A statewide strategy to help conserve hundreds of Georgia animal and plant species has been revised and is being put into practice following federal approval.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision this fall on Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan clears the way for continued efforts and new projects focused on nearly 640 species considered high priorities for conservation.
That lineup varies from bald eagles to gopher tortoises and Georgia aster wildflowers.
The new plan will guide work by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and partners for the next 10 years, said Rusty Garrison, DNR Wildlife Resources Division director. “The Wildlife Action Plan sets our vision and our mission for how we’re going to manage these species,” Garrison said.
State Wildlife Action Plans are aimed at conserving populations of native wildlife and habitats they need before the species become rarer and more costly to conserve or restore. An approved plan also is required by Congress for DNR and wildlife agencies in other states to receive State Wildlife Grants, the main federal funding source for states to conserve nongame – animals not fished for or hunted.
Experts from DNR and more than 100 conservation partners and stakeholders created Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan in 2005 and reviewed and revised this comprehensive strategy from 2013 to 2015. Using the best available data, the revision includes new details about the status of species, developing regional conservation efforts and emerging issues such as white-nose syndrome, a disease deadly to bats.
White-nose syndrome was documented in the U.S. in 2006, the year after Georgia’s original Wildlife Action Plan was completed. The disease has since spread to 29 states and five Canadian provinces, killing an estimated 6 million bats. DNR has seen a 92 percent decline in bat populations at north Georgia hibernacula over the last three years.
DNR Nongame Conservation Section Chief Dr. Jon Ambrose said the revised Wildlife Action Plan underscores the need for partnerships and more robust federal funding to combat such problems.
“To fully implement what’s in the plan requires resources beyond what our state agency has available.”
This year, an Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies panel representing outdoor recreation, energy companies, academia, wildlife agencies, conservation organizations, sportsmen’s groups and landowners identified the lack of dedicated funding to restore and manage nongame species as the key to a pending “conservation crisis.” The Blue Ribbon Panel’s recommendations led to the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act of 2016 being introduced in Congress. H.R. 5650 would dedicate $1.3 billion annually in existing revenue from the development of energy and mineral resources on federal lands and waters to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program. The panel said the funds would provide states with the resources needed to implement their Wildlife Action Plans.
Although Georgia is one of the nation’s most biologically diverse states, about 320 species here have such low populations they are state and federally protected. The revised Wildlife Action Plan lists 349 animal and 290 plant species as high priorities for conservation, and recommends 150 actions to address their needs.
The original plan promoted work such as prescribed burning, controlling invasive species and restoring native vegetation, enhancing habitats on public and private conservation lands. Survey and monitoring have helped manage populations of amphibians, shorebirds, sea turtles and rare plants. Recovery efforts for federally-listed species, technical assistance for private landowners and environmental education have all benefited from resources and guidance provided by the Wildlife Action Plan.
This work not only affects Georgians’ quality of life, it strengthens the state’s economy. Spending involving wildlife-watching totaled an estimated $1.8 billion in 2011, according to a federal survey.
The DNR Nongame Conservation Section works to conserve endangered and other nongame wildlife, rare plants and natural habitats. The agency depends primarily on fundraisers, grants and contributions for this vital work. Learn more at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support.