Hope for Nature in 2017

by Mike Hensley, Green River Project Director for The Nature Conservancy

Happy New Year! 2016 was an interesting, to say the least. And those who care deeply about conservation may have some trepidation about 2017. I would be lying to say those kinds of thoughts haven’t crept into my own heart.

However, our work in Kentucky’s Green River watershed has refreshed my spirit of optimism and belief that we can, and will, continue to accomplish meaningful outcomes for conservation. Here is a reason why I am feeling hopeful.

On a recent stormy evening, I joined our director of protection, Dian Osbourne, at an office in Munfordville, Kentucky to close on five conservation easements. Together, these easements will permanently protect 115 acres and 2 miles of prime Green River shoreline along one of the very best stretches of the river.

Approximately 50,000 trees are going to be planted at this property, owned by the Middleton Family, that had previously been used to grow corn. © Courtesy/Jim Middleton

The landowners we worked with—Drs. James and Evelyn Middleton—generously donated not just the easements, but a substantial contribution to our Chapter’s Stewardship Endowment Fund to ensure we have the resources to property manage lands for which we have accepted responsibility. Now that the easements are finalized, we will work together with the Middletons to plant 80,000 trees on these acres.

In addition to the Middleton properties, our Chapter is working on other conservation easements and acquisitions in the Green River watershed. So from a land protection and restoration perspective, we’re doing great work and have no reason to believe that will cease in the foreseeable future.

The Green River in Kentucky © Robert Barnes

Many Nature Conservancy supporters may also be aware of our long-time effort to remove several defunct lock and dams on the Green and Barren Rivers. At the very end of the 2016, Congress passed legislation that creates a clear path for removal of several of these old dams in the months and years to come. That effort, which moved slowly over the last couple of decades, has picked up steam and it now appears more likely than ever that some of these dams are on their way out. It will be a great outcome for wildlife and people alike, with benefits for river habitat, cave habitat and ecotourism.

An Army Corps of Engineers staff member inspects a dam on the Green River. © The Nature Conservancy

We’ve benefited from incredible cooperation from partners covering the gamut—from Senator Mitch McConnell and his staff to organizations such as the National Fish & Wildlife Fund and generous donors like the Middletons. In addition, during my own six plus years with the Conservancy, I’ve come to realize how capable our leaders are at the state, regional and national levels. So while all of us here in Kentucky continue to plug away at good conservation here in the Commonwealth, I am confident that our leaders at every level will achieve positive results in Washington and points around the globe.

Jim and Cap Middleton measure a pignut hickory tree located on the family’s property. © Courtesy/Middleton Family

All of this got me thinking…no matter what else might be happening across the nation or across the world, The Nature Conservancy is working on some great stuff here in Kentucky. And not just in the Green River watershed, where I work. My colleagues around the state—in the west near the Mississippi River, in the east towards the Central Appalachian mountains, and in downtown Louisville and Lexington—all wake up every day thinking about ways to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the wide open spaces we all enjoy. And we will continue to do so!

Now more than ever, The Nature Conservancy’s collaborative, pragmatic and consensus-building approach to conservation will lead the way forward. But we can’t do what we do . . . without you. Please consider supporting our work as we enter a new year. No amount is too small. Thanks and best wishes for a fantastic 2017!

Some members of our staff shared their own conservation resolutions for 2017. See what they had to say.