A Proposal for Heart's Work

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the conservation partnership that led to the protection of some of the state’s most valuable and iconic land, Dr. J. Drew Lanham shares his heartfelt reflections on the moral imperative we all share to be ethical stewards of nature.

On March 1, Audubon South Carolina and The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina celebrated the 50th anniversary of a conservation partnership that helped establish and protect the Francis Beidler Forest in Harleyville, South Carolina.

Leveraging the natural synergy between Audubon’s mission to protect birds and the places they need and The Nature Conservancy’s mission to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends, the two organizations joined forces in 1969 to raise roughly $1.5 million to purchase 3,415 acres in Four Holes Swamp that led to the establishment of the Francis Beidler Forest.

Dr. J. Drew Lanham, reigning chairman of the board of advisors for Audubon South Carolina and professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, shared the following remarks in honor of this landmark partnership and anniversary:


To live with wild birds as fellow earthlings in a persistent striving to push beyond surviving to thriving, is our life's work — to live in harmony with wild things the daily plight. Winged or not, we humans and every wildling share the same air, same water, same soil. We breathe in what the forests breathe out. All of our ranges overlap.  To understand what we share with the wild is to love. To love is to care. To care is to conserve. Conservation means being intentionally intense as ethical stewards so that what's left behind isn’t in ruins but a greater reward for those yet to come. How we love this one wild earth matters.

Those of us gathered here this evening, whether Audubon South Carolina or South Carolina Nature Conservancy, are best in the wild places where our thoughts flow freely – fast as floodwaters rising to fill the Four Holes; then slacking back to Edisto in blackwater swamp. Our world is one dependent on the diversity of natural systems. Whether Swallow-tailed Kite among the clouds effortlessly soaring, cottonmouth stealthily crawling, or Prothonotary Warbler from cypress knee knothole calling, our mission is to nurture and protect the wild so that the love of it transcends space and time. Our work should flow outward to inspire others to do the same – and more. In our efforts, we must show that difference can make all the difference. Difference and diversity are celebrated in the natural world. It must be a part of the critical work we do. How do we care and conserve and heed humanity's calling too? One can't happen without the other. They aren't mutually exclusive but necessarily inclusive. Let’s work to show that.

Our work and words must mean something more than the statistics will ever predict or any model could ever foretell. Our efforts should bring culture and conservation together in the inclusive convergence that broadens our scope of understanding and impact. It must enjoin every one of every color and hue so that we know that this earth is our collective responsibility; that to nurture and protect it is morally imperative and that we must be prophets of goodwill who will render hope and results as we dirty our hands as practitioners of earnest action. All of it towards the higher purpose of seeing far enough into the future to leave better behind as a legacy for those yet to come. Conservation means being intentionally intense as ethical stewards so that what's left behind isn’t in ruins but a greater reward for those yet to come. This partnership between us, half a century strong, can be measured in thousands of acres but it is so much more. It is a coming together of kindred spirits; the melding of wild-loving hearts and forward-thinking minds.

The challenges are great. A warming climate. Habitat destruction. Protective policies daily degrading. Too many distractions taking attention away from the most important color – not red or blue, but cypress-tupelo swamp verdancy and longleaf pine green. We must keep our eyes on the natural imperative, but then too, we cannot fail to see the links to human well-being. Justice and prosperity can happen in the process of nature protection if we work to connect the issues together. Our pledge must be to do greater than we’ve done. Our unified ongoing goals to factor into every model, every management plan and every environmental -policy to come; the critical factor that costs us nothing but our willingness to put our collective hearts to harder work – making conservation a moral act of deep and abiding love.


Today, the Audubon Center and Sanctuary at Francis Beidler Forest comprises 18,000 acres of land and features a thriving visitors center and ever-expanding education program. Four Holes has been identified as an Audubon Important Bird Area. As a climate stronghold, it is important for the diversity of species that depend on the forest today, and more so in the future, as weather patterns change and habitat ranges shift for birds. Audubon and TNC have collaborated through the years to secure funding for an expansion of the property through gifts, mitigation-funded purchase, and North America Wetlands Conservation Act and Conservation Bank funded acquisitions.

Audubon South Carolina is incredibly grateful for the roles so many people, far and wide, have played in keeping this land pristine and untouched for half a century. To all who have dedicated their personal resources for the keepsake of our precious South Carolina landscapes – thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

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