Land Protection on the Satilla: An Update on Cabin Bluff

Cabin Bluff, approximately 11,000 acres located three miles south of the mouth of the Satilla and adjacent to Cumberland Island, is a lush, highly diverse landscape of salt marsh, tidal creeks, pristine maritime forests and fire-managed pine flatwoods.  This large, high elevation, undeveloped portion of the Georgia coast – a critical portion of the Atlantic flyway for migrating birds and an important site for ecosystem resilience and adaptation as sea levels rise — was zoned for 10,000 residential units and over one million square feet of commercial development.  Instead, The Nature Conservancy, the Open Space Institute, and private donors joined together in 2018 to remove this historically and ecologically significant property from the market and to work toward its long term protection.

During its interim ownership of the property, The Nature Conservancy is partnering with Georgia DNR to develop and initiate plans to manage the forest, fostering healthy environments for gopher tortoise, indigo snake, and other inhabitants of the imperiled longleaf pine ecosystem. With the conservation of Cabin Bluff, the Gopher Tortoise Initiative draws ever closer to its goal of permanently protecting 100,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat across Georgia’s coastal plain and preventing the reptile’s listing as an endangered species.

Marketing efforts are underway to identify a conservation buyer for the historic recreational portion of the Cabin Bluff property.  This compound of cabins, conference center, and sporting amenities is one of the oldest hunting clubs in the country and once hosted President Calvin Coolidge.  The long-term vision for Cabin Bluff is its permanent protection through conservation easements and for a portion of the property to be open for public access. For more information, click here.

In related good news, Ceylon, the 16,000 acre property neighboring Cabin Bluff, was purchased recently by the Conservation Fund and Open Space Institute. Over the next few years, the organizations will work with Georgia DNR and federal agencies to permanently protect the area under conservation easements. For more information, click here.

Restoring the Historic Satilla

By Dorinda Dallmeyer

Like all of Georgia’s coastal rivers, the Satilla has served as a pathway to the interior for hundreds of years. The early Native Americans hunted in its rich forests. In the 1500s, the French explorer Jean Ribault called it “Riviere Somme,” a name honoring a similarly tranquil river flowing through French Picardy. The Spanish, who set up a chain of missions along the southeastern coast, named it St. Illa in memory of one of their officers. With the defeat of the Spanish, the English fur traders kept that name but anglicized it into its current pronunciation.

Regardless of what it was called, the Satilla provided the avenue for goods to move upstream to settlers’ outposts and a way to bring goods to market. From the mid-1700s to 1860, the Satilla’s bottomlands nurtured a tidewater rice culture whose productivity rivaled the tonnage produced in the Savannah area. After the Civil War, the logging industry used the Satilla to transport timber downstream for export around the world. As a vital waterway for trade, the Satilla was not immune to human interventions designed to speed up the transit of traffic upstream and down.

One example is in the Satilla estuary where, from 1900 to 1939, eight shortcuts were made between natural channels to increase the accessibility to tidal creeks for the timber industry and to provide a safer inland route for small watercraft. Because these cuts altered tidal flow and the course of the river itself, portions of the Satilla began to fill with sediment. Additionally, changes in salinity adversely affected migratory fish, shrimp, and shellfish which formerly supported a valuable commercial and recreational fishery.

To address these ecological and economic impacts, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) collaborated with state and local groups to assess the feasibility of restoring the Satilla to its former flow regime. In June 2018, the Corps released a study evaluating the closure of Noyes Cut, a shortcut originally created as part of the Intracoastal Waterway but which was obsolete as far back as 1939. By halting sedimentation in the tidal creeks, both fish and boats once more could have access to the upper reaches of the estuary at low tide. Additionally, the restoration of normal saltwater gradients would improve habitat for migratory and resident fish, crabs, and shrimp, and restore over 4,500 acres of essential fish habitat.

