Mike worked for an insurance company in Indiana after graduating from the University of Southern Indiana in 1990 with a degree in English. This work eventually led Mike and his wife to Florida where they fell in love with the state’s natural landscape. There he left the insurance field to become a Park Ranger with the Florida Park Service. In the nine years that followed, Mike took on a variety of challenges throughout the state, including management responsibilities for three different parks. During that time he learned a lot about balancing the needs of people with environmental challenges including urban sprawl, exotic plant and animal invasion, habitat fragmentation, suppressed fire and threats to water quality and quantity.
Because Mike and his wife, Lisa live in a rural area with no community recycling program, they take their recycled goods to the town where they do their grocery shopping once a week. Since he maintains his own equipment, Mike also found a local mechanic to accept his used oil and antifreeze for pick up by a company that will recycle the materials.
Nature.org: Have you always had an interest in conservation?
Mike Hensley: I grew up in rural southern Indiana, often going fishing and hunting with my father. When it wasn’t hunting season, I could be found exploring in the woods with my friends. As I grew up I watched this rural area (that I thought would stay the same forever) slowly transform as more folks moved into the area – with those woods giving way to houses and subdivisions. While I believe that people need places to live, work and play, I feel we need to do a better job of “fitting in” to the natural world if we just put a little more thought and effort into the process!
Nature.org: How did your career path lead to working with The Nature Conservancy?
Mike Hensley: When I graduated from the University of Southern Indiana in 1990, the economy was in the dumps…kind of like what we see today. I needed to start making a living and I took the first job I could find, which was working for an insurance company. But nature eventually won out when I became a Park Ranger with the Florida Park Service. After nine years there, I had a strong desire to work for an organization that was even more dedicated to conservation. In my mind that was The Nature Conservancy. The Kentucky Chapter gave me my shot, and I took it!
Nature.org: What projects have your focus right now?
Mike Hensley: The Conservancy owns a beautiful farm property in Hart County, Kentucky that borders a critically important stretch of the Green River. Together with a number of partners, we hope to offer a wide range of opportunities via this site in the way of environmental education and the demonstration of best management practices for agriculture, native prairie plantings. This effort, called the Green River Conservation Center (GRCC), is just getting underway. I’ll be drawing heavily upon my experience in park management to move it forward while the Conservancy continues to provide permanent conservation protection to many sensitive properties in the Green River watershed.
Nature.org: What do you hope to tackle over the next couple of years?
Mike Hensley: I’d like to see the GRCC move from an idea, to a well thought out plan, to a reality on the ground – and in a cost-effective manner. I hope it will be a first-class facility that puts nature first while serving needs for the Conservancy, local communities and other conservation organizations across the Commonwealth. I’d also like to see many more acres put into permanent conservation easements to help keep the Green River and her inhabitants in great shape.