Monday, December 13, 2010

More Than 200,000 Acres Protected Through Land Conservation Program Since 2005

Seven new easement donations eligible for conservation tax credits
Governor Sonny Perdue today announced seven new conservation easement donations from private landowners to the state of Georgia as part of the Georgia Land Conservation Program (GLCP), bringing the total acreage conserved through the GLCP to 211,176 since 2005. The seven new easement donations collectively conserve more than 6,000 acres of natural and working lands and are eligible for Georgia’s Conservation Tax Credit Program, which has been used to conserve 103,434 acres. In addition to the acreage conserved through the tax credit program, the GLCP and its partners have acquired 107,742 acres of conservation land with state grants, loans and landowner donations.

“Without the generous landowners of this state, Georgia would not be recognized as having one of the most progressive resource management programs in the nation,” said Governor Perdue. “Five years ago, we set out to preserve and protect our precious lands and I am proud to report on this monumental success of the Georgia Land Conservation Program.”

Four conservation easements were approved by the State Properties Commission today with the remaining easements approved earlier this year. The SPC also gave final approval of the Department of Natural Resource’s preservation of more than 10,000 acres in Middle Georgia known as Oaky Woods.

Conservation easements are voluntary agreements that permanently restrict how land can be used. Landowners maintain ownership of their properties, but they forfeit some development and other rights. The state of Georgia encourages conservation easements by offering income tax credits to donors. The easements are then held by qualified state agencies, local governments or nonprofit land trusts. Federal tax incentives and other financial benefits are also available.

The GLCP is managed by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA). The program works with public and private sector partners to permanently protect lands with high conservation value. Governor Perdue introduced the Georgia Land Conservation Act, which created the GLCP, during the 2005 session of the General Assembly to encourage the long-term conservation and protection of the state’s natural, cultural and historic resources. The Georgia Land Conservation Act passed with broad bipartisan support and Governor Perdue signed it into law on April 14, 2005. Since the program’s inception, the GLCP has participated in 312 land conservation transactions that have permanently protected a total of 211,176 acres. For more information on the GLCP, please visit www.glcp.ga.gov.

Brief summaries of the donated conservation easements are provided below:

Diamond Drake

Georgia native and major league baseball star J.D. Drew donated a conservation easement covering 1,008 acres in Meriwether County to the Conservation Fund, which will be transferring the easement to the Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC). The property contains the main trunk of Sulphur Creek and supports significant acreage of productive timber and agricultural lands. The easement terms permanently protect these important natural features, while allowing active forestry and recreation practices to continue.

Alligator Creek

Rick Towns of Alamo is donating a conservation easement covering 2,774 acres in Wheeler County to the GFC. The tract encompasses 2.5 miles of Alligator Creek. The easement terms permanently protect the tract’s creek frontage, as well as important habitat for a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians including two state and federally-protected species (the Gopher Tortoise and Eastern Indigo Snake), as well as two plant species of concern (the Bog Bluestem and Wire-leaf Dropseed).

Kirkland Creek

Homer Breckenridge, Rufus Breckenridge and Elizabeth Dodds are donating a conservation easement covering 628 acres in Early County to the GFC. The mostly forested property fronts the Chattahoochee River for 1.5 miles and supports other smaller wetlands and waterbodies, including Kirkland Creek. The conservation easement will prohibit disturbances within the tract’s wetland areas and bottomlands, while allowing forestry and agriculture to continue on suitable upland areas.

Red Hawk Pulaski Farms LLC

Red Hawk Plantation LLC is donating a conservation easement covering 454 acres in Pulaski County to the GFC. The tract contains steep slopes adjoining Big Creek and South Prong Creek, which has been designated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as a high-priority waterway containing excellent aquatic habitat. This sensitive natural feature, as well as the property’s productive agricultural and silvicultural areas, will be conserved by the easement.

Tucker Turf Farm

Tucker Turf LLC is donating a conservation easement covering 1,055 acres in Houston County to the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (SWCC). The parcel contains substantial floodplain habitat along Big Indian Creek, a high-priority waterway that will be permanently conserved in the easement. It is also covered by Prime Agricultural Soils as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and currently supports active agricultural operations in a developing area of Houston County. This productive agricultural activity will continue under the terms of the easement.

Buckhead Creek

Hew Joiner and his wife are donating a conservation easement on 133 acres in Jenkins County to the DNR. The tract contains bottomlands and a half mile of frontage along Buckhead Creek – a tributary of the Ogeechee River. The Ogeechee supports numerous freshwater fish species, two of which are state threatened or endangered. The property falls between the Big Dukes Pond Natural Areas and Magnolia Springs State Park, which provide important wildlife habitat and recreational amenities. The easement will prohibit disturbances within the tract’s bottomlands, while allowing ecological restoration forestry operations on the uplands.

Yuchi Wildlife Management Area

Stuart Rackley is donating a conservation easement on 58 acres in Burke County to the DNR. The protected property contains intact bottomlands along the Savannah River and adjoins the Yuchi Wildlife Management Area. It also supports suitable habitat for protected plant species including the Ocmulgee skullcap and Carolina pink. The easement terms will protect the bottomlands, while allowing forestry to continue on the uplands.
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Georgia-grown Fraser fir Christmas trees on the horizon

When it comes to Christmas trees, Fraser firs top the list. But Georgia Christmas tree farmers can’t grow the tree due to the state’s mild winters, and must buy Frasers from North Carolina to sell to their Georgia customers. A University of Georgia horticulturist wants to change that.

