At the quarterly Board of Directors meeting held in April, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy welcomed Ashton Berdine, lands program manager at the West Virginia Land Trust, to the board as an organizational director representing the Brooks Bird Club.
Family and neighbors sparked Ashton Berdine’s interest in the outdoors at an early age by offering him opportunities to explore the natural world.
An early obsession with birds and insects and a later desire to learn the names of plants led him to a library of field guides and a collection of friends that he says purposefully encouraged these interests. Hunting, fishing, and camping also factored into his fascination with the outdoors.
“The biggest influences in my life path came from those elders that shared their love and knowledge of nature,” Berdine said. “Beloved members of the Brooks Bird Club, teachers at the Oglebay Mountain Nature Camp, and my early job supervisors were all passionate about the natural world. These teachers eventually led to a career path that sought to protect and conserve that part of nature most critically in need.”
After graduating from North Carolina State University with a bachelor’s degree in botany, Berdine began his career with the Maryland Natural Heritage Program, inventorying for rare species and mapping the wetlands of Maryland’s Appalachian Plateau. This allowed him to extend his learning beyond birds and plants to insects, herps, mollusks, and mammals.
“It was this opportunity, along with the passion, guidance, and encouragement from my supervisor at this job, that taught me the true importance of conserving special places for the rare plants and animals… and the intrinsic value of all living things and places,” he said.
Following five years as an inventory botanist for the Maryland Natural Heritage Program, Berdine transitioned to The Nature Conservancy as the Maryland Plant Community Ecologist, tasked with creating a plant community classification for the state, a national effort to use plant communities as a tool for identifying and filtering conservation priorities.
In 2000 he returned to West Virginia to inventory corporate timberlands for rare species and rare plant communities as another Nature Conservancy conservation effort. This endeavor eventually transitioned into a land protection role, focusing on acquiring lands and conservation easements to conserve places of high biological value.
In 2014 Berdine became the lands program manager for the West Virginia Land Trust, overseeing the organization’s land protection in West Virginia. This effort was profoundly impacted and supported by legal settlements directed to the West Virginia Land Trust by passionate conservation organizations such as the Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, and the Sierra Club represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates. Currently, the West Virginia Land Trust has protected over 20,000 acres and much of that is a direct result of this vision by these organizations.
“I find great inspiration in the passion West Virginian’s show for their own special places and our connection to these wild places,” Berdine said. “This has become my inspiration for the conservation work the West Virginia Land Trust seeks to fulfill, and I find most fulfilling. I am always available to discuss conservation options with landowners in West Virginia.”
If he is not busy being a steward for conservation, Berdine enjoys hiking in West Virginia, kayaking, surf fishing, and pursuing wild turkeys. He especially loves the company of birds and the study of botany.