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Eva Persons is at home teaching a young Ben Granitz about the world of nature. TERN honored Persons at its annual meeting for her tireless and comprehensive efforts preserving and educating about Georgia’s nongame wildlife. (Photo/Jim Couch)

Recently The Enviromental Resources Network (TERN) held its annual meeting at the Persons Farm near Forsyth.  TERN is the Forsyth-based Friends group for the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section (formerly known as the Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program). 

At the meeting, TERN members decided how they would allocate the monies raised during the year. The funds support a variety of nongame wildlife-related projects conducted by the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Section. However, this meeting was extra special because the organization honored its founder, Eva Persons.

This year TERN raised more than $43,000. The members voted to use the money to support projects ranging from nongame wildlife research designed to address the conservation needs of migratory birds, sea turtles, monarch butterflies and bats, conservation education projects aimed at children and teachers alike, as well as the purchase of equipment that will be used to enhance wildlife habitat. 

This year’s allocation brings the amount of money TERN has raised for the Wildlife Conservation Section to more than $1.4 million.    

These funds have played a critical role in Georgia’s effort to conserve its valuable nongame wildlife resources. Although the vast majority of the wildlife species that inhabit the state are considered nongame, there are no dedicated funding sources available to address their needs. As a result, the monies needed to tackle the conservation needs of these species are woefully inadequate.

Historically conservation initiatives have focused on game species, such as largemouth bass, trout, waterfowl, wild turkeys, quail, white-tailed deer and others. This is due to the fact states receive a steady stream of revenue derived from federal taxes on the sale of hunting and fish equipment. These allocations are augmented by state funds generated through the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.

At the time the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division decided to form a work unit dedicated to the conservation of nongame wildlife, it was obvious the fledgling Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program needed adequate funding to have any hope of being able to conserve the state’s diverse nongame populations. 

The first to step forward to help overcome the funding dilemma came from a seemingly unlikely source---a woman from Forsyth named Eva Persons. Eva decided to take on the formidable task of forming a Friends group (TERN) for Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program.

At the recent TERN meeting, Eva received long overdue recognition for all that she has done for conservation in the Peach State. Highlighting the event was the presentation of a framed Letter of Appreciation signed by Governor Brian Kemp. A letter of commendation from former DNR Commissioner Lonice Barrett was also read.

Throughout the years, Eva has used her leadership skills, engaging personality, love for the natural world, and strong work ethic to promote TERN. Her positive energy, enthusiasm, and passion for the natural world is contagious. This has enabled her to assemble a dedicated board of directors comprised of men and women from all walks of life dedicated to trying to help the staff of the Nongame Wildlife Conservation promote wildlife conservation education and implementing the state’s first comprehensive nongame wildlife initiative.

Eva exemplifies a hands-on leadership style. She has always been just as willing to meet with corporate leaders as to get her hands dirty planting a demonstration garden at a local school. She designed and developed a nature trail at the Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area. She employed her teaching skills to create signage for the trail and wrote a teacher’s guide designed to enable teachers to prepare their students for what they will encounter when they walk the trail.

Eva has also assisted biologists conducting shorebird, butterfly, and bird surveys.

I can honestly say TERN would not exist today if it were not for her tireless work. Eva Persons was the ideal person to lead TERN from its formative years into the 21st century.

We will never know how many lives she has impacted. Her efforts have had a ripple effect that spread from Monroe County to St. Marys, Thomasville, Blairsville, Augusta, and hundreds of cities and towns in between as well as across generations yet to come.

Sadly, the vast majority of the people whose lives she has touched will never meet her. I am one of the lucky ones. I have been able to work with Eva throughout the years. She has been a great mentor and friend. I am convinced I have become a better person for it.

Aldo Leopold once wrote, “There are those who can live without wild things, and those who cannot.” Fortunately for Georgia and its rich wildlife heritage, Eva Persons is a  person who cannot.

Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He has written the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter for many years. His book, “A Journey to Discovery,” is available at The Reporter. Email him at tjwoodduck@bellsouth.net.