The mission of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Founded over 40 years ago by a group of Kentuckians dedicated to preserving Kentucky's natural lands and waters, The Nature Conservancy, Kentucky Chapter is now one of Kentucky's leading environmental conservation organizations. We manage over 40 nature preserves across the state and with the help of our natural partners, maintain an additional 100,000 acres with private landowners through land easements.
Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy is an international non-profit conservation organization with more than 60 years of on-the-ground conservation success. The Conservancy works in all 50 states in the U.S. and over 35 countries. The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide.
The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky was formally chartered in 1975 by a group of Kentuckians (including Mrs. Sally Brown) concerned with the rapidly disappearing natural lands and waters of our state. Since then
The Nature Conservancy's Kentucky Chapter now has over 5,000 members, employs a professional staff of 15 and has directly protected more than 49,500 acres of diverse
habitat throughout the state. We have also assisted in conserving more than
100,000 additional acres in partnership with corporations, government agencies,
conservation organizations and private landowners. The Conservancy owns more
than 8,000 acres and holds conservation easements on another 6,500 acres across
The Nature Conservancy’s Global Challenges, Global Solutions Conservation Framework provides a guide for the Conservancy through 2020 by tackling 4 areas: Place - protect and restore natural systems; Policy – Use nature sustainably; People – Broaden the constituency; and Performance – Strengthen our organizational effectiveness. It defines our strategic direction which is “To solve critical challenges, The Nature Conservancy will significantly improve the health of globally important natural systems that enhance the lives of people around the world.” In Kentucky, we are implementing this framework through our projects and programs.
The Nature Conservancy uses science to direct our work on places and
projects that yield the greatest benefit to Kentucky’s lands, waters, and
wildlife, and people. In many of these places, our local work advances
national, and even global, objectives. We work on more ambitious projects
and at larger scales than ever before and focus our efforts in five key areas:
1. Conserve thousands of acres of vital, connected lands to ensure these natural habitats can withstand global environmental challenges and continue to provide irreplaceable benefits to nature and people.
2. Protect the health of the Ohio River, the Mississippi River, and their key tributaries to secure clean and abundant water for people, wildlife and communities downstream.
The Nature Conservancy’s Kentucky
Chapter brings the following strengths to every project:
We have a staff presence and strong connections in communities throughout Kentucky – from the Mississippi River bottomlands and the Green River watershed, to the Kentucky River Palisades and the Cumberland Mountains, and even in downtown Louisville.
We join colleagues in every state and over 40 countries to leverage our conservation work in Kentucky to benefit larger natural systems that reach beyond our borders, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Central Appalachian Mountains.
We draw expertise and advice from our network of more than 600 Nature Conservancy scientists to ensure that our actions are based on sound science and tested on-the-ground techniques.
We work with all stakeholders to develop thoughtful, balanced and lasting solutions to conservation challenges.
We work collaboratively with communities, companies, government agencies and other non-profit organizations to expand our collective impact.
We are guided by a dedicated staff, loyal members and our Kentucky Board of Trustees representing business, academic, government and nonprofit sector experience.
David Phemister joined The Nature Conservancy in Virginia in November 2002 working on land protection issues, first as Land Protection Specialist and then as Associate Director of Land Protection. From May 2006 through June 2014 he worked as Director of Government Relations for the Virginia Chapter, with a focus on policy development, agency relations and lobbying efforts with Virginia’s congressional delegation. He started as Kentucky’s State Director in July 2014. David has a M.S. from the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment and a B.A. from Brown University. He enjoys spending time outside with his family and friends. He will work out of Kentucky's main office in Lexington.
The Green River gives life to more species of plants and animals than any other Ohio River tributary – especially in an unhindered 100-mile stretch that flows from the Green River Reservoir Dam through Mammoth Cave National Park. This stretch harbors one of the most diverse assemblages of fish and freshwater mussels in the United States.
