Nature’s Sheriff – What is a Director of Protection?

by Dian Osbourne, Director of Protection

Sea of Bergamot Flowers and Lots of Buzzing Bees (Mike Hensley)
©The Nature Conservancy

Several months ago, with tongue in cheek, someone asked about my job title, Director of Protection: did I stand guard over the office, protecting all who enter? I hadn’t given my job title much thought and found the perception that I am a “save the day” sheriff interesting. While I’m not armed with weapons to protect our office, in my role at The Nature Conservancy I’m armed with a bevy of tools to safeguard Kentucky’s most precious natural resources.

Our best-known conservation tool is the ability to purchase significant ecological lands that then become a part of a nature preserve that the Conservancy will own and manage for the foreseeable future. Depending on the sensitivity of the site and relative remoteness of a location, a nature preserve may or may not be open to the public.

Brown/Crutcher/Wallace Nature Preserve © TNC Staff
 © The Nature Conservancy

Another common tool is the use of a conservation easement on a particular tract of land.  Under the protection of a conservation easement, the ownership of the land rests with a private landowner and The Nature Conservancy holds an interest in the land via the easement.  We use science to craft an easement that will limit certain land uses in order to safeguard specific ecological characteristics.  For instance, if ground-nesting bird habitat on a site is a focus for protection, one restriction on the land use would be to limit mowing grasses during the time the birds are laying, hatching and developing plumage enough to fly.

Assistance and common vision with our state, federal and private partners is integral to the success of our protection program in Kentucky. Because we recognize the value of working together, we often utilize a third tool in land protection – the ability to purchase significant lands and subsequently transfer that land to a conservation partner.  When our conservation objectives match those of our partner and an opportunity for the acquisition of a strategic property arises, the Conservancy can often purchase the land and hold it until that partner can assume ownership.

©The Nature Conservancy
©The Nature Conservancy

Despite all of our tools, it’s not possible for The Nature Conservancy to purchase and protect every inch of important land.  That’s where people like you come in.  Private landowners can plant native species, plant way stations for monarch butterflies, allow fallen trees to remain as they lie to become home for various animals and plants, or install bat boxes.  These are just a few of the simple ways anyone can contribute to the health of our environment and become a “save the day” sheriff.

If you’d like to support our work in Kentucky, please donate today at