News & Resolutions

Coastal Communicator Tops Cast of Conservation Award Winners

February 28, 2009 12:00 AM

Photos courtesy Dane Bourgeois

Coastal blogger, Leonard "Len" Bahr, recently retired Science Advisor in the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities, was honored Saturday evening (February 28) 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 4 other awards was made by a panel of independent judges with expertise in a wide range of conservation fields.

Len Bahr (C) receives the Governor's Award as "Conservationist of the Year" from Louisiana Wildlife Federation President Barney Callahan (L) and National Wildlife Federation Region 8 Director Greg Smith.  

The award, a handsome statuette of a bald eagle, was presented at the 45th Conservation Achievement Recognition Banquet held at the Hilton Garden Inn in West Monroe where the Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) convened for its 70th Annual Meeting.  The awards were presented by Greg Smith, Region 8 Director of the National Wildlife Federation and Barney Callahan, LWF President.

Bahr of Baton Rouge is recently retired after many years with the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities where he helped to coordinate and lead the state's coastal restoration efforts.  The knowledge, passion and energy with which Bahr has pursued his devotion to the science behind wetland conservation has made him a familiar figure in the longstanding fight to save Louisiana's coast.  Now, free of the constraints of academia and government service, he is provoking vigorous discussion of the wide range of issues and questions regarding the protection, restoration and conservation of Louisiana's coast and dependent ecosystems through his weblog:

Two other individuals and two organizations were also recognized by the LWF for their outstanding conservation achievements last year.  They are:

John Pitre of Alexandria, State Wildlife Biologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service for developing and delivering habitat conservation strategies through coordination with and outreach to other agencies and private landowners throughout the state;

R. King Milling of New Orleans, Chairman of the Board of the America's WETLAND Foundation and Chairman of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection & Restoration for effectively impressing the urgency of Louisiana's coastal land loss on diverse and influential audiences and for leading efforts to rally those constituencies in support of effective restoration and protection strategies;

The Lafayette 4-H Junior Leader Club for outreach and assistance to 4-Hers and their families in Cameron Parish after the hurricanes and continuing with hands-on coastal restoration activities there;

The Toledo Bend Lake Association for uniting the community in support of protecting, conserving and enhancing Toledo Bend Lake with a variety of projects ranging from Florida bass stocking and improving fishing habitat, access and opportunities to teaching all the 5th graders in the Parish how to fish.

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation is a statewide conservation education and advocacy organization with over 10,000 members and 20 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.

John Pitre (C) receives the Professional Conservationist of the Year Award from LWF President Barney Callahan (L) and NWF Region 8 Director Greg Smith.   

John Pitre - Professional Conservationist of the Year

As we all know, the not so secret to wildlife abundance is quality habitat.  And in Louisiana, as in most states, much of that habitat is privately-owned.  It follows then that private landowners greatly influence the health of our wildlife resources through the conservation and use practices applied to their lands.

But how does a landowner with an interest in maintaining ecosystem health and managing for wildlife know what to do?  Not all have sufficient knowledge to make sound management decisions.  Many cannot afford to hire professional consultants.  Yet, through their acts or omissions, they have a profound impact on a cherished public resource.

Enter one John Pitre, State Wildlife Biologist and Environmental Coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  A veteran of nearly 20 years with the Service, Pitre delivers conservation programs on the ground through his outreach to the landowner community and collaboration with other natural resource management organizations and agencies.

Though responsible for developing and delivering an array of conservation programs, Pitre has emphasized the restoration of Louisiana?s most endangered native habitat in his work -- native grasslands and prairie -- not surprising considering his own roots are deep in what once was the "Cajun Prairie" of Southwest Louisiana.  Pitre was a catalyst for the formation of the Louisiana Native Plant Initiative, an effort to increase the availability of seed for Louisiana ecotypes that yield higher success in restoring native habitats than seed provided by growers in other parts of the country.  One key feature of that work was the collaboration with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries (LDWF) to purchase and make available to Louisiana landowners, for a nominal fee, 3 no-till native grass drills capable of planting the tiny, "fluffy" seed of native grasses.  The program is administered by three NRCS Resource Conservation & Development Councils.

