The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust is proud to be a project participant in a national conservation program recently announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced $720 million in nationwide funding for another round of conservation projects in 50 states. This funding is a continuation of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), first funded by the federal government in the 2014 Farm Bill. Under this program, the USDA teams with several conservation groups, including the Land Trust, to preserve open space and natural habitats.

In last year’s funding, $1.25 million dollars were specifically allocated toward a 2,300 acre protection project near Fort Stewart, which the Land Trust is in the process of finalizing. That project not only furthers the Department of Agriculture’s RCPP program, it also contributes to a low-density, compatible use buffer surrounding Fort Stewart.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

“It’s important for us to maintain the installation where we can train the way we fight, but not be constrained with a worry of smoke or noise or dust going off the installation [and impacting our neighbors],” said Tim Beaty, Chief of Fish & Wildlife at Ft. Stewart.

“Restoration is also part of this project,” said Executive Director Katherine Eddins, “ restoring and maintaining the long leaf pine that once dominated the landscape has helped bring back the red-cockaded woodpecker, the indigo snake and the gopher tortoise. We are so excited to continue to work with Fort Stewart and surrounding land owners on this important conservation mission. “

“We put out a call for innovative and results-focused projects that will deliver the most conservation impact,” Secretary Vilsack said. “Our partners answered with creative, locally-led approaches to help producers support their ongoing business operations and address natural resource challenges in their communities and across the nation.”

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust has been working with Fort Stewart for many years and is directly responsible for protecting over 30,000 acres of land surrounding the installation.

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The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust (GALT) and Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. (SCCi) are partnering to create the largest cave preserve in Georgia. The Charles B. Henson Cave Preserve at Rising Fawn will include approximately 1,300 acres of land that has been acquired by Georgia-Alabama Land Trust over a three year period in the failed subdivision known as the Preserve at Rising Fawn in Dade County. The Land Trust recently sold its holdings at Rising Fawn to a conservation buyer who will protect the land with a conservation easement. The Land Trust will continue to manage the land and seek donations of additional lots.

Entrance to Lost Canyon Cave. Photo Credit: Alan Grosse

Entrance to Lost Canyon Cave. Photo Credit: Alan Grosse

The “Preserve“ is located in the unique and threatened landscape of Johnson’s Crook, a deep horseshoe-shaped cove with high bluffs in the Lookout Mountain ridge. Many of the slopes are underlain by limestone bedrock, in which more than 30 known caves have formed. These caves are important habitat for many types of cave-dwelling species, and also, have in the past been popular among recreational caving enthusiasts for their varied challenges and remarkable beauty.

According to GALT Executive Director Katherine Eddins, “Partnering with SCCi is a natural fit for this property given its extensive cave system.”

Ron Miller, SCCi Chair, adds: “We are very excited to work with GALT in managing one of Georgia’s most significant cave areas. We are also honored that this cave preserve is being named in memory of longtime SCCi member and benefactor Chuck Henson. Johnson’s Crook and its many caves held a special place in Chuck’s heart, and he worked tirelessly in the last years of his life to save this exceptional landscape.”

The Southeastern Cave Conservancy, Inc. (SCCi) is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization founded in 1991 that protects cave resources in the Southeast through management, conservation and education. The largest nonprofit in the U.S. dedicated to cave conservation, SCCi owns and/or manages 30 preserves containing over 140 caves in six southeastern states.

Every Friday we will  feature and flashback to one of our easement landowners. These stories are updates on profiles written by Frank McIntosh.

George Jeter Fam pic

George Jeter with grandchildren Stewart and Brantley

Land owning in the Jeter family goes back just a little ways. The family first arrived at Port Royal, VA before 1700. The generations in between have been landowners, as Jeter says, “leapfrogging from one frontier to the next.” When Columbus, GA was founded in the 1830s, the Jeters had already arrived in the area.

Jeter grew up an avid hunter and says the appeal of the land goes back to the days when he’d grab his single shot .410 or .22 and take his bike up the road and go hunting. Although he no longer hunts, saying he “takes no great pleasure in killing,” he still loves the woods and the animals. His greatest pleasure in owning the land he says is having “free range” to roam and notes that it is ever more difficult to have that access to land without owning some.

