By Samantha Carter, Restore the Mississippi River Delta, National Wildlife Federation
Wind. Rain. Record-setting lows. None of that stopped community members and conservation groups from welcoming members of a federal restoration council to a potential project site in the Lower Ninth Ward last Thursday morning. Members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition met with Executive Director Justin Ehrenwerth and Environmental Compliance Director John Ettinger of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council at the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Joined by representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the City of New Orleans Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs, we had a robust discussion about the future of restoration in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) ecosystem area.
The platform at the end of Caffin Avenue overlooks a 400 acre “ghost” swamp, a remnant of a dense freshwater cypress tupelo forest that existed in the city boundaries until roughly 50 years ago. Saltwater intrusion, caused by the construction of the MRGO in the 1960s, killed the cypress swamp in the Lower 9th Ward and destroyed tens of thousands of acres of wetlands that once protected the Greater New Orleans area. The MRGO channel and the loss of the surrounding wetlands are attributed to the catastrophic flooding that occurred in the Lower Ninth Ward and surrounding communities during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle provides a unique opportunity for highly visible coastal restoration work. Only five miles from the French Quarter, the platform already attracts Orleans Parish locals and tourists alike who can learn about the history of the swamp and see an example of the coastal land loss problems that extend throughout southern Louisiana. If the project is funded and constructed, reintroducing Mississippi River sediment and freshwater into the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle could return the conditions in the area to a place where cypress swamp can once again survive. In addition to restoring ecology and increasing quality of life for residents, restoration work in this location would allow the public easy access to see the State’s Coastal Master Plan in action and potentially RESTORE Act restoration funds at work.
Discussions with the MRGO coalition and the RESTORE Council staff focused on this possibility and the process by which restoration projects are going to be chosen. The frigid weather kept the site visit short, but conversations continued in the warmth of the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church just a few minutes away. The RESTORE Council stressed the importance of coordination between different funding streams and leveraging completed work, such the programmatic EIS already done by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the MRGO ecosystem restoration area. MRGO Must Go coalition members shared their passion and vision for restoration and why they are engaged in the effort to see the MRGO ecosystem restored. There are already plans to revisit the platform together on a sunnier day and take a flight over the MRGO ecosystem.
Interested in visiting the platform and learning more? Check out http://www.restorethebayou.org/.
By Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund
For half a century, the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) has been bringing together water resources professionals for information exchange, professional development and education. Hosting numerous conferences per year, AWRA recently hosted its Annual Water Resources Conference earlier this month in Washington, DC. More than 1,300 people attended the conference to hear presentations on the latest water resources topics and network with fellow professionals. The conference was also special as it was in celebration of AWRA’s 50th anniversary.
As part of this year’s annual conference, Shannon Cunniff, deputy director for Environmental Defense Fund’s water program, organized, the panel “Adapting to Climate Change Using Natural Infrastructure” and then participated as both a presenter and moderator. Joining Shannon were fellow panelists Todd S. Bridges, senior research scientist for environmental science at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, and Sara Murdock, climate change program manager at The Nature Conservancy.
The panelists presented on ways to incorporate natural and nature-based infrastructure into design plans in order to reduce flooding and other risks associated with climate change.
In places like the Mississippi River Delta, natural infrastructure, which includes “green infrastructure” such as wetlands and barrier islands, is critical to protecting cities like New Orleans, communities and infrastructure. And as climate change continues, coastal areas like southeastern Louisiana will be at the forefront of climate adaptation and resilience. Incorporating green infrastructure with traditional “gray infrastructure,” such as floodwalls and levees, will both protect cities and people as well as increase the effectiveness of this existing flood protection infrastructure.
Environmental Defense Fund has been working on wetlands restoration in the Mississippi River Delta for 40 years. Lessons learned there can be used to help other coastal and deltaic areas become more resilient in the face of climate change. As part of that initiative, EDF is working on innovative approaches to scale up natural and nature-based climate adaptation and resilience solutions.
“EDF approaches resiliency as building the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems to survive, adapt and grow no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience,” said Shannon to a room of more than 50 conference attendees. “We seek efficient and creative solutions that provide social, economic and environmental benefits; lower risks from climate change; and improve access to traditional as well as innovative sources of funding for implementation.”
