By Hannah E. Jones

Quattlebaum and the team have secured around 73,000 acres for conservation since 2016. (Photo courtesy of Southern Conservation Trust.)

After seven years at the helm of the Southern Conservation Trust (SCT), CEO and Executive Director Katie Pace Quattlebaum is stepping down from her role. Leaving her position at the end of May, Quattlebaum will spend the remainder of the month ensuring a smooth transition for the team.

Founded in 1993, the Georgia-based SCT conserves and protects land across 13 states and manages six public nature areas. Its properties range from Atlanta’s 1.75-acre Lake Claire Community Land Trust to an 8,000-acre plot in South Carolina.

Quattlebaum assumed the leadership position in 2016 after working in humanitarian aid and disaster relief with MAP International for six years. She grew up on a cattle and apple farm in North Carolina, meaning environmental issues have always been close to her heart.

Under her leadership, the organization has seen tremendous growth. When she was hired, Quattlebaum was the sole staff member at SCT. Today, SCT has a team of 18. The scope of its impact has also skyrocketed — going from 1,600 protected acres to over 75,000 acres, expanding from just Fayette County to 13 states within the Southeastern region. Fittingly, when asked to describe her tenure in a few words, Quattlebaum said “very deliberate growth.”

She told SaportaReport that this was the right time for her to take a step back, both professionally and personally. Quattlebaum shared that she has been undergoing fertility treatments — on top of running a nonprofit and being a mom — and she needs to take a step back to focus on her personal journey. Additionally, Quattlebaum feels that she has set SCT on a path for success, with a strong team and a solid financial standing.

“The doctor tells you to keep stress down, and I’m like, ‘Do you understand I run a nonprofit?’” she said. “It’s good for organizations to have new leadership. You get new ideas and that’s what makes nonprofits thrive. You don’t want to have ‘founder syndrome.’”

Last year, SCT and Georgia Audubon were honored with the Clean 13 Award from the Georgia Water Coalition. (Photo courtesy of the Southern Conservation Trust.)

Having completed many significant projects over the years, Quattlebaum is especially proud of the Bear Creek Golf & Country Club property in Douglas County. The gated golf club community closed its doors in 2003 and sat unmanaged until 2017 when a Buckhead developer donated the plot to SCT. Now, the team envisions turning the 390-acre green oasis into the Little Bear Creek Nature Area.

Quattlebaum also points to its Fayetteville Environmental Education Nature Center which opened in 2022. Through the Nature Center, the team encourages meaningful connections with nature through environmental education and enrichment programs for children, adults and families.

“The [educational component is] very unique for a land trust,” Quattlebaum said. “We thought why not utilize all the resources we have as a land trust, [including] the land we have and the skill sets we have on staff, and utilize that for educating the public and children about nature and wildlife.”

Looking ahead, Quattlebaum is concerned about pending legislation that allows the IRS to put restrictions on the tax deductions that landowners receive for putting their plots under a conservation easement. Quattlebaum describes this as “concerning for conservation,” and will have to testify in two federal tax court cases this June.

Due to uncertainty surrounding the legislation, SCT — among other land trusts — isn’t accepting new acreage this year that includes a charitable deduction. According to Quattlebaum, that means the team will go from conserving about 15,000 acres a year to “maybe 200.”

“[The tax deduction] was there because you have to have an incentive for private landowners to conserve land,” Quattlebaum said. “Very rarely does someone have the ability to conserve land out of the goodness of their heart because you’re giving up your development rights to that property forever.”

She continued: “I will stay on in some capacity to help [SCT] with the defense of these conservation easements because we believe we’ve conserved very valuable land. It’s important that we defend what we’ve protected. We intended for the land to be conserved in perpetuity.”

The team is still in the beginning stages of its search to fill the position. Board Chair Brian Cooper, who has sat on the board for nine years, will serve as the interim CEO and executive director. 

Ultimately, Quattlebaum is proud of her time leading the land trust and has high hopes for its future.

“There’s lots of land around the Atlanta area that I know will always be protected and I’m glad to have been a part of that,” she said.

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Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is a Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for...

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