Ga. Coastal Director to Retire, Return to Nature; She Balanced Conservation with the Public's Right to Land and More, but It's Time to Move on, She Said

Article excerpt

Byline: TERESA STEPZINSKI

BRUNSWICK - Susan Shipman glanced out her office window recently hoping to see the neighborhood osprey arrive to eat its daily fish dinner on the peak of a neighboring roof top.

The marsh also beckoned just beyond the parking lot below. Patches of open water amid swaths of marsh grass swaying in the breeze mirrored the sky above in a crazy-quilt-like pattern.

The beauty outdoors eclipsed the reality indoors where mini-mountains of budget documents, marina and dock applications; environmental lawsuits and fisheries management studies overflowed from her desktop into milk crates neatly stacked waist-high around her office.

After a career spent increasingly behind that desk administering conservation policy, refereeing disputes between fishermen, developers and environmentalists; and helping lawmakers hammer out natural resource management issues, Shipman is ready to get back outdoors to explore nature.

Nov. 30 will be her last day as the state's chief steward for Coastal Georgia's natural resources. Shipman is retiring from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources after 30 years, including the past seven as director of its Coastal Resources Division headquartered in Brunswick.

"I love the outdoors. There are so many things I want to do. I've been here 30 years and I've worked pretty intensely during that time. Now it's time to move on and try other things," Shipman said.

Shipman also is retiring from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, a federal agency that governs the fishing grounds from North Carolina to the Florida Keys.

She joined DNR in 1979 after graduating with a bachelor's degree in zoology from the University of Georgia, and a stint as a research assistant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. DNR had just established the Coastal Resources Division, where she worked her way up through the ranks to become chief of fisheries in 1984 and then division director in 2002.

Beginning in 1985, Shipman has worked on most of Georgia's legislation and regulations governing shrimping, crabbing and its other fisheries.

Since 2003, she has provided technical assistance on all marsh, shore and coastal management-related legislation. Shipman also has taken the lead on rule-making for coastal marshland protection for the department.

"She has been the driving force behind the coastal marshland stakeholder groups, bringing the people together to resolve conflicts over docks and bulkheads," said state House Majority Leader Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island. "Pulling groups together to work out conflicts - that's what I think she'll be remembered for the most."

Shipman has helped shape state and federal regulations protecting the fragile marsh and marine ecosystem while balancing conservation with the public's right to the natural resources. Added into the mix is growing pressure from development and the needs of shrimpers, crabbers and other fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the health of the habitat, and help the state's economy.

Statewide budget cuts including mandated employee furloughs have further complicated the job.

It has been a juggling act worthy of Ringling Brothers, and one fraught with controversy. Shipman, as division director, has incurred the wrath of fishermen, developers and environmentalists over the years, sometimes simultaneously.

"I've been called a communist and just about everything in between except the anti-Christ," Shipman said.

Officials with environmental and fishing industry groups that have butted heads with the DNR during Shipman's tenure did not respond to Times-Union telephone messages seeking comment. …