I suppose I’m feeling a bit sentimental in these summer months. Lingering over good times with dear friends, spending more time with nature, and of course forever more keeping a close eye on maintaining all that we love about our wild places, in hopes that generations ahead of us will have the same sense of adoration for their surroundings. In the vein of dear friends and protecting nature, this month I interviewed Ben Colvin, Development Director for Wild South. Aside from sharing a wall between offices with Ben, he has been an exceptional friend by supporting EPN in countless ways. So there was no surprise when he suggested a video introduction just to spice things up a bit. So please, before you read the interview, sit back and enjoy his brief hello!

SB: Thanks Ben. In the video, you briefly described what Wild South does. Can you elaborate about your mission?

BC: Wild South is a regional grassroots conservation organisation, inspiring people to enjoy, value and protect the wild character and natural legacy of the South – we work primarily on public lands, our National and state Forests, parks, refuges and publicly held lands. This is a great arena in which to work, because when we work on public lands and partner with conservancies, watershed groups, educators, writers, businesses, and the public, we can begin to see truly connected landscapes that are conserved.

SB: Can you tell me a little more about one or two specific projects that Wild South is excited about right now? 

BC: I’m really excited about one of our truly remarkable projects – a partnership with Google Earth and the Eastern Band of Cherokee – there are many ways to show the intrinsic values of public lands, and in this way, we map, ground-truth and present documentation of ancient Indian trails on National Forests that will be protected as cultural preservation.  We must maintain positions based in science, connected to people and communities and focused on protecting biodiversity and the public good, and conserving land through cultural contexts is a really exciting and unique approach.

SB: Wild South has had an emphasis on publicly owned forests, US national forests in particular.  Why are these lands and their conservation so important? 

BC: Our history is notable in the US because we intentionally set aside some of our most treasured places to be held in the public good, “managed in the best interests of the public” and it is incredibly important to make sure ‘the best interests’ are really being followed. Protection over resource extraction, and poor land management are backed up by science and public opinion. These are exceptional places that allow us refuge, renewal, recreation and hold unlimited intrinsic values.

bencolvinSB: What sets conservation work in the Southern United States apart from similar efforts in other parts of the country or world? 

BC: In just NC and AL alone, where we do a lot of work, there are over a million and a half acres of National Forest land. And here in the Southern Appalachians, there is more diversity of tree species than the entire continent of Europe. We are in a truly distinguishable place in the world, full of biodiversity, beauty and history – and it’s up to all of us to stand up for the protection of these places. Especially in the South, there is a long history of poor management based around timber extraction, mining and drilling – and we are fighting for a new future for these wild places. When groups like Wild South and EPN combine efforts, industries and agencies that overuse our forests are effectively pressured to change their practices – this is a great thing for the southern wilds.

SB: I remember when you started working with Wild South, so I know how much you’ve added to the organisation.  In your time with them, what’s an accomplishment that you are proud to be a part of?  

BC: We are a grassroots group, doing great work with a lean staff, so I am particularly proud of the strides we’ve made in the last few years to grow this strong network of people across the South who are actively involved. As a team, our staff in NC, AL, TN and MS has worked really well together to grow visibility of the movement and strengthen the network of passionate advocates!

SB: You organize events like crazy. They always seem to be a good time and are great at introducing people to Wild South and forest protection. Can you tell me about the next one you’re working on?

BC: Events are a great way to bring new people into the network and to engage active members and grow the movement…they are a lot of work, but I think it is incredibly important to remember to renew ourselves, to enjoy time with friends, and to get energized so that we all stay connected to the reasons why we work for conservation. I’m really excited about new events that will be coming up in Alabama, a place where people are really motivated to change the way Southern forests are managed. We all have very serious issues to tackle – climate change, fracking, species extinction, biodiversity decline, etc – and I’m a firm believer that we better fight those issues when we are renewed and are brought into the fight remembering that when we enjoy friends and get outside, we appreciate the values of places and then are excited to protect them. I’ve definitely seen this in EPN as well – at EPN events, I always have fun, meet new friends, renew my passion for advocacy and feel great about supporting the EPN mission.

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SB: Where do you see Wild South in 5 years?

BC: I see Wild South growth that continues to build a strong network of members, a proud group of partners and permanently protects thousands of additional acres in the South. We are a hard working bunch, and with partners like EPN, I think the next 5 years will be a significant journey resulting in powerful forest and species protection.

SB: How do you see the regional forest protection work of Wild South and the work of EPN to change the way paper is produced and consumed connect with each other?

BC: Our Southern forests have always been pressured by our human drive for resources, but partnerships like EPN and WS are changing those pressures. Wild South works mainly to show government agencies that better forest management practices are necessary, particularly based around conservation and recreation, and EPN works mainly to transform the paper industries and to show businesses that there are much better practices and choices to be made that will protect our forests, our health and our world. This is the kind of organisation partnership and connection and  the multi-pronged approach that more effectively combines our work to change the way we treat our forests and each other. I see connections between WS and EPN coming from different directions to accomplish similar goals to sustain the advocacy movement and actively relieve pressure from our forests and permanently protect special places. We are proud partners of EPN!

Thanks for getting to know Ben and Wild South in this installment of our monthly-featured member series. Please keep an eye out in August for our next featured member.