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The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has announced the selection of the 2020-2021 Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program “Conserve Georgia” grants for conservation and outdoor recreation projects.
Tall Timbers will receive over $600,000, to purchase a 444-acre conservation easement on Birdsong Nature Center in Grady County, Georgia – the second phase of a conservation easement project to permanently protect the entire property.
Birdsong is a nonprofit organization with 565 acres of land that is open to the public. It offers hiking, birding and wildlife viewing opportunities.
In 2008, Birdsong placed a conservation easement on 125 acres, which is held by the Georgia Wildlife Federation. The current project will complete protection for the entirety of the property.
Tall Timbers is an accredited land trust with a long history of land conservation in the Red Hills region of south Georgia, and north Florida, and currently holds over 145,000 acres of conservation easements.
Tall Timbers and Birdsong have worked closely to develop the Birdsong Phase II Conservation Easement project, which will ensure the permanent protection of all Birdsong’s land, a part of the Red Hills history and landscape. This project will also support Birdsong Nature Center, the organization that makes this land accessible for the public to enjoy.
“Placing the entirety of Birdsong’s land under the permanent protection of a conservation easement, in perpetuity, has been a goal since our inception, says Birdsong Executive Director Kathleen Brady, “We really appreciate all that Tall Timbers is doing to help us make this vision a reality. Our founders, Betty and Ed Komarek would be very pleased.”
Shane Wellendorf, the Tall Timbers Land Conservancy conservation coordinator who worked on this project with Birdsong states, “It is exciting to have Tall Timbers and Birdsong working collaboratively on this conservation easement project. We are honored that our project supports the conservation and outdoor recreation goals of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Grant Program.” He notes that this will be the first conservation easement supported by the grant program.
The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program is the outcome of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act, passed by 83 percent of Georgia voters in 2018. This notable program is Georgia’s first source of dedicated funding for the conservation of priority lands, the stewardship of state parks and wildlife management areas, and the support of local parks and trails.
The Birdsong conservation easement scored high for the grant program as it protects pine savannas managed with frequent fire that provide habitat for many Georgia high priority wildlife species, including the gopher tortoise, Bachman’s sparrow and southern fox squirrel. The entire property is listed with the State and National Register for Historic Places, including 12 miles of hiking trails open to the public and wetlands in a high priority watershed. The property is also embedded within the Red Hills region, where 40 percent of the land (>170,000 acres) is permanently protected, primarily with conservation easements on private lands.
Tall Timbers officials say placing a conservation easement on the entirety of Birdsong’s land is consistent with its conservation mission and is something the organization has wanted to achieve for a long time. The land is the cornerstone of Birdsong’s existence and the organization’s main asset. Birdsong has been successful in providing public, nature-based recreation and education for 35 years, but does not have the financial resources to donate a conservation easement to permanently protect the land. The purchased conservation easement provides funding that will in part be used to build an endowment to support the long-term management of the property.
The Red Hills Land Conservation Opportunity Fund, developed by Tall Timbers to assist with land conservation in the region, was used to support this project. Support was also provided by: The Conservation Fund; Alexander and Vann, LLP; Grady County; and Grady County Joint Development Authority.