Jeter, who worked as CFO for AFLAC, says, “I’ve been retired since 1985, but I still pretty much work full-time” as a consultant to the company and various charitable organizations. Jeter notes Columbus has “per capita probably the highest percentage of charities anywhere.

” I’ve always thought that people who’ve been fortunate should share.” One volunteer project Jeter helped bring to fruition was a 50-year lease of Department of Defense land on West Point Lake for use as a Boy Scout camp. “I had to get the Secretary of Army to sign it. He was the only person who could sign a lease that long.”

Jeter’s son Jim, an engineer at Warner Robins AFB, lives in Bonaire and with the help of some neighbors looks after the property, which has been a bit more of a chore during a recent cold, wet winter. Significant portions of the property stayed underwater for a while, in part because every let up in the rain seemingly triggers another release from the Lake Jackson reservoir upstream on the Ocmulgee.

G Jeter Snow

Cabin on the easement covered in a rare snowfall.

A goodly portion of the easement property was logged prior to Jeter’s purchase, and he intends to try to restore Longleaf pine to some of the upland areas. The balance of the property is used for hunting and to provide habitat. Among the animals that find habitat on the property are a pair of nesting eagles (“I worry about my Shih Tzu when we’re up there,”) a den of coyotes (“you should hear ‘em when the train comes through,”) black bears, bobcats and “ducks by the thousands.” Jim noted with the property’s periodic flooding you could almost hunt deer and duck from the same spot at different points in the year.

There is also a beaver pond near the lodge on the property. The pond stays wet even in the driest weather as the area’s topography area feeds water down off surrounding hills toward the pond. There is also a strong artesian well. A well bored to serve the lodge produces around 2,000 gallons an hour, flowing so freely that it needed to be capped.

Asked what is his least favorite aspect of owning land is, Jeter replies, “You don’t own land; it owns you.” Of course, his family’s known that for a few hundred years.

 

Every Friday we will  feature and flashback to one of our easement landowners. These stories are updates on profiles written by Frank McIntosh.

John Summerford grew up in Falkville in north Alabama. His family worked a small farm and raised chickens, hogs and pigs. In addition to the farm chores, he was head checkout clerk at the family grocery store at age 8 and worked at the family’s nursing home. Summerford quotes his father regarding all the hard work : “We get to put our feet under the table at night and eat.”

John Summerford

John Summerford

Summerford left Falkville to attend medical school at the University of Alabama. Graduating in 1986, he set up practice in Tuscaloosa. At that time, an ongoing soybean “bubble” burst, and good land was available in Pickens and Sumter counties. Summerford purchased the first half of the easement property and added adjacent properties, eventually reaching the 1713 acres protected by a 2009 conservation easement conveyed to the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust.

“The idea was to run to cattle on the property,” Summerford says, and the family herd at one point numbered 350 Beefmaster purebreds. “When my father’s health began to fail and he couldn’t help with management of the property, it became more than I could handle along with my practice.”

The Summerfords sold most of their cattle and now lease a good portion of the pasturelands on this Black Belt tract and have worked to convert 800 acres back to forest and wildlife habitat. Summerford has been devoted to wildlife management since his youth, winning 4-H and FFA Youth Conservationist of the Year and Wildlife Efficiency Awards. He continues this passion, following Deer Management Association guidelines for keeping the deer herds healthy.

Summerford’s forester also has him replacing Sawtooth oaks with Red and White Oaks, which produce acorns in the winter, when the mast is most beneficial. He is also working to improve conditions for quail on the property and has spotted three wild coveys there.

Asked his least favorite aspect of land ownership, Summerford, obviously thinking on a winter rainy spell, offered, “Cold, wet and muddy. I’ve pretty much given up driving on the properties until things dry out a bit. There’s just not enough cable in the winch.”

Summerford Property

Summerford Property

Summerford says his motivation for doing the conservation easements was in part passed on to him by his parents. “We were raised with great morals and ideals, part of which was that we should be stewards of the land. We need to be friends of the public and the land.” He takes this notion very seriously and beyond the easement has set up trusts to govern the land at the time of his death. “Generations from now we will still maintain these uses of the land.”

 

Every Friday we will  feature one of our easement landowners. These stories are updates on profiles written by Frank McIntosh.

Dr. Donnie Smith grew up on a farm in Coffee County, AL that his father worked until age 85. He says, “farming was kind of like a marriage to my father. He didn’t last too long after he finally had to stop working the farm; people die pretty quickly when they lose a spouse.”

