Man fights to save the Atchafalaya Basin

Gets national award for work

Friday, July 8, 2011 - 4:45pm

ATCHAFALAYA BASIN (FOX44) -- A Louisiana man is fighting to save the Atchafalaya Basin. That’s after, he says, years of pollution and development have devastated most of that area.

Captain Dean Wilson scours the Atchafalaya Basin for trash. “Everything that’s in the swamp, I pick up,” he says.

It’s just one of the things the fisherman does to keep the basin beautiful. “This is the last of the great flood plain of the Mississippi River.”

Picking up litter is just a small part of the role Wilson plays in preserving the largest forested wetlands in North America. His work has been crucial in keeping the swamps safe.

“All this forest you see today would all be stumps if it wasn’t for us,” he says of his work with non-profit organization, Atchafalaya Basinkeeper. “We saved all this forest.”

Wilson is the executive director for Atchafalaya Basinkeeper. He and the two other people on his staff fought for years to put a stop to the clear-cutting of Cyprus trees in the wetlands.

“If you cut them down, they will never come back,” he says. “It’s amazing the amount of work, the volume of work that we do to preserve the Atchafalaya Basin.”

Wilson’s efforts attracted the attention of the River Network and Tom’s of Maine. River Network is working to build a powerful new watershed protection movement in the United States. Tom’s of Maine is a leading natural care company that has a long history of supporting environmental projects, like the ones Wilson has been promoting.

Every year, River Network and Tom’s of Maine honor several people with an award for their community achievements. This year, Wilson was nominated by people in his community. The two companies, along with peers and folks from all over the nation, felt that Wilson’s work to protect the wetlands was worthy of recognition. He received the Tom’s of Maine River Heroes award earlier this year.

Wilson has had a relationship with the swamp for a long time. He moved to Louisiana from Spain in the 1980’s, planning only to stay for about four months. His goal was to continue on to the Amazon, but he thought the Louisiana weather would help him prepare. For four months, he lived in the swamp, with little more than a spear and a few fishing hooks. Wilson loved it so much, he decided to stay.

From then on, the swamp became Wilson’s livelihood. That was where he did all of his fishing and hunting. Spending so much time in the Basin made him realize, something bad was happening.

“I saw the Atchafalaya Basin deteriorating. Swamps that used to be beautiful and deep and productive, they’re gone today,” he says.

Wilson refused to stand by and watch the swamplands disappear. Once he got involved with Atchafalaya Basinkeeper, it became his job to speak out for the bayou.

“You don’t have many good friends,” he says. “You’re fighting the most powerful people in the state of Louisiana.”

It’s tough trying to change the perception of the watery wilderness. “People picture swamps as being dead, full of mosquitoes and bugs. Do you see any mosquitoes here?” he asks.
That’s why everyday, he’s back at it, making sure people know how much the wetlands help Louisiana. He says the Basin brings in $6.6 billion in various ways.

Wilson says he’ll keep doing everything he can to make sure the Basin is still around, even when he’s not. “The day I die, I don’t want to go saying, why didn’t I try? At least I gave everything I can.”

Learn more about Wilson's work at http://www.basinkeeper.org/

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