October River Voice
The river moves from land to water to land, in and out of organisms, reminding us what native peoples have never forgotten: that you cannot separate the land from the water, or the people from the land. Lynn Culbreath Noel
What is an environmentalist? No one wants to be stereotypical. Can the term be defined? Growing up in the 80’s, the proverbial environmentalist was an irrational person who chained themselves to a tree to keep it from being cut down. Honestly, these people inspired me greatly. I know there are still those who take those measures to make a statement however, I believe techniques have evolved and there is conversation among the environmental community that inspires real change. Everyone is an environmentalist to some degree. If you love to fish, hunt, kayak or hike, you could fall in the category of, “nature lover.” If you are a member of an environmental organization such as The Sierra Club or The Audubon Society and have a good understanding the importance of environmental regulations, you could be considered an “advocate.” Going one step further on the environmentalist spectrum are the people working on behalf of the environment, such as myself.
There are over 40 river and lake groups in the state who are actively addressing environmental issues on the 132,000 miles of lakes, rivers and streams of Alabama. In my book, these people are considered heroes who work each day toward solutions for a healthy environment and sustainable future that we all are relying on.
Alabama Rivers Alliance is a partner non-profit organization based in Birmingham, that brings the environmental community together and holds an annual conference, the Alabama Water Rally. The event is usually held in the Spring at Camp McDowell or Camp Beckwith however, with COVID-19 this year’s conference was a virtual Zoom meeting in September. Although it was disappointing that we could not be together, I was truly impressed how the small organization of three, pulled off the technical task of managing a four day virtual conference. From start to finish, the rally was jammed packed full of inspiring messages from advocates from across the state.
Subject matter from the conference was everything from a beautiful poetry reading honoring our land and water, to meaningful conversations about how Climate Change is affecting Alabama’s natural world and Southeastern Rivers. The 2020 Southern Exposure Films were premiered and groups could learn in depth about the roles of our state agencies and ways to become a stronger organization. There was even a virtual “meet and greet” where we mingled with friends and met new people while sipping on the new “River Defender” beer by Red Clay Brewing.
My favorite speaker was Dr. Scot Duncan, professor of Biology at Birmingham Southern College. Scot is the author of the award-winning book, Southern Wonder: Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity and spoke on what inspired his second book about the future of Southeastern Rivers. Alabama is #5 in species diversity and #2 in species extinction. Dr. Duncan’s presentation about the connection between species extinction, dams and run-off, reminded us that everything in nature is connected. He referred to how an extremely beneficial mussel, The Purple Bank Climber is now rare and endangered and how at one time, these creatures kept our Southeastern rivers clear by filtering the flowing rivers and streams through their shells. Because of dams its host, the endangered Alabama Sturgeon is limited to a small section of approximately 130 miles of rivers in lower Georgia and Alabama. This is only one example of two connected species. Alabama has lost over 100 species since the industrial revolution. When we damage and alter aquatic ecosystems we are removing natural ecosystem services that filter and clean our water naturally.
The takeaway message from Dr. Duncan and the other incredible speakers was; Take Action. Take action in policies that shape our lives and impact Alabama’s environment. The state of Alabama lacks a water management plan, a dam inspection program and policies that encourage renewable energy and water conservation. I encourage you to get involved with groups who are engaging in positive change when it comes to a sustainable future with clean air, clean water and clean energy. We need more citizens contacting representatives about these issues. Do we want our children and grandchildren to look back on how we didn’t take an active role in preserving the environment for their future? Personal choices like not littering and using less plastic are important but it’s going to take more people becoming involved in environmental policy.
Angie Shugart is the executive director of Little River Waterkeeper, a 501(c)(3) water advocacy program and a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a global clean water movement. Donations are tax deductible. 215 Grand Ave. SW Fort Payne, AL 35967