Organizations Kick Off America’s Wetland Conservation Corps

Hillary Collis, Schultz, Bruce  |  5/24/2007 11:48:07 PM

News Release Distributed 05/24/07

GRAND CHENIER – Organizations collaborating in the America’s Wetland Conservation Corps celebrated the kickoff of the effort recently (May 18) with a coastal restoration planting project.

The event focused on the formation of the America’s Wetland Conservation Corps through a partnership between AmeriCorps, the Louisiana Serve Commission, the LSU AgCenter and the America’s Wetland Foundation.

In addition, Dow Chemical Co. and CH2M Hill each presented $50,000 Friday (May 18) for the America’s Wetland Conservation Corps.

The events concluded a weeklong training AmeriCorps held at Louisiana’s Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge so volunteers in the Wetland Conservation Corps could learn about wetlands ecology. On the final day, the group of 17 planted oyster grass on the eroded banks of a bayou in the refuge.

Using what they learned at Rockefeller, the students will return to their individual parishes and work with members of their communities on similar coastal projects.

AmeriCorps member Tracy Cochran of St. Bernard Parish was covered in mud from planting oyster grass. To maneuver across the mud, she figured out it was sometimes easier to crawl across the gooey muck.

But Cochran wasn’t complaining. She said she’s eager to get dirty in her home parish.

"I’m looking forward to it. We’ve been working with kids in St. Bernard to learn about wetlands and ecology," she said.

As the son of a commercial fisherman, Troy Morales, also of St. Bernard Parish, lives and breathes coastal ecology.

"I’ve been living in the marsh since I was born," he said.

Morales, who also was caked with a drying layer of mud, said he has watched wetlands disappear for as long as he can remember.

"I wondered if there was anything I could do about it," he said, adding that he sees the America’s Wetland project as a way to address the issue.

"If we don’t do something soon, you won’t have anything left of St. Bernard," Morales said.

Cochran said because St. Bernard Parish is still largely awaiting reconstruction, school children don’t have many outlets for their spare time, which makes such projects as this one particularly valuable there.

"I still live in a FEMA trailer," Cochran said.

Chad Turner of Lafayette said the wetlands work dovetails with his studies as a biology major at LSU.

"This is an area I’d like to work in," he said. "It’s a good opportunity to educate."

Because the thrust is for Wetland Conservation Corps members to spread the effort by educating others, 16 students from the 4-H and Beta clubs of E. Broussard School in Vermilion Parish also attended the kickoff events May 18.

Under the direction of Conservation Corps member Sara Granger of Vermilion Parish they cleaned debris from fishing piers along La. 82 north of Pecan Island as their wetlands project. And officials pointed out the students have a good idea of the fragility of the coastal area, since they have only been back in their school, which was damaged by Hurricane Rita, since January.

Dwight Landreneau, associate vice chancellor of the LSU AgCenter, said Louisiana’s coast is important for all of the United States.

"The LSU AgCenter has been on the ground fighting coastal erosion for years," Landreneau said. "The America’s Wetland Foundation has been fighting to gain the nation’s attention about what the loss of Louisiana’s wetlands will mean to them.

"Together we will fight the problem from both fronts – and hopefully engender a new generation of volunteers that see the importance of protecting Louisiana’s coast."

Landreneau said this year’s 4-H summer camping program will include environmental studies.

R. King Milling, chairman of the America’s Wetland Foundation and president of Whitney Bank, said the America’s Wetland Conservation Corps is an important step for the growth of the wetlands campaign.

"With the momentum of this new program, we will continue forward with our plan to restore Louisiana’s coastal wetlands," Milling said, adding, "We are so thankful for the support of the LSU AgCenter in making this program a reality."

The Louisiana Serve Commission recently announced it will fund the America's Wetland Foundation with a $676,000 three-year grant from AmeriCorps, said Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu.

"Citizen service has helped fuel our recovery," Landrieu said. "Now, more than ever, the Conservation Corps will help meet the critical needs in our community."

The America's Wetland Campaign, the largest, most comprehensive public education campaign in the state's history, was launched to raise public awareness of the effect of losing Louisiana’s wetlands on the state, nation and world. The initiative is supported by a growing coalition of world, national and state conservation and environmental organizations and has drawn private support from businesses that see wetlands protection as a key to economic growth.

The America’s Wetland Conservation Corps is a partnership between the America’s Wetland Campaign and the LSU AgCenter. It is supported by a grant from AmeriCorps and is administered by the Louisiana Serve Commission. It is also supported by generous donations from Spectra Energy, Robinette Studios, Tabasco, Dow Chemical, CH2M Hill and individuals from around the country.

Anyone who would like to volunteer to work on a project should contact Hilary Collis at (225) 578-4514 or hcollis@agcenter.lsu.edu. Additional information also will be available soon on www.lsuagcenter.com.

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Contact: Hilary Collis at (225) 578-4514 or hcollis@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writer: Bruce Schultz at (337) 788-8821 or bschultz@agcenter.lsu.edu

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