georgia conservancy, ga conservancy, land conservation, land conservation initiative, georgia land conservation, ga land conservation, conservation easement, protection, conservation, department natural resources, dnr, landowner's guide to conservation incentives

Conservancy's New Program Helps Landowners Find Incentives to Preserve Land


There's a way Georgia land owners can earn money from their property while at the same time helping the environment.

In 2011, the Georgia Conservancy launched a land conservation program designed to help land owners find conservation solutions which are right for their properties. We’re essentially playing matchmaker to bring land owners and conservation programs together.

It's a classic win-win scenario. Land owners who qualify for state and federal programs may be able to pocket cash or take a large write off on their taxes, as long as they agree to protect their land from development. Land owners keep control of their property and are still able to hunt, fish and farm their land.

Meanwhile, protecting Georgia's open spaces helps the environment in a number of ways. Tree canopies are preserved, helping pull carbon dioxide from the air. Small streams and wetlands are protected, creating a natural filtration process that helps species thrive and provides clean water for people to drink downstream.

The Conservancy's land conservation program is run by Shannon Mayfield, an attorney and businessman from Athens who has 12 years of experience in large land acquisition and creating conservation solutions. Mayfield has protected nearly 1,500 acres of his own land in two states by using conservation easements.

Millions of dollars are left on the table each year by land owners who don't know about the range of programs at the state and federal level that exist to protect various types of property, Mayfield says.

"Too few land owners realize what a powerful tool conservation easements and conservation programs can be for them," he says. "I want to help owners use their land to help preserve our environment while also doing well for themselves financially."

Since our program began in January 2011, the response has been overwhelming. By March, we heard from several dozen landowners representing some 25,000 acres in 23 Georgia counties who are interested in learning more about how to protect their land from development.

Most landowners we’ve talked to had no idea that these programs existed. They've thanked us for bringing them to their attention and are excited about the prospect of protecting the environment while making money from their property without having to divide it and sell it off.

How did they hear about our program? We wrote an article about land conservation options which we submitted to every rural and small-town newspaper in Georgia. Our phones have barely stopped ringing since.

"The overwhelming success so far indicates there is a strong demand on the part of landowners for tools to protect their land while benefiting themselves financially at the same time," said Shannon Mayfield, land conservation outreach director at the Georgia Conservancy. "We've uncovered a vast and eager market."

The program remains in its early stages, and no conservation deals have been finalized. The process is complicated and usually takes many months to complete.

But many parcels of land we've been contacted about hold out great promise. For instance, an individual in south Georgia wants to preserve more than 100 acres -- including extensive wetlands - that are home to endangered and threatened species such as the gopher tortoise and indigo snake.

We are also looking at an even larger parcel of land in the same region that is also home to the gopher tortoise and indigo snake, as well as several highly sensitive tracts on Georgia's coast and on the Flint River in southwest Georgia.

While we simply can't help everyone directly, we send each landowner who contacts us a copy of the state Department of Natural Resources' "Landowners Guide to Conservation Incentives" to help guide them through the process.

For more information about our land conservation program contact Fuller Callaway at fcallaway@gaconservancy.org. If you live on or near Georgia's coast, please contact Georgia Conservancy Coastal Director Clay Mobley at cmobley@gaconservancy.org.