Another initiative Pitre pursued is the restoration of longleaf pine, the dominant tree species of what ecologists recognize as one of Louisiana's most endangered ecosystems.  In cooperation with the National Wild Turkey Federation and the LDWF, he began the Louisiana Longleaf Pine Initiative, a pilot program that provides financial and technical assistance in restoring this habitat type, including the herbaceous understory.  For this work, last year Pitre was recognized with a NWTF Partnership Award for "outstanding efforts to build partnerships that help landowners protect and improve wildlife habitat."

Pitre has also taken a leadership role working with the Farm Services Agency in Louisiana to develop the technical specifications for several large-scale projects which benefit fish and wildlife resources.  These include: the Grassland Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program on 28,000 acres in Southwest Louisiana; State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement ? CP 38 (SAFE) on 17,000 acres in Louisiana and Texas, in partnership with the Gulf Coast Joint Venture; a SAFE project on 1,700 acres along Bayou Bartholomew in North Louisiana; a 50,000-acre Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program project in Northeast Louisiana and Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds (CP-33).

Pitre provided leadership to develop streamlined consultation and permit approval for Emergency Watershed Protection projects in response to the recent hurricanes.  He continues to deliver technical assistance to landowners to conserve and manage the wildlife resources on their lands, train NRCS personnel to do the same, and promote conservation through public outreach.  He recently accepted the appointment to serve as Acting National Biologist for the NRCS on a 30-day detail to the agency's national office in Washington, DC.

King Milling (C) is presented the Volunteer Conservationist of the Year Award by LWF President Barney Callahan (L) and NWF Region 8 Director Greg Smith. 

R. King Milling - Volunteer Conservationist of the Year

The plight of Louisiana's coastal wetlands has long been recognized by ecologists and geologists, anglers and commercial fishermen, and especially coastal landowners who have been losing their property to the sea for over 50 years.  But for the longest time, remedial action was slow to none.  The effort was lacking the acknowledgement of the business community, and its commitment to engage.  That changed a few years ago when a new player jumped aboard with both feet.  At the time, he probably didn't fully appreciate that he would be swept into the vortex of a hurricane created by his own energy and commitment to the cause.  King Milling got the attention of his colleagues, successfully coupling the missing link of business and industry to the coastal restoration wagon, and just in the nick of time.

Milling was drafted to lead the Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal restoration (now Coastal Protection & Restoration Commission) and to head the America's WETLAND Foundation (AWF) where he oversees the award-winning campaign to inform the nation and the world about Louisiana's tragic land loss and growing vulnerability to storms from the Gulf.  By all counts, his leadership has been successful, but a long way from being over.

Throughout 2008, Milling led dialogue on wetland conservation at numerous conferences such as the 4th president?s forum on Meeting Coastal Challenges.  In leading the effort of the America's WETLAND Campaign, Milling helped focus the Nation?s attention on one of the Campaign's most recent initiatives, America's Energy Coast; an effort designed to create a sustainable Gulf coast from Texas to Alabama; with the goal to place Louisiana at the forefront of coastal conservation efforts.

Under his leadership the AWF produced the "Accord for a New Sustainability of America's Energy Coast" that was unveiled at the AEC Leadership Forum in conjunction with the 2008 Legislative Summit in New Orleans.  Last December, Milling brought the issue to Congress by overseeing the adoption of an Action Framework at the AEC Policy Forum in Washington, DC that outlined immediate steps that must be taken to address major energy and environmental sustainability challenges in the region where most of the US offshore energy production takes place.

Additionally, King Milling's dedication to public education and awareness about coastal land loss has guided the Foundation's efforts to promote wetland education programs in Louisiana Schools.  Hundreds of students in grades 4-12 entered AWF's "Keep Your Eye on the Prize" art, photo and essay contest, a contest designed to promote Louisiana wetland awareness and advocacy.  Most recently, Milling directed the AWF to pursue opportunities within the global community of deltaic systems to cooperate by convening leading scientists and engineers from other Deltas for the purpose of addressing best practices, sharing intellectual capital and focusing on dramatic land loss and its consequence for the Mississippi River Delta.

