National Audubon Society efforts to advance the restoration of coastal Louisiana and the overall health of the Mississippi River will get a major boost from the addition of coastal authority Dr. G. Paul Kemp as vice president and director of Audubon's Gulf Coast Initiative. Dr. Kemp will join Audubon, based in Baton Rouge, beginning January 26.

In his new position, Dr. Kemp will work to broaden public support for the restoration of coastal marshes and other threatened habitats in Louisiana. Building such support is critical to the long-term sustainability of the coast for both people and wildlife as the region rebuilds from the devastating effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In partnership with other organizations, Dr. Kemp will also use Audubon's Paul J. Rainey Sanctuary in southwestern Louisiana to demonstrate environmental restoration techniques. Rainey Sanctuary, created in 1926, is Audubon's oldest sanctuary and one of its most ecologically significant, covering more than 20,000 acres of coastal brackish and intermediate marsh habitats along Vermilion Bay.

"We are excited to have Dr. Kemp join the Audubon team," said National Audubon Society President John Flicker, in New Orleans for a meeting of the organization's Board of Directors. "His extensive background in the science of coastal restoration will be a significant boost to Audubon's efforts in focusing on improving the management of the Louisiana coast and the Mississippi River system in general. The health of coastal Louisiana depends directly on the health of America's River."

Since 1994, Dr. Kemp has been an associate research professor in Louisiana State University's School of the Coast and Environment. He has also been affiliated with the school's Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes. In the early 1990s, he served as the first executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a nonprofit organization dedicated to returning Louisiana's Mississippi River delta to environmental and economic sustainability. Among other activities, Dr. Kemp led a multi-disciplinary effort to characterize Louisiana's Barataria and Terrebonne estuaries; worked with the Louisiana Governor's Office to help shape coastal restoration policy; and served as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fellow in Washington, DC.

"Working in concert with other local organizations and concerned citizens, Audubon can play a key role in helping make the Louisiana coast a more sustainable environment and the region a more sustainable place to live," Dr. Kemp said. "The rapidly vanishing marshes of coastal Louisiana are a national treasure that will require national leadership to preserve for future generations."

The addition of Dr. Kemp will enhance Audubon's already strong presence in Louisiana. He will lead a team that includes two Audubon staff members based in Louisiana - Timmy Vincent, manager of Rainey Sanctuary and Melanie Driscoll, Important Bird Areas (IBA) coordinator; recently the Louisiana IBA program nominated 15 IBAs throughout the state that support globally important populations of birds. IBAs are sites that provide critical habitat for nesting, wintering, or migrating bird species. The IBA program is coordinated on a worldwide basis by BirdLife International, headquartered in Cambridge, England, and Audubon is the BirdLife International Partner for the United States. In addition, Dr. Kemp will collaborate closely with the Baton Rouge Audubon Society in Baton Rouge and the Orleans Audubon Society in New Orleans, Audubon Chapters that are already playing an integral role in Louisiana conservation, as well as the Louisiana Audubon Council.

Dr. Kemp's work will be instrumental in Audubon's ten-state Mississippi River initiative, which is aggressively addressing conservation challenges from the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota to the river's mouth at the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. These include the loss of wildlife habitat, decline of critical bird populations, and degradation of water quality.

In 2004, Audubon completed a $1 million marsh restoration project at Rainey Sanctuary with help from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. The project repaired eroded marsh, enhanced wildlife habitat, and improved storm protection along Vermilion Bay. More restoration projects are planned at Rainey and on surrounding lands.

Other activities along the Mississippi River include:

-- The signing of a written agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which plays a key role in the management of lands and waters along the entire river. The agreement calls for Audubon and the Corps to work together toward more environmentally sustainable conditions along the Mississippi and in other ecosystems.

-- The identification of focal watersheds for Audubon's conservation work, including eight major "conservation action sites" covering nearly 1.2 million acres along the river. Conservation work has already begun at these sites, which includes Rainey Sanctuary.

-- The expansion of work on the ten-state Great River Birding Trail, a series of maps and a new website to highlight up to 500 birding sites and public access points in river states.

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