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Environmental Law Institute to Recognize “Wetland Heroes” at 29th Annual National Wetlands Awards

April 2018

(Washington, D.C.)—The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) is pleased to announce the winners of the 29th Annual National Wetlands Awards: The Gibbons Family; Roy R. “Robin” Lewis III; Maryann M. McGraw; Mark D. Sees; Latimore M. Smith; and Kerstin Wasson. The recipients, all of which have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the conservation and restoration of our nation’s wetlands, will be honored on May 9 at the U.S. Botanic Gardens in Washington, D.C.

“The recipients of the National Wetlands Awards are on the forefront of protecting wetland resources in the face of development and climate impacts,” said ELI President Scott Fulton. “Through their dedication and achievements, they inspire wetlands protection across the country and worldwide.”

The awardees will be recognized for their individual achievements in six categories: Conservation and Restoration; Education and Outreach; Landowner Stewardship; Scientific Research; State, Tribal, and Local Program Development; and Wetlands Business Leader.

This year’s Landowner Stewardship award goes to The Gibbons Family of Cedar Breaks Ranch in Brookings, South Dakota. Over the past 28 years, William and Jeanette Gibbons and their family have devoted tremendous time and financial resources to restore degraded land and water on their land. Since the purchase of an initial 240 acres in 1989, the Gibbons developed their formerly overgrazed and eroded property into a showcase of how various conservation practices can be seamlessly and profitably integrated into a working farm. They also use their land to further research on natural resource management, host workshops, tours, and youth hunting and fishing events. The Gibbons’ remarkable achievements encouraged other landowners to incorporate regenerative agriculture into their own practices to build soil, expand biodiversity, and increase sustainability.

Kerstin Wasson is the recipient of the Science Research award. Kerstin Wasson has been the Research Coordinator at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Watsonville, California, for over 18 years. She engages citizen scientists in long-term monitoring, from collecting water quality data to counting migratory shorebirds to tracking nesting at a heronry. She launched an ambitious ecosystem-based management initiative to bring together diverse stakeholders to jointly develop a shared vision for restoration of the estuary’s wetlands, and conducts extensive salt marsh and native oyster restoration experiments. In addition to this work, Kerstin has led major collaborative projects across the network of National Estuarine Reserve Reserves, assessing salt marsh resilience to sea-level rise and testing climate adaptation strategies.

The Education and Outreach award goes to Mark D. Sees, who has served as the Manager of Florida’s Orlando Wetlands Park for over 20 years. In addition to his daily duties of managing the wetland treatment system, he has proactively sought opportunities to evolve the park into a center of public recreation as well as wetlands education and research. In 1999, he initiated the annual “Orlando Wetland Festival” to provide local children and adults an opportunity to take tours in the wetlands to understand their place in the watershed as well as how they filter and remove pollutants from water and protect downstream water bodies. The annual festival now attracts more than 5,000 people each year.

Maryann M. McGraw, Wetland Program Coordinator for the New Mexico Environment Department in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is the recipient of the State, Tribal, and Local Program Development award. Maryann M. McGraw initiated the state’s Wetlands Program in 2003 and continues to provide vision and guide development to ensure the program reflects the crucial role of wetlands and riparian areas in the arid west. Her recent projects include the development of rapid assessment methods for montane and lowland riverine wetlands, confined valleys, and playas of the Southern High Plains, which provides data necessary for the development of state wetlands water quality standards and antidegradation policies.

The Conservation and Restoration award goes to Latimore M. Smith, a retired Restoration Ecologist with The Nature Conservancy in Covington, Louisiana. A gifted botanist and plant community ecologist, Latimore M. Smith spent more than 15 years with the Louisiana Natural Heritage Program in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, identifying and documenting the diversity and ecology of natural habitats across the state of Louisiana. He was the first to recognize and formally describe a variety of natural wetland communities previously undocumented for the state, including globally rare longleaf pine flatwood wetlands. And as the former Director of Stewardship/Restoration Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy’s Louisiana Field Office, he dedicated himself to conserving, restoring, and managing many of the state’s premier natural areas.

Roy R. “Robin” Lewis III, Founder/President of Lewis Environmental Service Inc./Coastal Resource Group Inc. in Salt Springs, Florida, is the winner of the Wetlands Business Leader award, a new category for 2018. For more than four decades, Robin Lewis has been at the vanguard of wetland restoration and creation, designing or assisting in the design of more than 200 completed wetland projects in Florida, California, South Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Nigeria, and Thailand. In addition to founding two environmental consulting companies—Lewis Environmental Services, Inc. and Mangrove Systems, Inc.—he is also president of Coastal Resource Group, Inc., a nonprofit educational and scientific organization. He also works with the Association of State Wetland Managers to provide education opportunities and resources.

“These award winners have restored, researched, and protected thousands of acres of wetlands nationwide,” said Awards Program Director Kathryn Campbell. “Their examples have inspired many members of their community to act and make a difference to protect and improve these vital natural resources.”

Since 1989, the National Wetlands Awards Program has honored over 200 champions of wetlands conservation. The program recognizes individuals who have demonstrated exceptional effort, innovation, and excellence in wetlands conservation at the regional, state, or local level. Past award recipients share a dedication to protecting the nation’s remaining wetlands; educating citizens, students, and agencies about the value of wetlands; and working with a diverse array of organizations and interests to advance wetlands protection.

The National Wetlands Awards Program is administered by the Environmental Law Institute and supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, NOAA Fisheries, and Federal Highway Administration. A committee of wetland experts representing federal and state agencies, academia, conservation groups, and private-sector organizations selects the Award winners.

For more information on the ceremony, please visit the National Wetlands Awards website at: www.nationalwetlandsawards.org. For more information on the program, please contact Kathryn Campbell at (202) 939-3806 or e-mail wetlands@eli.org.