Raging wildfires, extended droughts, crushing mudslides, melting icecaps, rising oceans, tornado patterns creeping eastward. Not to mention devastation left by hurricanes and deadly floods in the wake.

It seems Mother Nature is sending a blunt message to humanity. There’s one planet Earth. Take care of it — or else.

Of course, people can’t control a hurricane or end a drought or stop a tornado or even make it rain. But we can be better stewards of our environment. We can protect what we have. We can restore what we have damaged.

Right now we can learn more about what is causing the destructive weather patterns inflicting damage across the globe. Scientists are doing serious work on that. That is our great hope. Of all the great social experiments that Americans have undertaken as models to the world, universal education stands as tall as any. Our future is determined by what we learn from the past and how we implement those lessons in the present.

Experience has proven that those who deny science will be left in the wake of civilization, footnotes in history. We all know Galileo, but name his inquisitors. For the sake of their progeny, it’s probably best those names be forgotten.

The environmental legacy we leave future generations is yet to be determined. There is confusion now at high levels of government. As it always has been, it is up to individual communities to take care of their own environments in ways they can control.

Blount Countians have been doing that for generations. It’s not flashy. It takes getting hands dirty and boots muddy. But it works.

Last week folks who’ve devoted their lives — their blood, sweat and tears, especially the sweat — to this land that rises from the waters of the Tennessee to the peaks of the Smokies honored a few of their own for notable achievements.

The Blount County Soil Conservation District held its 62nd annual Soil Conservation Awards Banquet. Some history is in order for those unfamiliar. Over the past 65 years, the Soil Conservation District has worked to sustain and improve natural resources while meeting the productive needs of land users.

Conservation practices, such as terraces, grass-lined swales and diversions, which were implemented by the district in the 1950s, are still functioning in croplands today.

In the 1960s, the district adapted to the increase in livestock farming and expanded its programming to include pond development and other practices that emphasize the importance of forage management.

Today, the district continues to implement conservation programming for cropland, livestock pasture and forest systems which make up 55 percent of land use in the county. That does not include, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which itself is a great American achievement in conservation and environmental protection.

As Blount’s population continues to increase, the Soil Conservation District is challenged to adapt its practices and programming to meet old and new ecological needs. This is being accomplished through the broadening of technical assistance and guidance for natural resource management into urban and suburban ecosystems including parks, school campuses, pocket habitats and even individual lawns.

Further, in addition to implementing management practices, the district staff is expanding its efforts to create or participate in K-12 environmental education programs, community workshops for lawn care and agricultural practices, public outreach events, community stewardship activities, citizen science programs, and professional development internships for local college students.

At the center of that conservation mix is science. The district is working with scientific experts to advance water and soil monitoring practices to help quantify changes in the health of our ecosystems with disturbance, land management practices and other activities.

Success requires an integrative approach. To accomplish its goals and be an effective public servant of both the land and the community, district staff have to be communicators. They have to work to communicate and collaborate with land owners, land users, stakeholders, and public officials. They have to take into account the diverse and dynamic uses of local natural resources. These uses include agricultural production, outdoor recreation, outdoor learning spaces for youth and beautification.

This approach helps to work towards common goals. Working with the community allows district management practices to sustain our natural resources while meeting other needs throughout the county.

To all the award winners at the 62nd Blount County Soil Conservation Awards Banquet, congratulations. The achievements that your honors represent will benefit Blount Countians for generations to come.

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