Monday, April 25, 2011

Ecoviews: Wild South honors conservationists for their efforts

Ecoviews: Wild South honors conservationists for their efforts  

By Whit Gibbons 

Published: Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.

Wild South 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.”
CREEKKEEPER and Smokey Joe, on patrol (photo by Ken Robinson)
This year, 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 past decade as a protector of the environment: John Wathen of Tuscaloosa.
The namesakes 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.
Wathen received 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.
John Wathen has done a commendable job of putting Hurricane Creek center stage and shining a spotlight on it. A video on the Friends of Hurricane Creek website ( 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 bleeding messes.”
As John 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.”
Paddling 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.
“This 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 deserve.
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John L. Wathen, Hurricane CREEKKEEPER of Friends of Hurricane Creek accepts the Roosevelt Ashe Society Award for "Journalism in Conservation"

The nominees were as listed...
Outstanding Journalists
Bill Finch (The Nature Conservancy – AL)
Don Hendershot (Smoky Mountain News – NC)
John Wathan (Friends of Hurricane Creek – AL)
Pat Byington (Bama Environmental News- AL)
Silas House and Jason (“Something’s Rising: Apalachains Fighting Mtn Top Removal” – KY)
Susan Andrew (Mountain Xpress – NC)

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