Jane Hurt was born in Greenville, South Carolina on August 15, 1924, and raised in Scottsboro, Alabama, but the impact of her conservation efforts can be seen on the coast of Georgia, her adopted home state. Her work was vital to the protection of the barrier islands and marshes of Georgia, but also instrumental in national conservation legislature as well.
After Jane married Dr. Charles Yarn and settled in Atlanta, she raised three children and was active in local charity work. A trip to the African bush in 1967 sparked her interest in protecting the environment, and when she returned home she spent a year studying preservation issues in Georgia. She was able to lobby against mining on Little Tybee Island, and she focused her energies on protecting the coastal islands and marshes. As a result of her activities, she was asked to serve on the board of the Nature Conservancy in 1969, eventually becoming its first female Vice Chairman. In 1970 she was named Atlanta’s Woman of the Year.
Jane attended St. Mary’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina. She conducted postgraduate work in landscape design at The University of Georgia in Athens.
Jane was more than just a spokesperson for a cause. She and her husband purchased Egg Island, located in the Altamaha River, in one of the first actions taken to preserve the Georgia coast. Today Egg Island, Little Egg Island and Wolf Island make up the Wolf Island National Wildlife Reserve, which is designated a National Wilderness Area. She also worked to protect other coastal islands, including Ossabaw, Cumberland, Wassaw and St. Catherine’s Island.
Jane founded Save Our Vital Environment (SAVE), which was the first full-timer environmental lobbying organization in the state, and which worked to pass the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act in 1970. In the early 1970’s, Jane was honored many times for her passionate conservationism. She received the American Motors Conservation Award in 1971, and the same year was named by Harper’s Bazaar Magazine as one of the “100 Women in Touch With Our Times.”
Jane assisted Jimmy Carter with environmental lobbying when he was governor of Georgia, and after he became President of the United States, he nominated her to serve in Washington as a member of the White House’s Council for Environment Quality. It was difficult to spend the week in Washington and see her family only on weekends, but she didn’t consider it a sacrifice because she believed so ardently in her work. She was very proud of her role in the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which was one of the many accomplishments of her three year commitment to the CEQ.
After her service to President Carter, Jane returned to Atlanta and continued to work on environmental issues with a variety of organizations, including The Wilderness Society, The National Wildlife Federation and the Southern Environmental Law Center. She received the national Nature Conservancy Oak Leaf Award in 1989, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Environmental Council in 1993, the national Common Cause Public Service Award in 1995, and she served on the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games Environmental Task Force.
Jane Yarn died in 1995 after a 20 year battle with breast cancer. During her last months, trees were planted in her honor on Lafayette Square across from the White House, and in the Chattahoochee River Park.
In addition to those trees, there is other evidence that Jane Yarn’s legacy will continue to inspire all who care about nature’s delicate balance. Following her death, Governor Zell Miller dedicated the Jane Hurt Yarn Environmental Education Center at Tallulah Gorge State Park in her honor. The Nature Conservancy gives the Jane Hurt Yarn Award to its Outstanding Conservation Volunteer each year. In August, 2007, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources sank a 63′ ship off the Georgia coast as an artificial reef. The ship is the Jane Hurt Yarn, named after the woman who helped designate Gray’s Reef, to the east of St. Catherine’s Island, a sanctuary. This ship will be a research site to learn more about what creatures attach themselves to the vessel, and whether coral and sponges can inhabit an artificial reef.
Jane Yarn was an active citizen and activist, and her work continues.