An interview with environmental activist, Katie Keller of nonprofit, Wild Virginia
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Gasa
It’s one thing to love the outdoors; it’s a completely different thing to actively fight for it. As issues like climate change and privatization begin to threaten the health of our forests and rivers, it will be up to us to protect the land we hold so near and dear. One of the persons leading this fight is Katie Keller of the environmental nonprofit, Wild Virginia.
A woodsy, grassroots organization, Wild Virginia is an advocacy group that seeks to influence policy and the public through education and outreach. At the core of Wild Virginia is a group of folks who not only love the planet that we call home but hope to preserve it for generations to come.
On the latest episode of the Life In Motion podcast, Keller chats with Jeremy Lux about Wild Virginia, the nitty-gritty of policy change, and how fighting for the Earth is so much more than just hugging a tree.
Born in Cedar Rapids, IA Keller’s time at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA turned her towards environmentalism and volunteering. A self-described hippie, Keller was the college student who reminded people of the dangers of consumerism and tried to convince people to buy less things.
“Consumer marketing always tells us that we need to buy, buy, buy,” says Keller, “So, I was always trying to help people find alternatives and telling them that they were buying too much plastic.”
This newfound environmentalism was fueled by Keller’s love of hiking in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia. For Keller, hiking is a form of meditation, but it’s very hard to enjoy the outdoors if you’re having to step over beer cans, plastic bags, and cigarette butts strewn across the trail.
While working for a state wildlife research agency, Keller stumbled upon Wild Virginia. Impressed by the grass roots nature of the group, she joined up in 2015 and the rest has been history.
Keller explains how Wild Virginia first started as a student org that banded together to prevent the logging of their beloved George Washington National Forest.
“Today, Wild Virginia protects the forests, the mountains, the trees, and what I find most important, our drinking water. We simply work to protect all wild places here in the state of Virginia,” she says.
Currently on the org’s agenda is preventing the construction of the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines that are slated to run through Virginia. It’s been an uphill battle for over six years now, but Keller and her team remain determined as ever. She says possible leaks from the pipelines will have negative affects to not only waterways but people’s drinking water.
Also at the heart of Wild Virginia is its recognition of people power and giving everyone a voice.
“One thing that Wild Virginia does is make citizens feel like they can speak out and influence policy. That’s why we honestly need more watchdog groups like us,” says Keller.
One example is a controversial compressor station that was going to be built in a rural, historically black community in Buckingham. Keller explains how the station would have had adverse health effects on the community and was a prime instance of environmental racism.
“When I hear stories like this, it just wrenches my heart,” Keller admits, “Like this company is just allowed to take your land and make it worse? That’s the kind of American we’re living in right now. It just seems crazy to me.”
At almost 500 members and growing, Wild Virginia seeks to increase its ability to influence policy makers and hold representatives responsible for keeping communities clean. Though we all know the image of people protesting and tying themselves to trees and construction equipment, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to environmental activism.
There are petitions to be signed, fundraisers to be made, and streams to be cleaned! Though the world of political action may seem daunting, Keller assures that as long as you have the time to spare, there is always work to be done no matter how big or small.
“My first piece of advice is to be willing to put in the time. Sometimes that means volunteering. You got to have the gusto and be willing to put in that work, even if that means you’re not getting paid,” Keller shares.
Sometimes the greatest things in life are the things that are worth fighting for. For people like Katie Keller, there is no better cause than for our one and only Earth.
With yearly memberships starting at $35 you can become a member of Wild Virginia and join Katie in her fight for clean streams and forests. For more information check out www.wildvirginia.org as well as their socials on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. To hear more about the inner workings of environmental activism and how you can get more involved, check out the full Katie Keller interview on the Life in Motion podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.