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Coy Johnston: "A Hero of Conservation"

A major focus of Coy Johnston’s life’s work has been to protect and steward South Carolina’s beautiful natural resources. Through the years, Coy fought countless battles toward this purpose and has lent extensive expertise in developing land stewardship plans for special places. Though coming from a modest background, his consist focus on good stewardship took him to exemplary heights in his field.

Coy Johnston grew up enjoying outdoors activities in in Varnville and Estill, South Carolina. Led by the influence of his grandfather  J.W. Yonce, an avid outdoorsman, Johnston pursued a degree in Forestry from the University of Georgia. Immediately after college, he served his country as First Lieutenant of the Combat Engineers Platoon in the Korean War. When he returned from war, Johnston began what would be a 25+ year career at MeadWestvaco. His duties included managing the 12,000-acre Bonneau Ferry Plantation, which was eventually sold to SC DNR in 2004 and converted to a Wildlife Management Area.

In 1979, Coy Johnston stepped into the role of regional director of Ducks Unlimited in South Carolina. Under his leadership, DU fundraising in SC increased from $250,000 to $1.25M, and he was promoted to East Regional Director for DU in 1987. One year later, he became project director for the Lowcountry’s Wetlands America Trust Program. In August of 1989, he was among a small group of land owners and conservationists that would counter a planned development of more than 1,000 houses on Edisto Island, and eventually start the ACE Basin Task Force. The below documentary tells the story. In 2019, this group celebrated their 30th year of conservation and their cumulative success in securing conservation easements for over 300,000 acres of land in the region along the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto Rivers ( See “Forever Wild: More Ducks Fewer PeopleCharleston Mercury 2019 ). For more on their work, visit the article “In Celebration of the ACE Basin.”

The video above documents Coy Johnston’s role in gathering a task force for land conservation in the beautiful ACE Basin of South Carolina.

In honor of Johnston’s conservation work upon retiring from Wetlands America Trust, the SC Legislature passed a resolution citing  Johnston as “one of South Carolina’s leading ambassadors in the effort to promote wise use and conservation our precious natural resources as well as our hunting heritage.” He was attributed as being “directly responsible for permanently protecting nearly 50,000 acres of wildlife habitat and has helped put almost one million acres of marshland, old rice fields and other lands under conservation easement.”

In addition to this honor, Johnston also received the 1993 Chevron Conservation Award and the National Wetlands Conservation Award from USFWS.

After retiring from Ducks Unlimited, Johnston joined the sales and land consulting team at Holcombe, Fair & Lane. His sales activity in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s encompassed over 30,000 acres, worth $35M.

Coy Johnston resides downtown Charleston with his lovely bride, Ann and their energetic Springer Spaniel, May. In his life he raised three daughters, and now enjoys seven wonderful grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

More on Coy Johnston

Birds of Winter” – on the Origin of the SC Waterfowl Stamp Program

On Common Ground: Stories of the ACE Basin” written by Dana Beach

Asphalt is Always the Last Crop” quote by Coy Johnston in Article

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