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Guest column: Congressional bills would improve effort to preserve North Georgia forests
0315OP.Deron-Davis
Deron Davis

The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is home to some of our state’s most scenic natural areas: the Cohutta Mountains, Brasstown Bald, Lake Rabun and the Appalachian Trail, to name a few. Thousands of miles of clear-running streams and rivers protected by many thousands of acres of forest help provide clean drinking water to the people of North Georgia. And with more than 10 million visitors each year, the National Forest is the outdoor recreation playground for Georgia’s largest and ever-growing metropolitan area.

Since the early 1900s, the National Forest has helped preserve the natural history and way of life for citizens of North Georgia. Along the way, The Nature Conservancy has helped make the Forest a healthier resource. We have added lands to the Forest, supported management by planting trees and using prescribed fire and in the coming years we will bring new science to forest planning.

Sen. David Perdue, Sen. Johnny Isakson and Rep. Doug Collins understand the ecological and economic value of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, which is why they recently reintroduced the Chattahoochee-Oconee Land Adjustment Act (S. 571, H.R. 1434). The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund and other conservation partners are pleased to continue to support this bill because it will consolidate federal lands and better steward North Georgia’s natural resources.

This legislation is a sensible way to benefit the management and use of Georgia’s only national forest, a huge economic generator, by making it a better place to recreate, improving opportunities for hunting, fishing and hiking, as well as saving taxpayer dollars.

The Act is a unique solution that more effectively conserves valuable forestlands, reduces strain on county budgets, enhances economic activity and allows greater public access to and enjoyment of one of Georgia’s most treasured places.

It would allow the U.S. Forest Service to sell 30 small, isolated parcels of land (3,841 acres) that are disconnected from the core lands of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and identified by the USFS as suitable for transition out of the forest. These tracts have been determined to lack historical conservation and recreation value due to surrounding growth and development, and managing them for public use is not the most efficient way to spend taxpayer money.

Sale proceeds would go into a federal account that the USFS may use only to buy critical properties with high conservation and recreation value from willing sellers within the existing Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest boundary. Selling the isolated parcels would provide the added benefit of putting land back on county tax rolls.

Allowing the USFS to purchase new parcels surrounded by the National Forest is an idea that county governments support because they currently provide services to the owners of the parcels at significant expense due to their more remote locations.

Through the Chattahoochee-Oconee Land Adjustment Act, the National Forest will be an even better resource for North Georgia.

The Nature Conservancy (nature.org/georgia) is a global organization working in almost 70 countries to protect lands and waters for future generations. The Nature Conservancy has been in Georgia since the 1960s, conserving mountains and streams in the north, forests and rivers to the south and the marshes, beaches and islands of our coast.

Deron Davis is executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Georgia.

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