Reflections on the 40th Anniversary of the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission Posted: August 30, 2016
I ran into Senator Ernie Harris Thursday, and he mentioned that he’d read that Governor Carroll and I would be speaking at an event. I mentioned this evening, and he said “I won’t be there – I have to listen to both of you quite enough during the Session!” Well, Governor, I love to hear your thoughts and remembrances about the Commission, which came into being over your signature 40 years ago.
My generation of conservation activists have walked in the footprints of Giants – of Julian Carroll and John Rickert, of Horace Brown and Bill Martin, of Oscar Geralds, and others. In 1975, when I was working as a staff person for the Council of Southern Mountains in Berea, I attended a meeting in the basement of the Skidmore home in Stanton, to hear an update on the legal fight to save the Red River Gorge and nearby farmlands from inundation.
As I heard the attorney briefing the crowd of farmers and other local residents, I thought “that’s what I want to be when I grow up – an attorney representing the public and taking on the powers-that-be.” Oscar Geralds was that attorney, and has been a role model and mentor to me ever since.
Since being asked to speak tonight, I have wrestled with how we best honor the staff and Commissioners of an agency that has done so much to preserve our natural heritage?
64 preserves containing 27,663 acres.
Perpetual protection of 143 of the 343 plant species listed as state endangered, threatened or special concern, and 96 of the 334 animal species.
23 high quality examples of Kentucky’s 62 natural community types,
have been protected on state nature preserves.
Over 25,000 visitors annually.
And all of this accomplished despite the decline of the agency budget by 40% since 2008, with concomitant loss of permanent staff.
Looking forward, the importance of the Commission will not diminish, for development pressures on our remnant natural areas and landscapes will grow, and not diminish. I don’t agree with Bobby Kennedy Jr. that we are hardwired for destruction as a species, but we too often make decisions on land use and development out of a toxic mixture of avarice and ignorance. In my own community of Metro Louisville, we then punctuate our ignorance by naming the new developments after the most prominent natural features we have obliterated in developing the land. Without the Commission and its cohorts in the NGO sector – the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, the Nature Conservancy, and the Kentucky Conservation Committee, our nature deficit disorder will only grow.
How do we best honor Don Harker, Rich Hannan, Don Dott, and the men and women who have toiled these decades at short pay and with scant recognition to protect and preserve our natural heritage?
Well, ever the font of unsolicited advice, I have a few ideas.
We begin here and now, to raise awareness of the importance of the agency’s mission to our future.
If you are not already a supporter of the Friends of Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, become a supporter and make a pledge! When you do your charitable giving, remember the Friends, who are a tax-exempt 501c3 group.
If you haven’t visited with your legislators regarding the need to end the sweeping of the Heritage Land Conservation Fund, I encourage you to do so.
If you haven’t asked your legislator and his or her family to join you on a field trip to one of the state nature preserves, I encourage you to do so.
If you haven’t purchased a nature plate, order one!
Organize outings for church youth groups, for schools, for civic groups to which you belong. For we tend to protect what we value, and we value what we know and have experienced. Every visitor to a nature preserve or natural area becomes a potential ally and advocate for the Commission’s vital work.
Wendell Berry was absolutely right in noting that “the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.
Let us celebrate these stewards, past and present, whose earth care inspires us all, and please join me in thanking them by becoming more vocal advocates for their important work.