The Land Trust for Tennessee is incredibly effective in using this flexible legal tool to a variety of good ends. The organization has protected not only thousands of acres of individual tracts of land but has also been able — by working in partnership with government agencies — to add new tracts to existing protected land, enlarging critical wildlife ecosystems in the state.
When 68 acres of grassland along the Hiwassee River were designated as the site of a wastewater treatment plant for a planned high-density residential development, for example, the Land Trust for Tennessee responded by working with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to raise funds to buy the land. It’s a small tract by state standards, but it lies along a flyway used by threatened sandhill cranes during migration to their wintering grounds at the nearby Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. Today that land is part of the wildlife refuge, protected for generations of sandhill cranes. And Tennesseans.
In another example of such partnerships, the Land Trust for Tennessee worked with the University of the South in Sewanee to buy 3,000 acres of timber company land in and surrounding Lost Cove on the Cumberland Plateau. This purchase protects not only the biodiversity-rich cove itself but also enlarges the land already protected by the adjacent Franklin State Forest and Natural Bridge State Natural Area. Combined with conservation easements on three neighboring private tracts, these protected spaces create a large wildlife corridor and protect several rare plant species, some of which exist nowhere else on earth.
It’s widely believed by people outside the South that our science-denying elected officials represent rank-and-file Southerners’ views about the environment, but that’s not true. Most people here understand that the climate is warming, whatever their “leaders” profess to believe, and that extreme weather will keep coming. Liberal or conservative, they expect their governments to safeguard their drinking water. Old or young, if a factory is belching out pollutants that make them sick, they want someone to make it stop. Black or brown or white, wealthy or struggling, they are troubled to see a sign on a riverbank warning that the fish are contaminated and unsafe to eat.
Southerly, the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Land Trust for Tennessee are just three of the many regional organizations that are working, through a variety of strategies, to secure a future for everyone that is safe from environmental hazards. More important, they are working to secure a future for the planet that is safe for all its inhabitants, human and nonhuman alike.
This essay is part of Times Opinion’s Holiday Giving Guide 2021. If you are interested in any organization mentioned in Times Opinion Giving Guide 2021, please go directly to its website. Neither the authors nor The Times will be able to address queries about the groups or facilitate donations.
Margaret Renkl, a contributing Opinion writer, is the author of the books “Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South” and “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.”
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