The total project cost is $7.6 million, with the Corps contributing 75 percent and a required 25 percent non-federal match of $1.9 million. The Satilla Riverkeeper has applied for a “Conserve Georgia” grant through the DNR’s Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program to help with the Noyes Cut restoration costs but still seeks support for the project from private donors. Donated funds can be spread over a three-year period. If you are interested in supporting this highly collaborative project whose goals align the interests of local residents and fishers, the environmental community, fisheries managers, and USACE, please contact Laura Early at (912) 462-5094 or

Georgia’s Coastal Watersheds, Part IV: The Satilla

Georgia’s Coastal Watersheds, Part IV: The Satilla

By Dorinda Dallmeyer

Rising from a lake four miles east of Fitzgerald, the Satilla River winds over 260 miles in extravagant loops across the Coastal Plain until it meets the Atlantic at St. Andrews Sound between Jekyll and Little Cumberland Islands. Because its 4,000 square-mile watershed lies wholly within the Coastal Plain, the Satilla carries little of the sediment that characterizes coastal rivers to its north. Instead its waters are clear, stained a dark brown with tannins washed in from rich floodplain forests of stately bald cypress and tupelo and the bordering pinelands. In the Satilla’s upper reaches, white sand shoals gleam along its meanders, brightening the dark waters flowing over them. Closer to the coast, ocean tides change the river’s flow far inland. It’s stunning to stand on the Satilla’s banks to witness the river diligently flowing “uphill” fifty miles upstream of its mouth only to watch it reverse course a few hours later.

Because the watershed is sparsely populated, the Satilla faces fewer impacts from urban development along its length than other coastal rivers. Its beauty and mosaic of habitats rich with wildlife have stimulated the growth of ecotourism, especially in the form of recreational paddling.  With the cooperation of state and county agencies as well as the non-profit sector, the Satilla River Water Trail now stretches 140 miles, from Jamestown Landing to Woodbine. In addition to paddling, the Satilla has long been renowned for its sportfishing, both for freshwater fish and in its estuary.

The Satilla Riverkeeper serves as the watershed’s lead caretaker. Riverkeeper Laura Early describes her organization this way: “We are the eyes and ears of the watershed. Because the Satilla is not very densely populated along much of its length, we have a much more intact river environment to enjoy. On the other hand, it’s more difficult to keep tabs on water quality without the assistance of our whole community, whether it’s conducting routine monitoring or responding quickly to any problems that may arise. The value of a local Riverkeeper is having a professional organization dedicated to serving as a focal point for information and action. The support of donors to our general fund for our day-to-day work means we are here all year round, devoting our time, energy, and attention to stewardship of this precious resource.”

According to Early, “Working with Georgia Adopt-a-Stream, we are training residents to become enthusiastic and dedicated citizen-scientists who conduct water quality monitoring in their own backyards and across the watershed.  We offer an interactive watershed education program to cultivate the next generation of river stewards. And we are working to increase the capacity of local governments to incorporate environmental issues into their planning processes.”

While the rural nature of much of the watershed works to its advantage, many of the higher-growth areas of the basin are doubling in population every twenty years. In the absence of adequate zoning regulations and infrastructure, poorly-regulated development can adversely affect the economic, environmental, and cultural values the Satilla provides. As Laura Early puts it, “For so many people here, the Satilla is woven into their lives. It helps define who they are. They want to ensure the river has that same positive influence for generations into the future, and they are willing to work for this river which has given them so much.”

Georgia’s Coastal Watersheds, Part III: The Altamaha – One of the “Last Great Places on Earth”

By Dorinda Dallmeyer

The Altamaha is a river of superlatives. Formed by the confluence of the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers, the Altamaha drains the third largest watershed on the eastern seaboard. With the Oconee’s headwaters stretching into the foothills of the Blue Ridge and the Ocmulgee’s into the heart of south Atlanta, the Altamaha drainage basin covers approximately 14,000 square miles, more than a quarter of the state. Because the Altamaha flows across the gently sloping Coastal Plain, it’s a poor candidate for dams. As a result, the Altamaha remains the longest free-flowing river system on the East Coast and also has the largest river discharge south of the Chesapeake Bay.

Altama by Jim Barger

Photo by Jim Barger

The Altamaha is far more than the water it carries. From the confluence to the sea, its 137-mile long valley features a great diversity of habitats: forested swamps and bottomlands, shaded bluffs, old-growth longleaf pines, isolated sand ridges, freshwater wetlands which are succeeded in turn by tidal marshes and barrier islands. It hosts 234 species of rare plants and animals — some found nowhere else on earth. The Altamaha system is such a unique complex of habitats that the Nature Conservancy named it one of the “Last Great Places on Earth.”

