She was a tireless defender of Georgia's wild places and through her work with the Nature Conservancy; she secured several of Georgia's barrier islands for the enjoyment of future generations.
In 1969, Yarn secured funds so the Nature Conservancy could purchase Egg Island, a 400-acre marsh island in the mouth of the Altamaha River. This was the first acquisition of land on the Georgia coast by a conservation organization. She went on working with the Nature Conservancy to secure and preserve Wormsloe, now a state historic site; Wolf and Wassaw islands, now parts of the National Wildlife Refuge system; Ossabaw Island, now a state heritage site; and Cumberland Island, now a National Seashore.
As a result of her activities, she was asked to serve on the board of the Nature Conservancy in 1969, eventually becoming its first female Vice Chairman. In 1970, she was named Atlanta's Woman of the Year.
Yarn was also instrumental in founding The Georgia Conservancy, an independent, state-based environmental conservation and advocacy group.
When Jimmy Carter ran for governor of Georgia, Yarn worked on his campaign. Around the same time, she helped move the Georgia Marshlands Protection Act though the Georgia state legislature and into law. She later joined Carter's campaign for president.
When Carter was elected, he appointed her to serve as a member of the Council for Environmental Quality. She kept that position from 1975 to 1981. It was from that position that she influenced Carter to approve the designation of the Point-Reyes Farallon Islands, Gray's Reef, and Looe Key national marine sanctuaries off the coasts of California, Georgia, and Florida, respectively. Those January 16, 1981 designations brought the total number of marine sanctuaries to six. They now number 13 National Marine Sanctuaries and one National Marine Monument.
After her service to President Carter, Yarn returned to Atlanta and continued to work on environmental issues with a variety of organizations, including The Wilderness Society, The National Wildlife Federation and the Southern Environmental Law Center. She received the national Nature Conservancy Oak Leaf Award in 1989, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Environmental Council in 1993, the national Common Cause Public Service Award in 1995, and she served on the Atlanta committee for the Olympic Games Environmental Task Force.
She died October 18, 1995 after a 20-year battle with breast cancer. She was 71.
In 1998, Gray's Reef acquired a retired 65-foot Navy ship they renamed the Research Vessel Jane Yarn. For years, the vessel plied the waters of the Atlantic, ferrying scientists, teachers, and others to and from the sanctuary.
By 2007, the vessel was no longer serviceable, and the decision was made to donate it to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for its artificial-reef project. The ship was stripped of all usable materials, thoroughly cleaned from bow to stern, and sunk as fish habitat well outside of the Sanctuary itself, at the man-made reef now designated as JY Reef.
The Jane Yarn is now home to a diverse array of marine fish and invertebrates. Four months after she was sunk, researchers diving on the R/V Jane Yarn spotted large numbers of fish such as snappers, tomtates, sheepheads, scamp, and sardines visiting the submerged vessel. The team also found soft corals and other invertebrates anchored to the ship.
"It is gratifying to see that fish in great numbers are already using the wreck for shelter," said Greg McFall, the sanctuary's research coordinator. "Gray's Reef scientists will continue to monitor the wreck to track numbers and types of fish that use the habitat."
Researchers continue to visit the Jane Yarn regularly to document the ship's colonization by fish and other marine creatures.
With thanks to the Georgia Wildlife Federation, The Georgia Conservancy, Georgia Women of Achievement and Cosmos Mariner Productions.