Wetland Warrior: Jacqueline Richard

Jacqueline is a thinker and a doer. Her passion for learning and exploring nature bleeds into everything she does, and she works to protect the spaces she loves so that others can appreciate them as well.

Q:  What is your job title and affiliation? 

A:   My current job title(s): Interim Dean of STEM, Associate Professor of Geology, Fletcher Institute of Coastal Studies Director, Phi Theta Kappa Advisor all at Fletcher Technical Community College

Q:  How did you get started in this field and how long have you been doing this type of work? 

A:   I’ve always been into Geology – I was a Geology major in undergrad and grad school. For most of my college career, I focused on Vertebrate Paleontology and still spend parts of my summers in ND & MT on field expeditions. While I attended grad school at the University of New Orleans, I took a course in Coastal Restoration with Denise Reed. Since I am not from Louisiana, that was my first real exposure to coastal issues. Shortly thereafter, around 2008, I began volunteering with as many agencies as I could find to assist with coastal planting & dune fencing. There is something to be said for getting your hands in delta and know that you are making a difference one mangrove, spartina, or one quarter mile of fencing at a time. After planting thousands of plants, the landscape becomes a part of you, because you helped shape it in a small way. 
As a deep time geologist, I also have a fascination with the sediment coming down the Mississippi that is building new land. The sediment coming down the river could be from ancient rocks, over a billion years old, holding a record of an environment and information from ages past. Yet when it reaches the end of the delta, it could be deposited to form “new” land. The previous record isn’t erased, it is just folded into a new and more complex history. 
These two things together are what really drove me into coastal research and restoration. 

Q:  Describe the part of your job/role that you enjoy the most. 

A:   There is nothing better than bringing college students or those going through the Master Naturalist program out into the field. We spend a lot of time in the classroom, and while I truly love educating, it is a different experience to educate while in the environment. Watching students piece the information together and make the connections from the classroom to what they are seeing in real life is the reason why I teach. Those lightbulb moments are absolutely priceless.

Q: Describe the part of your job/role that you believe is the most impactful.   

A:   Truly, it is being out on a planting, dune fencing, or beach cleanup project with students, master naturalists, or the general public that is the most impactful. People hear about coastal land loss and the issues we face all the time, and we try to put it in terms that are tangible; such as losing a football field every 100 minutes. However, people really don’t get it until they are out there and can see it with their own eyes and feel it with their hands. I like being there to help navigate to those deeper, more complex discussions. Meshing together science, engineering, and social issues is a complicated task, and those conversations are incredibly important to have. 

 I always enjoy watching people at the beginning and the end of a project – at the beginning it seems a little intimidating. There are hundreds or thousands of plants that need to go into the ground, miles of beach to comb, or miles of dune fencing to erect and the task feels impossible. By the time we are at the end of a project, there is a massive sense of accomplishment and pride along with a visible connection to place. That connection to place is one of the most important things to be instilled, it is what will help shape the passion for saving this place for future generations. 

Q:  What do you think is the best/easiest way people can help restore or preserve wetlands? 

A:  The easiest way for people to help preserve our wetlands is to help out in your local community. It doesn’t need to be a large orchestrated feat –keeping trash out of our wetlands, planting trees thoughtfully on your property, asking new businesses to be ecofriendly in their building design and practices, these things go a long way. Find the one thing you can do easily and consistently, it makes a difference. We can all be an advocate for our home, and it is absolutely going to take all of us.

Q: In your opinion why is coastal restoration in Louisiana important? For folks out of state, why is Louisiana’s coastal restoration work important for the nation? 

A:   While I am not from Louisiana, I have lived here nearly twenty years. Louisiana has become my home. Every finger of the river, every bayou, every ridge, has its own culture, stories, and history. I have travelled the United States pretty extensively, and I have never experienced a place that is more connected to the land and cultural heritage than coastal Louisiana. We can’t afford to lose that history or that generational connection to this land.  

The river is teaching us an important lesson, and we need to be here to learn it. The river is really teaching us that we have to figure out how to be successfully adaptable in a changing environment. We know what short and long term trends look like with climate change locally and nationally. In Louisiana, we truly have a front row seat the effects of climate change. But that also means we have an opportunity to pave the road to how the country and world responds to this threat, we could, and should, truly be leaders 

Q: What is your favorite recreational activity to do in the wetlands? OR Which wetland inhabitant (bird, fish, plant, etc) do you think best represents you? 

A:   My favorite recreational activity is kayaking. I love being eye level with the marsh, it’s a perspective we don’t get to see often. After 45 minutes of being on the kayak, I’m no longer aware of the kayak or the motions – it’s like I’m a part of the landscape and I just enjoy being immersed. 

I wanted to answer this second part too! If I could choose a wetland inhabit to represent me, it would definitely be the Roseate Spoonbill. We know birds are dinosaurs, so it’s very appropriate for me. But I love everything about them – their feather color, like my personality, makes them stick out in a crowd. But they’re often hard to find, hiding in the deeper recesses of the marsh, away from humans. 

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