The Nature Conservancy’s Christi Lambert has championed protection of the Altamaha for over 25 years. “Because the watershed is so large, many people who live upstream may not even realize they are part of it. But the health of the Georgia coast depends on land and water use practices all the way downstream. The Altamaha feeds us, connects us, inspires us, and humbles us. Despite all that has happened in the ecosystems making up the Altamaha watershed, the river reminds us of the power of resilience. We have an opportunity and the responsibility to care for it today and into the future.”

Recognizing the Altamaha’s unique attributes, federal and state agencies, non-profit conservation groups, businesses, industries, and private citizens have collaborated over decades to create a conservation corridor now protecting more than 180,000 acres on both sides of the river, from Jesup to the Atlantic. Private philanthropy has played a significant role in this work.

Jen Hilburn, the Altamaha Riverkeeper, has her own reasons for championing the Altamaha. “I was trained as an ornithologist. That work usually focused on one bird species or maybe a suite of species. Protecting the Altamaha at the ecosystem scale means we are not only conserving individual species but all the interconnections that make this river a hotspot for biodiversity. At the same time, I’m excited to see all the people enjoying the river, the families who are making memories for their children that will last a lifetime.  Through conservation, we are protecting our communities, our heritage, and our future.”

Much of this protected land is managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Steve Friedman, DNR’s Chief of Real Estate, attributes this success to the watershed’s high conservation value. “Everything comes together in the Altamaha,” says Friedman. “This is a story of the power of collaboration among stakeholders. We have incredible biodiversity plus a place that is important to a lot of people. Also most of these areas are accessible for public recreation in all its forms.  There is no way that we could have succeeded in protecting this corridor without partnerships and philanthropy.”

This burgeoning mosaic of public and private reserves not only is saving wild nature, it preserves Georgia’s cultural and ecological birthright for generations yet to come. Private landowners have been key in accelerating protection for the Altamaha. Newspaperman and Jesup native Dink Nesmith gave his own reason for protecting five miles of his family’s Altamaha River frontage and cypress forests under a conservation easement. “Foresters tell me that many of these trees predate the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World. A few may have been standing when Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemene. We are conserving and protecting a legacy for the great-great-great-grandchildren we will never know. If you won’t stand up for the people and places you love, who will?”

Top photo by Blake Gordon

Willow Passage

Georgia’s Coastal Watersheds, Part II: The Ogeechee

By Dorinda Dallmeyer

High in the Georgia Piedmont south of Union Point and Siloam, springs rise in two pastures to form the Ogeechee. Unlike most of Georgia’s rivers, whose headwaters are composed of creeks and streams bearing their own names, the Ogeechee is the Ogeechee all 250 miles from its springs to the sea.

The Ogeechee is one of the few Georgia rivers not held back by high dams to create major impoundments for hydropower and recreation.  But Piedmont settlers knew how to put the river to work. Where small waterfalls interrupted the river’s flow, enterprising locals constructed low mill dams to harness energy for everything from grinding corn to weaving fabric.

Dorinda WillowsBelow the Fall Line, the Ogeechee begins its meandering path to the Atlantic. Its slow-moving “black” waters offer plenty of opportunities for fishing and boating. But where the river bends, the Ogeechee narrows and trees crowd its banks. Willows grow so thickly on both banks of the river that a paddler may realize for the first time that willow leaves have a lovely fragrance. On the other hand, powerful currents carving the meanders undercut the bordering trees. Eventually they fall, clogging downstream passage with “strainers” that require either a portage around the obstacle or a saw to cut through it.

The wide floodplain of the lower Ogeechee is studded with thick stands of cypress. Along the riverbanks grow Ogeechee tupelos, first described by William Bartram in 1765. In flower these trees supply rich nectar for honeybees to process into tupelo honey. The fruit — the so-called Ogeechee “lime” — offers a tangy juice eaten right off the tree or when made into jelly. The cypress and tupelos also provide a stronghold for one of the south’s most elegant birds, swallowtail kites.