“EDF believes we can meet risk reduction needs in ways that improve, not harm, ecosystems,” Cunniff continued. “We believe we can improve economic and social resiliency by building and conserving protective landscapes, or ‘natural and nature-based infrastructure.’”
Perhaps the best indication of attendees’ interest in the enhancing use of natural infrastructure was their lively dialogue with the panelists about the opportunities and needs to incorporate “green” and traditional “gray” approaches, which due to their enthusiasm, extended well into the conference’s cocktail hour.
Shannon also participated in the AWRA Student Career Night that brought together water resources professionals from several career fields (federal and local government, non-profit, consulting and academia) with undergrad and graduate students to learn about career options, how the water resources field is evolving and how to find the right job. Based on the attendance, Shannon noted, “Based on the impressive talent here, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the next generation of water resources professionals’ capability to solve some really big challenges.”
In 2015, AWRA is hosting a summer specialty conference on climate change adaptation and how to respond to it, build resilient systems and influence decision makers. The conference is being held in New Orleans, a city at the frontline of climate change adaptation and resilience. More information can be found on AWRA’s website: http://www.awra.org/meetings/NewOrleans2015/index.html.
Position: Communications Director, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
Job Location: Baton Rouge or New Orleans, La.
Type: Regular, Full-Time
Job Category: Communications/Marketing
Now in its second century, Audubon is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Audubon’s mission is engaging people in bird conservation on a hemispheric scale through science, policy, education and on-the-ground conservation action. By mobilizing and aligning its network of Chapters, Centers, State and Important Bird Area programs in the four major migratory flyways in the Americas, the organization will bring the full power of Audubon to bear on protecting common and threatened bird species and the critical habitat they need to survive. And as part of BirdLife International, Audubon will join people in over 100 in-country organizations all working to protect a network of Important Bird Areas around the world, leveraging the impact of actions they take at a local level. What defines Audubon’s unique value is a powerful grassroots network of nearly 500 local chapters, 22 state offices, 41 Audubon Centers, Important Bird Area Programs in 46 states, and 700 staff across the country. Audubon is a federal contractor and an Equal Opportunity Employer (EOE).
Purpose of the Position:
The Communications Director for the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign (MRDRC) will play a key role in raising awareness of and building a constituency for the Walton Family Foundation-funded MRDRC. The Communications Director, working in concert with partner organizations, will advance MRDRC goals by leading the Communications Committee to implement measurable integrated communications plans. The Communications Director will integrate MRDRC strategies with Audubon’s broader Gulf-wide communications plans, providing strategic counsel and collaboration toward Gulf Coast region and national issues.
WFF Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign (90%)
- Lead MRDRC Communications Committee through restoration implementation phases, including: state and federal policy fulfillment, conservation agenda advocacy and restoration project advancement.
- Implement, update and design new communications and engagement plans and sub-strategies to support MRDRC and related Audubon conservation priorities.
- Drive strategic plan execution in a manner that meets the quantitative, qualitative and best-practice goals outlined in measurement sections. Lead measurement protocol.
- Pursue integration of communications planning and action with other committees’ strategic planning initiatives, including: policy, science, field, online and business partnerships. Deploy joint Building a Pro-Restoration Movement campaign.
- Proactively identify and leverage emerging communications opportunities, including pitching stories to media, drafting op-eds and letters to the editor and other efforts to support MRDRC and Audubon’s objectives in the Delta region.
- Deploy reactive communications strategies surrounding unexpected media, policy and community developments and issues response needs.
- Guide planning and execution of press conferences and special events in conjunction with key policy, media and community landmarks and anniversaries.
- Lead planning and execution of comprehensive paid media plans, including management of agency personnel and partners in advertising campaign planning, deployment and measurement.
- Manage agency and contractor engagement; monitor interactions to achieve desired outcomes. Oversee budget.
- Pursue public opinion and sociological research, building on previous research when available, to refine targeting, messaging, messengers, and other elements of strategy.
