The Nature Conservancy is trying to protect forests in West Virginia to prevent erosion and help reduce the impact of climate change. Shown above is Yankauer Preserve, land in Martinsburg preserved by the Nature Conservancy. Photo courtesy of the Nature Conservancy

Resiliency in Appalachia

Mike Powell and Thomas Minney, from the Nature Conservancy, spoke on land conservation in West Virginia recently as part of two seminars at Shepherd University’s Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education on Feb. 28.

Jody Brumage, the Director of Education and Outreach at the Bryd Center, introduced Mike Powell in the first part of the seminar. Mike Powell is the Director of Lands for The Nature Conservancy (TNC); he manages a portfolio of conservative lands, including a network of nature preserves and conservation easements. He joined the Conservancy in 2016.

Jody Brumage then introduced Thomas Minney soon after Mike’s presentation; Jody announced that Thomas Minney is a Shepherd alumni. Thomas has been the executive director of TNC since 2015. He works closely with landowner industries, the United States Forestry Service, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and many more agencies and organizations.

Both seminars correlated in most of their topics. Their message is of utmost importance.

Both started by describing what The Nature Conservancy is.

“We have been around since 1951. We have been a group that’s been well known as a Land Trust,” explained Thomas. “The Nature Conservancy is a global organization. We work in over 90 countries, we work in all 50 states in the United States, and we work all across the state of West Virginia.” Mike added.

In West Virginia, the organization’s work is mainly concentrated in the Eastern mountains and the state’s higher elevations. Their mission is straightforward: “conserving the land and waters.” The vision is to realize the resilient network of the biodiverse lands upon arriving in West Virginia.

However, it is not just West Virginia where they work. They also work in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, India, and Latin America. These regions also have people worldwide to help make their movement possible.

Mike was able to give some history on his part of the presentation, explaining what had happened to cause such a desolate state in their concentrated works.

“There were nearly 1 million acres of red spruce forests throughout West Virginia . . . They were, of course, attractive to the lumber industry,” Mike said.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the lumber industries started extensively logging the forests and reducing much of the ecosystem. However, in the early 2000s, TNC had started its first restoration of about 58,000 acres. Since then, they have seen a growth of around 70,000 acres.

Soon after the logging, rapid wildfires occurred throughout the area, damaging trees and leaving them in poor condition. The cleared land caused erosion and  “left the area stunted and slow to respond through the natural process of succession.”

Mike had then explained all their ways to try and build a more robust and restore the diversity hotspot. A diversity hotspot is where rare species are in the same habitat. They are critical areas of the continental United States, and West Virginia is one.

“One of the phrases that we use a lot of times is that we are conserving nature’s stage by conserving these unique logical and ecological places based on their landscape functions. This will help protect the species that depend upon the theory of serving nature’s stage, and species distributions are tied to the underlying geology and elevation; to conserve us full spectrum about diversity, we need to protect all of these different geophysical settings,” explained Mike.

Thomas Minney had talked about this in his presentation, expanding the idea of having a lot of different options for all species. Whether for food or shelter, it will be a functional landscape that can be protected for those species to persist under “planet change.”

Speaking on “planet change,” Thomas and Mike both had a lot to say about their goals to help protect lands from climate change. Climate change is a big issue worldwide, and it plays a massive role in forests and species.

They both expressed that they would focus on their actions to see the forests and everything around them last for years to come. Thomas said that residents of Appalachia are stressed economically.

“If I say the forests of Indonesia or the Serengeti where I talk about the Amazon, people automatically get that. That is a global place of primary conservation and carbon importance because it is in mainstream conversation. The Appalachian action is an equal plane with those places; it is globally important,” Thomas expressed.

They both had said TNC has four priorities: protect the land and water, fight climate change, manage resiliency, and policy engagement. The organization is working hard for more of the world to see their goals and notice what is happening in the Appalachian Mountains.

The Nature Conservancy always welcomes volunteers; if those wishing to help in this movement, go to their website. Mike and Thomas are very passionate about their plans for now and the future down the road in the TNC’s goals. They wish people would reach out to them to learn more about the organization and hope that more people will discuss it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.