Photo of western Kentucky
Western Kentucky Fields and forests in western Kentucky © Mike Wilkinson

Stories in Kentucky

Collaborating for Conservation

Reed Cripps has learned that working together is the most effective way to put conservation on the ground.

Image of Reed Cripps
Reed Cripps Assistant State Conservationist for NRCS in Kentucky. © Reed Cripps

Reed Cripps’ love of nature began with a camera.

“My father was a photographer for the Associated Press,” he says. “I had an unlimited supply of photography equipment, access to a dark room, you name it. Whatever caught my eye. It was pretty neat, and I was lucky.”

In addition to outdoor photography, Cripps liked to hike and camp. He spent time walking up and down creeks and fishing for smallmouth bass. When it came time to attend college, he went to Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

“I put my love of the outdoors and science together and came up with agriculture,” Cripps says. “I didn’t know much about soil science, but I knew I was going to learn.”

Cripps completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Texas, then got his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. He did a post-doc at Texas A&M, then joined the faculty at Tennessee Tech University, where he taught soil science from 1988 to 2002. 

“After 14 years I decided to try my hand at something else,” he says. “So I joined NRCS."

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a major partner of The Nature Conservancy in Kentucky. As the Assistant State Conservationist, Cripps works with TNC on its wetland restoration program in western Kentucky and the Working Woodlands program in eastern Kentucky.

“I enjoy working with partners,” Cripps says. “I enjoy collaborating with people to put conservation on the ground. I’ve found that you can get a lot more done if you can work with not just federal resources but others too, whether it’s TNC or the University of Kentucky or conservation districts.”

Cripps and TNC recently celebrated a big conservation win when the Working Woodlands program was awarded $5 million in funding from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The funding will help enroll more acreage into the program, which helps landowners enter the sustainable timber and carbon credit markets.

I’ve found that you can get a lot more done if you can work with not just federal resources but others too, whether it’s TNC or the University of Kentucky or conservation districts.

Assistant State Conservationist for NRCS in Kentucky

“TNC and I also worked to enhance what we’re doing for the Wetland Reserve program,” Cripps says. “We’re working with several universities in the mid-south to monitor the environmental impact of our easements."

The wetland restoration monitoring project will help quantify the benefits of restoration, hopefully spurring new investment in the future.

“Working with Reed and the NRCS, we have been able to make a big difference in western Kentucky, where we’re working together on the biggest wetland restoration project in state history, and in eastern Kentucky, where we’re conserving a critical forested wildlife migration corridor,” says Danna Baxley, conservation director for TNC in Kentucky. “NRCS plays a vital role in achieving conservation at a landscape scale in Kentucky.”

Cripps manages a budget of approximately $20 million per year for NRCS. According to him, showing conservation results leads to more conservation funding.

“If I can successfully implement the funding, that’s going to increase the likelihood of getting more money for conservation,” he says. “The longer we can roll the snowball, the bigger impact we can have.”