Georgia Conservation Summit

Macon, Ga  //  November 10, 2016

It was a rare meeting of minds and a unique opportunity to get everyone in the room focused on our shared interests when it comes Georgia’s leading conservation issues. We are in a position to learn from each other, collaborate, and potentially turn the tide on our threatened species and critical water resources. As we look towards cultivating a “culture of conservation” in the state of Georgia, we need look no further than the visionaries gathered in Macon on November 10 to discuss the Gopher Tortoise Initiative and the Savannah River Clean Water Fund.


We heard from a remarkable range of voices, both onstage and in the audience, with a diversity of accents and perspectives. It was exciting to hear common concerns from leaders in forestry, utilities, business and energy sectors, land conservation, academia and government. Why does this kind of dialogue matter?

“In my opinion, where the best conservation work happens is at the intersection of different groups working together. Only when these groups come together can we do the large-scale landscape conservation effort that’s needed. I’m really excited about the precedent being set by this collaboration for how we work together and take control of the process.”

Stacy Funderburke, The Conservation Fund


The things that make Georgia special also create some unique challenges. Both Braye Boardman of the Savannah Clean Water Fund and John Ambrose with Georgia DNR brought up our state’s impressive biodiversity, which rivals the South American rain forest. Compared with other states, relatively little of the Georgia’s land is in permanent protection.

Meanwhile, we are the top state for forestry in the nation. Andres Villegas of the Georgia Forestry Association reminded us that, “biodiversity doesn’t happen by accident. Those species live on land that is privately managed.” That means a Georgia solution will lean on private landowners and free-market forces, which could be an important model for other states to follow.

“Two of every three raindrops that falls in the state of Georgia falls on a well-managed forest.”

—Wesley Langdale, Georgia Forestry Commission


We talked a lot about what it takes to spur action on conservation and striking a balance when it comes to incentives. We agreed that protecting land for water quality or habitat is extremely valuable to the region and there should be rewards commensurate with that sacrifice. Restrictive or punitive action leave lasting scars and those stories get passed on for generations. How can we help spread success stories?

“When you get caught doing the right thing and get rewarded for that, it’s a powerful message to your neighbors.”

—Ad Platt, The Longleaf Alliance


Landowners care deeply about conservation in general, but lingering mistrust of the government and very real economic concerns often still overshadow interactions between conservation interests and landowners. Explaining the need for conservation is important, and providing objective data, and recruiting private landowners to be part of that education is key.

“Of course, I think my programs are great, but I’m paid to think that. If they hear it from a landowner, it builds trust.”

—Sharon Holbrooks, USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)


Over the next few weeks, we’ll be compiling a full report on the summit, complete with some action items for all of us to consider as we approach the New Year. In the meantime, we encourage all attendees to stay in touch with each other and send us feedback.

"If we’re successful, maybe no one will know. But if we’re not, people will ask why.”

—Steve Friedman, Georgia DNR


The Georgia Conservation Summit included presentations by Georgia conservation professionals, in addition to panel discussions and networking that focused on conservation challenges and solutions.

Conservation Summit SCHEDULE


Gopher Tortoise Initiative

SWAP Land Conservation Priorities - Overview with focus on species and watersheds of concern

  • Jon Ambrose, Georgia Department of Natural Resources - Non-Game

Framing the Case for the Gopher Tortoise Initiative - Panel discussion and Audience Q&A

  • Stacy Funderburke, The Conservation Fund
  • Steve Friedman, Georgia Department of Natural Resources
  • Andres Villegas, Georgia Forestry Association
  • Doug Miell, Georgia Georgia Chamber of Commerce

What’s Been Done: From Research to BMPs to Land Conservation - Panel and Audience Q&A

  • Deron Davis, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia
  • Robert Larimore, U.S. Department of Defense, Fort Benning
  • Jon Ambrose, Georgia Department of Natural Resources - Non-Game
  • Jim Ozier, Georgia Power Company
  • Lauren Ward, University of Georgia, Warnell School of Forestry

Synthesis and GTI Call to Action - Moderated discussion on the morning panels.

  • Katherine Moore, The Georgia Conservancy
  • Charles McMillan, The Georgia Conservancy

What Success Looks Like for the Gopher Tortoise Initiative

  • Wesley Langdale, Georgia Forestry Commission
  • Steve Friedman, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

The Savannah Clean Water Fund

Framing the Case for the Savannah Clean Water Fund - Overview, Panel discussion and Audience Q&A

  • Braye Boardman, Savannah River Clean Water Fund

Next Steps for the Savannah River Clean Water Fund – Panel Discussion and Audience Q&A

  • Laura Walker, City of Savannah Public Works & Water Resources Bureau
  • Hazel Cook, Central Savannah River Land Trust
  • Sharon Holbrooks, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Glen Behrand, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, Watershed Protection Branch

Synthesis and SRCWF Call To Action - Moderated Discussion on the Afternoon Panels

  • Kat Nelson, Georgia Alabama Land Trust
  • Braye Boardman, Savannah River Clean Water Fund

Click here to learn more about the Gopher Tortoise Initiative

Click here to learn more about the Savannah Clean Water Fund



Partner Organizations


If you have any questions regarding the Georgia Conservation Summit, please email Georgia Conservancy Coastal Director Charles McMillan at