David Phemister joined The Nature Conservancy in Virginia in November 2002 working on land protection issues, first as Land Protection Specialist and then as Associate Director of Land Protection. From May 2006 through June 2014 he worked as Director of Government Relations for the Virginia Chapter, with a focus on policy development, agency relations and lobbying efforts with Virginia’s congressional delegation. He started as Kentucky’s State Director in July 2014. David has a M.S. from the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources and Environment and a B.A. from Brown University. He enjoys spending time outside with his family and friends. He is based in Kentucky's main office in Lexington.
Have you always had an interest in conservation?
I grew up spending as much time as possible outside, mostly in Rockbridge County, Virginia. I hiked and camped in the Allegheny Mountains and swam and fished in the Maury River. However, it's hard to pinpoint exactly when that simple love of being outside grew into a passion for conserving those fields, forests and streams, but by the time I was in middle school I knew I cared about wild places, working farms, wildlife and creeks quite a bit.
How did your career path lead to working with The Nature Conservancy?
I started my career in conservation with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Washington, D.C. We gave out grants for conservation and environmental projects and I remember being continually impressed with the quality of proposals the Conservancy submitted.
This impression held during graduate school in Michigan. The more I learned about the organization, the more impressed I was with its pragmatic, solution-oriented approach to conservation challenges. That is why I jumped at the opportunity to work on land protection, and eventually government relations, in the Conservancy’s Virginia Chapter. As predicted, working here has been a good fit for my interests.
What are some of the most memorable conservation wins the Kentucky chapter has achieved since you started as director in 2014?
One of the highlights of my time as the Kentucky state director has been the removal of Green River Lock and Dam #6. This was the first of what will eventually be three Green River dam removals our chapter will help to achieve. For freshwater conservation, dam removals can achieve big conservation gains for a relatively low cost. I'm proud of what we've done so far, and I look forward to seeing the next two dams come out. At that point, 200 miles of the Green River will flow freely for the first time in a century. That's quite a win for people and nature.
What conservation goals do you most look forward to realizing in the future?
I'm looking forward to seeing the results of the Green Heart project in Louisville. If our hypothesis is correct, the study will demonstrate the benefits of urban greening on human health. This would be ground-breaking not only for Louisville but potentially for cities all over the world. I'm also looking forward to the results of our five-year wetland monitoring study in west Kentucky. We have protected more than 6,500 acres of wetlands with our partners, and the study seeks to quantify the impact of this restoration work on things like water quality. This is another groundbreaking study that could influence conservation policy well beyond our state borders.
Preserves Closed Due to COVID-19
March 31, 2020
Dear Supporters and Members of the General Public,
I am writing to let you know that as of today, Tuesday, March 31, The Nature Conservancy’s preserves are closed in response to COVID-19. We will reopen these beautiful and important places as soon as practical and consistent with official guidelines and recommendations.
We made this difficult decision out of an abundance of caution and to ensure that The Nature Conservancy is playing our role in the larger collective effort to practice social distancing to slow and ultimately arrest the spread of the coronavirus through our country, Kentucky and our local communities. While being outside with our families or those we are already isolating with may pose relatively low risks of transmission, the dramatically increased visitor volume at many of our open preserves made safe social distancing harder and harder to maintain. Additionally, overflow parking issues were beginning to pose safety risks on local roads or trespass issues for adjoining landowners. At a time when local officials have more than enough to handle, we do not want to add to their burden.
As I already stated, this was a difficult decision. People are obviously hungry for time outside and opportunities to connect with nature during these uncertain and stressful times. We very much wanted to continue to provide that resource, especially with many of our partners closing their parks, trails and facilities. Ultimately, however, our primary responsibility during this challenge is the same as everyone else’s – to practice social distancing and avoid all but absolutely essential activities that bring us in contact with others. While I certainly think time outside is essential, not being on TNC preserves for a limited amount of time is all part of the larger sacrifices we are making. And I recognize that compared to decisions facing our healthcare workers and emergency responders, our specific sacrifices are minor.
Thank you for understanding and respecting this decision. We are currently in the process of gating our parking areas, and ask everyone to find alternative ways to be out in nature and celebrate the renewal of spring. We look forward to welcoming you back to our preserves as soon as we can.
Kentucky State Director