Representing the Lafayette Parish 4-H Leadership Club, Jeanne Deville (C-L) and Emily Desormeaux (C-R) receive the Youth Conservationists of the Year Award from LWF President Barney Callahan (L) and NWF Region 8 Director Greg Smith.  

Lafayette Parish 4-H Leadership Club - Youth Conservationists of the Year

Growing up along the Louisiana Coast these past few years has been an eye-opener for young people.  Though they may know of an Audrey, a Camille, and other fierce storms of the last century only through the tales of their elders, they have been faced with making memories of their own, challenged by the reality of Katrina and Rita, Gustav and Ike in their young lives.  That certainly is the case for our Youth Conservationists of the Year for 2008.

In 2005, the group was engaged in a planning retreat when it had to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Katrina.  We know what happened then - only weeks later Sister Rita zeroed in on the homes of their friends and neighbors in Southwest Louisiana.  The damage and suffering wrought by the storms inspired them serve the needs of fellow 4-Hers and their families in hard-hit Cameron Parish.

Care and rearing of livestock being a top activity of many 4-Hers, especially in Cameron cow country, the group initiated a drive to re-supply their peers with the equipment needed to raise and show horses and other stock.  They also welcomed them to participate in local Lafayette-Area 4-H activities during the long recovery in Cameron, and that relationship continues.  You might say that the hurricanes of 2005 were the catalyst for a total emersion experience as group leaders used the historic opportunity to develop life skills and attitudes that will serve these youngsters and their communities well as they grow into adulthood.

In addition to cultivating insight, compassion, planning and action to effectively address human needs, the hurricanes made the plight of the rapidly eroding Louisiana coast ever more apparent.  Spurred by that growing awareness, the group turned its attention to initiatives that would contribute to community environmental awareness and restore some of the habitat being lost.

Some of the group's accomplishments in that regard include the establishment of a Water Festival for 4th-graders in Cameron Parish in collaboration with the USDA-NRCS Imperial Calcasieu Resource Conservation & Development Council, the Soil and Water Conservation District, America's WETLAND Conservation Corps, Calcasieu Parish 4-H Junior Leaders, and the Cameron Parish Sheriff, School Board and Police Jury.  The Water Festival included multiple structured learning stations where students engaged in hands-on water activities and investigations, and placement of sand fences and grass-planting to help establish sand dunes and vegetated buffers that provide habitat and reduce storm surge along the Southwest Louisiana Coast.

The group participated in the "Acorns of Hope" Project to plant live oaks along the cheniers damaged by Hurricanes Rita and Ike and has also expanded its environmental work in the Lafayette community by building bat "houses" to encourage bats in areas with mosquito problems and attacking the growing problem of the proliferation of plastic shopping bags in the environment with its "go green grocery shopping day."

Beyond the educational impact, the group contributed a monthly average of 395 hours of volunteer service with an economic value of almost $7,000 a month and raised $4,500 in donations to support its work.

Members of the Toledo Bend Lake Association and Association President Jack Vermiere receive the Conservation Organization of the Year Award.

Toledo Bend Lake Association - Conservation Organization of the Year

Everyone is familiar with the expression: " having it down pat."  Well, when it comes to a successful annual conservation program, the Toledo Bend Lake Association (TBLA) is the perfect model of an organization that "has it down pat."

TBLA was organized in 1970 to be the citizen sentinel for the lake and environs.   But in recent years, this group of mostly-retired couples has kicked it up a few notches with its Bass Unlimited fundraising banquet and boat raffle, and the many activities and projects it can now fund and implement with the earnings.  The banquet has grown in attendance each year since 2003, and has raised over half a million dollars.  That effort takes the labor of dozens of TBLA members who contribute selflessly to the work.

With the dollars it has raised for conservation, TBLA has expanded the stocking of Florida-strain largemouth bass into Toledo Bend Lake with 23,000 4 to 6-inch fingerlings stocked in 2008 at a cost of $25,000.  That brought the total to 145,000 fish stocked into the lake over the past 6 years at a cost of $128,500.  The Association purchases the fingerlings and hundreds of TLBA members and other volunteers distribute the fish throughout the lake with the cooperation of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries.  But this was just one of the organization's activities last year.

