Land conservation funds must stay in budget

In Augusta, we sit near the head of the Savannah River. Teeming with diverse wildlife and flowing through majestic natural areas, the river provides local residents many places to spend quality family time outdoors and on the water.

Safeguarding natural places for future generations is a priority for Georgia, and the Georgia General Assembly must ensure funding to protect our natural landscapes.

IN HIS 2009 proposed budget, Gov. Sonny Perdue has requested $35 million for the Georgia Land Conservation Program. This program, created in 2005 and funded each year by the state legislature, helps enhance the state's natural and cultural legacy by permanently protecting strategic parcels of land for conservation. If appropriated, these funds will allow communities across the state to continue protecting land such as the Yuchi Wildlife Management Area, just south of Augusta, for recreational uses such as hiking, hunting and fishing.

We cannot neglect the role that land protection has on our freshwater resources. With the recent drought and Augusta's location on the Savannah River, water quality and quantity continues to be a top concern in our area. Land protection can ensure lower population density and limit the harmful effects of polluted runoff in sensitive areas.

Supporting the allocation of funds in the budget for the Georgia Land Conservation Program will give local governments and conservation organizations a tool to offset the loss of land to development. As our city and the population of Georgia continues to grow at a rapid pace, we must act now to set aside and protect lands in our own back yard from development that compromises the integrity of our wild places.

GEORGIA IS HOME to many major corporations, and our abundance of natural resources is one of the primary reasons our state is such a good place to do business. To continue this smart economic growth across the state, we must send the clear message to industries that we are welcoming of the benefits they bring, but we are serious about maintaining and improving the quality of life of our citizens through thoughtful and informed land management strategies. Supporting the Georgia Land Conservation Program will reinforce this message, demonstrating that we have high expectations of ourselves and our industry partners when it comes to land stewardship.

Join me in my support of this important issue so that future generations in our state will have an abundance of wild places to enjoy with their families. I encourage our legislative delegation to ensure this $35 million allocation remains in the 2009 budget.

(The writer, an Augusta resident, is vice-chairman of the board of directors of The Nature Conservancy in Georgia. He also serves as a board member of the Central Savannah River Land Trust; is a member of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy and the Governor's Savannah River Committee of Georgia; and is president of Beacon Blue LLC.)

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