Like geese migrating with the change of seasons, rivers ebb and flow across the months. The Green River is no different. Late summer and fall bring just a trickle, while winter and spring bring periodic floods. These seasonal flow patterns orchestrate a cycle of life for the plants and animals residing in and around the Green, cuing fish to migrate and spawn and floodplain trees to drop their seeds. Even cave-dwelling species such as blind freshwater shrimp depend on the river’s natural pulse. This pulse changed in 1969 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a dam at its headwaters to control flooding and provide public recreation. Almost thirty years later, TNC approached the Corps about operating the dam in ways which better mimic the river’s natural flow patterns in order to support native wildlife while meeting human needs. The Conservancy’s plea came after a scientific analysis revealed that while water releases from the Green River reservoir reasonably mimicked natural flows during much of the year, they were up to six times higher and significantly colder than historic natural flows during the fall, a critical spawning time for many fish and mussels. The result has been a ground-breaking partnership. For more than a decade, the Conservancy and the Corps have worked together on a plan which includes releasing water later in the year to avoid the spawning period and more closely mimic natural flow and temperature patterns. Since then, there has been enhanced mussel reproduction below the dam without any loss of flood protection or recreation for human populations downstream.
Located in rural central KY, the Davis Bend Nature Preserve protects more than a mile of beautiful frontage along the south bank of the Green River. Although TNC has owned property here since 2000, it has only recently begun polishing up this “diamond in the rough.” Together with partner organization, the KY Wild Rivers Program, TNC has initiated the development of a new conservation center that establishes the Davis Bend Nature Preserve as a base of operations for conservation throughout the Green River project area & destination for nature-lovers everywhere.
While work only began in 2011, over time the property will showcase best practices in agriculture, forestry, native plantings & sustainability while welcoming visitors seeking to study & experience the unique flora, fauna, geology & cultural elements of this spectacular area. Currently the preserve features wooded areas interspersed with old agricultural fields & relics of human history – old barns, a farmhouse & a Civil War era family cemetery.
For more than a decade, the Conservancy has worked with landowners, farmers, non-profit organizations & government agencies to achieve several milestones related to improving water quality & habitat.
One milestone TNC successfully completed recently, which is considered the largest conservation project ever put on the ground in KY, was the Green River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). The program was completed ahead of schedule after reaching the acreage cap less than halfway into the timeline. Approved in 2001, CREP was authorized to enroll up to 100,000 acres with funding contributed by federal and state government, and the Conservancy, over a period of 15 years to establish natural buffers around sinkholes within the karst plain & along the tributaries and main stem of the river to reduce by 10 % the amount of sediment, pesticides & nutrients entering the watershed from agricultural sources.
In June 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced $14.4 million targeted at 19 projects in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi & Missouri. Through the new Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI), NRCS is working with partners like TNC in these states to provide technical & financial assistance to landowners promoting water quality, restoring wetlands & enhancing wildlife habitat in ways that still preserve what equates to the nation’s most productive agricultural landscape. MRBI funds have been directed to priority small watersheds through the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative & the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP).
Since this new source of funding became available in 2011, TNC has engaged in a strong & productive partnership with NRCS & the local Conservation District to educate & assist with the process & paperwork, review sites and enroll landowners in order to secure additional natural buffer & productive farmland for those working and residing in this unique area of the Bluegrass State. The efforts have paid off. By 2013, landowners accepted offers on 3,748 acres to be enrolled into the WREP. Additional MRBI funding dedicated through 2014 will assist landowners with restoring & protecting wetland habitats for wildlife & improving water quality locally & throughout the Mississippi River basin.
The Kentucky Chapter launched an Urban Conservation program in Louisville – one of 13 cities included in the Conservancy’s new North American Cities program. Louisville’s work on air quality and urban heat already serves as a model for others in the Cities program.
This program is designed to improve the health of the city’s tree canopy, promote green infrastructure designs, and forge partnerships to improve air quality, reduce the city’s urban heat island, benefit the health and wellbeing of city residents, and provide a blueprint for similar efforts around the world.
In 2015, staff and volunteers worked with partners to plant nearly 900 trees around Louisville to increase the extent and health of the city’s tree canopy, therefore improving air quality, adding beauty and shading the city in an effort to reduce the urban heat island effect – a tendency for cities to be hotter than the surrounding countryside.
The Conservancy continues to forge new partnerships with private organizations, city government, local businesses and medical and academic institutions interested in exploring the connection between nature and human health.
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