2014 Land Conservation Report

Trumpet Pitcher Plants, Courtesy of John M. Hall

The Georgia Conservancy introduced our Land Conservation Initiative (LCI) in 2011 to help fill an information void for individual Georgia landowners interested in conserving their land. We educate landowners about the possible ways they can permanently protect their land while helping them achieve the financial benefits of doing so.

Our land conservation staff has expertise with the state and federal tax deductions and credits offered in exchange for conservation easements, as well as other incentive programs for which certain pieces of land may qualify. That expertise enables us to help landowners make informed decisions.

Since the Georgia Conservancy does not own land or hold easements, we refer landowners to qualified land trusts, and introduce them to other professionals should their situation be particularly complex or require special assistance. We also guide landowners as they apply to federal programs that pay them to make land improvements, such as the enhancement of stream buffers that improve water quality downstream. We work with landowners throughout the process to help finalize a conservation action.

Courtesy of John M. Hall

Courtesy of John M. Hall

In 2014, the Georgia Conservancy’s land conservation team continued the highly successful and efficient land conservation strategy that we have utilized during the past five years. Our strategy combines low-cost landowner outreach with education, consultation and referrals other to experts who are needed throughout the conservation process. Our generous third-party supporters enable us to offer our services at no direct cost to landowners. This is an absolutely critical factor in our program’s success, as many landowners who connect with us may be land rich but lack the liquid resources to cover all the upfront conservation expenses.

We continue to rely on our tested strategy of placing educational land conservation articles in community newspapers throughout Georgia. We reach out directly to publishers looking for informative content for their readers, presenting them with our professionally written articles that promote the financial and ecological benefits of land conservation. Those articles prompt inbound phone calls to our land conservation team, and those inquiries provide a pipeline of potential properties for land conservation. We also receive calls based on referrals, either from landowners we have previously worked with or partners with whom we work across the state. Our initial conversation helps determine the appropriateness of his or her land for conservation and allows for landowner questions. Once we have analyzed property-specific information, we inform the landowner of the options available to protect the property, along with potential costs and financial incentives. We assist the landowner in selecting the most appropriate conservation strategy and provide the guidance necessary to complete the transaction.

When the best option is a donated conservation easement, we recommend lawyers, accountants and appraisers with expertise and strong reputations in the practice area. We also recommend an appropriate land trust to hold the easement and introduce the landowner to the staff. We follow the process closely to ensure that deadlines are met and the transaction is successfully closed.

When the land qualifies for a federal program such as the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (U.S. Department of Agriculture), we inform the landowner about the program specifics, introduce him or her to the appropriate federal employees, and assist with the application process. We also work with landowners on programs that provide funding for land restoration, such as reforestation or stream buffer protection, helping them understand program requirements, the application process and financial ramifications.

2014 Program Impact

In 2014, the Georgia Conservancy's Land Conservation Initiative received over 600 landowner inquiries and assisted in the protection or restoration of land in four different ecoregions within the state: Blue Ridge, Piedmont, Southeastern Plains, and Southern Coastal Plain. In total, 3,150 acres were permanently conserved, and an additional 850 acres were placed into perpetual Wetland Reserve Easements to be restored to their original hydrology. In its first four years, the Georgia Conservancy’s Land Conservancy Initiative has directly contributed to the successful protection or restoration of over 27,000 acres across Georgia. Click here to read about our 2013 land conservation successes.

