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“Buy land,” Mark Twain once said. “They’re not making any more of it.”
That investment advice has been taken to heart by the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, which formally celebrated 35 years of service last week.
Since it began, the commission has permanently set aside more than 25,000 irreplaceable acres for future generations. Their 60 nature preserves range from the Blanton Forest near Virginia to Three Ponds along the Mississippi River.
Kentucky’s natural beauty has always been one of its hallmarks, but hidden in that big picture is a considerable amount of diversity. We’re home to more than 15,000 types of insects and 2,030 types of seed plants, for example, and nearly 70 types of mammals.
Only Tennessee and Alabama have more native fish species than Kentucky, and 100 different types of plants and animals can only be found within our borders. One of the newest came in April, when scientists discovered a type of moth at a nature preserve in Lincoln County.
Knowing what we have in the great outdoors is beneficial in a number of ways. The commission points out that a fourth of the world’s medicine is derived from plants and micro-organisms, meaning today’s discovery of a rare species could play a role in a cure tomorrow.
Here in Kentucky, meanwhile, a 2004 report showed that more than 22,000 people worked at wood-processing facilities, with their products valued at $6.3 billion. This industry could be hit hard if invasive species like the emerald ash borer and the hemlock woolly adelgid gain more than the foothold they now have in the state. The borer has already devastated thousands of ash trees further north, while the adelgid has done similar work on hemlocks in some eastern states.
The commission also noted that Kentucky lags our surrounding states when it comes to protecting land. Between 1982 and 1997 alone, Kentucky saw the size of its urban areas grow by 50 percent, from 1.15 million to 1.74 million acres, and a late 1990s estimate said we were developing 130 acres a day.
About 7.5 percent of our 25 million acres is overseen by the state and federal governments, and for the state that includes not just the commission but several other agencies like the Department of Parks and the Department for Fish and Wildlife. Private landowners have also sold easements on tens of thousands of acres to ensure that their land is never developed.
In recent years the state has looked for ways to build on this momentum in ways that balance preservation with growth. For the nature commission, two steady sources of income are the Nature’s Finest license plates – the ones featuring Cumberland Falls, a hummingbird or dragon flies – and a check-off on state income tax forms that lets taxpayers set aside part of their refund. Combined, they generate hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
The commission has, quite literally, covered a lot of ground over the past 35 years, but its mission will always be ongoing. If we have learned one thing from Mother Nature, it’s that she seldom stays the same.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.