By David Pendered
Two timber companies and Georgia Power were honored Wednesday by Gov. Nathan Deal for their environmental stewardship and land management practices. The Forestry for Wildlife Partnership recognizes the importance of private landowners in preserving the state’s wildlife and landscape.
Some 93 percent of the land in Georgia is in private ownership, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Major landowners, and their practices, take on increasing significance as development alters the landscape.
Of this privately owned land, corporate forest landowners manage about 12 percent of the state’s 24-plus million acres of forestland, according to a statement from DNR.
“With more than 90 percent of the forestlands in Georgia under private ownership, landowners play a vital role in restoring and conserving natural habitats and wildlife statewide,” Rusty Garrison, director of DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division, said in a statement released Wednesday. “In the case of our Forestry for Wildlife partners, they directly affect wildlife habitat in a positive way on about 1 million acres.”
Garrison joined the governor, DNR Commissioner Mark Williams, and others for a recognition ceremony Wednesday at the Capitol.
DNR credits the Forestry for Wildlife Partnership with helping a variety of plants and animals.
The animals include gopher tortoises, a keystone species and Georgia’s state reptile, bald eagles and swallow-tailed kites and rare bats. Lands protected include wetlands critical to protected reptiles and amphibians, and high-priority habitats such as Coosa Valley prairie and longleaf pine forest, havens, respectively, for endangered species such as whorled sunflower and red-cockaded woodpecker.
The timber companies recognized this year are are CatchMark Timber Trust and Weyerhaeuser.
In Georgia, CatchMark owns and leases a total of 274,200 acres and Weyerhaeuser owns and leases a total of 678,000 acres, according to their separate filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Georgia Power’s holdings in Georgia are not immediately discernable on SEC filings.
However, to put the holdings in some perspective, the company reported that it has donated to Georgia about 7,400 acres since 2007. This donated land supports important plant and animal species, including the longleaf pine, Cherokee and Etowah darters, and persistent trillium, according to the report.
The same three companies were recognized in 2017 for the Forestry for Wildlife Partnership. The statement about the current award does not reference last year’s program or why the same companies were recognized again this year.
The criteria for recognition are spelled out in the reporting form that companies submit to the state DNR. Here’s the breakdown of the scores:
- Wildlife conservation plan – Required;
- Education and outreach – 20;
- Wildlife management practices – 30;
- Sensitive sites and concerns – 25;
- Wildlife recreation – 15;
- Partnerships – 10;
- Discretionary – 10.
A minimum score of 75 earns the company eligibility for recognition in the Forestry for Wildlife Partnership, according to the score sheet.
DNR credited the three companies with achieving the following outcomes:
- “Preparing wildlife conservation plans that detail natural resource inventories and outline management strategies that combine forest and wildlife aspects;
- “Providing internal training opportunities for employees on how to blend forestland management with wildlife-friendly practices for multiple natural resource benefits;
- “Incorporating wildlife management into land-use planning and timber management practices;
- “Providing valuable data for Wildlife Resources Division research projects.
- “Providing public recreational opportunities on corporate forestlands;
- “Participating in partnerships with conservation organizations;
- “Managing riparian forests for wildlife use and water quality protection.”