'Not Just About the Darter', Says Blanchard
|At least once a week, and just about
every weekend, Dr. Paul Blanchard jumps in his four-wheel drive
and heads to Turkey Creek. He wades the shallow waters in northeast
Jefferson County looking for signs of the vermilion darter.
It's a routine he's followed for several years. If the tiny fish
survives, Blanchard will be one of the main reasons. The Samford
biology professor was instrumental in the getting it listed on
the endangered species list for Alabama and, more recently, for
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Blanchard's research helped prove Turkey Creek is the only habitat
in the world for the vermilion darter, a fish "as rare as
the Siberian tiger," the professor said. His work is also
part of an effort aimed at making the area a refuge and wildlife
Blanchard's action not only gave the darter a chance, but also
prevented construction of a proposed county jail near Turkey
Creek in 1998, which endeared the professor to area residents.
Dr. Paul Blanchard spies a vermilion darter on one of his trips
to Turkey Creek.
He continues to study Turkey Creek to identify as many vermilion
darter habitats as possible for inclusion in a computer model.
Students assist him at times as they become more familiar with
"We will put these habitats in digital form and match that
up with a model that will tell us what parcels of land are critical
with respect to the amount of sediment that goes into the creek,"
The completed model not only will show vermilion darter habitats,
but will determine the Turkey Creek habitats of two other endangered
species, the watercress darter and the flattened musk turtle.
The model also will be used as
a teaching tool and to develop similar models for other watersheds,
helping land planners make "more rational decisions"
on development, said Blanchard.
"My activities at Turkey Creek are not just about the vermilion
darter," he added. "Turkey Creek is a microcosm of
Blanchard teaches undergraduate courses in cellular biology and
environmental science and is founder/co-director of Samford's
graduate program in environmental science. He thinks his fieldwork
makes him a better teacher.
"My work at Turkey Creek has helped me to see better the
essence of life on this planet, that all things are connected,"
he said. "That is one thing I try to get across in all my
His dedication to his discipline-and the fact that he always
has time for his students-helped make Blanchard winner of the
2000 John H. Buchanan Award for Teaching Excellence at Samford.
Students "speak effusively" about Blanchard's teaching
and encouragement, said Acting Provost Joe Lewis in presenting
Teaching is a second career for Blanchard, who spent 20 years
(196484) on active duty with the U.S. Air Force.
"I spent the first half of my adult life in a combat crew
capacity with nuclear weapons that were destructive in focus,"
he said. "I've been trying to devote the rest of my life
to improving the quality of life on earth."
Blanchard doesn't keep statistics, but he's proud that many of
his majors go on to graduate school. A good number also have
projects selected for presentation at the National Collegiate
Undergraduate Research program each spring.
Blanchard is a graduate of Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.
He holds the Ph.D. degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
He taught some at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell
Air Force Base in Montgomery before leaving the Air Force, and
he joined the Samford faculty in 1990.
He and his wife, Barbara, are parents of two grown children.
Blanchard received $1,000 for winning the Buchanan Award, but
the check wasn't his only unexpected bonus. Long-lost high school
friends read about the award in his hometown of Hudson Falls,
N.Y., and E-mailed him.
"My high school class had been trying to notify me about
an upcoming reunion, but had lost track of me," he said.
"That was a nice sidelight."