Louisiana Gone: An evening on coastal land loss


A photo Madelyn Smith took of Lyle and Lane Leblanc standing in front of a storage shack

A photo from Madelyn Smith’s book, Louisiana Gone, shows Lyle (right) and Lane (left) Leblanc, standing in front of a storage shack on their family property. The Leblancs own and operate a licensed alligator farm on their land just outside of Houma. Photo by Madelyn Smith.Photo by Madelyn Smith and Trent Andrus

Madelyn Smith smiling while wearing a stripe shirtMadelyn Smith, a sophomore from Lafayette studying natural resource ecology and management, spent the past year photographing and collecting stories from Louisiana communities threatened by coastal erosion. The book that resulted from her work, Louisiana Gone, is filled with black and white images and essays that detail life along Louisiana’s vulnerable coastline.


Smith is a 2017 recipient of the Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, a scholarship awarded to only 50 college sophomores and juniors in the country and recognizes a student’s commitment to issues related to the environment. She believes her book played a role in her receiving the scholarship.


“I sent in photographs from the book with my application,” Smith said. 


The Udall Foundation awards scholarships, fellowships and internships for study in fields related to the environment and to American Indians and Alaska Natives in fields related to health care and tribal public policy. As an Udall scholar, Smith will travel to Tucson, Arizona, this summer for a conference with other Udall scholars, where they will be charged with trying to find a solution to an environmental issue. 


“This is a chance for us to network, but also to collaborate,” Smith said.


Smith, who is also in the Ogden Honors College, received a grant as part of the Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors Leaders Award to complete the book. Smith is minoring in painting and drawing and said the book blended her interests in outdoors and fine arts.

She worked with Trent Andrus, a junior studying mechanical engineering at LSU, to take photographs and with Courtney Beesch, a sophomore studying digital culture at Arizona State University, to layout the book.


Smith said the book is a call to action. “Our goal is to record a glimpse of what will be lost if we do not respond with haste to this crisis,” she said.


Michael Kaller, an associate professor in the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources, serves as an adviser to Smith and recommended her for the scholarship.


“Madelyn is a leader and is committed to service to the LSU community and the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico coast,” he said, adding her book, “documents how climate change and environmental mismanagement impact residents in and around vulnerable and declining wetlands.”


Smith serves as president of the Sierra Student Coalition, which she co-founded. This summer she will spend three weeks in Thailand with the LSU in Thailand program, which focuses on sustainable agriculture. She plans to study shrimp farms in mangrove forests and compare that industry with Louisiana’s oyster industry.


She said she plans to attend graduate school and study sustainable land management and policy.




Madelyn Smith's photo of a doorman of Jolly Inn named Allie "Gator"

Allie "Gator" is the weekend night doorman of the Jolly Inn, one of the last Cajun dance halls remaining in Houma, Louisiana. He's a family friend of the establishment's owner and a former member of the house band. He takes cover money from the families that spend their evenings dancing and eating at the Jolly Inn in return for an unlimited supply of free beer and the pleasure of showing off his washboard tie to newcomers. Photo by Madelyn Smith and Trent Andrus

Madelyn Smith's photo if a cemented cemetary in Leeville, Louisiana

A photo from Madelyn Smith’s book, Louisiana Gone, shows the last remaining cemetery in Leeville which has been cemented into place to prevent the wrought iron crosses and grave markers from subsiding further into the Gulf of Mexico. Photo by Madelyn Smith and Trent Andrus