Editorial: Conservation efforts succeed all around us

Jul. 28, 2014 @ 01:27 PM

Often, it seems, those who discuss conservation or environmental protection are pigeon-holed as liberals or bleeding hearts with unrealistic goals of protecting rare snails or fragile species of sea coral at the cost of beneficial industrial and commercial expansion.

But every day in Sevier County, even in a bastion of political conservatism, we live among phenomenal examples of successful conservationist programs and their far-reaching effects.

One, of course, is our Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Prior to conservation efforts in the early to mid-20th century, the Smokies were used greedily for their vast natural resources. The natural life in the mountains, and even the land itself, suffered.

Fortunately, some dedicated officials and everyday citizens had the foresight to see the need for a protected environment and set forth to establish the park. Three-quarters of a century later and that park — along with a lot of hard-working entrepreneurial spirit — has allowed our county to carve out a wonderful niche economy that provides a livelihood for nearly 100,000 people.

Two other great examples of successful conservation can be seen soaring through the skies around Douglas Lake, the Little Pigeon River and even Middle Creek near downtown Sevierville.

Bald eagles and blue herons, both once rarely seen in the area, are now spotted regularly — herons almost 24 hours a day on the banks of either of the two rivers, and eagles periodically in nesting sites in Sevierville or on the lake.

Our own American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge has been a primary leader in helping protect the bald eagle, and has been instrumental in its re-population here, having released dozens of eagles into the wild in the area.

In the meantime, the statuesque heron, once listed as "in need of management" by the state of Tennessee after years of clear-cutting, hunting and the destruction of habitat, is now thriving — far away from the "threatened" list it once approached.

Listed as among the "most abundant wading birds in North America," by the Audubon Society, it could now stake a claim as Sevier County's official bird: Herons are everywhere.

While conservation is almost a bad word in some circles, these successes are undebatable. And Sevier County, and the state of Tennessee, are both better because of it.