According to Ogeechee Riverkeeper Simona Perry, “Despite the impression of a largely rural landscape, this region of Georgia is experiencing increased development pressure from population growth, water withdrawals, and wastewater discharges as well as from climatic changes leading to sea level rise. These pressures are causing dramatic changes in water quality and quantity and threaten serious ecological decline.” But Perry is undaunted. “Ogeechee Riverkeeper continues to stand alongside local communities in this fight to ensure that our children have clean waterways, abundant wildlife and fisheries, and healthy communities for at least seven more generations.”

Ogeechee Shoals at Fall LineOne of the largest landholders on the lower Ogeechee is the U.S. Army’s Ft. Stewart. Covering 274,000 acres, it is the largest military installation east of the Mississippi. In addition to protecting 14 miles along the river’s south bank, the base also encompasses a large portion of the Canoochee River watershed, the Ogeechee’s only major tributary. Working alongside state and federal agencies as well as private conservation groups such as the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and the Nature Conservancy, Ft. Stewart supports and manages populations of more than 20 state and/or federally-protected species. Some endangered or threatened species on the base include the red-cockaded woodpecker, the eastern indigo snake, the flatwoods salamander, the wood stork, and the shortnose sturgeon.

Very few people speeding south along I-95 probably glance west to notice the confluence of the Canoochee with the Ogeechee. Here the river widens and slows as the tide makes its presence felt. The river begins extravagant loops among the rectilinear remnants of rice field dikes, rice culture that once made coastal Georgia a world leader in exports. Flanked by saltmarsh, the Ogeechee finally meets the Atlantic between Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Ossabaw Island Wildlife Management Area, protected at its very end as those waters from high in the Piedmont finally meet the sea.

The Ogeechee Storykeeper Project: Building Community for a River Less Travelled

By Dorinda G. Dallmeyer

Since the arrival of Paleo-Indians around 11,500 years ago, the Ogeechee watershed has been indispensable to its people. The late Jack Leigh knew the river was not just carving a path to the sea when he said,  “Water shapes our lives, and we are shaped by water.”

In 1984, it was Leigh who introduced the Ogeechee River to a world beyond its watershed in his book “The Ogeechee: A River and Its People” (University of Georgia Press). The book combined Leigh’s evocative photographs of the river and its people alongside stories gathered during two years in which he traced the length of the river. These stories revealed to Leigh that,  “The Ogeechee River is and always has been a sacred place, rooted in the hearts of its people.”

Since the 1980s, however, census figures reveal dramatic population shifts in the watershed. Some of Georgia’s fastest growing counties now span the Ogeechee tidewater, while many rural counties upstream are losing more people than they are gaining. How do the hearts of today’s people value the Ogeechee in the 21st century?

Thanks to a new project, recent arrivals and residents of long standing have another opportunity to speak about what the Ogeechee means to them. Building on Leigh’s legacy, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Georgia Southern University are working together to identify, collect, and share these stories. The Ogeechee Storykeeper Project seeks to ensure that the river’s unique cultures, histories, and ecosystems are documented and archived in a way that honors previous generations and helps to cultivate a new sense of community throughout the watershed.

According to Riverkeeper Simona Perry, “By connecting people along the river’s length through the power of story, we aim to strengthen community ownership and stewardship of the entire Ogeechee watershed.  Our project is a meaningful way for sharing knowledge and fostering understanding between present and future generations.”

For more information about the Ogeechee Storykeeper Project or to make a donation, contact Simona Perry at 866-942-6222, extension 1, or

Savannah River Cutoff Restoration Task Force: Can We Un-Straighten a River?

Fat Meat Point, Saucy Boy Point, High-Low-Jack-and-the-Game Point, Spanish Cut, Wildcat Cut, Devils Elbow, Royal Lake — names leap from old navigation charts tracing the Savannah River as it winds from Augusta to the Port of Savannah. But following a century of dredging to straighten the river, many names have been forgotten. Now a study is underway to gauge the feasibility of restoring water quality and wildlife by making the river wind once more.

