If you read this page regularly, follow me on Instagram, or know me, it will come as no surprise that I’m an outdoorsman and a staunch defender of the wild South. I detest game hogs (those who need to fill every limit for proof of success). I hate single-use plastic water bottles with a fury that some folks hold for SEC rivals. If you spend as much time as I do on our coastal waterways, there’s no denying we’re choking the ocean with plastic. (Quick pitch: Buy a reusable water bottle—Yeti or Healthy Human or whatever—and use it. It’s easy, I promise.) Though I haven’t completely ditched the lawn (yet), you won’t find me fertilizing my grass, but rather adding rich compost to my garden box or pollinator pocket. And nothing delights me more than watching this ethos unspool in my children, Sam, who’s nine, and Rose, six.
They ramble freely through the marsh. They know a fiddler crab is great bait for sheepshead and that a mudminnow will fool a sea trout. Occasionally a foot gets nicked by an oyster. They follow me into the wood duck swamp in the spooky inkiness of predawn. They raise money for the local sea turtle hospital. They pick up litter without being asked. They know that we eat what we catch or shoot, and never take more than we can eat. I believe that if I’m doing my job right, they should feel not only a connection to the natural world but also a responsibility to act as stewards.
Wes Carter cares deeply about stewardship. Carter, who is forty-three and grew up in North Carolina, is the third-generation president of Atlantic Packaging, the largest privately owned industrial packaging company in North America, which supplies materials for everything from food to furniture. In other words, not the typical résumé of someone on the forefront of the conservation wars. But Carter, a lifelong outdoorsman, has turned Atlantic and its offshoot, A New Earth Project, into leaders in sustainable packaging initiatives, working with companies and suppliers to reduce plastic and implement industry-level change, from developing sustainable beverage carriers to rethinking the way surfing companies ship boards. “The price of economic progress has, in many ways, been at the expense of wild places,” he says. “We are now waking up to an undeniable fact. That model is radically unsustainable.”
We were happy to partner with Atlantic Packaging for our “Champions of Conservation” feature. Carter and a panel of outstanding conservationists—Longleaf Alliance president Carol Denhof; Dale Threatt-Taylor, the executive director of the Nature Conservancy in South Carolina; Georgia hunter and bird-dog trainer Durrell Smith, cofounder of the Minority Outdoor Alliance; and Simon Perkins, the president of Orvis—joined our editorial team as we discussed the needs and work being done in a variety of conservation arenas around the South. Their input was instrumental in helping us choose the ten champions spotlighted in this issue. Whether providing shorebird nesting habitat, revealing the alarming presence of pharmaceuticals in fish, or preserving Indigenous knowledge and nomenclature, each of these passionate heroes has a different focus, but all are moving the needle when it comes to conservation, and showing us the way to a more sustainable future.
“Hearing about all of these amazing folks and their work gives me hope and further inspires me to do more,” Carter says. “Nature and wild places are what nurture us as humans. This is where we return to our essence, find our joy, and teach our children about the wonder of life.”