State saves sensitive land

The state of Georgia is in the process of buying 2,545 acres in northwest Georgia that are home to two endangered species of salamanders and one endangered plant species in order to set the property aside as a wildlife management area.

The move by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to purchase the land's mining rights, which currently belong to Vulcan Materials Co., will prevent limestone mining on the property and will permanently protect it from future mining and development. The land is a part of the 17,000-acre Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Walker County.

"Industries obviously have a great potential to disfigure land and are very destructive to habitat," says Georgia Wildlife Federation Vice President Carol Hassell. "So being able to take the [mining] rights off a piece of property like that is just fabulous news."

The DNR has been working since the 1970s to buy land and increase the size of the wildlife management areas across the state but has been unable to purchase the mining rights from Vulcan — until now. The state has been empowered to go after larger tracts and mining rights thanks to changes Gov. Sonny Perdue enacted during the 2005 General Assembly.

Environmentalists such as Hassell are fond of Perdue's land conservation program, which includes $100 million in funding for property acquisitions across Georgia. Former Gov. Roy Barnes' Georgia Community Greenspace Program set aside $60 million for greenspace acquisitions, and only in fast-growing counties.

Barnes' plan "was very much limited to the high-growth counties," Hassell says. "That's not to say they don't need to conserve land in a big way, but it is important for the entire state to be able to participate now. ... [Perdue's plan] is an incredible improvement."

In addition to the Vulcan property, the DNR is in the process of adding 1,072 acres to the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, about 50 miles north of Atlanta.

According to the DNR, Georgia lost 1 million acres of open space to development in the five years between 1992 and 1997, and the land conservation programs were created to preserve land threatened by sprawl.

The state has already purchased 8,120 acres so far this year and expects to close on an additional 12,000 acres, including the Vulcan and Dawson Creek tracts, by the end of the year, pending DNR approval.

GET INVOLVED: For more info, visit www.gadnr.org.

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