Governor Brian Kemp and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources recognized three corporate forest landowners Tuesday for their stewardship and land management practices benefiting wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts across the state.
But the announcement that Weyerhaeuser, CatchMark Timber Trust and Georgia Power are 2019 partners in DNR’s Forestry for Wildlife Partnership also noted changes to the 24-year-old program. Those revisions—a lower minimum acreage and a focus on rewarding projects in line with DNR wildlife conservation plans—address evolving land-ownership patterns and forestry standards while boosting further the potential returns for wildlife.
The changes also sync with the work that qualified the three companies as Forestry for Wildlife partners.
During Tuesday’s recognition, which included DNR Commissioner Mark Williams, Deputy Commissioner Walter Rabon and others, Wildlife Resources Division Assistant Director Mark Whitney pointed out that Georgia Power, CatchMark Timber Trust and Weyerhaeuser are credited with improving habitat and providing outdoor recreation opportunities on more than 1 million acres combined.
“Under the previous program and in the new one, our partners continue to practice exceptional forest conservation,” Whitney said.
Started in 1996, Forestry for Wildlife Partnership is a voluntary and participant-driven effort that encourages conservation of wildlife habitat on large private forestlands and provides public access to the properties for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, hiking and camping. The program was created to recognize corporate landowners that went beyond the requirements of what, at the time, was the newly formed Sustainable Forestry Initiative (www.sfiprogram.org). Accomplishments by the 2019 partners included:
- Georgia Power applied restorative prescribed fire to more than 6,000 acres, opened 20,000-plus acres for the public as DNR wildlife management areas (WMAs) and took part in DNR’s Safe Harbor program, which is restoring populations of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers.
- Weyerhaeuser conserved gopher tortoises on lands with viable populations, managed north Georgia properties for rare plants, bats and amphibians, and south Georgia sites for Henslow’s sparrows, wood storks and hairy rattleweed, known worldwide from only two Georgia counties.
- CatchMark Timber Trust customized timber harvest on a Sprewell Bluff WMA lease to support the reintroduction of red-cockaded woodpeckers, protected habitat for endangered fringed campion and provided a conservation easement on 4,000 acres at Townsend WMA.
The recent changes to the Forestry for Wildlife Partnership will allow more landowners to participate, while focusing on projects that mesh with the goals in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan or Bobwhite Quail Initiative. Both are geared toward conserving priority species and habitats.
The upgrades reflect that Georgia now has fewer companies with large forest landholdings and that expanding Sustainable Forestry Initiative standards duplicated many Forestry for Wildlife requirements.
The revised Forestry for Wildlife Partnership centers on implementing projects partners will choose with guidance from DNR. Each will be based on goals spelled out in the management strategies the agency created with stakeholders. Downsizing the minimum qualifying acreage from 20,000 to 10,000 acres means more landowners can earn partnership status for enhanced wildlife management on their lands.