One of Louisiana’s foremost coastal restoration experts and advocates died this week, leaving behind what family and friends hope is a legacy of keeping science at the center of policy decisions as the state navigates environmental issues.
Len Bahr, 78, died Thursday after a string of illnesses that he battled during the last decade of his life.
His son-in-law, Beaux Jones, describes Bahr as a man whose mind outlasted his body, saying he spent his final days in the hospital surrounded by family, friends and fellow scientists. His mind was still sharp and he was engaged in drawing illustrations that connected government bureaucracy, climate change and other scientific pursuits.
But, such was Bahr, according to those who knew him.
His work was rooted in the idea that science should drive policy, and that the threat of climate change cannot be ignored. He worked in numerous capacities in the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities under five Louisiana Governors from the early 1990s until 2008, when he retired under Bobby Jindal's administration.
Bahr was recognized by the Louisiana House of Representatives in 2007 for his "tireless efforts" in coastal restoration, After retiring from state employment in 2008, he began his own environmental blog, the La. Coast Post.
"He was a coastal scientist by training and never forgot it," his friend of 40 years, Paul Kemp, said Saturday. "He was always in a government situation in which decisions are often made for other reasons than the unalloyed science of it, but he was always the advocate for letting the science lead us into the decisions."
Bahr was a frequent contributor in The Advocate’s Letters to the Editor column. He was also a runner, a fixture anywhere there was beer and zydeco music, and the owner of a self-built swamp in his suburban backyard that played host to many parties over the years.
“I think his legacy, in part, is that he was a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” Jones, Bahr's son-in-law, said. “He could be known by his accomplishments but really he was known by being the life of the party. He brought people together, and he brought ideas together.”
Bahr’s ill health and ultimate passing urged numerous environmentalists to take to social media this week, commending his contribution to the state’s environmental industry.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority gave Bahr recognition at its Wednesday meeting, the day prior to his death, in a joint statement from board chairman Chip Kline and executive director Bren Haase.
“His insistence on letting science rule our planning is still a guiding principle we follow today,” the statement reads. “We salute you, Len Bahr, for your great wisdom, influence, and years of service to Louisiana.”
Jones, Bahr’s son-in-law, said the family will send off their loved one in the same way he lived his life – unconventionally. The family plans to scatter his ashes in the Chesapeake and along the Louisiana coast, and to gather to tell stories and enjoy good music at his house next month.
Not a man who was insistent on church, tradition or flowers, Jones said anyone wishing to contribute to Bahr’s legacy is invited to plant a tree, preferably a Live Oak, in his memory.