Let’s get the bear rescue out of the way first.
If you Google Adam Warwick (go ahead, you know you want to), the first thing that pops up is a headline from CBS News: “Man Saves Black Bear from Drowning.” And, there are pictures of Warwick rescuing a big black bear.
Eight years after the fact, Warwick can’t get away from his role as ursine savior.
It happened when he was working as a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A bear that had been darted with tranquilizer ran into the Gulf of Mexico, where it faced death without Adam’s intervention. The bear story gets lots of attention, with reporters from the BBC and London’s Financial Times calling Warwick to do interviews. But, Warwick doesn’t mind; it gave him the opportunity to talk with a wider audience about his current work as stewardship manager in the Conservancy’s Southern Blue Ridge office, just a short drive from the Upstate in western North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest.
Natural Wonder // In 2008, Adam Warwick made national headlines for saving a bear. Now, he works for the Nature Conservancy to save natural habitats in Pisgah National Forest.
Warwick joined the Conservancy staff in 2012. Despite his much-publicized hands-on approach to wildlife, he saw the job in the Appalachian Mountains as a way to move from wildlife biology to the field of habitat restoration.
“There are lots of talented people out there interested in working with wildlife,” he explains. “Not as many people want to work to conserve habitat for those animals. Habitat restoration is one of the greatest conservation challenges.”
The job has significant challenges, particularly in the area of using controlled burning to restore mountain land. “People in the longleaf system have a history with fire. They have grown up with it, so they know it can be useful,” he says. “Here in the mountains, the only time you see fire on the news is when it is destroying houses. So, people have no basis—no historical reason—to trust that we can control fire. It is going to take time to develop that trust. We’ll get there. It is just a new idea, and you can’t just ram it down people’s throats. You need to show the benefits.”
Warwick points out that fire does have a place in the landscape. There is good historical evidence to show that it occurred regularly prior to the twentieth century as well as its emphasis on fire suppression. He has been working with partners in the Southern Blue Ridge Fire Learning Network to expand research on burning and promote its use in the system, which ranges across Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
One of the best nearby recreation areas in the Pigsah National Forest is in North Mills River, North Carolina. About an hour from downtown Greenville, a part of the Appalachin Mountains, this recreation area sits at 2,200 feet and is surrounded by mile-high peaks, cascading waterfalls, ands lopes densely forested with hardwoods. The group camping area is adjacent to the beautiful, shallow waters of the Mills River. Visitors can enjoy the nearby arboretum, the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as numerous hiking, fishing, and mountain-biking opportunities.
While there are many old oak trees in the Southern Blue Ridge, young oaks are being shaded out by shrubs. Without fire, the oaks will be gone along with their acorns, which are vital for a variety of wildlife.
In addition to fire, Warwick is restoring mountain bogs. He helps lead the Bog Learning Network, which brings together scientists and land managers from across the region, with the intent of restoring bogs—small, but important wetlands—throughout the mountains.
Warwick relishes the days he spends on the job in the Southern Blue Ridge. The Knoxville native says he is glad to be back home again. “I wanted to come to a place where I will eventually retire.”
The work he’s doing ensures it will remain a place many more people come to visit and retire to, well into the future.