Partnership aimed at balancing natural resources, sustainable development in high-growth region
Atlanta, Ga. (Feb. 27, 2008) – The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Georgia Conservancy and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) announced a joint effort today to conserve wildlife and natural habitats and promote sustainable development in the state’s fast-growing coastal region.
Representatives signed an agreement for coordination of the Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative during the Board of Natural Resources’ monthly meeting. The three-year project, funded in part by a $700,000 grant from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, will map critical natural areas in 11 coastal counties while also providing data, technology and training to help governments and residents in the region make sound land-use decisions.
“Growth on our coast is placing tremendous pressures on our natural resources,” DNR Commissioner Noel Holcomb said. “Having this information is critical to making good decisions in the future, and we are pleased to team up with the Georgia Conservancy and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia on this extremely important project.”
Growth is reshaping Georgia’s coast. The population in the 11-county area is expected to double in the next 20 years, impacting natural habitats such as coastal beaches and dunes, rivers, salt marshes, freshwater wetlands and upland forests. These habitats support a remarkable diversity of wildlife, protect drinking water supplies, control pollution and underpin commercial fishing and recreational businesses including a $1 billion-a-year nature-based economy. The southern coastal plain, which includes the target counties, has 187 plants, animals and habitats listed as a high conservation priority in the State Wildlife Action Plan.
But the stakes reach even beyond state lines. Georgia has one-third of the eastern seaboard’s coastal marshlands and natural resources rated internationally significant, according to the Georgia Conservancy.
“Georgia is blessed with unique environmental riches along the coast,” said Jim Stokes, president of the Georgia Conservancy. “Without careful planning, rapid growth and tourism activities are on a collision course with coastal drinking water supplies, habitats and public lands.
“Through our partnership with DNR and ACCG, we will be able to identify critical coastal lands, establish a regional land conservation network, promote sustainable development practices and organize grassroots efforts to engage citizens in land-use activities.”
The Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative will mesh planning for green and gray infrastructure: natural and built environments. Local leaders and communities, the level at which most development decisions are made in Georgia, will be equipped with tools such as region-specific GIS-based software designed to analyze conservation needs, development patterns and compatible land uses. Data from the project will be posted online. Partners will provide technical support, establish a region-wide conservation network and foster public outreach geared to sustainable growth.
The strategy dovetails with an ACCG land-use management project that emphasizes collaboration and marks the coast as a high-priority region.
“The Association County Commissioners of Georgia is proud to work on this important collaborative project with our partners from state government – the Georgia Department of Natural Resources – and an established environmental organization like the Georgia Conservancy, which strives to achieve a balance between necessary and desirable environmental protection and important and desirable economic development” ACCG Executive Director Jerry Griffin said.
“ACCG has spent the past two years concentrating on development of land-management initiatives throughout Georgia. Our coastal region is clearly in need of priority attention. This unique coastal conservation project will help us bring vitally important resources to this historic and treasured region.”
As a first step, biologists with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division are compiling a natural resources inventory of the coastal region, surveying habitats through aerial photographs, satellite images and fieldwork, and following up on reports of rare plant and animal species. The current focus is on state-owned Jekyll Island. That focus will soon spread, first to the six counties along the Atlantic Ocean – Chatham, Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn and Camden – then to the more inland counties of Effingham, Long, Wayne, Brantley and Charlton.
When fully implemented, the Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative will help sustain healthy coastal ecosystems and local economies by promoting growth patterns that are in harmony with the region’s unique natural resources.
PARTNERS AT A GLANCE:
Association County Commissioners of Georgia
Formed in 1914 with 19 charter county members, today ACCG (www.accg.org) serves as the consensus building, training and legislative organization for all 159 county governments in the state. ACCG works to ensure that counties can provide the necessary leadership, services and programs to meet the health, safety and welfare needs of their citizens.
In the area of land management and environmental responsibility, ACCG has long provided its member counties with training, technical assistance and published materials incorporating CDs, DVDs, tool kits and manuals into a multi-media format. Statewide, ACCG works closely with many state departments, including the Georgia DNR as well as the Governor’s Office and the General Assembly, on land-management and environmental issues of importance to all Georgians.
Founded in 1967, the Georgia Conservancy (www.georgiaconservancy.org) collaborates, advocates and educates to protect Georgia’s natural environment. Through its focus on clean air and water, land conservation, coastal protection, growth management, and education, the Conservancy works to develop solutions to protect Georgia’s environment and promote the stewardship of the state’s vital natural resources.
As a statewide organization, the Georgia Conservancy has housed its coastal office in Savannah for more than 35 years to act on the most pressing coastal issues of the day. The Conservancy’s current coastal initiatives include preserving coastal lands, protecting Jekyll and Cumberland islands, defending coastal protection laws, participating in the Savannah Harbor deepening debate and raising public awareness of coastal climate change and sea level rise.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
The mission of the Georgia DNR (www.gadnr.org) is to sustain, enhance, protect and conserve Georgia’s natural, historic and cultural resources. Two DNR divisions are participating in the project: Coastal Resources and Wildlife Resources.
Coastal Resources (http://crd.dnr.state.ga.us) has primary responsibility for managing marshes, beaches and marine fishery resources. Through the state’s Coastal Management Program, the CRD promotes sustainable development through technical aid to local governments, property owners, developers and the public, while also fulfilling other roles such as monitoring coastal water quality and managing activities associated with recreational and commercial fishery resources. Wildlife Resources (www.georgiawildlife.org) regulates hunting, fishing and the operation of watercraft, protects nongame and endangered wildlife, and maintains public education and law enforcement programs to ensure conservation of natural resources. The division’s Nongame Conservation Section works to conse rve the state’s native diversity of wild animals, plants and natural habitats through education, research and management.
For more information, contact:
** Jon Ambrose, assistant chief, Georgia DNR Nongame Conservation Section – (770) 761-3035; firstname.lastname@example.org
** Jill Andrews, Coastal Program operations manager, Georgia DNR Coastal Resources Division – (912) 264-7218; email@example.com
** Ross King, deputy director, Association County Commissioners of Georgia – (404) 522-5022; firstname.lastname@example.org
** Stephanie McNicoll, director of marketing and communications, Georgia Conservancy – (404) 876-2900 x117; email@example.com