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Education: Retired professor leads Clemson waterfowl center

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The timing couldn’t have been better for Clemson University to begin a waterfowl and wetlands conservation center at its Belle W. Baruch Institute facilities in Georgetown.

James C. Kennedy, chairman of the communications, media and automotive services conglomerate Cox Enterprises, donated $3.3 million last December to endow the center. Rick Kaminski was retiring as Mississippi State University’s James C. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation.

“My wife had retired last year, and I was going to retire this year,” Kaminski said. “Everything just fell into place.” He has been hired as the center’s director and has moved with his wife to Hagley Estates. He’s often asked if he’s kin to the Georgetown Kaminskis. No, he’s from Wisconsin and no relation.

Kaminski was familiar with Georgetown County wetlands from work he and his Mississippi State students did in the 1980s through the Baruch and Yawkey foundations. The work was interrupted by Hurricane Hugo and eventually taken over by Clemson. Mississippi State students did more recent research on how mottled ducks are adapting to South Carolina’s Lowcountry after being introduced from Texas and Louisiana. Kaminski has a close personal friend in Kenny Williams of Georgetown, who was manager of Kinloch Plantation for Ted Turner. “Who would have ever thought,” he said, “that I would end up back here?”

Kaminski met Kennedy in 2000 and helped him develop wildlife acreage in Mississippi called York Woods. Kennedy endowed a chair of waterfowl and wetlands conservation at Mississippi State as part of his commitment as president of the Wetlands America Trust of Ducks Unlimited. In spring of last year, Kennedy decided he would endow a similar program at Clemson in keeping with his idea to assist universities in states where he has major holdings. He owns Clarendon Plantation near Beaufort.

Kaminski said he helped Greg Yarrow, chairman of Clemson’s Forestry and Environmental Conservation Department, develop a proposal. Then Yarrow asked him to find a director. It seemed to be a perfect fit, Kaminski said.

“As excited as we are about Rick’s research experience, we are equally excited about his demonstrated teaching and leadership ability,” Yarrow said. “The true power of Mr. Kennedy’s generous gift is in its focus on helping Clemson shape the next generation of wildlife professionals with a passion for waterfowl and wetlands conservation. There is no one better than Rick to fulfill that promise.”

The mission of the Clemson program at the Belle W. Baruch Institute for Coastal Ecology and Forest Science will be to seek increased understanding of how coastal systems function in light of climate change, sea level rise and human encroachment. As the first such center on the 3,000-mile Atlantic Flyway, it will become a leader in the science and conservation of south Atlantic coastal wetlands systems, Kaminski said. College waterfowl and wetlands programs have declined by 20 percent over the past decade. As professors change, Kaminski said, administrators change the orientation from “hook and bullet” to global biodiversity. “That’s all fine. We certainly believe in that, but hunters and fishermen still pay a lot of the bills,” he said.

Kaminski has received numerous awards for his conservation work, including The Wildlife Society’s Caesar Kleberg Award of Excellence for applied wildlife research; Ducks Unlimited’s lifetime conservation achievement award; and the Mississippi Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Conservationist of the Year award. In 2008, Outdoor Life magazine named Kaminski to a group of 25 North Americans who have made significant contributions to hunting and wildlife conservation.

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