Environmental Education Works

NWF   |   April 25, 2006

I had an Earth Day surprise while attending the Montana Wildlife Federation’s annual meeting in Helena.  A man with a baby daughter approached me and asked if I remembered him.   He looked familiar and it wasn’t until he said his name that I made the connection–Tom Parker from back home in Butler County, Pennsylvania.  It turns out that I taught tree and shrub identification to Tom at the Butler County Conservation School in 1968—two years before the first Earth Day.  I had not seen Tom in three dozen years since our years at the Conservation School.

Tom and his wife Melanie are dedicated conservationists fighting the break-up of a large timber company’s lands near their home.  They want their baby daughter Kira to have a chance to enjoy the Montana that they love. 

Plum Creek is the first and largest publicly-held timber Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in the Nation that owns a large block of “checkerboard” railroad land in the heart of beautiful Swann Valley.   Plum Creek’s business strategy is to aggressively manage timberlands to extract the most value from every acre they own.  Their CEO is looking for greater quarterly returns and sees more money in selling prime land for trophy home development in Swann Valley than they can ever make growing trees and practicing good forestry.

Melanie provided a compelling presentation making a case against the fragmentation of Swann Valley to the Montana Wildlife Federation.  She’s a wonderful speaker and shares Tom’s deep love for the land.  Somehow I believe Tom and Melanie will prevail in their efforts to save the beautiful Swann Valley.  There is great power in persistence and passion.

I share this story because Tom attributes his passion for conservation to his early exposure at the Butler County Conservation School.  Tom’s conservation ethic is living proof that a small investment in environmental education pays great long-term dividends.

Thanks Tom, Melanie and Kira for making my 36th Earthday special.   

Published: April 25, 2006