Danna Baxley joined The Nature Conservancy’s Kentucky Chapter in 2016. Prior to that, she worked for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, one of the Conservancy's closest and most important partners, where she acted as a liaison among programs, regions and partners to ensure good science drives good conservation throughout the state. Originally from Malvern, Arkansas, Danna attended Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina before going on to study reptile and amphibian communities in longleaf pine ecosystems at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she earned a Ph.D. In her down time, Danna has “way too many hobbies” that include backpacking, skiing, running, hunting, fly fishing, adventure racing, reading and spending time with family and friends.
nature.org: Have you always had an interest in conservation?
Danna Baxley: Actually, no. I didn’t have any exposure to camping, hiking, hunting or fishing as a child. I was a huge bookworm and loved reading about the great outdoors—most notably Jon Krakauer, Barbara Kingsolver and Aldo Leopold. When I was in in high school, I took an environmental science class and my teacher took a troop of kids to a tiny island on the Chesapeake Bay for a week where we learned about climate change and I met biologists in a professional setting. Up until that point, I’d never understood that you could actually BE a biologist or pursue it as a career path. I was hooked from that point and knew in high school I wanted to work in the conservation field.
nature.org: How did your career path lead to working with The Nature Conservancy?
Danna Baxley: After I finished graduate school, I developed a short list of four states where I wanted to work. Kentucky was one of those states. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife had a job posting that was right up my alley. I applied and landed the job. The job provided an opportunity to work with the Conservancy on projects and committees, and I came to deeply respect the organization and the people within it. When the Director of Conservation position opened, I threw my hat into the ring. I am so lucky to be a part of the Conservancy's team!
nature.org: What projects have your focus right now?
Danna Baxley: We have an ambitious conservation agenda in Kentucky right now, from the largest river and wetland restoration projects in Kentucky’s history to launching new programs in Sustainable Agriculture and Central Appalachian conservation. Scaling our work to deliver the highest conservation impact is always top of my mind, especially in this critical time for biodiversity and climate. More and more, we’re working with partners and working with TNC colleagues outside our state borders to achieve a focused set of protection and climate goals intended to drive global change.
nature.org: What do you hope to tackle in the future?
Danna Baxley: I would love to get all the key conservation partners in Kentucky to agree to one unified focal area map of priority areas so that we can better leverage resources for conservation in Kentucky. Another big interest is developing feasibility assessments and strategically thinking about how to initiate carbon credit markets and sustainable forestry initiatives in Eastern Kentucky. Creating economically viable, yet sustainable, markets for Eastern Kentucky is a huge win for both communities and the environment. I’d also like to see the Kentucky Chapter grow, and I have a lot of ideas about how to achieve this growth. Kentuckians have a lot of pride, and we care about our natural heritage and natural resources. I really believe the potential for the Conservancy’s Kentucky chapter is unlimited.
A PLACE I LOVE The Kentucky Palisades, specifically a rocky knob she calls home, is a particularly special place for Danna. "These palisades bring species and landscape diversity to the Bluegrass region, and offer incredible views of the small farms along the Kentucky River," says Danna, who adds "I’ve spent many hours hiking and camping with my family on our little farm, so it holds countless great memories of the great outdoors!"