Preserve our natural treasures

GUEST COLUMN in the Albany Herald (22 April 2015)

   I almost missed Earth Day. It was the Google Doodle with the revolving earth that reminded me on Wednesday morning. In my defense, we are working on Saturday’s Earth Day event at Chehaw called Party for the Planet, so that is what I had on my mind. But still, April 22nd is the day we have set aside to inspire awareness of and appreciation for earth’s environment. This year marked its 45th anniversary. How could I have forgotten?
   Earth Day is a worldwide event, with festivals and tree plantings in Africa, trash and litter pickup at the Great Wall of China, and a climate summit in Europe. The issues we face are enormous and controversial. Global climate change is threatening to melt the polar ice caps, raise sea levels, and create dangerously unpredictable weather patterns. Our hunger for oil finds us drilling wells in sensitive ecosystems like the arctic tundra and virgin rainforests and it encourages oil companies to inject liquid at high pressure into the ground to extract every last ounce of oil and gas (fracking). In the American West, California is in the midst of one of its most severe droughts on record. The largest water reservoir in the United States, Nevada’s Lake Mead, is at its lowest level since the lake was filled by the Hoover Dam in the 1930s. We are also seeing record snowfalls in the north and massive hurricanes along the Eastern seaboard. The challenges are almost overwhelming and seem to defy solution.
   But, if you want to see the glass half full, there is much to be thankful for here in South Georgia, as we work to preserve our own natural treasures. Paddling a canoe from the Flint River dam through downtown Albany is an eye-opening experience. The beauty and serenity of that stretch of river is breathtaking. If you ever have the opportunity to take a mule-drawn wagon ride through the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway or any of the large quail plantations around our part of Georgia, you can’t help but be in awe of the abundant natural resources at our disposal.
   So, what can we do to preserve what we have? We could begin by supporting the work of the Flint Riverkeeper as this organization works to restore and preserve the habitat, water quality, and flow of the Flint River. The river is our most vital natural resource and it should not be taken for granted. Another group that deserves more support is Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful (KADB) as they work to change people’s attitudes and behavior toward littering, beautification, and the proper management of waste through recycling.
   And what of the next generation? What are we teaching them? The Flint RiverQuarium has a number of summer camps and other programs that are designed to promote conservation using their aquatic exhibits and other educational, entertaining experiences that interpret the unique ecosystems of the Flint River watershed. Chehaw Park also follows its mission of inspiring people to connect with nature and encouraging conservation action through positive recreational and educational experiences. Chehaw has well attended summer camps, is developing a new overnight camp experience for this summer, and continues to engage young people through its unique Junior Zookeeper Program.
   The importance of Earth Day to the next generation can hardly be overstated. The sentiment was best expressed in 1968 by a Senegalese forestry engineer named Baba Dioum in his presentation for the General Assembly of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), when he made the oft-quoted statement: “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

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