Attendance by Invitation Only

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Purpose of the Summit

This summit is designed with three objectives in mind. (1) First, we wish to bring together philanthropic foundations, conservation-minded corporations, political leaders, and various governmental agencies and non-profit organizations, to emphasize the need for a major shift of priorities to advance grassland conservation in the 21st century. (2) Second, we will offer a message of hope that outlines how, with appropriate resources and funding, we can begin to reverse the tide of grassland biodiversity loss across a 21-state region of the southeastern U.S. (3) Third, we will celebrate the upcoming (January 2018) launch of the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI), a rising new conservation organization that will provide leadership to solve what many consider to be the greatest conservation threat facing eastern North American biodiversity today. Your attendance is requested to find out how you can help solve this crisis. 



FIELD TRIPS TO LOCAL PRAIRIES: For much of the first day, we will tour both grassland remnants and restoration sites near Clarksville. We will see examples of the critical conservation issues facing grasslands (e.g. fragmentation, fire suppression, hydrologic alteration, habitat loss, invasive species) and discuss the eight core priorities that SGI has identified as vital to successful grassland conservation. We will be sure to touch on how the various factors discussed during our field trip apply to other grassland systems across the southeastern U.S. 

  One of the largest remaining prairies east of the Mississippi River, Montgomery Co., TN

One of the largest remaining prairies east of the Mississippi River, Montgomery Co., TN

EXPERIENCE THE POTENTIAL FUTURE HOME OF THE SOUTHEASTERN GRASSLANDS CONSERVATION CENTER (Headquarters of SGI):  After our field trip, we will enjoy beverages and hors d'oeuvres while touring the potential future home of SGI. This 18,000 sq. ft facility, a former Honda dealership, now on the campus of Austin Peay State University's, has been made available to SGI pending successful fundraising efforts. Our plans for the facility will include a museum dedicated to telling the story (the history, plight, and hope) of Southeastern grasslands, as well as seed collection/banking facility and the region's largest research herbarium. 

   Top : exterior view of the potential Southeastern Grasslands Conservation Center.  Bottom : this upper floor will feature exhibits dedicated to Southeastern grasslands.

Top: exterior view of the potential Southeastern Grasslands Conservation Center. Bottom: this upper floor will feature exhibits dedicated to Southeastern grasslands.


After a late afternoon rest, we will reconvene Monday evening for an evening reception and dinner (business attire).

 Evening festivities will be held in top floor of F&M Bank in downtown Clarksville, TN.

Evening festivities will be held in top floor of F&M Bank in downtown Clarksville, TN.


Prairie to Páramo: A Landscape Painter Falls in Love with the Forgotten Grasslands of the Southeast and Beyond

Philip Juras

After dinner, our keynote speaker will be Philip Juras, the phenomenal landscape painter from Athens, Georgia. Philip delivers an incredible message of how art and conservation are closely intertwined.  

Philip has recently published two books, The Wild Treasury of Nature: A Portrait of Little St. Simons Island (University of Georgia Press, 2016) and Philip Juras: The Southern Frontier Landscapes Inspired by Bartram's Travels (University of Georgia Press, 2012). Philip has also just completed a major painting project featuring Colombia's Andes Mountains.


Please stick around after Philip's presentation to enjoy refreshments, light music, and to celebrate the launch of SGI.

To see more examples of Philip's exquisite art, visit


THE SUMMIT: While there is certainly much to be alarmed about with respect to Southeastern grasslands conservation, the summit's take-away message ultimately will be one of hope and optimism, and this event will serve as a call-to-action, from the local level to the national. 

We have an exciting line-up of six speakers (listed below in the order they will speak). Presentations will end by noon and will be followed by a catered lunch before adjourning at 1:00 p.m. CST.


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Why Prairie Matters: New Relevancies of a Vanishing Landscape

Carol Davit, Missouri Prairie Foundation

Carol Davit serves as the executive director of the Missouri Prairie Foundation (MPF), a 51-year-old, private nonprofit prairie conservation organization that owns and manages some of the most biologically diverse prairie remnants in Missouri, and was named in March 2017 the Conservation Organization of the Year for 2016 by the Conservation Federation of Missouri. As executive director she oversees all operations of MPF – including fundraising, strategic planning, communications, advocacy, the Grow Native! program, Missouri Invasive Species Task Force, and administration, and has edited the Missouri Prairie Journal since 1996. 

