Interview With The 2022 Longleaf Partnership Council Chair

January 31, 2022 Sandy Island

The America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative welcomes Colette DeGarady as the 2022 Chair of the Longleaf Partnership Council!  Colette is the Longleaf Pine Whole System Director for The Nature Conservancy, overseeing a regional conservation program that provides leadership and support for longleaf pine restoration work occurring across the 9-state historic range.

The ALRI Communications Team recently caught up with Colette to discuss her background and thoughts on longleaf pine. 

1. What drew you to working longleaf?

When I graduated from undergrad at Clemson, my first job was working on TNC’s Sandy Island preserve in SC where I helped monitor and band Red-cockaded woodpeckers.  I fell in love with the island and didn’t mind going to sleep each night sticky and sap covered from climbing trees and checking cavities.  Sandy Island had that feel of being mysterious and isolated, but with open sweeping mature longleaf trees as far as you could see.  It’s still one of my favorite places 25 years later.

2. From a personal perspective, what has been your most rewarding experience so far?

During my career, I’ve worked with several college students and interns who volunteered with me to learn what my job was all about and get experience in the environmental career field.  I remember being that inexperienced kid who had no idea what job to go after or how to interview for a job.  I appreciated being able to share my story and career insights.  Now it’s fun to see many of them on Facebook or elsewhere.  Two have full-time careers at TNC, one opened her own organic farm, another intern opened a local climbing gym, and another works for a local environmental consulting firm.

3. What is the greatest challenge facing longleaf forests in the southeast?

The immense fragmentation of our current longleaf forests is pretty sad when we think about what once covered the southeast.  Now there are so many different land use interests competing for forests as a whole.  We need some of those competing interests like housing to live, cities to work, farms for food, and space for wind and solar energy sources.  But we need to make sure there is enough land for forests to help balance clean air and water and provide shelter and food for wildlife.  The south is so fragmented with so many different landowners, both public and private.  It takes immense coordination and communication to work together across boundaries to ensure forests are sustainably managed.  As those land tracts get smaller and more divided, it only gets more complex.

4. What is the greatest opportunity?

Once people (landowners and other agency land managers) walk in a well-managed longleaf forest and learn about its qualities, the value of longleaf is not hard to appreciate.  Planting and managing longleaf feels like the right thing to do.  That’s why there is a whole organization dedicated to longleaf forests (The Longleaf Alliance) and a multi-tiered range-wide partnership that has maintained momentum for more than 10 years.  If someone attends a Longleaf Partnership Council meeting (virtually or in-person) for the first time, they can feel the comradery of everyone believing in this work we’re doing together.  

5. What is the value of coalition work?

Having an existing successful partnership structure in place at different scales allows agency staff to tackle this incredibly complex challenge of restoring and maintaining longleaf.  No one agency or landowner can do it alone.  From implementing restoration on the ground, to channeling funding, to providing the education and outreach, there are so many facets to building sustainable lasting longleaf forests.

 


Climbing trees on Sandy Island in 1998


Burning on Sandy Island


Easement monitoring on Bluff plantation, Berkeley County, SC 


IP/NFWF field trip on one of SCTNC’s easement holders 

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