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Environmental Law Institute to Recognize “Wetland Heroes” at 32d Annual National Wetlands Awards Via Month-Long Virtual Celebration

April 2021

(Washington, D.C.) — The Environmental Law Institute (ELI) is pleased to announce the winners of the 32d Annual National Wetlands Awards: Xavier Cortada; Lauren Driscoll; Wenley Ferguson;  Russell Furnari; and Sonja Michaluk. The 2021 Wetlands Awardees, all of whom have demonstrated extraordinary commitment to the conservation and restoration of our nation’s wetlands, will be honored virtually via a month-long digital campaign. The campaign will run throughout the month of May, which is also American Wetlands Month.

“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—even in the midst of a pandemic—they inspire wetlands protection across the country and worldwide. After the tumultuous year we’ve experienced, I welcome and celebrate the optimism, energy, and hope these individuals bring forth through their work.”

The awardees will be recognized for their individual achievements in five categories: Promoting Awareness; Local Stewardship; Wetlands Program Development; Wetlands Business Leadership; and Youth Leadership.

Xavier Cortada — Promoting Awareness:  Xavier Cortada is an artist and Professor of Practice in the University of Miami’s Department of Art and Art History. For 15 years, Cortada has creatively harnessed the power of art to motivate fellow Miami-Dade County residents (65% of whom are Latino) to learn about, conserve, and restore mangrove wetlands. What began as a childhood fascination with mangroves’ strangely shaped roots and propagules evolved into a socially engaged art practice extolling mangroves’ value to the local ecosystem. Cortada created highly innovative eco-art projects to mobilize Miamians to care for and restore mangroves. These include a community-driven reclamation project tied to county-wide public and private school educational programming, a volunteering project encouraging neighbors to build up climate change resiliency by growing salt-tolerant mangroves in their yards, and the nation’s first underwater homeowner’s association to address the threat of rising seas and salt-water intrusion into their fresh water aquifer.

Lauren Driscoll — Wetlands Program Development: Lauren Driscoll’s commitment to wetland conservation and restoration has been unwavering for more than 25 years. She has worked tirelessly to not only strengthen the efficacy and efficiency of wetland protections in her own state of Washington, but has also actively engaged in national planning and decisionmaking. Driscoll has managed the Wetlands Program at the Washington State Department of Ecology since 2005, where she ensures statewide consistency in the implementation of Clean Water Act §401 water quality certifications for wetlands and provides expert technical assistance and guidance for local wetland regulations. She mentors wetland technical staff statewide, providing oversight for Washington’s wetland compliance and wetland banking programs, and securing grants for wetland program activities. Driscoll’s expertise in wetland policy and mitigation has deeply strengthened the state’s work in these areas. Driscoll also oversaw the development of Washington’s first EPA-approved Wetland Program Plan, a six-year plan that formalizes program development and a longer-term program vision, which went on to serve as a model for several other states.

Wenley Ferguson — Local Stewardship: Wenley Ferguson has spent the last 31 years working for Save The Bay in Providence, Rhode Island, where she now serves as Director of Habitat Restoration. Throughout her career, she has partnered with federal, state, and local entities to advance projects that restore and enhance coastal and estuarine habitats and improve community resilience, working tirelessly to bring them from conception to implementation and adaptive management. Ferguson has been a leader in identifying and assessing climate change impacts to coastal wetlands within Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts and advancing new and emerging restoration and management approaches in the southern New England region. She has also led volunteer teams to engage local communities and advocates for the importance of conserving marsh migration corridors. Ferguson also collaborates with local researchers and has contributed to several peer reviewed publications related to coastal marsh conditions and restoration. 

Russell J. Furnari — Business Leadership: Russell J. Furnari is the Manager of Environmental Policy Enterprise for Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), a Fortune 500 diversified energy company that has been named to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for North America for 13 consecutive years. Since 2006, Russ has served as Chairman of the New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership (NJCWRP), a unique public-private collaborative aimed at restoring, preserving, enhancing, and protecting aquatic habitats throughout New Jersey. Through Russell's strong leadership and commitment, the New Jersey Chapter has experienced phenomenal success and is now considered a model for similar groups across the nation. Membership and annual funds raised to support restoration projects are at an all-time high. One such project is the Upper Wallkill Watershed Riparian Restoration and Floodplain Reforestation Initiative. With the help of 200 students, the first phase resulted in the restoration of 4.5 acres, and the intiative has the potential to restore more than 60 acres by the completion of the entire project.

Sonja Michaluk — Youth Leadership:  A research scientist, writer, environmental educator, and founder of a genetics and microbiology lab, Sonja Michaluk, age 17, is already recognized for making environmental discoveries and changes in the state of New Jersey and around the world. Michaluk, an advocate for data-driven environmental decisionmaking, has been a certified water monitor since she was six and has advocated on behalf of wetlands since she was 11. Between 2014 and 2020, Michaluk contributed to the preservation of over 50 acres of ecologically sensitive wetlands and wildlife corridors in Central New Jersey by collecting and analyzing field data, working with state and local governments, and speaking at public hearings. Before the pandemic, Michaluk was flown to Sweden to represent the United States at World Water Week and at a climate change symposium. Her research, which is recognized internationally, has been published in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, presented at numerous conferences, and featured in films about climate change and the environment.

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, and Natural Resource Conservation Service. A committee of wetland experts representing federal and state agencies, academia, conservation groups, and private-sector organizations selects the Award winners.

For more information, please visit the National Wetlands Awards website at www.elinwa.org.

Be a part of the digital campaign and use #WetlandsAwards2021 on your favorite social media platform. To get started, here are some sample posts:

  • May is #WetlandsMonth - Join @ELIORG throughout May to celebrate these #wetland heroes! http://elinwa.org/ #WetlandsAwards2021 @EPAWater @USFWS @USDA_NRCS
  • These #wetland heroes have restored, researched, and protected thousands of acres of wetlands nationwide http://elinwa.org/ #WetlandsMonth #WetlandsAwards2021 @EPAWater @USFWS @USDA_NRCS
  • Learn about the winners of this year’s National Wetlands Awards at http://elinwa.org/ #WetlandsAwards2021 @EPAWater @USFWS @USDA_NRCS

Please feel free to grab them, modify as you need, and share. Every share counts!

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