Like other Coastal Plain rivers, the Savannah meanders, carving sweeping curves across its wide floodplain. In transporting Georgia commodities from the Piedmont to the sea, boatmen navigating these curves — the “points” — gave them their sometimes colorful names. With time, as a meander loops more tightly, the river erodes a shortcut across its neck — think “Wildcat Cut” — separating the meander from the river’s main flow. The meander then begins to silt in. Now connected to the river only during floods, a marooned meander transforms into an “oxbow” lake.

In an effort to keep the Savannah River competitive as a means for commercial transportation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regularly dredged its channels from the late 1800s until the completion of the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam in 1937.  Dredging resumed from 1959 to 1976 and, in the process, the Corps cut through the necks of thirty-two meanders to shorten the distance from Augusta to Savannah by twenty-six miles. Ultimately, barge traffic couldn’t compete with cheaper, faster rail and truck transport and by the late 1970s, the Corps stopped maintaining this section of the river.

Unfortunately, channelization’s impacts remain. Consider that the longer distance a river flows, the cleaner it becomes. Meanders slow down the water to allow more time for good bacteria to clean it.  During floods, the river reconnects with oxbow lakes, those lost wetlands that help break down and assimilate toxins.  In short, an artificially straightened river impairs water quality.

The Savannah River’s water quality has been especially challenged by post-war population growth and industrial development in the Savannah Valley. The river now receives waste discharges from forty-eight industrial sites and municipalities along one hundred-mile stretch, ranking it third on the list for toxic loads in Georgia rivers. Poor water quality affects fish and other aquatic organisms, increases water treatment costs for industry and cities, and impairs the public’s ability to enjoy a wide variety of recreation on the river.

Elsewhere in the United States, restoration of natural meanders has provided substantial benefits to river corridors: cleaner, better oxygenated water; additional flood protection, improvement of fisheries and wildlife habitat; and new recreational and economic benefits.

Why not the Savannah?

A $3 million feasibility study slated for completion in 2019 should give us the answer. The Savannah River Cutoff Restoration Task Force includes federal and state agencies from Georgia and South Carolina, local municipalities like City of Augusta Utilities, the Georgia Ports Authority, non-governmental organizations, and for-profit businesses. The Savannah Riverkeeper and the Phinizy Center for Water Sciences serve as the non-federal sponsors for what Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus calls “a project of historic proportion: the potential restoration of 23 meanders.”

Half of the $3 million cost for the study comes from mitigation funds related to the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. But the feasibility study partners must raise the matching funds from non-federal sources. This presents a wonderful opportunity for conservation donors.  If you are interested in underwriting their work toward restoring this historic landscape, where place-names might no longer be only memories on a map, contact Tonya Bonitatibus at

Photo by Savannah RiverKeeper; Illustration by Grabau, A Textbook of Geology, 1920.

Savannah River Clean Water Fund: Conserving Land for Clean Water

Floating along the Savannah River’s forested banks, you probably aren’t thinking “Wow, what a great water treatment facility!”

Maybe you should.

Nearly two-thirds of America’s clean water supply comes from stream flow cycled through forests. These natural systems filter runoff and break down contaminants, producing high-quality water to support human and industrial uses. And there’s economic value in this “green infrastructure” — it operates 24/7 and runs on sunshine. Shouldn’t we conserve these free ecosystem services and the land that provides them?

The vision for protecting the Lower Savannah watershed for the sake of long-term water quality goes back to 2009 when a group including conservation organizations, landowners, forestry companies, government agencies, and water utilities began exploring the idea.  With confidence in the premise, the Savannah River Clean Water Fund (SRCWF) was established in 2016 to coordinate the initiative.

According to Braye Boardman, SRCWF’s Executive Director, “If you ask people what the economic drivers are for Augusta and Savannah, they will list nearly everything but the river itself. We needed to change that. With approximately 75 percent forest cover here in the Savannah Valley, clean water costs our utilities about $40 million per million gallons to produce (based on data from a national study).  Without forest cover, these costs would nearly quadruple. Projections for accelerated population growth and industrial development along this river tell us we don’t have the luxury of taking thirty years to conserve our watershed like New York City did with the Hudson. Ultimately, communities around the world with an abundant, clean water supply will be the economic winners.”

