For Judy Haner, 2010 is a year she will never forget.
“I was working in the Everglades in south Florida on some really big projects, and my husband’s job changed, and he said, ‘I think we are going to move to Alabama,'” Haner said. “Then the oil spill hit shortly after I got here, and I realized that even with the small coast there was a lot of work to be done in this area.”
Haner joined The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, helping with post-spill recovery and long-term restoration efforts in Mobile Bay and the larger Gulf region. She now is the marine and freshwater programs director for the conservancy, overseeing marine, estuarine and freshwater restoration, coastal ecology, regional conservation efforts and linking communities with resources.
“After the spill it was a scary time, but we’ve been able to pull it off and now we’re actually proceeding at a faster rate, at a better rate, with more knowledge and experience in our pockets than we’ve ever had before,” Haner said. “I found no lack of need or energy to work on this coast of Alabama.”
Haner started her career in the environmental field almost 25 years ago. She said her biggest accomplishment has been bringing the community together with nature.
“We’re here about nature and we want the populations, the habitats, the wildlife benefits that come with this, the protection of the property that comes with this – we want all of those things, but we want it for the people that live here,” Haner said. “We want them to understand what we’re doing. We want them to be connected with the projects going on. Those are the kinds of things I’m most proud of.”
One of those projects is the restoration of Lightning Point in Bayou La Batre. More than 1 mile of breakwaters and almost 40 acres of coastal wetlands are being rehabilitated and preserved, thanks to a joint effort between public and private agencies, including The Nature Conservancy, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Alabama Power. Haner said those partnerships are critical to the success of her projects.
“If we did not have partnerships on our projects, we would not be able to pull these projects off,” Haner said. “From permitting with the Army Corps of Engineers, working with the state to suggest the projects and Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, our private partners like Citgo, Alabama Power, all of the others – we have these groups coming together in an unprecedented fashion. That’s most exciting.”
As for the future, Haner has big dreams.
“In five or 10 years from now, what I really want to see out here, specifically, is a thriving marsh,” Haner said. “I want to see people using the new boat ramp we’re going to put in. I want to see fish being landed at the cut in Bayou La Batre. I want to see this project replicated across the coast of Alabama and, frankly, across the coast of the Gulf of Mexico because I think this is where we connect people with what’s happening in their backyards.”