Fir trees produce new growth very early in spring, which makes them susceptible to freeze damage. “When new shoots start to grow in early spring, they are often severally damaged or killed by the below-32-degrees temperatures that we often have during the spring here in Georgia and much of the Southeast,” said Mark Czarnota, a horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Frasiers + Momis

Using a $30,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, he wants to deliver another option to Georgia Christmas tree farmers. He is grafting Fraser firs onto Momi firs in his greenhouses and fields on the UGA campus in Griffin, Ga., and working with Georgia Christmas tree growers in Lovejoy and Terrytown.

A native of Japan, the Momi fir (Abies firma Siebold & Zucc.) made its debut in Georgia in the early ‘90s. “The planting culture of Momi fir is very different from most other Christmas tree species that growers were currently growing,” Czarnota said. “Needless to say, Momi firs first introduction was a miserable failure.”

With proper management, though, Momi firs can grow in Georgia. The biggest stumbling blocks are adjusting soil pH to around 6.5 and providing irrigation to young plants for two or three years, he said.
Faster growing is more profitable

Growers in the Southeast don’t like to hear that it takes six to eight years for the tree to reach a desirable Christmas tree size. Traditional Georgia Christmas tree species like Leland cypress and Virginia pine mature in three to four years. When it comes to growing Christmas trees, the sooner a tree matures, the sooner the farmer can take it to market.

Fraser firs will grow in north Georgia, but the downside is that the tree is affected by the root fungus phytophthora. If not treated, it can kill infected plants.

A new Christmas, landscape tree

Czarnota hopes to combine the Momi fir rootstock and Fraser scion, or shoot, into a tree that will grow throughout much of Georgia and the Southeast.

“I don’t expect it to take over the market, but it will be a great addition,” he said. “A lot of work needs to be done in selecting good Momi grafting stock for desirable uniformity. It’s a lifetime project, and great potential exists in trying to cross Momi fir with other firs.”

Researcher John Frampton at North Carolina State University works on the tolerance of Momi fir to phytophthora. He has found the plant is very tolerant to the root disease.

North Carolina fir growers have a very difficult time dealing with the fungus. Frampton is trying to cross Momi and Fraser fir to breed a hybrid phytophthora-resistant fir. In the meantime, he encourages North Carolina growers to plant Momi-Frasier grafts, Czarnota said.

On-farm research

One of Czarnota’s collaborators, 82-year-old Earl Worthington, grows Christmas trees in Lovejoy, Ga.
“Dr. Worthington was one of the first growers to try to grow firs in the Georgia piedmont region,” Czarnota said. “He actually got greenhorns like Dr. Frampton and me moving in the right direction, and has been a wealth of knowledge for many Christmas growers here in the Southeast.”

Worthington hopes to someday grow enough Fraser firs to avoid buying from growers in western North Carolina. He bought 300 Fraser firs this season.

Worthington has been grafting Fraser firs onto Momi firs for the past 15 years. In the beginning, it took 10 years for him to grow an 8- to 9-foot tree. “I can now produce a 5- to 6-foot tree in five to six years,” he said.

The problem he now faces with his grafting efforts is the inconsistencies. “Some (of the trees) turn out very yellow, some very stiff, some are green all year, some flush early and some flush late,” he said. “Grafting trees is definitely a project for someone with patience.”

To search for a Georgia Christmas tree farm near you, go to www.gacta.com.

By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia


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Saturday, December 04, 2010

Time to Think Trees, Says Georgia Forestry Commission

While Autumn is the time when colorful leaves fall to the ground, it is also the time to plan for putting tree seedlings into the ground! The Georgia Forestry Commission is reminding residents that the winter months are the best times to plant trees, and a wide variety of bare root seedlings are available for sale through the agency.

"The Georgia Forestry Commission has a great selection of seedlings in stock for anyone who wants to enhance their land," said Russ Pohl, Chief of Reforestation for the Georgia Forestry Commission. "We have excellent selections for all Georgians, from green thumb hobbyists to landscapers, wildlife lovers and timber growers."

Hardwoods available include redbuds, yellow poplars, and a wide variety of oaks and maples. Several species of pine are offered, including the native longleaf pine, known for its distinctive, flowing needles. Hardy shrubs and perennials, including crape and wax myrtles are also available.

"Seedlings should go into the ground between November and February," said Pohl. "That's when the trees are dormant, and Georgia's traditionally wet winters can help them get established."

Pohl explained that the GFC's online ordering system makes it easier than ever to purchase seedlings. By logging on to GaTrees.org, visitors can peruse tree selections, find out about species' growing preferences, locate step-by-step tree planting instructions and learn much more about the benefits of trees.

"Trees are environmental work horses," explained Pohl. "In addition, of course, to providing immeasurable beauty, trees clean our air and water, provide shade for cooling our homes and communities, habitat for wildlife, and serve as recreational havens for camping, hiking, and hunting.
Trees are a renewable resource that provide us with countless everyday products to make our lives better." Pohl said residents who own larger tracts of lands may consider planting trees on cut-over or idle acres. If planted around homes or communities, trees are a great way to put the land back to work, make a financial investment and contribute to the well being of the planet.

The Georgia Forestry Commission provides leadership, service and education in the protection and conservation of Georgia's forest resources. From advice and plans for reforestation, timber stand improvement and harvesting to eradication of pests, cost-share opportunities and seedling sales, the agency offers a variety of complimentary and low-fee services that enhance forest land. For complete details, visit GaTrees.org.

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