Men's Journal

The Protectors

It’s easy to say that our country’s natural wonders deserve protection. Meet the men on the front line, actually doing the hard work.


Meet the eco-warriors who are dedicating their lives to protecting America's wildfire and wilderness from Evil Corp.

The American pact with its wide-open spaces seems simple enough: This land is your land, this land is my land. Such a noble ideal, in reality, is anything but simple to manage. However you weigh the value of public and private interests, recreation and industry, preservati­on and progress, we all can recognize that once wild lands are lost, they are not likely to return. These eight men have chosen paths that put them squarely in the fight, and often squarely in the path of real danger. As defenders who battle wildfires or track wild horses, expose polluters or face down injustice, that loss of nature is not an option.

THE KEY to catching alligators is patience and solid core strength. At least, that’s how Kemp Burdette tells it. “They’re pissed when you hook them, rolling and running, but they don’t have a lot of stamina,” he says, describing how he brought in an 11-foot gator with a deep-sea fishing rig on the edge of North Carolina’s Cape Fear River—wearing it out, and then slowly dragging it in.

As Cape Fear River Watch’s full-time Riverkeepe­r, Burdette and a team of NC State scientists were on the clock, holding down the primordial beast so that they could test it for traces of chemicals discharged upstream. Such risks aren’t new to the former Navy rescue swimmer and Peace Corps volunteer who returned to his home state to try to clean up “the Fear.”

The 9,000-square-mile river system provides drinking water to 1 in 5 North Carolinian­s and hosts wildlife that also includes pelicans and manatees, but is plagued by a massive chemical facility, coal-fired power plants and the largest pig slaughterh­ouse in the world.

Most days, Burdette kayaks the Fear or its tributarie­s, taking water samples. Other days, he’s navigating waves of coal ash as they flood into the river, or he’s in a small airplane, flying above farms to look for improper waste disposal.

In the last decade, Burdette has helped remove coal ash ponds, forced Dupont to stop dumping chemicals, and worked tirelessly to reduce the impact of the swine and poultry industry that operates largely unchecked on the river’s banks—a job with no finish line in sight. “I love it here,” says Burdette, “but this river needs help.”

 ??  ?? Burdette and Jamie Berger from Cape Fear River Watch make miles to maintain North Carolina’s largest watershed.
Burdette and Jamie Berger from Cape Fear River Watch make miles to maintain North Carolina’s largest watershed.
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