Award-winning conservationist shares stories, warnings


The Appalachian Online

Laney Ruckstuhl

Award-winning conservationist, environmentalist and author Jay Leutze spoke at Appalachian State University Oct. 6 about the importance of land conservation, particularly in and along the Appalachian Trail.

Leutze began by sharing a personal anecdote, detailing his fight against a mining corporation that catapulted him into the conservationist movement.

Leutze said in 1999, Putnam Mining Company attempted to excavate 151 acres of land in Avery County. However, they violated numerous regulations, including the minimum distance from residential areas and the requirement to hold a public forum prior to construction. The issue eventually was contested in the U.S. Supreme Court. Ultimately, Leutze, along with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, was able to win the case.

“The question becomes, how much do we value the experience of using our public lands?” Leutze said.

Leutze then went on to discuss current problems facing conservation. One pressing issue, Leutze said, is the growing number of roads cutting through the mountains of North Carolina. He calls roads “fragmenting features” because of the way they split habitats apart and decrease biodiversity in the gene pool.

“If you are a bear, or salamander or any number of species, you’ll find it pretty difficult to cross these roads,” Leutze said. “This is a highly altered landscape.”

Leutze’s comments on the shrinking gene pool hit home with Peter Smith, a biologist for the North American Land Trust who was in attendance.

“When gene pools are diluted, if something catastrophic were to happen, you could lose an entire species,” Smith said.

Another pressing issue that Leutze addressed was the lack of emphasis the government places on environmental issues. He told the audience that the national budget for land conservation has been cut by 90 percent.

“It’s very hard when you’re on the advocacy side [of environmental issues] and have to deal with large bureaucracies,” Leutze said.

Leutze is one of the leading conservationists in North Carolina. In 2012, he was awarded the Order of the Longleaf Pine, an honor given to citizens for extraordinary service to the state. In 2013, he received the North Carolina Governor’s Conservation Communicator of the Year award.

Leutze also wrote a book, “Stand Up that Mountain: the Battle to Save One Small Community in the Wilderness Along the Appalachian Trail,” detailing his legal battle with Putnam Mining Company.

Story: Thomas Culkin, Intern News Reporter