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Land stewardship bill tops natural resources laws
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There has always been an effort by private land conservation groups and the state to purchase land that all agree should be protected. Some examples would include wilderness areas, lands along wild rivers and other resources that if not protected could and would be developed and lost forever. Funding is always an issue, but the state has come up with purchase funds when valuable lands were available for sale as in the lands along the Altamaha River which were sold by paper companies. But a steady consistent fund is seen as advantageous over time.
– HB 332 – This enacting legislation, and a constitutional amendment, HR 238, was a joint effort by the Georgia Conservancy and leaders in the Legislature to provide a dedicated source of funding to purchase conservation properties when they were available. If approved by the voters in November, some 40% of state sales tax funds collected by sporting goods stores would be dedicated to this fund. There is a provision that would reduce this assignment if state revenues took a dive during a slowdown in the economy. There are several uses for the funds besides the purchase of conservation lands: the funds could be parceled out to local governments as grants, used to fund parks and trails and to acquire critical areas to protect water, wildlife or recreation. There is also a loan provision to assist with costs of conservation land or conservation easements.

Assistance for counties
with large state acreage
There is a provision in the bill to assist counties where an inordinate amount of acreage has been purchased and belongs to the state. If there are 20,000 or more acres or 10% of taxable real property, off the local tax digest, annual grants from the state are authorized equal to the value of public services the county provides to DNR yearly.

Board of Trustees
– HB 332 – Establishes a Board of Trustees, consisting of 11 members to accept applications and evaluate project proposals. Board approved projects must also be approved by DNR and by the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Natural Resources.

Other legislation
– HB 735 – Exempts rail line rights of way from local fees imposed for the management of storm water runoff.
– SB 332 – Creates new code section defining outdoor mentees, outdoor mentors and an outdoor passport. Creates an outdoor mentor program intended to spark interest in hunting and fishing but promoting safe and ethical practices. Additionally, a nonresident youth, 15 years or younger, is eligible for a sportsman’s license for $50 fee instead of the current $335.
– HB 784 – Creates special license plates promoting the conservation and enhancement of waterfowl populations and their habitats. Funds from these sales will go to the Wildlife Resources Division of DNR for waterfowl habitat restoration, research and management programs.
– HB 885 – Prohibits DNR from limiting or restricting burning over of any agricultural tract larger than 5 acres in an agricultural operation if the burning is consistent with the requirements of federal law and is limited to vegetative material.

Funding affecting
natural resources
– $720,000 – From new fees per HB 208 from 2017. Appropriated to Coastal Resources for public access and offshore fishery habitat maintenance
– $2.72 million – From HB 208 for additional law enforcement rangers to address high-demand areas of the state
– $4.32 million – From HB 208 to Wildlife Resources for additional public access and land management activities

Bonds appropriated for DNR
– $15.6 Million – For facility improvements and renovations statewide
– $4.1 million – For construction of two new boathouses and the replacement of Skidaway Island State Park and Red Top Mountain State Park Visitor Centers
– $1.19 million – To EPD for dambreak routings – for state-owned dams
– $2.0 million – To renovate bathrooms at Unicoi State Park
– $5 million – To purchase a new helicopter
– $4.5 million – To design and construct a new conference center at Lake Lanier Islands

Ga. Environmental
Finance Authority
– $8.0 million – For the Federal State Revolving Fund Match, Clean and Drinking Water Programs
– $8.0 million – For the State Funded Water and Sewer Construction Loan Program