- Oversee development of communications collateral materials to support campaign committees, including fact sheets, press materials, reports, promotional items, mailers, videos, online and multimedia resources.
- Promote adherence to and update content of (as needed) MRDRC communications guidelines, with focus on social/online media. Devise and manage training protocol for new staff, in collaboration with online team leader.
- Build awareness and support for Mississippi River Delta conservation throughout the Audubon organization, including staff, board members and chapters through close coordination and active participation with Audubon national outreach efforts.
- Attain strategic alignment with National Audubon communications leads to integrate MRDRC communications strategies accordingly and complement overarching organizational goals.
- Supervise MRDRC Communications Coordinator in fulfillment of the tasks described above.
Audubon Gulf Coast Coordination (10%)
- In coordination with MS Flyway Vice President and Gulf states Audubon staff, manage Audubon Gulf-wide Communications Plan implementation and related WFF Gulf-wide initiative progress.
- Collaborate with Gulf states teams to track measurable outcomes toward attaining set qualitative and quantitative goals.
- Support proactive storytelling and participate in issues-driven communications strategy and response as needed through region.
Internal: National Audubon Society staff at all levels, especially management and conservation staff within Mississippi River Delta, Gulf Coast and national arenas. Second-tier reporting to VP, Gulf Coast/Mississippi Flyway on Gulf matters.
External: Partners, especially related to the Walton-funded Mississippi River Delta restoration collaborative, media, vendors, contractors, scientists and government officials.
Qualifications and Experience:
Qualifications: (e.g., education, training, experience, licenses and skills)
- No fewer than five years of experience in public relations, journalism or other communications and marketing fields with a demonstrated record of success dealing with national-international media and communications issues.
- Demonstrated success in leading a team and creating and implementing communications strategies.
- Experience in planning and executing web-based communications campaigns and other electronic communications products; leadership in environmental campaigns and with social media preferred.
- Ability to maintain strong and productive relationships with media, Audubon staff, partners, and other stakeholders.
- Exceptional writing, reporting and editing skills. Must write well quickly and under pressure.
- Ability to communicate complex and technical information clearly to various audiences, in writing, one-on-one, and in formal presentations.
- Exceptional time-management skills and ability to juggle multiple projects and consistently meet deadlines.
- Knowledge of conservation issues, especially related to birds and their habitats, desirable.
- Bachelor’s degree required.
- Regular travel required.
- Valid driver’s license required.
Ability to operate Windows-based computers (including Microsoft Office); proficiency with public relations software, Adobe creative software, social media platforms, and other software; and experience in operating still cameras, video cameras, and sound-recording devices preferred.
On Saturday October 25th, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta field team came together to recruit supporters for coastal restoration at Rougarou Fest in Houma, Louisiana. Rougarou Fest is a family-friendly festival with a spooky flair that celebrates the rich folklore that exists along the bayous of Southeast Louisiana. It is also the primary fundraiser supporting the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that is working to educate individuals about Louisiana’s disappearing coast.
If you are not a native to southern Louisiana, you may be wondering, “What is a rougarou?” The rougarou legend has been spread for many generations directly from French settlers. In the Cajun legends, the rougarou is said to prowl the swamps around Acadiana and Greater New Orleans as well as the fields and forests of the regions. The rougarou is a creature with a human body and the head of a wolf or dog, similar to a werewolf!
Rougarou Fest was full of fun, along with a few spooky scares. Throughout the day, the field team passed out educational materials and talked to festival goers about the importance of restoring Louisiana wetlands. At the Restore the Mississippi River Delta table, children got temporary tattoos of ghosts and monsters while they colored lively graphics of rougarous, spiders and vampire bats that begged for their ecosystems to be protected. The occasional zombie approached the table with a blank stare and slight growl. The zombies seemed confused and angry that their Louisiana was underwater. Their homes gone. They could not believe that Louisiana is now losing a football field of land every hour!
At 6 p.m., four brave wetland warriors ran in the Rougarou Zombie Run. They had to dodge dozens of zombies in order to survive the race. Each warrior was given a belt with three flags. Our team of wetland warriors made it out alive but was exhausted from sprinting from the enraged zombies.
