Local landowners eligible for federal land conservation money

Published 8:01 am Monday, February 20, 2012

Special to the Post-Searchlight

The U.S. Congress has made available millions of dollars to pay Georgia landowners who agree not to use their land for the development of a subdivision. Each of Georgia’s 159 counties is eligible for many of these programs, yet in many years the money is returned to Washington, D.C. unused. Most landowners who could receive payment under these U.S. Department of Agriculture programs are simply unaware that they qualify.

Owners of working farms may be eligible for the Farm and Ranch protection program. Those who own land along swamps, marshes, or streams may be eligible for the Wetland Reserve Program. Pastures and grasslands have a program, too–the Grassland Reserve Program. The USDA will make a cash payment to the landowner, based on acreage, for their agreement to permanently protect their qualifying land from certain uses such as subdivision development, strip mining, or aggressive timber cutting practices. The amazing thing is that while these uses are restricted, almost all others are not. The owners continue to own their land and may hunt, fish, hike, and continue certain farming and timber practices.

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During the first year of the Georgia Conservancy Land Conservation Program, we helped landowners secure millions of dollars under these programs. One Wetland Reserve Program recipient from South Georgia was paid to protect almost 1,500 acres of wetlands on their family farm.

“I just couldn’t believe it when they told me I might be eligible. I had never heard of these programs. It sounded a little too good to be true,” he said. “But the Georgia Conservancy was right. My land did qualify. The U.S. government sent me a check for more money than I have ever seen, and it has allowed me to hold onto this farm that my great-grandfather started.”

The Georgia Conservancy is a statewide, non-profit organization that works to protect the state’s natural environment by advocating for sound environmental policies, advancing sustainable growth practices and facilitating common-ground solutions to environmental challenges. Learn more at www.georgiaconservancy.org.

The Georgia Conservancy’s Land Conservation Program has worked with hundreds of landowners from all corners of the state to help them find the best incentives to protect their land.

Mr. Shannon Mayfield, director of the land conservation effort, offers this assessment, “Georgia landowners have never had more financial incentives to protect the land that they love. We spend all day, every day helping them find the program that is best for them financially, and most suited to their land. They get paid and get to keep their land. Can you beat that?”

If you are a landowner interested in exploring conservation opportunities for your land, please contact us if you have any questions. Call Shannon Mayfield or Fuller Callaway at the Georgia Conservancy at (404) 876-2900, ext. 113, or email Shannon at smayfield@gaconservancy.org or Fuller Callaway at fcallaway@gaconservancy.org.