The year 2019 marked 200 years of statehood for Alabama. Bicentennial celebrations were held across our state, with fireworks, music and invariably, a host of officials praising Alabama’s progress over the decades — extolling how the state has grown from a sparsely populated primitive territory to a modern region with a population of almost 6 million and rising — and proudly proclaiming that Alabama today is poised for a new vision of unprecedented future growth. Such hoopla is certainly fitting for a bicentennial celebration. However, it is this “vision” aspect that causes me concern. My experiences as an invited participant in several Alabama leadership programs leave me troubled that the vision often promoted for the state tends largely to ignore Alabama’s unique and profoundly important environmental essence. Oh, there might be some brief “environmental” reference to the problem of litter, or the need for a “green space” or two and community ”beautification”— and maybe a bit of information about recycling or energy conservation. But never is there serious commitment to providing substantive awareness of Alabama’s natural history and the tremendous biological diversity of our state. And never is there emphasis given to understanding Alabama’s natural ecosystems, native habitats and plentiful rural lands – the environmental basis that is so vital in sustaining our communities and enabling comfortable livability, in contrast to the crowded, polluted, high-cost conditions so common in other regions. Put simply, I fear many Alabama leaders are at risk of being influenced by a prevailing, limited perspective in this age of burgeoning populations, accelerating urbanization and environmental decline. As Alabama looks to the next 200 years, what do we envision for the future of our state? Given the often-heard summons that Alabama must “catch up” to such “new South” growth as neighboring Atlanta, I shudder to imagine a vision fostered at the hands of this perspective. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not another Chicken Little screaming that “the sky is falling.” I’m not suggesting Alabama faces impending environmental doom. To the contrary, I just want to proudly proclaim that there is another perspective of our state, a remarkable picture of exceptional natural wonder. _______
Come Along As We Discover Alabama
No need to beat around the bush about it, Alabama is one of the most naturally diverse regions in the nation and in some respects, the most naturally diverse. Without diving into a ton of scientific tedium, let me give a few general highlights. We can begin with the underlying foundation for Alabama’s natural diversity — our impressive geological diversity. Though Californians will argue otherwise (California is, after all, quite large) Alabama contains much greater geological diversity than is accessible in other states. In fact, six major physiographic provinces and 37 minor provinces, revealing evidence for most of the earth’s geological history, rank Alabama at the top of the list for study by geologists from around the globe. The varied geology of Alabama is the basis of Alabama’s more than 300 different soil types, including some of the best soils in the world. Soil studies continue to yield advancing knowledge of the capacities of soil in providing nutrients for plants, performing decomposition and recycling and also containing microbial powers supporting the health of ecosystems, curtailing the emergence of new organisms potentially threatening human health. Crowning the varied geology and soils of Alabama thrives around 23 million acres of forests, with over 70 different forest communities and, by some accounts, more tree species than any other state. For example, Alabama has more species of oaks than can be found along the entire Appalachian chain northward to Pennsylvania. Likewise, Alabama has five species of buckeye, while Ohio, with only two species, claims itself the official “buckeye state.” Something else to cheer about next time the pigskin is between Alabama and Ohio State, perhaps? This natural jewel we call home also boasts the nickname “the aquatic state” for a precious asset that is becoming the envy of all other regions. Across the state flow roughly 130,000 miles of rivers and streams, supplying the “liquid of life” and nurturing an aquatic biota unrivaled in the nation. If, as experts say, water is the new oil, Alabama is “oil” rich. Alabama’s diverse geology, physiography, soils, forests, rivers and wetlands provide for an exceptional wonderland of myriad natural habitats and phenomenal varieties of flora and fauna – a realm of environmental richness confirmed even by satellite data. Add it all up, and, according to world-renowned Harvard biologist and Alabama native Dr. Edward O. Wilson, “Alabama is one of the most naturally diverse regions on earth.” And that, dear readers, is another image of our great state. So yes, I suppose one’s picture of Alabama is a matter of perspective. Admittedly, my perspective is tinged with a certain bias derived from a lifetime of roaming, exploring and discovering the natural wonders of our land — a land embraced by my late friend, Ed Wilson, as being “truly a special part of the creation.” And now I must bid you adieu, as I head out for some welcome respite and quiet solitude in one of my favorite Alabama places “off the beaten path.” I encourage you to find your own.