Researchers find rare Georgia habitats
Treasure trove includes notable forests, swamps and wetlands.
Mon, Jul 26, 2010 at 05:54 PM
SAVING HABITATS: A maritime forest. (Photos: Georgia Conservancy)
Like treasure hunters, researchers armed with maps have been scouring the Georgia coast for the past two years.
And they've struck gold.
These scientists haven't been searching for money or jewels but something even more precious: rare and ecologically important habitats.
They've identified particularly unusual types of maritime forests, pine woodlands and wetlands, as well as an extremely rare forested basin in Liberty County they say is likely the remnant of tidal rivers or marshy lagoons that vanished when sea levels receded.
In certain cases, the habitats are so rare that new categories had to be created for labeling purposes.
It's all part of the Coastal Georgia Land Conservation Initiative, or CGLCI, a three-year collaborative effort of the Georgia Conservancy, Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The CGLCI's mission is to preserve critical coastal lands and to promote sustainable growth patterns and development practices in a region with a population expected to grow by 50 percent over the next 20 years. The effort is being largely funded by the Woodruff Foundation.
A team of researchers has been painstakingly mapping the wildlife habitats in the fast-growing, 11-county region along Georgia's coast.
It's difficult, time-consuming work. They pore over aerial photographs and use highly sophisticated mapping software. In some cases they even hike through the woods to gauge the accuracy of their maps.
It's far from just an academic exercise, said Beth Blalock, Coastal Land Conservation Program Manager with the Georgia Conservancy.
It's important work that will help local government officials make critical decisions about land use and zoning as well as land conservation, she said. Several counties are already examining how to incorporate the findings into their planning efforts, she added.
Momentum is building as the CGCLCI enters its third year.
A CGLCI website will be launched in August to enable residents and other interested people to interact with the habitat maps that have been created.
In October, a second "land summit" will take place on the coast to provide local decision-makers with the tools they need to preserve critical coastal lands and ensure that development occurs in a smart, sustainable fashion.
This story was written by Paul Donsky of the Georgia Conservancy, an environmental advocacy and conservation organization based in Atlanta that strives to protect Georgia’s natural resources. To learn more, visit www.georgiaconservancy.org.