legislation authorizing the development of a reduction plan - easier to say, now than to do, then.  Subsequent to the adoption of the legislation, the two most significant sources of mercury air emissions in Louisiana (chlorine plants in Lake Charles and St. Gabriel) implemented plans to eliminate a combined average of about 2,500 pounds of mercury per year.  During 2007, Piehler completed coordination of the publication of the Louisiana Mercury Risk Reduction Plan.  The plan is a broadly collaborative approach to addressing risks to Louisiana citizens from mercury.  With the publication of the plan, Louisiana now is ranked within the top 10 states in the nation which have considered public health consequences of mercury and developed a published strategy to reduce mercury pollution in the environment.

Not resting on this accomplishment, as 2007 came to a close, Piehler kicked off a new Clean Waters Initiative for the state to reduce the number of waters on the impaired list by 25% by the year 2012.

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