POCONO MANOR, PA — “She’s the stealth bomber of conservation causes,” declared Delaware Highlands Conservancy (DHC) board president Greg Belcamino as he invited DHC founder Barbara Yeaman to the podium at the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association’s (PALTA) annual conference on May 4. Before a large crowd, Yeaman was presented with the organization’s Lifetime Conservation Leadership Award.
“That’s how Barbara gets things done, quietly, never drawing attention to herself,” continued Belcamino. “She flies beneath the radar and always accomplishes her mission, although she seldom takes credit for it. Once she speaks, you have to listen and it’s almost impossible to say no.”
Now 87, Yeaman founded the DHC 17 years ago at the age of 70. The 500-member non-profit organization has since preserved more than 13,000 acres in the Upper Delaware River region and achieved an important milestone in earning accreditation from the national Land Trust Alliance’s Accreditation Commission.
During the past year, the DHC also finalized its position on natural gas drilling, concluding, “Gas drilling and its associated impacts on infrastructure and natural resources are not compatible with our mission and the conservation goals we must meet to assure the long-term protection of our lands, waters, and quality of life.” In addition, the DHC recently merged with the Eagle Institute—now a special project of the DHC—and opened a new office in Sullivan County, NY.
Yeaman, a resident of Wayne County, has continued to serve in various roles and recently came back onto the DHC board as vice president. “Barbara long ago earned the right to slow down,” said Belcamino. “I don’t think there’s been anyone more self-effacing and effective. Those who know her work in land conservation have nothing but admiration for her commitment to the cause and nothing but astonishment for the time and energy that she’s put into it.”
Yeaman graciously accepted the award. “I’m speechless, so I brought some notes,” quipped the diminutive conservationist following a standing ovation. “I’m truly humbled to receive this statewide recognition and so honored that you value my work for the past 30 years.” Yeaman thanked her family, friends in the conservation community, DHC members and board, noting that “no one works alone.”
Yeaman closed with a quote from “When Women Were Birds,” by Terry Tempest Williams. “The world is already split open and it is in our destiny to heal it, each in our own way, each in our own time, with gifts that are ours,” read Yeaman. “What better message for us to takeand use as our own?”
Following the award ceremony, as pictures of Yeaman from infancy to the present continued to appear on a screen behind the podium, keynote speaker and Susquehanna County resident Seamus McGraw addressed the audience. McGraw is the author of “The End of Country,” which explores the “epic battle for control” of the Marcellus Shale and his family’s experience in leasing their land.
The gravel-voiced writer shared his perspective on fossil fuels while painting his persona for the crowd. “I usually show up dressed in leather and travelling on a motorcycle,” he said. “I live almost entirely on caffeine and nicotine, so I’m not gonna throw stones.” Suddenly lobbing a heavy bag into the air,” McGraw growled, “I lied. I am gonna throw some stones. Almost 20 pounds of coal, which I carry around because that’s how much each of us burns every day.”
McGraw detailed the process and costs of coal extraction, asserting, “Every person in America is digging a grave-sized hole in America every single day.”
Moving on to natural gas extraction, McGraw called it the most divisive issue in the state. “It’s created a situation where we find it very difficult to talk to each other,” he said. “When we talk about the Marcellus Shale, it is absolutely essential that we recognize the real and profound risks associated with the development of this,” he said, then added, “It is also essential that we review those risks in context.”
McGraw said that while he believes human survival depends on a carbon-free future, he advocated for relying on a mix of fossil fuels to bridge the gap. Then he invited comments from the audience.
“Prolonging bad habits and philosophies that have gotten us into this mess in the first place isn’t the answer,” responded conference attendee Virginia Kennedy. “We have to change our paradigm in terms of how we live and think. There are more and more problems associated with hydrofracking. Let’s be honest and not waste time rationalizing this dangerous process. Let’s use our creativity and energy to do something better than that. We have to move away from natural gas, oil and coal. We’re in a hard place right now, but that should motivate us to rise to the best in ourselves, not to rationalize something that’s only marginally better.”