A sister now lives in the home place that they grew up in and the original 400 acres is back in the family after being sold. “I worked real hard on that, and I’ve made sure it can never leave the family again,” Smith says.

Dr. Donnie Smith, his son and grandson

Dr. Donnie Smith, his son and grandson

Smith has protected some 1,000 acres in Fayette and Tuscaloosa counties in Alabama with a conservation easement held by Georgia-Alabama Land Trust.

Hunting was a luxury growing up in that very rural setting, but Smith has been drawn to hunting his whole life. And hunting drew him to want to own land. After finishing medical school “and I finally had some expendable cash, I started buying properties. As land became available I would purchase it—80 acres here, 80 acres there. It adds up. I now own properties from Montana to Florida. I just enjoy looking for a new place to visit.”

Smith’s 2008 conservation easement is land that is predominantly managed for timber but features intermixed hardwoods and two lakes. Smith reports the land is good for wildlife viewing, noting sightings of quail, wood ducks (15-20 mating pairs, some drawn to duck boxes around the property), foxes, and bobcats. The lakes even draw transient ospreys.

one of the lakes on the Smith easement

One of the lakes on the Smith easement

Beyond the connection with the land  and  hunting, Smith says, “land is still a good investment. It’s not too liquid, but right about now I wished I’d put my 401k in it.”

The preservation of natural environments is important to Smith, too, noting that “we want to see some things kept in a natural state. What would be happening to a place like Yellowstone had it not been protected? I would hate see what might have happened.”

And then there is another benefit of land ownership. “It is a relief valve,” Smith says. “Some people go see a psychiatrist; I go up and work the land. I enjoy managing the land for turkey. I enjoy maintaining the road and fire lanes—just running the equipment.”

 

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust received a $123,950 grant from the Coca-Cola Company Foundation to support watershed protection in Georgia’s Chattahoochee River Basin and Alabama’s Cahaba, Black Warrior and Tom Bigbee River Basins.

“The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust is working to save water through land preservation throughout the South,” said Katherine Eddins, executive director of the Land Trust. “Funding from the grant will help us and our affiliate in Columbus, Georgia, the Chattahoochee Valley Land Trust, protect land from development in watersheds serving Columbus and Birmingham & Montgomery, Alabama.”

Job Opening

Protected lands under a conservation easement recharge groundwater and streams that provide water for nature and communities.  A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a land owner and a land trust that permanently limits the development of the land. Easements protect significant wildlife habitat by preserving open space, including natural areas, farm and forest land.

Development on these now protected lands would have caused increased runoff and the loss of drinkable water. By preserving these 4,338 acres of open space, the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust is ensuring that over 3 billion liters of water will be available for lakes, streams and faucets.

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust, accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, was founded in 1994 by conservation-minded individuals in response to rapid development and encroachment of natural areas, farms and woodlands. We are now the largest private lands conservation organization in the Southeast, protecting over 268,000 acres of land with 775 voluntary conservation easements.

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust received a $123,950 grant from the Coca-Cola Company Foundation to support watershed protection in Georgia’s Chattahoochee River Basin and Alabama’s Cahaba, Black Warrior and Tom Bigbee River Basins.

“The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust is working to save water through land preservation throughout the South,” said Katherine Eddins, executive director of the Land Trust. “Funding from the grant will help us and our affiliate in Columbus, Georgia, the Chattahoochee Valley Land Trust, protect land from development in watersheds serving Columbus and Birmingham & Montgomery, Alabama.”

Job Opening

Protected lands under a conservation easement recharge groundwater and streams that provide water for nature and communities.  A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a land owner and a land trust that permanently limits the development of the land. Easements protect significant wildlife habitat by preserving open space, including natural areas, farm and forest land.

Development on these now protected lands would have caused increased runoff and the loss of drinkable water. By preserving these 4,338 acres of open space, the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust is ensuring that over 3 billion liters of water will be available for lakes, streams and faucets.

The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust, accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, was founded in 1994 by conservation-minded individuals in response to rapid development and encroachment of natural areas, farms and woodlands. We are now the largest private lands conservation organization in the Southeast, protecting over 268,000 acres of land with 775 voluntary conservation easements.