Pierre Howard turned an outdoorsy childhood into a love for Georgia birds and butterflies. He’s traveled to every nook and cranny of the state to photograph them. GeorgiaNature.com displays his photos of butterfly species in Georgia. Howard has photographed more than 160 of the state’s 176 species of butterflies, the website says.

Pierre Howard

Howard’s prolific camera work with birds and butterflies ties in with his passion for land and habitat conservation. He’s headed two prominent state-wide conservation and environmental protection organizations, the Georgia Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy in Georgia, and this year, Howard (with three co-authors) will publish a book of photos of butterflies in Southeastern states.

And then there’s the political piece. Howard’s the product of a long line of politicos. His father was in the Georgia House of Representatives. Howard’s grandfather was in Congress, and Howard’s great-grandfather was a United States senator. After his own stint as a state senator from DeKalb County, he served two terms as lieutenant governor in the 1990s and briefly contemplated a run for governor.

Atlanta Senior Life caught up with him recently for a chat.

Q. What sparked your interest in preservation issues and in the outdoors?

A. I grew up with a father who was a hunter and fisherman and he got me interested in the outdoors from the very earliest time in my life. That’s how I kind of got into it. Then in the early 1990s, [my wife] Nancy and I were down at the beach. It was really hot. Nancy was taking a nap with [the kids] because they were quite young at the time.

I decided to go out into the backyard and look around. There were some binoculars, and I picked them up and looked up in the trees and I saw a couple of birds I couldn’t identify. It made me really mad that I didn’t know what they were, so I got in the car and went to the bookstore on St. Simons [Island] and started trying to figure out what things were. The more I got into it, the more interested I got. I have now seen 406 species in Georgia. I’m one of the top ones.

Q. How does your interest in birding tie in with land conservation?

When I got into birding, I realized how much more important it was to preserve the land. If you can preserve the land and keep it as God made it, then a lot of problems get solved by themselves. That’s what got me into land conservation.

#1 Great Purple Hairstreak, male, McIntosh County, 1 May 2020

Q. How did all that lead to your passion for butterflies?

A. I was out at Kennesaw, and I kept asking a friend of mine, “What is that and what is that?” He said, “Why don’t you get a book and learn it yourself?”  And I remembered that a man from Decatur, where I’m from, had written a book called “Butterflies of Georgia.” I went and got the book. I started looking at it and [thinking about] the rare species people weren’t seeing anymore, and I looked at where he’d seen them and I thought I’d go find them where he had found them. I found all but three species that had been seen in Georgia.

Q. And that led to a book coming out this year?

A. Three guys from the University of North Carolina asked me about a year and a half ago if I would write a book with them about the butterflies of Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. We got it ready and sent it to the publisher, University of North Carolina Press. They’re supposed to get it out sometime this year.

Q. What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

A. A man came to the house this week and he knew I had been in office, and he said, “My two children went to college on the HOPE scholarship and I couldn’t have sent them to college if they couldn’t have used the HOPE.” When I hear that, it makes me so proud of that initiative. [Former Gov.] Zell Miller deserves most of the credit because it was his idea.

Q. The political playing field has changed a lot since your time at the Gold Dome. What needs to be done to fix the polarization?

A. That really is the $64 Question. I was talking to some legislators last night. We were out and there were some legislators at the place we went. I was saying to them what I’d like to see is us getting back to working together — whether we’re Republicans or Democrats — to work together to get things done for the good of the state. I think the main issue we’ve got right now is to preserve our democracy.

Mark Woolsey is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.