The Georgia Land Trust (GLT) will receive a $110,000 grant to assist in the protection of nearly 500 acres in northwest Georgia. The grant was made by the Northwest Georgia Land Protection Fund, a program of Open Space Institute. The $2 million fund was established by OSI, the Lyndhurst Foundation and the Benwood Foundation in 2007 to assist in the protection of critical habitat lands established by Georgia State Wildlife Action Plans (SWAP).
The grant to GLT will help underwrite an endowment to support conservation easements that provide permanent protection to habitat areas identified by Georgia’s SWAP. These easements are a vital step in continuing to advance the transition from the Georgia SWAP’s planning phase to on-the-ground protection.
“The Georgia Department of Natural Resources SWAP does a great job of providing a strategic vision for habitat protection in Georgia. Using this tool we can more effectively target our protection projects and then with the financial assistance provided by OSI bring them to completion. It is a very focused and effective process,” said Katherine Eddins, Executive Director of the Georgia Land Trust.
In the case of the grant to GLT, the owners of five properties in Chattooga, Floyd and Walker Counties—with a total appraised fair market value of almost $4 million dollars—relinquished almost all of their development rights thereby limiting future human habitation to no more than a handful of homes already on the land and a few more that could be built under what are called “reserved rights” within the conservation easements. This method both maintains the private proprietorship of the land and ensures the preservation of natural resources and beauty.
“These projects initiated by Georgia Land Trust are just the kinds of projects that will advance the cause of the Georgia SWAP in an efficient and lasting way,” said Marc Hunt, OSI’s Southern Appalachian Field Coordinator. “We are proud to support these projects with the very first grant from our new fund, and would like to acknowledge the vision of the Benwood and Lyndhurst Foundations.”
Conservation easements impose a limit on the amount or type of land development without sacrificing private ownership, which allows land trusts to provide protection without the need to purchase properties outright. One of the benefits of OSI's supporting acquisition of conservation easements is that the awarded funds complement the landowner’s in-kind donation and other funds raised by the land trust to cost-efficiently protect large numbers of acres.
The terms and conditions of conservation easements are permanent and, therefore, all subsequent owners must abide by the requirements that are established by the easements. The land trust holding such an easement has a “forever” duty to monitor and enforce the easement, and funding of those efforts requires that endowment funds be set aside at the time the easement is created.
Endowment funding is critical to assure the long term conservation goals for a given easement project. In addition to the benefits derived by protecting their lands, donors of conservation easements generally qualify for tax benefits, including a federal tax deduction, and for residents of Georgia, a special conservation tax credit.
The impact of lands protected by these conservation easements is further extended by their contiguity with other protected lands. This connectivity between protected lands allows species relying on the habitat, both game and non-game species, to have a greater range of movement within protected areas.
For instance, the different forest types of the one of the recently eased properties provide an important habitat for migratory birds including the Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, and Yellow-Throated Warbler.
Another preserved property contains permanently protected woodland forests, which are an excellent habitat for an assortment of reptiles and amphibians including Mountain Chorus Frogs, Map Turtles, and resident birds and mammals.
Among the protected areas that these new conservation easements adjoin are the Chattahoochee National Forest, Cloudland Canyon State Park, Berry College, and other conservation easements that have been previously put in place through the efforts of GLT and the Lula Lake Land Trust, a partner of GLT in protection efforts in the Ridge and Valley and Cumberland Plateau ecoregions of northwest Georgia.
OSI previously loaned $650,000 to GLT to acquire a 201-acre tract adjacent to Fort Stewart in coastal Georgia. GLT made a bargain sale of development rights on the property to the Department of Defense to assist the Army Compatible Use Buffer (ACUB) program. ACUB works to ensure that strategically significant military installations do not have their training and force deployment functions limited by encroaching development.
GLT is also working to restore the native longleaf pines and wiregrass understory to the portions of the property that will support this amazingly rich ecosystem. The conservation easement that governs the sale of development rights also establishes some 70 acres of Special Natural Areas in the property’s wetlands that will, with the exception of proactive stewardship such as combating exotic invasives, remain in a “forever wild” condition.
The grant to GLT will be the first made by the Northwest Georgia Land Protection Fund, a program of the Open Space Conservancy, Inc. (OSC), the land acquisition affiliate of OSI, and funded by OSI and the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to support land protection efforts. With the fund, over $2 million is available to support the protection of high-priority SWAP lands or through purchase of conservation easements in the following northwest Georgia counties: Walker, Dade, Catoosa, Chattooga, Floyd, Whitfield, and Gordon.