Coastal Conservation in a Pandemic—The Orianne Society: Making Adaptations and Seizing Opportunities

By Burch Barger

Chris Jenkins, CEO of The Orianne Society, acknowledges that these are challenging times for conservation nonprofits.  After making adaptations to keep staff safe from the Coronavirus pandemic and reducing their budget for the fiscal year, The Orianne Society remains committed to its mission: conservation of reptiles, amphibians, and the ecosystems they inhabit.

What does Orianne’s work look like in these uncertain times? Staff travel is restricted, outreach events are cancelled, volunteer efforts are postponed. Funding for new staff positions and some seasonal technicians has been cut. In the interest of staff safety, they have reduced the size of field crews and developed policies for disinfecting gear and maintaining hygiene in the field.  The bright side: most of Orianne’s work is conducted in wild places which, by definition, accommodate social distancing.  The work continues, and the commitment to the mission remains.

Orianne’s coastal work most affected by the pandemic is gopher tortoise and Eastern indigo snake habitat restoration. They have a team of land managers (Mopani Strike Team) who work inland year-round implementing prescribed fire and restoring native grasses. The team has continued its work, but where and how widely they burn has been impacted by concerns of smoke and respiratory issues. Plans to add a second strike team in 2020 — focused on Georgia’s coastal counties and muhly grass habitats on barrier islands – are dependent upon donor funding. Chris remains hopeful that our Stewards of the Georgia Coast network can help. To make a gift supporting Orianne Society’s efforts, you can visit their website or contact Chris Jenkins by phone at (208) 241-9124.

Chris notes that the pandemic, though it has presented multiple challenges, also has offered opportunity.  It has led the Orianne Society staff to produce more internet-based education and outreach material and to recognize the power of online communications for promoting conservation. We are the beneficiaries of their efforts, as we now can gain an insider’s view of the gopher tortoise, the Eastern spadefoot frog, Dante the Gila monster, and much more with a simple click of our mouse.  Visit their website or Facebook page for information on upcoming virtual events and webinars.