Longtime ‘Voice of the LaBranche Wetlands’ is Rotary of St. Charles’ Citizen of the Year

Cambre reflects on lifetime’s work

Considered “the voice of the LaBranche Wetlands” for more than 40 years, Milton L. Cambre has been named the Rotary Club of St. Charles Parish’s Citizen of the Year.

“Milton Cambre, a man with a mission, has one dream—that future generations will enjoy the LaBranche Wetlands as he has, for many years to come,” said Rotary president Brian Champagne.

Cambre, also was named a Paul Harris Fellow where $1,000 was donated in his name to Rotary charitable causes, said the wetlands are part of our heritage for generations to come.

He said working with children to generate awareness about the wetlands has been an emphasis in his work because “they’re the first who will be really affected” by their loss.

Showing the children what one man can do also has been important to him and particularly by “an average citizen” like himself.

Raised on the banks of the Mississippi River in Paulina, Cambre grew up with a great love and appreciation for river living and its wildlife.

This was his world and he appreciated the bounty it gave him and his family in river shrimp, fish, crawfish and frogs. But, after returning from service in the 545th Transportation Detachment of the U.S. Army and going to work in the refining and petrochemical industry in Norco, he saw it change.

Poor waste disposal of chemicals from the plants in addition to the pressures from growing commerce and industry caused rapid degradation of the river, which Cambre witnessed firsthand. It was then he came to believe something had to be done or his Sportsman’s Paradise would be lost.

When he retired from DuPont in 1985, Cambre dedicated himself to solving these problems, saving the coast and helping to restore and preserve the LaBranche Wetlands, a 20,000-acre cypress swamp that runs between the Jefferson-St. Charles parish line and the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

In the latter half of the 20th century, the fragile wetlands have been beset by construction of Interstate 10, hurricanes, construction access canals and industrial pollution of Bayou Trepagnier.

“The LaBranche wetlands are 18,000 of Milton’s favorite acres,” Champagne said. “To see them is to behold beauty, and to destroy them would be a crime. They are our first line of defense against hurricanes, an estuary and breeding ground for wildlife, and critical to the productivity of Lake Pontchartrain.”

Over the last 30 years, Cambre has been a part of numerous environmental documentaries, including a TBS and U.N. World Population Fund production shown across the world.

In 1991, Cambre received one of his highest honors as then President George H. W. Bush’s 387th “Daily Point of Light.”Over his lifetime, Cambre has received numerous local, state and national awards, including People’s Health Champion in 2010 and Louisiana State Constable of the Year in 2011. In 2014, he retired as St. Charles Parish constable after 26 years of service. He has also served as chairman of the St. Charles Parish Coastal Zone Advisory Committee for more than 30 years and is sought out by industry, governmental agencies and environmental groups as an authority on coastal erosion.

Most recently, Cambre received the Milton L. Cambre Spirit of the Wetlands Award, an annual accolade honoring his legacy. This is a most memorable distinction, as it is from Barry Guillot and the Wetland Watchers, the Learn and Serve group at Harry Hurst Milton has worked with for many years.

This committed group of educators and young people are responsible for building and maintaining the 28-acre Wetland Watchers Park on the shore of Lake Pontchartain, dedicated to teaching future generations the value of wetlands and how our lives are affected by their loss.

Retirement has not slowed Milton from regularly taking his boat out into the marshes to inspect, replant, test soil and devise methods of preventing saltwater intrusion.

He enjoys sharing his life in Norco with his wonderful wife of 57 years, Kathleen, his four children, and eight grandchildren.

Cambre praised his family for supporting him in his environmental quest and especially his wife for “not saying too much,” allowing him to do this work.In his closing comments about receiving this recognition, Cambre said he thinks of his wife as the catch of a lifetime.

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