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Austin to remember Kent Butler at memorial service this Thursday

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Kent Butler, considered by many to be one of the pioneers of conservation and the environmental movement in the Austin area, died in a hiking accident on May 13. There will be a service to honor his memory this Thursday at UT’s Etter-Harbin Alumni Center.

Butler, a professor of architecture at the University of Texas and a pioneer in the field of sustainable development and conservation, died while hiking in Yosemite National Park in California.

Over the last 30 years, Butler had a hand in some of the most important environmental projects in the city. In the 1970s he served at the chair of the Water and Wastewater Commission, and he helped establish the environmental department for the Lower Colorado River Authority as that group’s water resources expert in the 1980s.

Butler also had a tremendous impact on regional water planning and habitat conservation through his work developing the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (BCCP), which led to the preservation of thousands of acres of habitat for endangered species in Travis County, and the Barton Springs-Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan. 

George Cofer, the executive director of the Hill Country Conservancy, met Butler more than 20 years ago, when they were working together on the BCCP. “He was one of the guiding lights of the BCCP,” Cofer told In Fact Daily. “He was one of very few people who envisioned a good solution to having growth under the Endangered Species Act that would also preserve the species. I think it’s rare in this day and age to find a guy who not only has the vision but will also do the nuts and bolts work of seeing that vision through a 10-year process.”

Former Travis County Commissioner Valerie Bristol said Butler’s great achievement was being able to visualize conservation and sustainability strategies using unorthodox methods.

“Sustainability was his passion and he liked to express it through many different things: architecture, land-use planning, trying to inspire people to think outside the conventional ways of doing things,” Bristol said. “He was very exciting to work with because he was a visionary.”

Bristol, who worked with Butler on the Barton Springs conservation plan, which was designed to preserve the habitat of the Barton Springs Salamander, said Butler was well respected “both for his planning as well as his conservation views.”

“Kent was smart, charming, very personable. I loved working with him. He was a delightful man. What a huge loss,” said Bristol.

Perhaps what set Butler apart from so many environmentalists, not to mention architects, was his ability to see the value of sustainable development long before the concept was generally accepted.

Former City Council Member Daryl Slusher applauded Butler for getting his UT students out of the classroom, taking them to China and Mexico and the Netherlands to see the value of sustainable development firsthand.   

“Kent was way ahead of the game when it came to sustainable architecture,” said Slusher, who is currently the assistant director of environmental affairs and conservation at the Austin Water Utility.

George Cofer agrees that Butler was a man ahead of his time. “Kent was one of the first people to say that we need to let the natural treasures of Central Texas guide our development,” he said. “He was one of the first to say that we’re talking about more than the built environment; we’re talking about how the built environment relates to the natural environment. He was putting the idea forward that we could do both.

“He was prince of a guy.”

The memorial service is set for 4:30pm at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, 2110 San Jacinto Boulevard on the University of Texas campus.

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