The Western North Carolina environmental community recently lost one of its most credible and visible faces with the death of Esther Cunningham of Macon County.
Cunningham died Sept. 20 at age 93. The Macon County native was a wife, mother and grandmother, and the founder — at age 64 — of the Western North Carolina Alliance, an environmental group with local chapters across the mountains.
“She was motivated by her love of the mountains and forests and was outraged when the Forest Service considered allowing private companies to explore for oil and gas in the national forest,” the WNC Alliance noted in a written memorial about Cunningham following her death. “She pulled together her friends and neighbors, environmentalists and hunters, natives and newcomers in a successful effort to stop that proposal — and eventually to change the way the Forest Service manages its lands.”
Cunningham also fought clear-cutting practices by the forest service and encourage selective timber harvest, which is now largely standard practice.
Today, the Alliance has six staff members and two AmeriCorps volunteers and work on various environmental issues across 23 mountain counties.