We had the good fortune of connecting with George Gann and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi George, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
When I was younger, taking risks was the norm. I grew up about a mile from the Monkey Jungle in southern Miami-Dade County and my parents gave me several square miles to roam by foot and bike. At a young age I went on plant collecting expeditions to Central and South America, and spent a lot of time hiking, canoeing, camping, and botanizing in the wilderness. I attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, where I could pursue my outdoor passions, hitchhiked from Boulder to Alaska at 20, and spent five months in the Brazilian Amazon at 24. I’ve traveled to 49 states and 41 counties, mostly for work or exploration. At first, I gauged risk primarily regarding my own person – how to vigorously experience the world without killing or seriously injuring myself or my friends. But I learned over time that risk taking does not just involve physical things, but also economic, social, political, and personal wellbeing. Risk and responsibility are closely linked. Perhaps the most important thing I have learned about risk is that with planning and hard work you can visualize and achieve things that others think impossible. Success is not guaranteed, and you may stumble or fall along the way, but if you keep getting up and moving forward you can achieve amazing things. This is the mind frame we need to tackle the global biodiversity extinction and climate change crises. Transforming the relationship between people and Earth requires a lot of risk taking, but very thoughtful risk taking given the high stakes.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I have had a unique and rewarding professional journey, working in the space between global conservation and restoration policy and the gritty world of on-the-ground local practice. I have done this work primarily through the nonprofit Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC) and Society for Ecological Restoration (SER). At IRC, I have had the privilege of working with teams of gifted people in inventorying and assessing all of the native plants of southern Florida, developing free internet resources including the Floristic Inventory of South Florida, Natives For Your Neighborhood, and the bilingual Plants of the Island of Puerto Rico, and implementing ecological restoration programs like the Pine Rockland Initiative in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, and Restoring the Gold Coast in Palm Beach County. Our vision is to “unite people and nature to restore our world.” SER brings together ecological restoration practitioners, scientists, and policymakers from around the world to “sustain biodiversity, improve resilience in a changing climate, and re-establish an ecologically healthy relationship between nature and culture.” I have contributed to SER as a volunteer since the late 1980s, and then took a consulting position in 2018 as Global Restoration Ambassador and then International Policy Lead. Through SER I have had the opportunity to contribute to key global restoration policy, including being lead author on global principles and standards for the practice of ecological restoration, and contributing to guiding principles for the 2021-2030 United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The main lesson learned that I want to share today, is that somehow, in this hyper-competitive world, we must learn to be better collaborators when it comes to confronting the havoc we have wreaked on our planet and charting a healthy and prosperous path for the future.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
The cool thing about southern Florida is that you can be downtown experiencing all that the modern world has to offer in one moment and in the Everglades, Big Cypress Swamp or Florida Keys an hour of two later. My family and I like to enjoy both aspects! For nature lovers, Anhinga Trail and Long Pine Key in Everglades National Park are favorites, but there are also some great hiking trails in the Big Cypress, and wonderful urban pine rocklands in Miami-Dade. For beach action, we are partial to Delray Beach, South Beach, and Sanibel Island, all with very different vibes and interesting people. We’ve been riding our hybrid bikes in downtown Delray and taking them on the road to places like the levees around the Loxahatchee Refuge and Myakka River State Park outside of Sarasota. Our current favorite place to camp is at Kissimmee Prairie State Park north of Lake Okeechobee, where you can actually see the stars! Good food abounds, but we gravitate to Latin food, including Cabana El Rey in downtown Delray Beach, and there is an abundance of great Cuban, Mexican, and Colombian restaurants in the region. Our daughter Maya loves artistic swimming and is on the Palm Beach Coralytes 12-U Junior Olympics team and we really enjoy their spring Watershow. And, of course, we highly recommend IRC’s volunteer restoration workdays!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many who helped me along the way, and to whom I am grateful, but I must give a Shoutout to my parents Don and Joyce. My parents were truly a unique pair, rarely separated, and well-known in the Florida native plant world. They taught me to be adventurous, to chart my own path, to value all life and all walks of life, to work hard, and work harder to improve when needed. They supported and guided me through my trials and tribulations but gave me the freedom to learn from my own mistakes. They mentored me by example, through scouting, travel, business, and family. They taught me that one cannot live a fulfilling life without family and community and introduced me to many interesting and incredible people that have had a profound influence on my life.
Picture of me giving a presentation – Samuel Chevallier