2015 Land Conservation Report
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.
In 2015, 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 articles have been printed in approximately 138 newspapers across Georgia, and the Georgia Department of Agriculture has published those same articles in its Market Bulletin. Those articles generated more than 2,200 inquiries from individual Georgia landowners who collectively own 345,000 acres. We originated and/or facilitated land conservation for nine landowners during the program’s first year, representing 3,800 acres of diverse wildlife habitat. We speak with every landowner who contacts us looking for more details about land conservation. 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.
We aim to protect 60,000 additional acres of Georgia public and private lands annually with a goal to have 15% of all Georgia’s precious places protected by 2024.
2015 Program Impact
Permanent Land Conservation
In 2015, our Land Conservation Initiative team, along with other partner organizations and agencies, helped the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and The Conservation Fund acquire and permanently conserve two parcels totaling approximately 24,000 acres during the year. We also assisted four private landowners in obtaining federal funding to restore their tracts to natural wetland areas that will subsequently support a diversity of wildlife. Total acreage on those parcels is approximately 3,800 acres, bringing total acreage protected and/or restored to 27,800 during 2015.
- Sansavilla Wildlife Management Area – The Altamaha River is the largest free-flowing river in the state and is an extremely important source of biodiversity and is a provider of ecosystem services to the people of Georgia. Over the past 40 years, there has been a collaborative effort to preserve the lower Altamaha that has resulted in more than 40 miles of river on both sides of the river corridor receiving protection. Within the Altamaha watershed sits the 20,000-acre Sansavilla property. This mix of bottomland hardwood and pine forests contains 14 miles of frontage on the Altamaha River and provides habitat for one of the largest populations of the gopher tortoise, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and the indigo snake, already listed as a threatened species. Sansavilla also has tremendous potential for restoring longleaf pine and wire grass, two key native species of the area.
With help from The Georgia Conservancy, other conservation partners and private donors, The Conservation Fund was able to purchase the property. Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will purchase the property from the Conservation Fund over the next few years in several phases. Private financing for this acquisition was instrumental for the deal and could not be possible without it. The Georgia Conservancy played a pivotal role in bringing portions of that private funding to the table and will continue to lead efforts to help the state allocate the necessary acquisition funds.
- Altama Plantation Wildlife Management Area – This 4,000-acre tract has been owned by barons of business such as William DuPont, Cator Woolford and Alfred Jones, scion of the nearby Sea Island Company. Throughout its history, Altama has served as everything from an antebellum cotton plantation to a gentlemen’s hunting retreat, but now it will serve as a public hunting land and an important crux in coastal land conservation. Altama is located at the junction of two of the largest conservation projects in the state, the Lower Altamaha River conservation project running from Jesup to Little St. Simons Island, and the coastal greenway project stretching from the Okefenokee to Fort Stewart. This conservation success provides connectivity for flora and fauna along these conservation corridors and better adapt to climate change and rising sea levels. Many threatened and endangered species will benefit from the permanent conservation and restoration of this property. The Georgia Conservancy played an important role in helping to secure private and State funding for the acquisition of this property.
The Georgia Conservancy helped four landowners in 2015 obtain federal funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for wetlands restoration. Those four parcels contain 3,800 acres that will be restored to healthy wetlands, protecting and enhancing habitat for threatened and/or endangered species, migratory birds and other wildlife. In addition, there exists a continued pattern where we work on land conservation deals in one calendar year that will not be closed until future years. We anticipate being able to report on multiple successes in the coming year that will be a result of work done in 2015
The wetland restoration component in these Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) primarily consist of 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, water quality is improved by reducing sediment, nutrient, and inorganic loading. 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 the property will be planted in loblolly pine to improve upland habitat
- Wayne County Tract (Private Landowner) - This property, protected through a Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), consists of approximately 224+/- acres of wetlands along Penholloway Creek with a 26+/- acre upland buffer. The tract is less than a mile from another large tract that has been conserved through a WRE, making it a high priority to improve connectivity of protected habitat along Penholloway Creek. Hydrology will be restored by implementing two major stream crossings within the floodplain that will allow flood waters to flow naturally over the land as opposed to being blocked by elevated road beds. This property contains very high ecological diversity, including a host of species of high importance.
