Meet Our Staff: Q&A with Jessie Ritter

03.29.2018 | In People
By Jessie Ritter, Policy Specialist, Gulf of Mexico Restoration, National Wildlife Federation

WELCOME TO OUR STAFF Q&A SERIES WHERE YOU CAN MEET THE PEOPLE BEHIND RESTORE THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER DELTA! TODAY WE'RE CHATTING WITH Jessie Ritter, Senior Policy Specialist for Gulf of mexico restoration with the national wildlife federation and RESTORE THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER DELTA.
CLICK HERE TO MEET MORE OF OUR TEAM.

Tell us a little about what you do with NWF and Restore the Mississippi River Delta?

As chairperson for Restore the Mississippi River Delta's policy committee, I help to coordinate and steer our federal advocacy work. Our federal policy team works closely with Congressional members and federal agency decision-makers to advance our coastal restoration priorities. This includes everything ranging from protecting important sources of restoration funding, to educating decision-makers about Louisiana’s land loss crisis, to helping facilitate effective project permitting and implementation.

In my broader role as a Senior Policy Specialist at the National Wildlife Federation, I cover a range of coastal issues in the Gulf of Mexico region and beyond. NWF is engaged across all five Gulf States, working with partners to ensure that BP oil spill settlement dollars are spent strategically on the most beneficial projects. Through work at both the state and federal levels, NWF is also seeking to improve coastal community resilience through increased deployment of natural infrastructure approaches including living shorelines, and smarter policies for rebuilding following storms and floods.

MRD Team wearing Screens for Good Tshirts - Restore the Mississippi River Delta

Jessie (left) and Restore the Mitssissippi River Delta colleagues participating in an oyster shell recycling volunteer event.

How did you become interested in working in coastal restoration?

From a young age I was fascinated by coastal and ocean ecosystems and the rich abundance of wildlife they support. During and after graduate school, I focused initially on fisheries management and ocean protection issues. However, I was always interested in the full connectivity of the systems – from our rivers, to our coastal estuaries, to our oceans. I believe that the conservation movement has too often siloed these components in the way we structure and implement our work. Ultimately, the health of these systems are all linked. However, what makes focusing on coastal restoration so particularly rewarding (and challenging) are the strong cultural ties that people have to their coastlines, as places both for work and for play. I appreciate the tangible nature of coastal restoration work, and the challenge of balancing competing values and system needs to adapt to environmental change.  

We know the task of addressing land loss is daunting. What gives you hope?

Coastal Louisiana, just like many other coastlines around the nation, will face significant change to its landscape in the decades to come. But one thing that makes this ecosystem unique is resource of the sediment-rich Mississippi River itself, and its incredible potential to build and sustain land. This, I believe, puts Louisiana in its own category when it comes to climate adaptation possibilities, and gives me immense hope. I’m also inspired and made hopeful by the incredible commitment of Louisiana’s residents and decision-makers to restoring their coast. It will take such commitment, from the community level all the way up to Washington, DC to actualize the Coastal Master Plan.

What is your favorite thing about the coast?

For most people who have never spent time immersed in them, “wetlands” often conjure up images of mud and mosquitos. I admit readily that for many years, this was my own impression. While Louisiana certainly has its fair share of both, there is a magic in being out on the water amidst healthy marsh. The air smells verdant and alive, there is a soothing whisper of grasses blowing, punctuated only by bird calls and other wildlife stirrings. Some of the most peaceful moments I’ve ever spent were on an airboat out in the Louisiana wetlands. Granted, in this particular memory, our boat had broken down – but that’s another story!

If you could have any other job for a day, what would it be?

Assuming actual talent and ability is NOT a prerequisite, I would be a Broadway star for a day! I love musical theater.

What’s one item you can’t live without?

My Spotify phone app!

What is your favorite place in Louisiana or along the Mississippi River?

There are special places all throughout the State of Louisiana, but I admit that one of my favorite “habitats” in which to spend time is the courtyard at the Bacchanal in the Bywater, with a glass of wine and some live music 🙂

Jessie Ritter - Restore the Mississippi River DeltaAnything else you'd like to share with us?

I serve on the Executive Board of the Women’s Aquatic Network in Washington, DC. The Women’s Aquatic Network is a private, non-profit organization incorporated in 1985. Our mission is to bring together professionals with interests in marine, coastal and aquatic policy, research, and management through fun and enriching events in the DC area. Check us out, and come to an event if you find yourself in the DC area!

https://www.womensaquatic.org/