TBLA supplements the state's lunker bass program by offering a fiberglass bass replica to any angler who catches a bass over 10 pounds and gives it to TLBA for release back into the lake.  The LDWF has a similar program for bass weighing 12 pounds or more.  TBLA released 52 lunkers back to the lake last year and presented the donating anglers a like number of bass replicas at a cost of $15,600.  Release of these big female bass to spawn again is the most effective "restocking" program possible.

In support of the conservation work of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, TBLA purchased a "habitat barge" that LDWF biologists use to distribute sand and gravel to enhance spawning.  The cost of the barge was $31,700 and TBLA plans to continue purchasing the sand and gravel.  Equipment for the LDWF Enforcement program was provided including multi-channel radios, spotlights, night vision binoculars, and T-shirts used in promoting boating safety.  The Association donated a trailer for the use of the LDWF's Aquatic Education Program and provided meals for LDWF personnel applying chemicals to battle giant Salvinia on the Lake.  In addition, support was continued to the Department's fish habitat and brood pond operations.

The TBLA is keen on enhancing opportunities for anglers as well as habitat for fish.  It has partnered with the Louisiana Sabine Rive Authority to install lights at the Pendleton and Lanan Bridges to facilitate night fishing.  It has funded boat lane buoy replacement, a fishing pier at Clyde's Crossing, and a landing and parking area, all for the benefit of the public at large.  These projects totaled more than $70,000.  Another public pier near Pendleton Bridge is planned for 2009.

A favorite project of many TLBA members is the annual fishing education day for Sabine Parish 5th grade students who meet TBLA mentors and LDWF aquatic education instructors at Cypress Bend for a day of learning and fishing.  This is the first opportunity many of the kids have to simply fish.

We could go on, but I think you get the right idea that the Toledo Bend Lake Association is hard at work protecting and sustaining this iconic 185,000-acre recreational resource straddling the Louisiana-Texas border.

Leonard "Len" Bahr - Governor's Award - Conservationist of the Year

Our next nominee is known by a lot of characteristics; from the "Dancing Professor" to the King of Swamp Stomp, and the Wetlands Czar of Louisiana (he's the only person we know of who, rather than draining a swamp on his property actually constructed one by his very own hands in the backyard of his Baton Rouge home so he could fall asleep to the peeping of the frogs outside his bedroom window); and now, from a jogger, to a blogger.

The person we honor here tonight with the Louisiana Wildlife Federation's highest award for conservation achievement is the embodiment what a conservationist should be.  He has spent his lifetime advocating the sensitive regard for common Nature - as a wandering academician finding his way to Louisiana from his Maryland home to teach at LSU, then getting in on the ground floor in the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities when state government finally got serious about trying to at least figure out, if not aggressively confront, coastal land loss and helping to build the program that today offers at least some hope that we can live sustainably with the dynamic but faltering ecosystem that renowns our state with an incomparable mystique and cultural wealth.

Our honoree closed out his government career last fall, but unlike the Dylan refrain "It?s all over now, Baby Blue," Len Bahr had been plotting the launch of a new horizon - a web blog called  It's not for the faint of heart!

In case you haven't figured it out yet, there's a lot more to coastal restoration and protection than coastal restoration and protection.  There's a lot of dirt and rock to be hauled, and sediment to be dredged, a lot of property to be acquired, a lot of "professional services" to employ - all necessary of course, but some more than others; some effective some not.  With the political imperative to address the problem, and so much money involved, sometimes the critical debates that are vital to the ultimate success of this common Louisiana endeavor are not heard within the confines of government service.  Free of those constraints, Bahr has created, with LACoastPost, another forum of critical thinking that will complement ongoing efforts and help them to be realistic and, consequently, successful.

What Len Bahr has embarked upon with his blog is remarkably revolutionary and essential to the success of our coastal restoration efforts; and he is just getting started.

(L-R) Jack Vermiere, Toledo Bend Lake Association, R. King Milling, John Pitre, Len Bahr and ladies representing the Lafayette Parish 4-H Leadership Club.

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