  • Wetland Reserve Easements of 520 acres and 206 acres in Brantley County with extensive frontage along the Satilla River will provide permanent protection and restoration to a large area within the Satilla River watershed. There will a total of (12) stream crossings, or ford crossings, established where raised road beds would otherwise impede the natural hydrology of the wetland. By restoring the property to its natural hydrologic state and thus reducing sediment, nutrient, and inorganic loading, water quality will improve. Stream bank and stream bed stability will also be improved, while maintaining access to different land areas within the property. In addition, a portion of acreage on one of the properties will be planted in loblolly pine to improve upland habitat.
  • Located in the foothills of the southern Appalachian Mountains where the Blue Ridge Ecoregion and the Piedmont Ecoregion converge in Cherokee County, a 599-acre donated easement protects a large tract of land in a county that has been one of the fastest growing counties in the state and that is rapidly becoming more metropolitan. It is a rare example of a relatively unspoiled large tract of land near metro Atlanta. The property features old growth forests, examples of what Piedmont streams historically were, and Cherokee Indian petroglyphs. The property also harbors rare and imperiled species of flora and fauna such as American chestnut, pine snake, and a clonal stand of common pawpaw. Located near Waleska, GA, home to Reinhardt University, a quickly growing college, this conservation easement crucial to the protection of countless natural and historic values.
  • Adjacent to Dawson Forest WMA, with frontage along Amicalola Creek, a 205-acre conservation easement in Dawson County had previously been high on the GA-DNR priority list for land acquisition for over 20 years. The protection of this tract provides vital connectivity between two large GA DNR protected areas (Dawson Forest WMA) and ensures a permanent corridor for wildlife in this foothills region of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This tract also provides habitat and water quality services within the Amicalola Creek watershed, a tributary of the Etowah River that contains imperiled species such as the Etowah darter, Cherokee darter, and Holiday darter.
  • A 250-acre tract, located in Effingham County on Ebenezer Creek, a tributary of the Savannah River, and consisting of pristine bald cypress and swamp tupelo bottomland forests is a high priority site as identified by the GA-DNR in the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP), has immense historic and ecological importance. This island provides significant habitat for uncommon species such as silky camellia, sweet pitcher plant, Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, prothonotary warbler, swallow-tailed kite, and painted bunting. The tract provides connectivity to land that is in permanent protection and will tie into recreation and conservation planning for the City of Springfield. The vision for the Springfield-Ebenezer Greenway is to have a multi-use trail extending from the City of Springfield to Ebenezer at the Savannah River. This overall plan will allow for conservation, hiking, bicycling, and kayaking. The deed restrictions protect the area from timber harvest, development or the use of motorized vehicles and permit only passive recreational uses. Click here to learn more about Ebenezer Crossing.
  • A 42-acre deed restriction surrounding a historic plantation house near Sparta in Hancock County protects the land from timber harvest, development, industrial use, any non-historic land use, and anything that would damage the environmental or ecological features of the property. The historical and ecological values of protecting the land are intertwined. The land surrounding the house remains very similar to the way they were in the 1850s. The tract also lies within the Little Buffalo Creek watershed, a tributary of Buffalo Creek. Protection of the property ensures the ecosystem services provided by an undeveloped watershed and also establishes more connectivity among other protected areas in the Buffalo Creek watershed.
  • In Long County, a 1,117-acre tract along the Altamaha River within the Lower Altamaha River conservation area and adjacent to Griffin Ridge WMA features extensive riparian forests consisting of mature bald cypress and swamp tupelo stands, as well as Morgan Lake and associated wetlands. This property will be managed by Georgia DNR. These riparian areas protect water quality within the Altamaha River and provide sanctuary for numerous species of flora and fauna. A significant importance of this property is that it provides connectivity to other protected areas along a 40-mile stretch of the Lower Altamaha. Habitat fragmentation can often be as devastating to flora and fauna as habitat loss, so providing more connectivity among habitats is crucial.
  • A 42-acre donated conservation easement in Pulaski County near Unadilla creates connectivity to other protected land in the area, and required the landowner to adhere to more stringent conservation practices on lands they had previously protected. This created consistency among regulations for special natural areas (SNA) and buffers throughout the properties. The property is covered predominantly in productive agricultural land. It also has a large, open-water pond and streams. The primary threat to the property was conversion of prime farm soils to development. The property has prime agricultural soils that are assigned a high value for conservation by federal and state programs.
  • In Pulaski County, a 171-acre conservation easement is predominantly in row crop production and contains young pecan orchards. The growing population in the Lower Ocmulgee watershed where this property is located threatens the loss of prime agricultural soils resulting from development. The property features a cypress pond and hardwood bottoms associated with intermittent streams that are tributaries of Cedar Creek. Protecting this property contributes to the health and prosperity of the Lower Ocmulgee watershed, including maintaining water quality and ensuring habitat for aquatic species. The Lower Ocmulgee watershed harbors many important species of flora and fauna including high conservation priority species such as the northern bobwhite and red-cockaded woodpecker, as well as 105 species of fish within the Ocmulgee River ecosystem. The property is in close proximity to other properties protected by conservation easements by the same landowners.
  • A 120-acre Wetland Reserve Easement in Pulaski County with extensive frontage on the Ocmulgee River will provide permanent protection and restoration to a large area within the Ocmulgee River watershed. There will be ten (10) ditch plugs implemented throughout this property. Where open channels were previously constructed to drain wetlands, the channel will be filled with earth to restore the wetland hydrology as close as possible to the pre-drained or natural condition. The previously drained land will return to wetland and, in turn, provide habitat to support a higher local biodiversity and provide wetland services such as nutrient cycling, groundwater recharge and flood attenuation.
  • A 721-acre donated conservation easement in Tift County is covered by a high biodiversity longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem with interspersed hardwood stands, cypress swamps with hydric soils, and also features a large portion of Lake Henry. The preservation of longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystems within the state is of high conservation priority to the Georgia DNR. The property harbors rare and/or imperiled species such as the gopher tortoise, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Bachman’s sparrow, and hooded pitcher plants. Along with high priority species such as the gopher tortoise, a keystone species, longleaf pine forests are critical habitat for species such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, a species that has long been near the top of the list for conservation efforts within the state. This property is unique in that it features a broad range of ecosystems varying from upland pine stands to hardwood swamps to lake ecosystems. Consequently, the level of biodiversity on this tract is very high.

Cumulative Results Since 2011

In 2011, the program’s first year, we received more than 450 landowner inquiries from 100 Georgia counties, resulting in eight completed transactions that protected 3,800 acres of land.  In 2012, the outreach strategy generated more than 1,000 additional landowner inquiries from 130 Georgia counties, resulting in nine completed transactions that protected 3,200 acres of land and assisted in the protection of an additional three tracts totaling 6,900 acres.

In 2013 and 2014 combined, this strategy generated inquiries from more than 800 additional landowners and helped protect and conserve more than 11,000 acres. 

The 2014 Land Conservation Initiative was led by Georgia Conservancy President Robert Ramsay, Clint McNeal, Land Conservation Specialist, and Clay Mobley, Coastal Director and supported by Pierre Howard, past president, Shannon Mayfield, past Director of Land Conservation, and Fuller Callaway, past Land Conservation Specialist.

If you have any questions about our Land Conservation Program or would like to learn more, please contact Georgia Conservancy Coastal Director Charles McMillan at cmcmillan@gaconservancy.org.