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People, Places & Parks Thought Leader Uncategorized

What Nature Gives, What Nature Needs

Over the next several months, The Nature Conservancy will share our thoughts on the critical need for adequate, reliable funding for land and water conservation in Georgia. We hope the ideas we present will inform the dialogue about why investments to create and maintain parks, green spaces and conservation lands are critical for economic success and quality of life across our state.  

I can’t tell you when my connection to nature began because it has always been a part of me. Some of my earliest memories are of long summer days on my grandparents’ farm near Rome and fishing in the streams of north Georgia. And now my family spends quality time hiking in our state’s forests, visiting the Georgia coast and – of course –fishing.

After studying economics, I worked at Goldman Sachs in New York and then moved home to Atlanta where I now serve as managing director at Source Capital, a private equity firm. My affinity for nature and background in finance might seem disparate, but I feel it makes me uniquely qualified for my role as a third-generation member and former finance chair of The Nature Conservancy in Georgia’s board of trustees. With that juxtaposition of experiences, I can say unequivocally that adequate and predictable funding for conservation is essential to the future of our state’s economy and way of life.

Our country and our state’s economy reflect our collective love for nature. According to the Outdoor Industry Association’s annual report about the economic impact of recreation, 7.6 million jobs and $887 billion in consumer spending can be tied to people hunting, hiking, birdwatching – and my new favorite – stand-up paddle boarding — all over the country.

The trends hold true here in Georgia. Almost 240,000 jobs are related to outdoor recreation, totaling $8.1 billion in wages and salaries and resulting in $1.8 billion in state and local tax revenue each year. More Georgia jobs depend on outdoor recreation than the auto industry.

Yet unlike many states, including our neighbors Alabama, Florida and South Carolina, Georgia does not currently have a dedicated source of funding for land conservation and management. The annual budgetary process allocates funding for maintaining and improving the health of our state’s natural resources year-to-year.

This lack of predictability makes it extremely difficult for state agencies like the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and partners like The Nature Conservancy to plan ahead. Opportunities to purchase important habitat sometimes disappear because funding can’t be secured in advance. Long-term planning is sometimes replaced with quick decisions, resulting in significant negative consequences for our communities and the natural areas where we connect with our families and replenish our souls.

For several years now, a group of organizations have come together to envision how to create a steady funding source for conservation. The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act is the result of their collaboration. You will be hearing about it as the 2018 legislative session gets underway – and I encourage you to learn about it now.

I am proud to carry forward my family’s values – respect for place, love of nature and opportunity for everyone to enjoy the benefits of our natural world. Those values are a fundamental part of who I am – and I suspect most Georgians share them. But the clean water our forests provide, the healthy air we breathe thanks to our “city in the forest,” the memories we make casting a line and landing a trout with our children don’t just happen – they take commitment, time – and money. And once those forests and trees are gone, those streams polluted, our beaches washed away – it’s sometimes impossible and surely a lot more expensive to try to bring them back than to give them the protection and care they deserve in the first place.

Tom Harbin, III courtesy The Harbin family



Featured photo (above): Rapids and fall color on the Amicalola creek as it flows towards the Etowah just west of Dawsonville, Georgia. (c) Mark Godfrey/The Nature Conservancy

Column by Tom Harbin, III


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