The Georgia Conservancy contributed to the protection of this tract by introducing the landowner to the NRCS, as well as taking part in the site visit and official ranking of the property as a WRE candidate. Penholloway Creek is a tributary of the lower Altamaha River.
- Calhoun County Tract (Private Landowner) - The Ichawaynochaway Creek watershed is a high priority conservation area for the NRCS, as well as many other natural resource protection and management agencies and NGOs. The WRE on this property protects and restores approximately 495+/- acres of wetlands and approximately 458+/- acres of uplands. The restoration of hydrologic function on the property will include six ditch plugs, three stream crossings, and two water control structures. The subject 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.
The Georgia Conservancy contributed to the protection of this tract by originally connected the landowner with the NRCS as well as taking part in the site visit and official ranking of the property as a wetland reserve easement candidate. Ichawaynochaway Creek is a tributary of the Flint River.
- Camden County Tract (Private Landowner) - Consisting of 1,420 acres near Woodbine, this WRE property possesses a 150-acre impoundment that potentially can provide one of the best aquatic wildlife habitats in Georgia. With proper management and the ability to manipulate the water levels within the impoundment there will be an abundance of wildlife and many species that will use this area of the property, especially waterfowl. The Ivanhoe Plantation also has much to offer away from waterfowl habitat. Other avian species found there may include the federally listed swallow-tailed kite, white ibis, wood storks, roseate spoonbills, bald eagles, and many species of shorebirds and songbirds. Both upland and wetland biodiversity are extremely high on this property. All in all, with proper initial set up and continued management, this property will provide an excellent and much needed habitat on the Georgia Coast.
The Georgia Conservancy contributed to the protection of this property by working with NRCS staff at the site visit to rank the property as a WRE candidate.
- Camden County Tract 2 (Private Landowner) - The property consists of approximately 560+/- acres of wetlands and approximately 660+/- acres of upland habitat. The wetlands are primarily hardwood bottomlands and the uplands are primarily planted slash pine with interspersed wildlife food plots. The management plan for this WRE includes four significant stream crossings that will dramatically improve the hydrology of the tract and restore the wetland functions of the property, as well as reforestation effort to plant more 200 acres in longleaf pine. Restoration of both the bottomland and upland forests will improve habitat for many priority species such as the gopher tortoise and indigo snake in the coastal plain ecoregion. This property possesses frontage along the Satilla River and is adjacent to land conserved by The Nature Conservancy and held in fee by the Georgia DNR. This easement marks an important conservation victory in the Satilla River watershed, a priority conservation area, by restoring hydrology, upland habitat, and created connectivity within the river corridor.
The Georgia Conservancy contributed to the protection of this property by helping the landowner understand the benefits of permanent conservation. We also provided insight during the site visit to form the property’s rank as a wetland reserve easement candidate.
Other Program Impacts
LCI staff wrote articles on conservation easements for other organizations in the state such as the Chattooga Conservancy in the northeast Georgia Mountains and the Satilla Riverkeeper in southeast Georgia. Our Land Conservation Specialist, Coastal Director and President have frequently spoken to many civic organizations, state agencies and federal partners to build statewide awareness of land conservation and the LCI program.
Cumlative 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. In 2015, we received more than 120 landowner inquiries, and assisted in the protection or restoration of six different important tracts of land. River corridors and coastal Georgia are priority conservation areas for the Georgia Conservancy, and five of the six properties we contributed to last year are on major waterways in coastal counties. In total, 24,000 acres were permanently conserved in 2015, and an additional 3,800 acres were placed into perpetual Wetland Reserve Easements, to be restored to their original hydrology. In five years, the Georgia Conservancy’s Land Conservancy Initiative has directly contributed to the successful protection or restoration of approximately 54,000 acres across Georgia.
The 2015 Land Conservation Initiative was led by GC President Robert Ramsay, Coastal Director Charles McMillan, former Land Conservation Specialist Clint McNeal and former Coastal Director Clay Mobley. We are heartened by the results of Land Conservation Initiative’s first five years and believe it builds our mission for a Georgia where people and the environment thrive.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.