Strategy for Conservation Steers Five Years of Action

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Strategy for Conservation Steers Five Years of Action

By Linda May
Do you enjoy hearing the melodies of songbirds, watching the antics of wildlife or photographing delicate wildflowers? As much as these natural resources enrich our lives aesthetically, they also are linked to us ecologically, socially and economically. Our quality of life is affected by how well we conserve wildlife and the places they call home.

Although Georgia is one of the most biologically diverse states in the nation, 318 species here have such low populations they are protected by state or federal laws. Hundreds of other species are of conservation concern as well, mostly due to habitat degradation and destruction.

In our fast-changing world, how can we ensure that these important natural resources will be around for us and for future generations? How do we keep populations of common plants and animals stable while preventing rare species from going extinct? The task of conserving, enhancing and promoting our state’s wildlife (including game and nongame animals as well as plants) lies with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.

Coosa Valley prairie (Marc Del Santro)To more proactively safeguard our state’s natural heritage, the Wildlife Resources Division developed a comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy. Work on this statewide management plan started in December 2002 and incorporated years of research and data accumulated by DNR staff and other natural resource organizations. Funding came through a State Wildlife Grant, with matching funds from Georgia’s Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Creating a guide for the DNR and other conservation groups to follow proved a complex task, requiring input from several state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, land managers, various other stakeholders, and the public. Approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in October 2005, Georgia’s wildlife conservation strategy is now dubbed our State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP.

To develop the SWAP, staff first gathered as much information as possible about the distribution and abundance of Georgia’s plants and animals, focusing primarily on rare or declining species in each of the state's ecoregions. The habitats required by these high-priority species were then identified, as well as problems affecting them and opportunities for conservation. To ensure that the most accurate information available was used, the Wildlife Resources Division upgraded and expanded its statewide biodiversity and conservation lands databases.

After identifying species and habitats most at risk, staff and collaborators explored methods for recovery and restoration. They prioritized 78 actions to address conservation needs. Five major conservation themes were identified as crucial for maintaining Georgia’s biological diversity:

  • Increase the use of prescribed fire for habitat restoration.
  • Improve wetland protection and mitigation banking methods.
  • Provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners to voluntarily apply wildlife conservation methods on their property.
  • Develop a statewide strategy for invasive exotic species assessment and control.
  • Help with Georgia Land Conservation Program and other land protection efforts.

The State Wildlife Grants program makes applying these conservation themes and  recommendations possible. The DNR receives about $1.6 million annually for biological research, land acquisition, habitat restoration and other conservation projects.

Since the SWAP’s completion in 2005, more than 40,000 acres of high-priority lands have been acquired for management by DNR. An additional 150,000-plus acres have been protected through conservation easements or acquisition by other conservation organizations. Prescribed burning, invasive species control, and native vegetation restoration have enhanced high-priority habitats on public and private conservation lands. Data gathered from expanded survey and monitoring efforts has helped manage populations of amphibians, coastal shorebirds, sea turtles and rare plants. Recovery efforts for federally-listed species, technical assistance programs for landowners, and environmental education have all benefited from the resources and direction provided through the SWAP.

Although the plan boasts many successes, federal guidelines stipulate an update within 10 years for states to continue receiving State Wildlife Grants funding. Wildlife Resources recently began a two-year SWAP revision process that will address changing environmental conditions and new conservation issues such as emerging wildlife diseases and the spread of invasive exotic species. New data from wildlife monitoring and habitat surveys also will be incorporated, as well as information related to climate change.

This updated plan will not only continue to benefit Georgia's wildlife, but will also help meet regional and national conservation goals.

State Wildlife Grants at a glance
In 2001, recognizing that the nation’s wildlife populations were at risk of decline, Congress created the State Wildlife Grants program to provide stable, long-term funding for wildlife conservation. Through this program, every state and territory receives federal funding annually to go toward cost-effective ways of conserving rare animals and plants. The amount allocated is set by a formula that accounts for the state’s size and population.

This is the first article in a five-part series on the State Wildlife Action Plan. Read the entire series here.

Linda May is the environmental outreach coordinator with the Nongame Conservation Section.

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