Mike Hensley worked for an insurance company after graduating from the University of Southern Indiana in 1990 with a degree in English. The work eventually led Mike and his wife Lisa to Florida where they fell in love with the state’s natural landscape. In fact, he eventually 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, including the management of three state 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.
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 and intensively managed farms. Of course, there is no doubt that people need places to live, work, farm and play. But I know we could and should do a better job of “fitting in” to the natural world. We just need to 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 not in great shape. I needed to start making a living and 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. I’ve been working here since 2010 and the time has just flown by!
nature.org: What projects have your focus right now?
Mike Hensley: We continue in a long history of working with the Army Corps of Engineers through the Conservancy’s Sustainable Rivers Project to look at ways of improving the operation of the four large lake dams and possibly removing or altering some aging, obsolete smaller dams located throughout the Green River basin. We are also working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, other partners and farmers to promote agricultural best management practices. An example of this is the “Soil Health” approach which has the potential to improve farming operations and the quality of soils while reducing some of the negative impacts that agriculture can have on local waterways.
nature.org: What do you hope to tackle over the next couple of years?
Mike Hensley: I would love to see at least one of those old lock and dams removed from the Green River. There is probably not one other single action that would have a greater beneficial impact on aquatic habitats within the Green River itself. I will also continue working with partners to promote agricultural best management practices throughout the watershed. Finally, we have an opportunity to continue our long-standing land protection work in the Upper Green River region, working with landowners and partners to (1) restore habitat along the river corridor and (2) place more critical riparian areas under permanent conservation protection.
A PLACE I LOVE One of Mike's first tasks upon joining the Conservancy's staff in Kentucky was manage the restoration of several old farm fields into native grasses and wildflowers at the Davis Bend Nature Preserve. "Every time I visit, it fills me up to see nature thriving there; everything from butterflies to bluebirds, bobcats and barn owls," says Mike. "Even though most of us don’t have a big preserve that we can call our own, everyone can positively impact some slice of the world, even a small backyard. I encourage people to look at their own backyards and community shared spaces as restoration opportunities waiting to happen!"