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30 Stories for 30 Years: We are Nature

Hadrien and his son Jules

Hadrien Turner began working as ORLT’s Land Steward in 2019. For the past four years, he has spent countless hours and walked many hundreds of miles monitoring land protected by ORLT. In fact, a conservation easement requires that ORLT staff visit protected land on an annual basis to monitor environmental conditions and ensure there are no violations of the easement (for example, buffers are maintained along waterways). With over 200 properties spread across more than 50 Georgia counties, monitoring so much land requires endurance, and we’re so grateful for Hadrien’s assistance with this tremendous task. Below, Hadrien shares how he came to this unique position, and the value he finds in his work.

"I was bitten by the nature bug at a young age. Starting in pre-school, I can remember being subscribed to Ranger Rick and My Big Backyard (children's publications), spending pretty much every available moment sifting dirt and collecting insects in my own big backyard in Arlington, Virginia. When my dad's job with the State Department took us to Europe, the nature of his work meant we were to live in much more urban environments. Through tours in Brussels, Vienna, and Moscow, my connection with the natural world admittedly faded due to decreasing exposure, and I became more “city rat” than “field mouse.”

"This disjuncture more or less continued until my partner Melissa and I moved from New York City to Atlanta in 2014. There, with the simple installation of a bird feeder outside my window, began an important rekindling. Regularly seeing white-breasted nuthatches, red bellied woodpeckers, tufted titmouses, and Carolina chickadees up close felt magical, and I wanted to experience more outside the bounds of the city. "

Images of wildlife taken by Hadrien on easements across Georgia, including a black racer, an eastern box turtle, and a little glassywing.

" When we moved to Athens the following year so Melissa could pursue her Master's at UGA's Warnell School of Forestry, I found myself further pulled from sedentary work. A summer spent landscaping, while grueling, cemented my desire to work towards a career more aligned with my values, and after spending time on a friend's 400 acre farm and forest in Oconee County, I felt reconnected to something I’d left behind — a piece of myself I’d forgotten. Once I realized and internalized the interconnectedness I felt with my more "natural" surroundings, it led to a personal revelation: We are nature. My world was different now. There was no going back. I needed to do something real to help preserve our environment — our home, while it was still possible."

"That same friend in Oconee County introduced me to Laura Hall, and before I knew it I was out in the field with her and our Stewardship Coordinator Dan Crescenzo in Oglethorpe County, getting the feel for what monitoring conservation easements was all about. I felt like I had found my vocation as a land steward, walking and observing the land. I still feel that way today. Despite my gap in formal education or experience related to science, biology, and ecology, I am so thankful that Steffney, Dan, Laura and the ORLT board gave me a chance. I've learned so much over the last 4 years."

"We now reside in a suburb of Chattanooga, Tennessee in an area that some would describe as "developing" rapidly. It pains me to see previously forested tracts clearcut and replaced with sterile, treeless subdivisions. The speed of loss is harrowing, hardly possible to grieve; but each lot cleared is a daily reminder of why I work for and believe in the mission of ORLT. We must conserve land and habitat NOW, for all species on this broken, beautiful planet (including humans). I'm so proud of and beyond grateful for the work we do, and I know that 6 year-old me would be, too."

A steam flows by a canebrake in the drizzle of a rainy easement visit in Heard County

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