GOT THE WILD SOUTH CONSERVATION AWARD?
April 24, 2011
is a nonprofit grassroots organization based in Asheville, N.C. As the
name suggests, its focus is on natural habitats in the South, wild ones
at that. In fact, its mission is "to inspire people to protect the
wild character and natural legacy of the South."
Wild South's Roosevelt-Ashe Society Conservation Award for Outstanding
Journalist in Conservation was given to someone who is most deserving
at many levels. I am especially pleased that the recipient of the award
is someone I have written about twice in the last decade as a protector
of the environment: John Wathen of Tuscaloosa, Ala.
for the Roosevelt-Ashe conservation awards are Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th
president of the United States, and W. W. Ashe, a botanist at the University
of North Carolina in the early 1900s. Both were ahead of their time in
the contributions they made to forest conservation. The Roosevelt-Ashe
awards are given in eight different conservation categories, including
the one for outstanding journalist.
the award for his outstanding research and public media communications
regarding the environmental situation following the disastrous BP oil
spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although that endeavor was somewhat different
from those I wrote about in earlier columns, in some ways John's award-winning
work in the Gulf was simply an extension of his longstanding environmental
efforts 200 miles upstream from Mobile Bay, where a small tributary, Hurricane
Creek, enters the Black Warrior River on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
has done a commendable job of putting Hurricane Creek center stage and
then shining a spotlight on it. A video on the Friends of Hurricane Creek
shows him in a canoe with his dog Smokey Joe as they travel along the
beautiful creek, "the crown jewel of Alabama." His environmental
message comes through loud and clear, with no mistaking whom he views
as perpetrators of habitat destruction and degradation. "As you head
downstream, you paddle through steep canyons and high rock bluffs with
spires that extend along the banks. As beautiful as they are, it's unfortunate
that a lot of these rock bluffs have been undermined for the coal and
[then] . . . abandoned." He goes on to say, "There's still a
great deal of active strip mining in the watershed tearing down our mountains
and pushing the rubble over into the valleys. . . . Our streams look like
As John Wathen,
says, our natural streams "are not just industrial waste conduits.
They are the life and blood of the earth, and they must be protected at
all cost." He does not indict just the coal mining industry for irresponsible
environmental behavior. On the video he notes that "as bad as the
coal mines are for the watershed, there's more trouble downstream."
Here he transfers blame to the Alabama Department of Transportation, which
he says is "known as the single largest contributor of sediment to
the state's waterways."
along the part of the creek known as the M-bend, he points out that ALDOT
is trying "to put a four-lane bridge through this section of the
creek where I am . . . now." "This section" of the creek
is a stretch of unsurpassed beauty that will never be the same if bridge
construction is allowed to go forward. John believes that construction
sediment in public waterways, bridges that spoil extraordinarily beautiful
sites, and other destructive environmental practices are unacceptable.
Perhaps his efforts will eventually inspire a public outcry loudly and
vehemently protesting the ruin of that portion of their natural heritage.
land," as Woody Guthrie reminds us, "belongs to you and me."
Our natural habitats do indeed belong to the people--to you and me. Organizations
such as Wild South work to instill "a reverence for our public lands
and the native natural life they support." I applaud individuals
like John Wathen, people who are committed to realizing that vision, and
organizations like Wild South that give such people the recognition they
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