Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Conservation Lobby Day

Audubon South Carolina participated in today's conservation lobby day at the Statehouse in Columbia. The topics of focus, South Carolina Conservation Bank funding and bill H3121 (exporting turtle bill). The purpose of the Conservation Bank is shown below:

SECTION 48-59-20. Purpose.
The General Assembly finds that:
(1) South Carolina is experiencing rapid land development and economic growth which has benefited the state's people and economy, but has also led to the loss of forestlands, farmlands, wildlife habitats, outstanding natural areas, beaches and public areas for outdoor recreation; and has impacted the health of the state's streams, rivers, wetlands, estuaries, and bays, all of which impacts the quality of life of the state's current and future citizens and may jeopardize the well-being of the state's environment and economy if not addressed appropriately.

(2) This same rapid land development has also led to the loss of historical and archaeological sites that embody the heritage of human habitation in the State.

(3) Additionally, as urban areas expand and the separation of urban residents from open lands increases, there is a need to preserve greenways, open space, and parks in urban areas in order to promote balanced growth and promote the well-being and quality of life of our state's citizens.

(4) There is a critical need to fund the preservation of, and public access to, wildlife habitats, outstanding natural areas, sites of unique ecological significance, historical sites, forestlands, farmlands, watersheds, and open space, and urban parklands as an essential element in the orderly development of the State.

(5) The protection of open space by acquisition of interests in real property from willing sellers is essential to ensure that the State continues to enjoy the benefits of wildlife habitats, forestlands, farmlands, parks, historical sites, and healthy streams, rivers, bays, and estuaries; for recreational purposes, for scientific study, for aesthetic appreciation, for protection of critical water resources, to maintain the state's position as an attractive location for visitors and new industry, and to preserve the opportunities of future generations to access and benefit from the existence of the state's outstanding natural and historical sites.

(6) It is critical to encourage cooperation and innovative partnerships among landowners, state agencies, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations, which must work together in order to meet these objectives.

(7) In order to carry out these purposes, the State must establish an ongoing funding source to acquire interests in land from willing sellers that meets these objectives and to ensure the orderly development of the State. To these ends, the General Assembly enacts the "South Carolina Conservation Bank Act".

To date, the Conservation Bank has protected 152,000 acres (fair market value of $450 million) at an average cost of $534 per acre. This represents a 6 to 1 return on investment! Over 56,000 acres were placed in the state's Wildlife Management Areas for public hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation to support the approximately $3.5 billion spent by individuals last year on hunting and fishing in South Carolina.

The Conservation Bank has had 46% reductions in revenues in the last two fiscal years as well as a 76% revenue cut due to the Budget Recession Act. The Conservation Bank has only two employees and all administrative costs are paid by interest income. Currently, the Conservation Bank has approved and committed funding for 22 grants totaling $6,114,000, but has seen that commitment go unfulfilled. Landowners for these grants have already made long-range financial decisions and paid surveying and other good faith administrative costs based on the state's program promises. To renege now would poison the pool of landowners whose future participation in land conservation is critical to South Carolina, state which continues to move up the list (9th in 2000) of acres converted to development.

The exporting turtle bill (H3121) is designed to prevent the large-scale removal of our native, freshwater turtles to the overseas meat and pet markets. We noticed that the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata) shown in the image is not listed as one of the turtle species in the bill and will be asking for its inclusion. Populations of this species are already in decline across its range due to habitat loss (they like small, isolated wetlands out of the main water flow) for development, but they are also an attractive animal that requires little space or care. This makes the Spotted Turtle a desirable pet in locations where living space is limited or the culture does not view cats and dogs as suitable pets.

Please contact your representatives in the South Carolina Legislature and ask for their support in funding the Conservation Bank program and passage of the turtle exporting bill (H3121).

Image by Mark Musselman

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