September 20, 2008

Scientist Addresses Nature Conservancy

By Veronica Nett

Protecting the environment is as important as a nation's health care plan and its foreign policies, M.A. Sanjayan said Thursday at the West Virginia Nature Conservancy's Corporate Council for the Environment.

Natural resources are many times the cause of major conflicts, including the ongoing war in Darfur, said Sanjayan, a lead scientist with the Nature Conservancy.

"A major part of our work is about human well-being and social development," said Sanjayan, who has been featured on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic and Today Show.

The focus of the conservancy is to allow people to aspire to live better lives without exhausting their natural resources in the process, he said.

In West Virginia, the Nature Conservancy chapter has worked to preserve several sites in the eastern mountains, including Dolly Sods, and islands in the Ohio River.

Dominion Exploration & Production Inc. President Ben Hardesty said Thursday that the Dominion Foundation will contribute $1.1 million to conservation efforts in West Virginia.

Money from the grant will also go toward conservation efforts in Virginia and North Carolina.

"It's both conserving land and working with landowners to restore [red] spruce spores and to outreach to the public about conservation needs in the high evaluations," said Rodney Bartgis, director of the conservancy's state chapter.

Overall, the group has helped preserve 100,000 acres of land for wildlife in West Virginia, as well as 15 million acres in the United States and 100 million acres in 32 countries around the world.

"We're not just here in West Virginia, and we're not just in the United States, we have a global footprint," Bartgis said.

During his visit to West Virginia, Sanjayan met with representatives from American Electric Power and Chesapeake Energy.

In an interview prior to his presentation to the conservancy, Sanjayan said large power companies such as AEP and Chesapeake Energy have a responsibility to their shareholders, and to the citizens they serve.

These companies, he said are trying to find a "balance between getting power without ruining the environment."

"I feel like they got it," he said. "They know they have to do the right thing, but they do not always know the path to do it."

During his presentation Thursday evening, Sanjayan focused on efforts the conservancy has made toward water conservation.

He spoke about a recent trip to Namibia in which he and a group of scientist walked across the Namib Desert.

A feat that took 15 days and six camels, he said.

The group had started out with nine, but a lion ate one camel, one became hobbled and another became pregnant.

During their trek, he said each member of the group used 15 liters of water a day.

He compared that to the 30 liters of water an average woman in Ghana uses a day, to the 200 liters a person in Germany uses and the 600 liters a person in the U.S. uses per day.

Water is a basic need that people across the world rely on to sustain themselves.

Waterborne diseases are also the number one cause of childhood deaths, of which 90 percent are preventable, Sanjayan said. The death rate is equivalent to a 747 passenger jet full of children crashing 10 times a day, he said.

On a more local level, Sonjayan also spoke about efforts the conservancy has made in the Flint River in Georgia to reduce the amount of water farmers require.

By developing a sensor that monitors soil dampness, farmers have reduced their water consumption from the Flint River by 17 percent over four years, he said.

"That's the equivalent to the amount of water 250,000 people in Atlanta use," he said.

"We all contribute to the problem and we are all part of the solution," he said.

Reach Veronica Nett

at [email protected]

or 348-5113.

Originally published by Staff writer.

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