Outdoor Stewardship Fund to Protect Georgia’s Natural Assets
Monday, January 21st, 2019
Passed with more than 82 percent of the vote, the Outdoor Stewardship Act is intended to “promote stewardship for state parks, state lands and wildlife management areas, support local parks and trails and protect critical conservation land.”
Beginning July 1, the newly formed Board of Trustees of the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Fund will take fund applications from Georgia’s communities interested in preserving and expanding greenspace that is critical for quality of life, said Georgia Conservancy President Robert Ramsay.
“From our largest urban areas to our smallest rural towns, Georgians overwhelming support made possible funding for commonsense conservation solutions. We are grateful for the ability to work with partners like GMA in the development of legislation that is a win for all of Georgia,” Ramsay said.
State legislators in support of the Outdoor Stewardship Fund looked forward to this day for a while.
“Wow! After ten years of work we finally have a funding source that will provide the state, its local governments and industry partners the resources to help protect Georgia’s incredible natural assets and enhance our outdoor recreational offerings,” said Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan), Chair of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
The author of the stewardship legislation, Rep. Sam Watson (R-Moultrie), shared, “It’s certainly gratifying, that the people of our great state see this as such an important issue. I am very excited to see it move forward and very proud to have sponsored the legislation.”
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must circulate rules and regulations detailing the application process prior to July 1. The Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate will select two members each to serve on the Board of Trustees; those members must come from the public or private sector that serves forestry, conservation, hunting, fishing and/or local government.
The fund will be available for loans and grants through the application process. A grant from the fund must have as its primary purpose one of the following conservation objects:
To support state parks and trails
To support local parks and trails of state and regional significance
To provide stewardship of conservation land
To acquire critical areas for the provision or protection of clean water, wildlife, hunting, or fishing, for military installation buffering, or for natural resource-based outdoor recreation
The fund will be available for loans to city, county and non-governmental entities to help defray the costs of conservation land and ensure permanent protection. Any project for consideration by the Board of Trustees shall be given increased priority in the review process that:
Has matching funds available
Supports and promotes hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing
Contributes to improving the quality and quantity of surface and ground water
Contributes to improving the water quality and flow of springs
Shows overlap between the state’s land conservation plans and that of the United States military’s need to protect lands, water and habitats
Moneys in the fund will be derived from sales tax generated by stores that sell outdoor recreational equipment and sporting goods. Based on estimates from sales tax figures over the past few years, roughly $20 million could be generated for allocation to the fund in this year’s round of applications.
“City leaders can start putting ideas together for eligible projects prior to the formalized DNR process but be sure to compare those ideas with the primary purposes laid out in the Official Code of Georgia,” said GMA Governmental Relations Associate Michael McPherson. “Look for updates regarding the rules process in the coming months.”