Fred and Dorothy Meyer Nature Preserve photo by Kyle Doles

Let’s honor those who have protected Indiana’s natural places

Our president & CEO, Cliff Chapman, submitted this opinion piece to local media. It ran in several outlets in late May.

Among the many ways that Len Betley, who passed away late last year, made a difference in Indiana was through his drive to conserve our natural areas. In addition to directly participating in the purchase and protection of some of Indiana’s most stunning landscapes, he led initiatives that support ongoing conservation projects and strengthened preservation organizations.

For example, it was Len who was the primary draftsman of the legislation that allowed for the funding of land protection through environmental license plate sales. Thanks to that legislation, nearly 62,000 acres of Indiana’s natural heritage is protected forever and, one could argue, the foundation was laid for the unprecedented $10 million included in the state budget approved in late April.

It would be a shame if such a giant of Indiana land conservation — and others like him — were not honored in some way. Unfortunately, one key way we could honor him seems to have fallen along the wayside. I’m proposing that we resurrect it.

In 2009, the Indiana Natural Resources Foundation began recognizing conservationists through the Indiana Conservation Hall of Fame. The inductees listed on the Indiana Department of Natural Resource’s website include some great people from a variety of backgrounds who made a tremendous impact for conservation. Many of the names are recognizable even beyond land conservation circles, such as Cook, Deam, Efroymson, Ford, Harrison, Lilly, Rolland, Scifres and Stratton-Porter.

However, after only three classes, the naming of inductees stopped. No one has been inducted for over a decade. And yet, there are many more worthy candidates. Just based on the protection of natural areas — my professional focus — I would recommend:

Dr. Alton Lindsey. Seeing too many beautiful places destroyed, Purdue professor Dr. Lindsey led an effort to document the best we have left in his 1969 book Natural Areas of Indiana, which led to the creation of many of the preserves we cherish today.

Edna Banta. Ms. Banta put Jefferson County on the map as a biological hotspot around the turn of the last century, combing the countryside to reveal that it was the most diverse county in Indiana.

Fred Meyer. Indiana’s first chapter president of The Nature Conservancy in 1960, Mr. Meyer chaired its land protection committee and negotiated deals to protect the state’s first nature preserves.

Shirley Heinze. Ms. Heinze put everything she could into protecting the Indiana Dunes and inspiring others to do so as well. An endowment created upon her death continues to protect what she loved so much.

John Bacone. No one protected more natural areas in Indiana than Mr. Bacone, director of the DNR Division of Nature Preserves for 40 years. Not willing to wait to honor him with a lifetime achievement award, his peers in the Natural Areas Association presented one to him 10 years before he retired.

Ellen Jacquart. The Central Indiana Land Trust’s founder and first president, Ms. Jacquart served as a botanist for the Hoosier National Forest. Finding no source for materials to restore areas in need, she created a native seed nursery. Later the stewardship director for The Nature Conservancy of Indiana, she was one of the first women in the nation to serve in that role.

Dr. Laura Hare. Dr. Hare’s family’s land in Fishers has been protected as Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve for decades, and she made arrangements for a foundation to be created upon her death for the protection of central Indiana natural areas. The foundation gives land-protection grants both nationally and in Indiana, which is home to several “Laura Hare Preserves.”

And, of course, Len Betley. In addition to the contributions noted above, Len did the hard work of leading multiple nonprofits improving their business practices and governance, ensuring their long-term sustainability and impact. His legacy lives on through their ongoing success.

We must have a way to memorialize the contributions of people like those I’ve listed here, not simply to ensure their legacies but to remind future generations — including state legislators — that some of Indiana’s best people have made the state’s natural places a top priority. I urge my colleagues in land conservation, elected officials, community members and Hoosiers everywhere to find a way to revive and maintain the Indiana Conservation Hall of Fame. Let’s make sure that, when future generations are appreciating Indiana’s incomparable natural areas, they know exactly whom to thank.

Of course, another way to thank them this spring would be to do everything we can to put a generous amount of money into the state budget for land conservation. After all, these giants of land conservation would want to see more natural areas saved.

Cliff Chapman is president and CEO of the Central Indiana Land Trust.

Cliff Chapman

President and CEO

As CILTI’s President and CEO, Cliff keeps CILTI’s focus on good science and stewardship. He’s mindful that the natural places you love took thousands of years to evolve and could be destroyed in a single day, and that knowledge drives his dedication to their protection.