ILF Program Director Jacqueline Comito honored with National Wetlands Award

The Environmental Law Institute (ELI), Washington, D.C., is announcing the recipients of the prestigious National Wetland Awards. For 26 years, individuals from across the country have been recognized for their exceptional and innovative contributions to wetlands.

“Dedication, perseverance and excellence mark the common attributes of the extraordinary individuals recognized as this year’s National Wetlands Award winners,” stated ELI Acting President Scott Schang. “Wetlands protection and restoration only occur when exemplary leaders in all areas of service—scientists, educators, government officials, private landowners, community advocates, and conservationists—work to achieve a common goal. With our federal agency partners, we salute these individuals and their skillful efforts to protect and restore wetlands for the good of people, places and the planet.”

Dr. Jacqueline Comito, Ames, Iowa, will be recognized in the category of Education and Outreach. She was nominated by Clare Lindahl, Conservation Districts of Iowa executive director. Comito is director of the Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! programs at Iowa State University and staff member of the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. She is an advocate for all Iowa wetlands—whether they are natural or strategically constructed—because all wetlands are vital to sustaining Iowa’s ecosystems as well as delivering significant water quality benefits. Wetlands are one of the tools in the Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce nitrates in Iowa’s water bodies.

ELI is recognizing Comito because of her work leading her team in wetlands promotion through Iowa Learning Farms and teaching about wetlands with the Water Rocks! program. Since 2005, she has partnered with numerous state organizations and federal agencies to help implement Iowa Learning Farms, a statewide demonstration and outreach program promoting water and soil conservation. In 2013, she developed and launched Water Rocks!, a youth water education program which utilizes science and the arts to teach students about the importance of water and wetlands. Water Rocks! has taught over 15,000 students to date. She oversaw the development of the Conservation Station fleet–three interactive, mobile learning centers that have been to 389 events, all 99 Iowa counties, and engaged 51,000 people in natural resource education.

“The long term health of our land and water, especially wetlands, rests in our youth—the future decision makers,” says Comito. “We use music, science, math, art, videos and technology as the means of increasing young people’s awareness that clean water and healthy wetlands are essential to life.”

The National Wetlands Award program is administered by ELI and supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, NOAA Marine Fisheries Service, and the Federal Highway Administration.

“We look forward to meeting this year’s award winners and honoring their extraordinary achievements in wetland conservation,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “We are proud to support the Environmental Law Institute’s National Wetlands Awards and recognize individuals for their contributions to society and the aquatic environment. Wetlands provide essential support for self-sustaining ecosystems, valuable fisheries and protected resources, water quality and resilient coastal communities.”

Other award recipients for this year include:
· Conservation and Restoration: Thomas Biebighauser, Morehead, Ky.
· Science Research: Dr. Stuart E.G. Findlay, Millbrook, N.Y.
· State, Tribal and Local Program Development: David L. Davis, Richmond, Va.
· Landowner Stewardship: Mary and Jon “Jay” Hardwick, Newellton, La.
· Wetland Community Leader: Barbara “Maka’ala” A. Ka’aumoana, Hanalei, Hawaii.

The 2015 National Wetlands Award recipients will be honored at a ceremony on May 21, from 6-8 pm, at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. The winners of the U.S. Ramsar Wetlands Photo Contest will also be announced and displayed at the ceremony. The public is invited to attend.

For more information about Iowa Learning Farms go to: www.extension.iastate.edu; and for Water Rocks! visit: www.waterrocks.org.

Every year, ELI recognizes excellence across a broad spectrum of areas of environmental law, policy, and management, both domestically and internationally. Honorees are typically individuals, but in some instances have been governments and institutions. By honoring exemplary service and achievement, ELI highlights the direct link between individual and collective actions and better environmental, economic, and social outcomes. For more information visit: www.eli.org.

For the original Iowa Learning Farms post, click here.