The End of an Era
By Pierre Howard
And so the journey ends. I will step down as president of the Georgia Conservancy on June 30, 2014, and a new president will take the reins.
The rhythm of life dictates that the old give way to the new, and so it is with organizations. It is an important moment of transition for the Georgia Conservancy, and the future will depend squarely on leadership.
When I became president in May 2009, I knew that the Georgia Conservancy had some work to do to re-establish itself as a leader in conservation and environmental protection. We had no land conservation program and no advocacy program in the General Assembly. Because of my political background and my passion for land conservation, I made sure that we planted our flag in both places. But first, I had to put my team in place.
I was hired, along with Senior Vice President Allie Kelly, formerly of Georgia Watch, to work as a team, and we made changes. Allie has worked hard and has been an excellent partner.
To start our advocacy program, I called on Will Wingate, a Georgia Tech graduate from Lax, Georgia who ran my legislative affairs at the Capitol. Will did a masterful job of establishing the Georgia Conservancy as a trusted and effective voice for the environment under the Gold Dome.
Ask anyone in the General Assembly today, and you will find that our reputation is strong on both sides of the aisle. We have made a real difference, working with our partners, to keep bad things from happening to the environment and to make good things happen in land conservation and the protection of our natural resources.
In land conservation, I asked Shannon Mayfield - a UGA law graduate with a successful career in real estate behind him, who joined me in 1989 for my first campaign and later ran my office at the Capitol - to help me construct a land conservation program that would give the Georgia Conservancy a unique role in preserving land.
Our program of working with individual landowners to preserve their land in perpetuity hit a responsive chord all across Georgia, generating over 1,600 inquiries to our office. To date, we have conserved over 20,000 acres of high biodiversity land in 19 Georgia counties.
To bolster fundraising, my friend Robert Ramsay came to us from The Nature Conservancy, and he has made an enormous difference in our development efforts. He was recently elected to the board of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership.
Katherine Moore, assisted by Johanna McCrehan, has led our Sustainable Growth Program to a position of national prominence in school siting and sea level rise work.
Bryan Schroeder has moved the needle on our trips program, taking over 1,500 people a year onto our rivers and barrier islands, instilling in many of them a connection to the natural world.
Clay Mobley has grown the coastal office, with excellent results on the Oyster Roast, working to stop a landfill in a fragile wetland and conserving important wetland tracts.
Fuller Callaway has worked directly with landowners to make our land conservation program successful, and Leah Barnett has come into her own as a valued and experienced advocate in the General Assembly.
Mike Vinciquerra has done a great job of increasing our funding from foundations through his excellent grant writing, and Brian Foster effectively communicates our message to the world.
In just over a year, Melinda Corbett has become indispensable as our financial manager and bookkeeper, and Lisa Patrick, in her four-plus decades of service to the Conservancy, continues to keep the office running and in tune.
As I prepare to leave the Georgia Conservancy, I am proud that our team is handing it over to the new leader better than we found it in 2009. I know that whatever success I have had has been due to having a great team behind me.
In the words of Robert Frost, the Georgia Conservancy has “promises to keep.” Promises to our founders, promises to our members, promises to the natural world. Our promise is to be worthy, as people and as an organization, of the trust that is placed in us to defend, with all of our energy, the natural world of Georgia. It is the creation by God, but it is given a voice only through those who step forward to defend it.
Let us prove worthy of our task, for as the sea rises, as the pollution flows, as the development pressure builds, the future awaits.