Audubon CEO: Pelicans a positive for Gulf Coast
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

It’s more than just a name for a basketball team.

To Audubon Nature Institute president and CEO Ron Forman, the decision to change the nickname of New Orleans’ NBA franchise to Pelicans isn’t only about the local hoops squad sporting new colors, uniforms and logos next season. The incorporation of a wildlife-related name symbolizes a new emphasis on one of the region’s greatest environmental challenges – the preservation of Gulf Coast wetlands.

“I’m very excited about the new name of the team,” said Forman, using a comparison to the New Orleans Saints, who are also owned by Tom Benson. “I think it can be similar to what the Saints did after Hurricane Katrina, when they helped unite and rebuild the city. Look at us now: We have the Super Bowl and so many other great things that have come to New Orleans.”

Although public awareness has increased in recent years about the plight of the region’s coastal wetlands – an area roughly the size of a football field is lost due to erosion every hour – it remains a dire concern.

Making Pelicans the team’s name partly acknowledges the centuries-old connection between the state bird and Louisiana. The animal has thrived in the Gulf Coast amid considerable adversity over the years, including the April 2010 oil spill, not long after the pelican had been removed from endangered-species status. From a present-day standpoint, Forman believes the symbol can help continue to keep the coastal-restoration issue at the forefront of conversation. Furthermore, the state of Louisiana, the Pelicans franchise and Audubon are planning to launch a 10-year program that includes educational and outreach initiatives related to coastal and wetland preservation.

“Our priority at Audubon is protecting the environment,” Forman said. “There will be aspects of this program throughout the entire community, including after-school programs for students and a presence at major events, such as Jazz Fest and the Super Bowl, all telling the story of the wetlands and coastal restoration through (the platform of) an NBA team. Much like the Saints led the effort to rebuild after Katrina, the Pelicans can have a long-term impact on our coast. One of the goals will be to change people’s attitudes and rally people in the community to make a difference.

“We hope that 10 or 20 years from now, we’ll look back and see how important the name was to this area.”