PITTSBURG — The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an international nonprofit environmental organization, celebrated 30 years in Kansas with an event Wednesday at Pittsburg State University.
“The university itself has taken sustainability very seriously and has put that in their major goals here,” said PSU provost and vce president for academic affairs Howard Smith in his opening remarks at the event.
Gordon Elliott, a member of the PSU Foundation board who is also a longtime TNC trustee, said that while PSU and TNC have not had any formal partnership in the past, that may be changing, as the two organizations are looking into possibilities for working more closely together, although details of those future plans are not yet entirely clear.
“We’re going to have a long and wonderful relationship with Pittsburg State,” Elliott said. “They are so excited about having us on campus, and what a delight that is.”
TNC State Director for Kansas Rob Manes also spoke at the event. Although TNC was founded in 1951, the group did not have a presence in the state for its first several decades.
“The Nature Conservancy actually didn’t have an office in Kansas until 1989,” Manes said. Since then, however, TNC has expanded in Kansas to take on a wide variety of environmental conservation projects, he said. Manes also discussed TNC’s vision for the next three decades.
“Over the next 30 years I think we’re going to figure out how to get better at large-scale conservation,” Manes said. “We’re working on a partnership right now with Argentina on sustainable grazing and water conservation and migratory birds, and you’re going to see us working outside of Kansas and outside of the US.”
Within Kansas, however, and particularly Southeast Kansas there are many areas that could benefit from a partnership between PSU and TNC, other speakers at the 30th anniversary event noted.
“Southeast Kansas is the most biologically diverse part of the state,” said PSU Assistant Professor of Biology Andrew George, “Yet parts of Southeast Kansas are also some of the most disturbed parts of the state, so a lot of the research that we do here in Southeast Kansas is sort of focused on this dichotomy.”
James Whitney, who is also an assistant professor of biology at PSU, discussed some of his research which fits into this category, focusing on fish populations in Southeast Kansas rivers and the impact of pollution on them.
Much of this pollution and environmental disturbance is a result of the legacy of mining in Southeast Kansas. As George pointed out, however, mining in the area has also had some effects that may be counterintuitive.
“One of the perhaps unexpected consequences of strip mining is that it’s created habitats for a few species that probably wouldn’t have been here without it,” George said, including various bat species.