At 7 p.m., the Krewe Ga Rou parade rolled with over thirty floats rolling through downtown Houma. Children and adults alike lined the streets with jack-o-lanterns waiting for candy and the occasional spook. The Restore the Mississippi River Delta campaign marched in the parade handing out nearly twenty pounds of candy and over 300 pledge cards, which asked individuals to pledge to vote and to urge candidates to support coastal restoration. Costumes were essential! The Restore the Mississippi River Delta campaign marched as zombie football fans with signs reading “Where’s the Game?” “Every Hour Louisiana Loses a Football Field of Land” and “Restore the Coast, Protect Tradition.” These zombie football fans couldn’t believe that one of Louisiana’s greatest traditions, football, was being threatened. The zombies seemed unable to find the Saints game, as the football field had succumbed to the Gulf of Mexico!
Rougarou Fest was certainly a fun-filled fall day in Houma! I hope you all have a terrific Halloween, and please, be careful. Avoid essential Rougarou habitat: fields, forests and swamps. Happy Halloween!
By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund
As part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, on Wednesday, the White House announced the release of the Climate and Natural Resources Priority Agenda. Prepared by the Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience Climate and Natural Resources Working Group, this commitment across the Federal Government to support resilience of our natural resources is the first of its kind. The agenda identifies a suite of actions the Federal Government will take to increase the resiliency of our country’s natural resources to the current and future effects of climate change.
Included in the agenda are actions to protect important ecosystems and to promote climate-resilient lands and water; improve carbon sinks such as wetlands, grasslands and forests; support including natural infrastructure – such as coastal wetlands – into community planning; and modernizing Federal programs and investments to build resilience. A full list of actions as well as a timeline can be found here. The announcement also included new executive actions to support resilient natural systems, including investing in natural infrastructure, supporting coastal resilience and restoring forests in the Lower Mississippi River Delta.
Shannon Cunniff, deputy director for water programs at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), was invited to speak at the White House Wednesday. “To propel adoption of natural infrastructure as part of a balanced approach to coastal resiliency, EDF aims to demonstrate that incorporating these nature and nature-based systems cost-effectively reduces risks to coastal communities and improves their resiliency, while providing communities with other benefits,” she said.
“Natural infrastructure needs to be seen and embraced as a viable tool for reducing risk,” Shannon continued. Ms. Cunniff went on to point out that natural infrastructure is ideal for enhancing resiliency because:
- Natural infrastructure mitigates multiple sources of risk, including reducing tidal flooding, erosion and wave heights. It is especially effective for frequent, chronic impacts of sea level rise, which are predicted to increase with climate change.
- It also helps achieve climate adaptation and mitigation goals, as oyster reefs and wetlands also act as carbon sinks.
- Its use results in other co-benefits that achieve other public purposes, such as providing open space, recreation, fisheries, water quality improvement and drinking water protection benefits.
In places like the Mississippi River Delta, natural infrastructure works hand-in-hand with traditional “gray” infrastructure, such as levees and floodwalls. Coastal wetlands provide storm surge protection for levees, increasing the structures’ resiliency and helping prevent failure. Natural infrastructure can also reduce the cost of traditional infrastructure, as the height of seawalls or dunes can be reduced if there are enough protective wetlands in front of them. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan contains a suite of restoration and resilience tools that work in concert to rebuild and protect Louisiana’s vanishing coast.
“What we are after is putting nature and nature-based infrastructure on a more even playing field with gray infrastructure, to provide the fullest set of tools for communities to plan and implement their more sustainable and resilient futures,” said Ms. Cunniff.
The Administration also reaffirmed its commitment to implement the Green Infrastructure Collaborative in the Climate Natural Resources Priority Agenda. The collaborative includes 26 public and private sector organizations – including Environmental Defense Fund – who have pledged to work together to highlight the multitude of benefits provided by natural infrastructure.
In addition to Ms. Cunniff, other speakers at Wednesday’s announcement were Ben Grumbles, President, U.S. Water Alliance; Ann Mills, Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Marion McFadden, Deputy Assistant General Counsel, Office of Housing and Community Development, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Julius Ciaccia, executive director for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.