Louisianian of the Year | Conservation
Retired biology professor Malcolm F. Vidrine enjoyed a career ripe with accomplishments: author or coauthor of 20 books and numerous scientific articles, the discovery of leprosy in wild armadillos, and important work with mussels at the Watson Brake archaeological site in northeast Louisiana. Vidrine’s role in the latter was to identify mussels in the Watson Brake middens, food commonly eaten by Native Americans.
“At Frenchman’s Bend and Watson Brake, the mussels must have been eaten raw,” Vidrine explained. “The shells were intact and easy to identify — many of them appear very similar to shells found on the banks of streams today. I was able to generate good inventories of species and their compositions in the middens, which allowed me to make some general observations about the streams from which the mussels were collected. These findings combined with information from other members of the team made their way into two major publications, one in ‘Science’ and the other in ‘American Antiquity’.”
Vidrine’s findings helped date Watson Brake to 3,500–2,800 BCE, one of the oldest in the country.
Vidrine insists much of his research and accomplishments have been part of a team, including creating the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project in Eunice with Charles Allen. The two had been searching for surviving prairie remnants in Southwest Louisiana in the late 1980s and found a prime spot on a railroad right-of-way.
“I was impressed by the variety of flowering plants in the July sun on that fortunate afternoon,” Vidrine remembered. “I told Charles that I had seen many stretches of such plants in Jefferson Davis Parish when I worked as the research director and mosquito biologist there. The next week we were driving around and searching for prairie remnants along railroads throughout the region. We found many of them, but only a few were of any significant size. The next five summers were spent inventorying the plants, butterflies and dragonflies of the prairie remnants. These searches culminated in papers, books and restoration projects.”
The two convinced Eunice Mayor Curtis Joubert to lease a piece of railroad property as a city park and the Cajun Prairie Restoration Project was born. Today, visitors may walk through native plants within its 10 acres, currently owned by the Cajun Prairie Habitat Preservation Society.
Vidrine continues the restoration work on three acres outside his Eunice home, a stretch of prairie called the Cajun Prairie Gardens. He and his wife, Gail, have published articles and books on their restoration efforts, plus they host groups to introduce others to a Louisiana environment they helped preserve and hope to propagate.