Bama Environmental News Publisher & The Green Register Editor Pat Byington
Below is my latest commentary that appeared in the Birmingham News yesterday about the Spirit of Forever Wild and why we should vote YES on Forever Wild Amendment One.
Bama Environmental News
Forever Wild brought together people who didn't trust each other at first
"It started with two pieces of paper."
That is how Kathy Stiles Freeland, the first director of The Nature Conservancy of Alabama, described how the Forever Wild program, one of Alabama's most successful conservation programs, achieved its first breakthrough.
In 1991, Republican Governor Guy Hunt and Commissioner of Conservation Jim Martin convened a group of 33 Alabamians to consider creating a new land conservation program for the state.
This was a bold move. Rarely, had a group of such diverse interests assembled in Alabama to talk about conservation and natural resources, let alone consider creating a new program.
Most of the people on the committee didn't trust each other, primarily because they didn't know each other. Every interest group imaginable was present: the hunters and anglers, business interests, various state agencies, the timber industry, ALFA, the environmentalists and even the AEA.
The group's facilitator, chosen by the department of conservation, was Doug Phillips, the host of Discovering Alabama. Phillips set the tone for the first meeting and everything that followed by giving everyone two pieces of paper. On one sheet, Phillips asked the participants to write down their greatest hope for the group and the process. On the second piece of paper, they were to write their biggest fear. Then everyone read their papers to the group, sharing their hopes and fears.
They learned from those scribbling that everyone had the same hopes and fears. Everyone hoped and wanted to do "something special, something great" for Alabama. Everyone feared politics and corruption: the same old, same old in Alabama.
Freeland describes what happened next: "We sat and looked at each other. We had a common bond: the same hopes and fears. And that made us begin to see each other as people, other than an organizational representative and thus, the enemy."
The group continued to gather, meeting at state parks around the state. Martin led the effort, called the meetings in the morning, so many participants had to stay an evening at the state park lodges. This one action helped develop more trust and common ground, among committee members, enabling them to "break bread" together and get outdoors and solely focus on doing something great for Alabama.
The spirit of Forever Wild was emerging.
People stepped up, rolled up their sleeves and started working together.
As director of the Alabama Conservancy at the time, I had a front row seat at the birth of Forever Wild. For example, I witnessed the hard work of Bill Satterfield, former deputy general counsel for the Department of the Interior in the Reagan administration, and an attorney at Balch and Bingham, representing the business community. He drafted and negotiated the Forever Wild legislation with an equally dedicated attorney, Bob Reid, a partner at the Bradley, Arant law firm and avid birder representing the Birmingham Audubon Society. It wasn't an easy process. This kind of effort was unheard of in 1992, but it was the spirit of Forever Wild.
Months later, in the Legislature, Mobile's Republican state Sen. Ann Bedsole worked closely with freshman Anniston Democratic Sen. Doug Ghee, the sponsor of the Forever Wild constitutional amendment in the Senate. There was no inkling of partisan politics. Not one interest group got everything they wanted in the legislation.
Once the legislation passed, it appeared on the November 1992 ballot. Led by Bill Ireland, the Birmingham industrialist, outdoorsman, conservationist and philanthropist, all the groups came together to promote and support the amendment to the general public. Alabama voters approved the Forever Wild constitutional amendment with 83 percent of the popular vote.
For the past 20 years, our hopes have been fulfilled; "something special, something great" happened in Alabama. The Forever Wild program has expanded Alabama's state parks, and created places for the public to hunt, fish, hike and ride horses and bikes.
It has protected forests, rivers and streams providing countless Alabamians with clean water. It has become an economic driver, increasing tourism and jobs in our rural communities, supporting the more than $2.2 billion in money spent on outdoor recreation annually in Alabama. And it has accomplished all of this using no state tax dollars.
The spirit of Forever Wild still lives today. More than 195 organizations from every walk of life, including the same unlikely allies, have once again joined together to support the renewal of Forever Wild. They unanimously recognize we need to continue Forever Wild.
On Nov. 6, unlike the people on that committee convened some two decades ago, you will be given only a single piece of paper -- a ballot. Much like them, you will be asked to write down your greatest hope and fears. And once again, by voting yes for Forever Wild Amendment One, the people of Alabama will do "something special, something great " for Alabama.
Pat Byington of Birmingham is former director of the Alabama Conservancy (now the Alabama Environmental Council) and member of the Forever Wild Board of Trustees (1996-2002). Byington is also editor of The Green Register and publisher of the Bama Environmental News. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org