Cherokee Rose: A Brief History of Conservation in Georgia (Part 1)

Introduction

Georgia has long been a major player in the eco-tourism market. With over 400 species of bird, over 30 species of frog, and over 50 species of butterfly recorded, it is not hard to see why. The state even contains mountain ranges, dense forests, and an ample coast.

This series attempts to explain to the reader a brief history of conservation in Georgia. What major steps were taken to solve problems, which worked , and which didn’t. It is my intention to endow future generations with this history, lest they repeat the mistakes of their predecessors. Georgia used to be fields intermixed with Longleaf Pine trees. Eastern Cougars stalked the mountains looking for what ever they could catch, Carolina Parakeets lived in little cavities in trees, and Passenger Pigeon flocks covered the state. But, over time, the Pines started to be hauled off to build houses, the Cougars started disappearing, and the Passenger Pigeon began to become a faint memory of yesterday’s lunch. People began to notice that some their favorite creatures were not only disappearing, but were gone altogether. This is where our story begins.

Part 1:

The Rise and Fall of the Atlanta Bird Club

The Atlanta Bird Club (ABC) was founded in 1926 with their stated purpose being “for the study, protection, and appreciation of birds”. They educated the public in a myriad of ways, such as leading monthly bird walks.

For ten years, the ABC was the single birding organization in Georgia providing a single place for money, research, and information. But, good things can’t last forever.

In 1936, Roger Tory Peterson spoke in front of the Atlanta Bird Club. As he spoke, I wonder if he knew that he would be changing the face of conservation in Georgia. His lecture stirred something inside of some the listeners. They were inspired by his scientific reasoning and analytic way of thinking. He was preaching helping birds through science.

The next day, 22 members that were affected by Peterson’s lecture sat down at a diner and created the Georgia Ornithological Society (GOS). It was an organization whose mission was “to encourage the scientific study of birds by gathering and disseminating information on Georgia bird life.”  An organization of science for scientists.

The ABC was no doubt shocked, but the split was amicable. The ABC went on without its more analytically minded counterparts, more or less, like it always did.  In 1968, the Atlanta Bird Club voted to become a chapter of the National Audubon Society. The Atlanta Bird Club was no more it was replaced by the Atlanta Audubon Society (AAS). Their current mission statement is “to protect Georgia’s birds and the habitats that sustain them through education, conservation and advocacy”. A fine ideal, but a significant change from the original mission.

The study of birds was for GOS, while the advocacy and education was for the newly minted AAS. Two different organizations working for different goals. Was it for the best?

How can you advocate and conserve without the proper scientific data? How can you disseminate information when there is no one to disseminate it to?  They are 2 halves to a whole. That can be witnessed even today, because they often partner with each other on projects. What GOS could do with the funding of AAS would be incredible, as would what AAS could do the data of GOS. They would serve their state better as one cohesive unit.