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Reflections on Wetlands: National Wetlands Awards 2016

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Kathryn R. Ma

Senior Editor

Wetlands, with their innate ability to adapt, nurture, and inspire, are wonderful teachers—and so are those who have dedicated their lives to protect and restore these vital natural resources. The culmination of ELI’s National Wetlands Awards on May 11, 2016, and the end of American Wetlands month provide a good opportunity to reflect upon the many contributions of wetlands and wetland heroes.

WetlandsMore than one billion people worldwide depend on wetlands for their livelihood. Similarly, it is estimated that nearly half of all threatened and endangered species depend on wetlands at some point during their lifespan. All of this is in addition to the critical water quality and flood protection services that wetlands provide. Clearly, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to wetlands on a global scale for all they do for our aki, the Ojibwe word for Earth.

The keynote speaker at the 2016 National Wetlands Awards ceremony, James Zorn, executive administrator of the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), taught the audience several Ojibwe words throughout his remarks. GLIFWC works with 11 Ojibwe tribes in the Great Lakes region to protect tribal land rights and manage natural resources such as manoomin (wild rice).

The Ojibwe, like many indigenous people, have deep connections to the land and espouse a place-based view of conservation, an approach that incorporates the unique social, cultural, and ecological dynamics of a place. This is a common thread among those who work to protect the environment and involve their community. The 2015 Wetland Community Leader Awardee Maka’ala Ka’aumoaa explained in the National Wetlands Newsletter that anyone can have this connection, “They may not have been born there or be able to trace their bloodline back generations, but they are ‘of that place’ and it matters to them. . . .” Connections to one’s place are important in communities wherever they may be, and the five recipients of the 2016 National Wetlands Awards truly exemplify this lesson:

NWA Winners 2016

  • Peter David is a wildlife biologist with GLIFWC, where he has spent 30 years fostering partnerships between federal, state, county, and tribal agencies, NGOs, and citizens to encourage wetlands stewardship, research, and restoration.
  • Dr. Pamela B. Blanchard is an associate professor at Louisiana State University, where she co-founded the Coastal Roots Seedling Nursery program to engage students and teachers in coastal restoration in their communities, which has grown to include 48 schools across Louisiana and four in Chile.
  • Dr. K. Ramesh Reddy is a graduate professor and department chair in the Soil and Water Science Department at the University of Florida, where he has led groundbreaking research on biogeochemical cycling of nutrients in wetlands and mentored numerous graduate students who have gone on to become highly regarded professionals in their field.
  • Tom Bernthal is the wetlands monitoring and assessment coordinator for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and has volunteered with organizations such as the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy and the Wisconsin Wetlands Association for more than two decades.
  • Roberto Viqueira is the co-founder and executive director of Protectores de Cuencas, Inc., a community-based nonprofit that works to protect and restore watersheds and promote sustainable agricultural practices across Puerto Rico.

Congratulations again and miigwech (thank you) to all of the recipients of the National Wetlands Awards!

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All blog posts are the opinion of its author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of ELI the organization or its members.