Please check out this video featuring the MPF: Missouri Prairie Foundation: Why Prairie MattersMissouri Prairie Foundation: Why Prairie Matters

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Forgotten Grasslands of the South: Ecological History and Future

Dr. Reed Noss, Chief Science Advisor, Southeastern Grasslands Initiative

Reed Noss is a world-renowned conservation biologist recently retired from the University of Central Florida. He holds a B.S. in Education from the University of Dayton, an M.S. in Ecology from the University of Tennessee, and a Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Florida. He has served as Editor-in-Chief of Conservation Biology (1993-1997), President of the Society for Conservation Biology (1999-2001).  He has more than 300 publications and is recognized as one of the 500 most highly cited authors in all fields worldwide. He has published seven books, the most recent being Forgotten Grasslands of the South: Natural History and Conservation (2013, Island Press). He is currently writing books on the fire ecology of Florida and the lower Southeastern Coastal Plain (University Press of Florida) and on natural disturbance as a primary factor that structures ecosystems (Island Press). He joined SGI in October 2017 as SGI's Chief Science Advisor.

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Down but not Defeated: the Tale of the South’s Resilient Grasslands

Dr. Alan Weakley, Chairman of the SGI Scientific Advisory Committee


Director of the University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden

Alan Weakley, is widely regarded as one the leading botanists and plant community ecologists in the eastern U.S. with extensive on-the-ground experience in all Southeastern states. He holds a B.S. degree in botany from the University of North Carolina and a Ph.D. in botany from Duke University. He currently serves as Director of the Herbarium at the North Carolina Botanical Garden and adjunct professor at UNC.  In his 40-year career, he has served as Senior Regional Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy and Chief Ecologist for NatureServe. He served as Trustee of the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund from 2008-2013 and Chair of the N.C. Plant Conservation Program’s Scientific Advisory Committee. He is the author of Flora of the Southern & Mid-Atlantic States, a botanical manual covering about 7000 plant species, now the standard in use across much of the southeastern U.S., and has been a leader in the development of the U.S. National Vegetation Classification System.


Sacred Gems: the Importance of Small, High-Quality Remnants to Larger-Scale Grassland Restoration

Theo Witsell, SGI Director of Research

Theo Witsell serves as Director of Research for SGI, gathering and synthesizing data on the ecological and historical significance of southeastern grasslands, advising coordinators, and providing scientific direction and ecological context for the program. Theo has worked as senior botanist and ecologist for the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission since 2000 and in 2013 was invited to serve as a research associate with BRIT. He publishes regularly and has authored or co-authored more than 30 scientific publications and book chapters, including the description of new species. In addition to his scientific expertise, Theo is intimately familiar with practical on-the-ground management of natural areas and conservation strategies and brings unique expertise in this area. 


Getting it done: People, Prairies, Inspiration, Impact

Jennifer Ceska, Conservation Coordinator of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, State Botanical Garden of Georgia, University of Georgia

Jennifer Ceska has been Conservation Coordinator for the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Athens, since 1995. Her specialty is creating project driven professional networks; her passion is empowering people to do beautiful work. Jennifer is project coordinator for the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, the Georgia Native Plant Initiative for native plant materials development, and the Georgia Milkweed Initiative for ethically and locally sourced Asclepiasfor restoration and gardening. A NE Georgia Weed Management Area for restoration collaborations is just beginning. Jennifer is proud to collaborate with sister states and national organizations consulting on their own alliances for plant conservation actions.


The Southeastern Grasslands Initiative: Charting a New Course for Conservation in the 21st Century

Dr. Dwayne Estes, Executive Director of SGI, Austin Peay State University Center of Excellence for Field Biology

Dwayne Estes serves as executive director for SGI. For ten years Dwayne has served as Professor of Biology at APSU and was promoted to Full Professor in 2015. Since 2008, he has served as a Principal Investigator for APSU’s Center of Excellence for Field Biology. In 2013, Dwayne was awarded tenure and accepted a joint position with BRIT where he serves as Botanical Explorer. In the past several years, he and his collaborators have successfully secured more than $1 million dollars in grants, including three from the National Science Foundation. He has published 20+ publications and has directed the work of more than a dozen graduate students. In May 2016 he organized and hosted the Mid-South Prairie Symposium and has built a strong network of collaborators, from farmers and scientists to corporate business leaders and politicians. Dwayne manages a dedicated team who will work on grassland conservation projects across the Southeast.