Texas Conservation Alliance has honored Richard and Bonnie Donovan of Lufkin for their many accomplishments protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat in East Texas.
"Richard and Bonnie have done wonders to make Texans aware of what an asset the Neches River is to Texas," began Janice Bezanson, executive director of the Alliance, in presenting the Donovans with the Ned and Genie Fritz Lifetime Achievement Award. "They've taught a generation of conservationists the importance of protecting hardwood trees and the wildlife diversity of river bottoms."
Richard and Bonnie's conservation efforts came to prominence when Richard canoed the 400-mile length of the beautiful Neches River to highlight the need to protect the river and its wonderful bottomland forest habitat. Bonnie and the Donovans' daughter Gina met Richard at every highway crossing, bringing not only the supplies he needed to continue his trip, but also a retinue of reporters from newspapers, TV, and radio. The Houston Chronicle wrote a front-page story with photos of Richard's trek. TV stations in Beaumont and Lufkin did features. Area papers covered the entire trip with multiple articles and radio stations did "from the river" interviews. Texas Monthly and Guideposts Magazine profiled the trip. At the suggestion of a news editor, Richard kept a journal of the trip that he and Bonnie transformed into his popular book, Paddling the Wild Neches (A&M Press).
Richard and Bonnie's message has been that reservoirs proposed for the Neches would drown a priceless natural heritage that has sustained Texans throughout the ages -- Caddo Indians, "Texian" settlers who built the Republic of Texas, and generations of families since. The Neches bottomlands are home to countless wildlife species and provide vital support for waterfowl, songbirds, deer, turkey, squirrels, and other wildlife that migrate through each year or depend on the acorns and nuts of the bottomland hardwood trees for winter food. Native Americans and early settlers lived off the river's bounty of fish, wildlife, and timber. Lumbermen floated huge rafts of logs down the river to markets in Beaumont. Today's nature tourism industry is finding that the beauty of the Neches has great potential to draw people from around the state and the country.
Richard and Bonnie's latest idea to highlight the Neches River is a photo contest of pictures depicting the river, its flora and fauna, bottomland forests, evidence of the region's history, its economic benefits, life on the river, the Big Thicket National Preserve or other refuges, or river-based recreation. Texas Conservation Alliance is partnering with the Museum of East Texas, located in Lufkin, to hold the photo competition. The Museum will display a hundred of the entries from March to May 2008. The Alliance will develop a traveling exhibit of the top twelve that will tour throughout East Texas. (See details at TCAtexas.org by clicking on Life on the Neches photo competition.)