America’s Wetland Foundation achievements highlight of new national report

Panel Presentation at AWF's Delta Conference in Viet Nam.

“Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana” cited as Best Practice in findings by The Association of State Wetland Managers

Success of programs by the America’s WETLAND Foundation to inform the nation and build public awareness and support for wetland restoration is cited in a new report issued by The Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM). Wetland managers across America are facing the daunting task of addressing coastal land loss and see the report as an important mechanism to augment their work to engage the public and important coastal interests on serious consequences that arise with eroding coastlines and wetlands.

Ten case studies were selected for inclusion in the study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a grant to ASWM. The America’s WETLAND Foundation in Louisiana, which includes the Mississippi River Delta region, was the only study area from the U.S. south. Other areas included: New Mexico, Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan, Great Lakes region, Washington State, Canadian Provinces, Delaware and New Hampshire.

According to the Report, “The work of the America’s WETLAND Foundation is both unique and replicable. The uniqueness of the project is the state-led initiative to help create a private foundation that would serve as a strong, third-party voice that supported funding and restoration efforts by the state. The case study is valuable to other states by providing an example of what is possible when resources are made available and by providing seasoned advice and models that are applicable to wetland outreach efforts, regardless of budget or location. The Foundation offers access to many resources that can be adapted for use elsewhere.”

“One of the inspirations for creating AWF was so that our work and solutions could be replicable,” said AWF managing director, Val Marmillion. “For Louisiana to be a leader in restoration, we had to first tell the story about the value of our region to gain national and state support. The Foundation used research and use of metaphors like “losing the equivalent of a football field of land each hour” to grab public attention on the seriousness of Louisiana’s land loss challenge. With public awareness of the coastal crisis hovering around 20% in 2002 when the AWF public awareness campaign began, the foundation’s awareness strategies saw voter support for wetland issues rise in five years to above 80%, with three constitutional amendments passed to ensure funds for coastal restoration and protection would be dedicated to that purpose by the state of Louisiana.”

“The remarkable thing about this effort is the outcome of both support in Louisiana and awareness nationally about the relationship of healthy wetlands to secure communities and a healthy economy,” said Sidney Coffee, senior advisor to AWF. “The Foundation has been able to beat the drum so loudly that Louisiana is now seen as the epicenter for solutions that will come to impact coastal states and regions across America and the world.” Coffee helped lead the creation of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, serving under Governors Foster and Blanco. “We had little public recognition at the beginning for the magnitude of the crisis,” Coffee said. “The Governor’s Coastal Commission issued a report in 2001 saying that public support must be built so AWF was created as an independent foundation representing key stakeholder interests. Its laser focus has never been political and professional communications and marketing techniques have been utilized through private funding to support the public interest.”

The report finds that, since its inception, AWF has implemented programs at the local, state, regional, national and international levels, hosting two World Delta Dialogues in New Orleans and Viet Nam, five Mississippi River Leadership Forums with key stakeholders along the River and its tributaries in Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans and over fifty conferences and summits to grow knowledge about wetland challenges and create innovative approaches and incentives for private sector projects that alignment with Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, AWF was activated to triage new stories from the state and the relationship of wetland loss to the disasters was a prime part of the stories coming from New Orleans and Southwest Louisiana.

Following the BP oil spill, AWF was first to release a report of voluntary initiatives that energy sectors could support to prevent future spill incidents. The Foundation also organized industry into the America’s Energy Coast Leadership Council to host a series of eleven Gulf Coast forums to understand the impact of sea level rise and the economic damage it could do to communities and coastal infrastructure. The forums helped coastal communities from Texas to Florida envision the future and the actions needed to sustain their environments, economies and the communities, themselves.

The foundation is the recipient of more than 100 national awards and commendations for its communications programs.

Here’s the Press Release from Association of State Wetlands Managers about the new report.