Ivy was born to Earl Moore Ivy and Lorene
Fletcher Ivy, in Birmingham,
December 11, 1920. She
graduated from Ramsey High School in 1937 and from Birmingham-Southern
in 1941. Both are located in Birmingham, Alabama.
the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Burks and her husband,
Bob Burks, were active in many community organizations, including the
Birmingham Audubon Society (BAS). Through her work with the BAS she met
Evans Dean, an environmental activist and lover of nature. They spent
exploring the Bankhead
other wild places. As a result Blanche Dean’s mentoring, Burks
developed a love
for these wilderness areas as well as for the trees and wild flowers
there and across Alabama.
In the late 1960’s Burks and others
in the BAS began
discussing the need for a non-governmental group to help develop
policies for the state. In 1967 they organized the Alabama
Council, now known as the Alabama Conservancy. Burks was the
first president. Some of their first projects involved tackling air and
pollution problems. At the time the AEC was founded, Birmingham’s particulate matter air pollution
was second in the nation and fish kills were a common occurrence.
then new Alabama Environmental Council began focusing on
the areas around the West Fork Sipsey
River in the Bankhead National Forest.
About that time the U.S. Forest Service was directed to authorize the
clearcutting mature trees in that area. This threat to destroy some of
remaining publicly owned wilderness attracted the attention of many
environmental and nature activists.
the early 1970’s the Alabama Environmental Council could
afford an Executive Director, and Burks was selected for that position.
began advocating the inclusion of the West Fork
watershed in the National Wilderness Preservation System. By building
support for this project, she convinced Alabama
two senators, John Sparkman and James Allen, to sponsor legislation
establishing a Sipsey wilderness area. Burks found herself at the front
national grass-roots effort known as the eastern wilderness movement.
Over much opposition from the timber
industry, the U.S.
Forest Service, and their friends in Congress, and after 13 attempts to
the proposed legislation, Congress finally passed the Eastern
Act of 1975. This Act designated 12,700 acres along the West Fork Sipsey River as Alabama’s first national wilderness area.
Later, in 1988, through efforts Burks initiated, the West Fork Sipsey River and its upper tributaries were
designated as Alabama’s
only national wild and scenic river.
Mary Louise Ivy Burks received many awards
for her tireless
efforts. Probably the most fitting was the award from the Campaign for America’s
Wilderness that designated her a “Wilderness Hero.”