Twenty years ago, environmental awareness was just beginning to enter the mainstream. While air and water pollution had received a lot of attention in the 1960s and ‘70s – including the passage of significant environmental protection laws – the broader idea of the interconnectedness of the natural world and the value of preserving ecosystems was just entering the public consciousness.
Often it happened because of a well-publicized confrontation between environmentalists and private sector interests, with the government in the middle, or between environmentalists and the government. Those kinds of battles were presented as “win-lose,” with competing environmental and economic interests and little desire by either side to reach a balance between the two.
In this atmosphere, Mississippi’s chapter of The Nature Conservancy was born. It was part of an international organization that since 1951 had quietly worked to preserve important, endangered ecosystems by purchasing, with private dollars, important land and wetlands for permanent protection and enhancement.
It did this by enlisting corporate and individual donors and by deliberately pursuing a non-confrontational approach, working in partnership with those who own and work the land, businesses and governments. This strategy was in stark contrast to the existing public perception that environmental protection always had to involve legal battles and political wrangling.
The Conservancy has a presence and projects in all 50 states and more than 30 countries. Its 20 years in Mississippi have been marked by a series of significant preservation accomplishments resulting in the protection of 133,000 acres. Among the Conservancy’s first and most expansive projects in Mississippi was the purchase and preservation of 35,000 acres of wetlands and hardwood forests in the Pascagoula River basin in South Mississippi.
In Northeast Mississippi, the Conservancy has demonstrated the power of collaborative partnerships. It protected the rare Price’s Potato Bean plant by purchasing land in the Coonewah Chalk Bluffs in Lee County; worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove invasive plants from White’s Slough in Columbus and with the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to rehabilitate banks of the Buttahatchie River, which joins the Tombigbee near Columbus.
This is pragmatic, productive, on-the-ground work that produces the win-win situations necessary for now-prevalent “green” awareness to be effectively put into practice.
Last week, the Mississippi chapter took The Nature Conservancy’s message to meetings in Oxford and Tupelo as part of the 20th anniversary observance. The Conservancy’s work in this state is an important and infrequently heralded contribution to environmental stewardship in Mississippi. It’s a mission worthy of notice and appreciation.
NEMS Daily Journal