The value proposition for water utilities is clear:  conserving land now and promoting better land management practices is less expensive that building water treatment capacity down the road.  So far, five water utilities have pledged a total of $1.133 million per year for three years toward land conservation, better land management practices, and science and research in the Savannah River valley.  In addition, municipal water utilities are key members of the SRCWF’s management and advisory structure along with state and federal agencies, land trusts, environmental NGOs, and philanthropic foundations. Boardman observed, ” Utilities around the country are beginning to look at investments in green infrastructure as part of their multi-tier strategy to provide quality drinking water to their customers.  But this is the first time water municipalities in two states, covering a 2.8 million acre watershed, have pooled resources together to protect their source-water and ensure a sustainable supply of clean water for generations to come. When utilities invest in clean water, they know they are investing in something important to their taxpayers and water users, especially if they can accomplish it in a more cost-effective manner,” according to Boardman.

Using maps generated by The Nature Conservancy, SRCWF has targeted 210,000 acres in the watershed as critical priorities for maintaining water quality, with a goal of protecting 8,000 acres annually.  The estimated cost over the life of the project is $52 million.  Unlike South Carolina, Georgia has no state conservation fund providing financial incentives for landowners to place their land under conservation easements or otherwise enhance protection for these critical acres.  As such, donors will play a critical role.

The project offers a compelling opportunity for conservation philanthropy. With core support from water utilities, SRCWF is committed to seeking annual matching funds to support land acquisition, conservation easements, deed restrictions, responsible land stewardship and land management practices, as well as education and scientific research related to water quality.  “We need to make the strongest pitch possible to landowners and to other funders that this is not just about conserving a landscape, wildlife, and the outdoors but also generating a real return on investment in the form of clean water — something that none of us can do without,” says Boardman. “By underwriting land conservation, we also can maintain and create family-supporting jobs in forestry and agriculture.”

For more information about SRCWF, please contact Braye Boardman at 706-530-5962.  Until SRCWF’s website is completed, a temporary site can be found at

Photos by Savannah RiverKeeper.

The Gopher Tortoise: A Catalyst for Conservation

When a conservation initiative protects an at-risk species and business and industry interests at the same time, it’s a win-win for Georgians across the board.  The Gopher Tortoise Initiative does just that.  Supporters for this collaborative effort include federal and state agencies, private landowners, non-profits, donors and business leaders from the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.  The consortium’s goal is to permanently protect 100,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat across Georgia’s coastal plain, preventing Georgia’s state reptile from getting to the point of needing to be listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as an endangered species. Though early in the effort, the group is already delivering uncommon results.

The problem for gopher tortoises is habitat loss. Tortoise populations need large parcels of undeveloped land and only remnants remain of their native longleaf pine and sandhill ecosystems.  In the face of increasing fragmentation from development – roads, parking lots, and buildings – they can’t find sufficient burrow space or food and are more likely to experience risks associated with close contact with humans and their vehicles.  “They get pushed from the small patches of suitable habitat to the sandy roadsides of timberlands or agricultural fields,” explains Jason Lee, Program Manager for Coastal Nongame Conservation with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. “It is dire.  In 20-30 years they could be pushed out altogether from many areas…gone.”

The tortoises are considered a keystone species because their burrows provide shelter and refuge for hundreds of other species of animals, including the Eastern indigo snake, the gopher frog, and many small mammals, insects and birds. When the tortoise populations decline, so does the habitat of  many other plants and animals.

If the tortoise population was at the point of needing to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, significant regulatory requirements could drain energy, resources and enthusiasm from efforts to facilitate the species’ recovery. The Gopher Tortoise Initiative unites landowners, timber growers and businesses across the state to proactively enhance gopher tortoise populations and habitats.  The result is a powerful convergence:  everyone’s working together to prevent the listing.  What’s good for the gopher tortoise is good for landowners, businesses, and an entire ecosystem. If successful, they will also be conserving iconic habitats on a historic scale, demonstrating how tortoises, landowners, and industry can coexist.

With generous commitments of financial resources and expertise from founding team members including U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, and conservation donors including the Knobloch Family Foundation and the Bobolink Foundation, the Gopher Tortoise Initiative is well on its way. “We are more than half way to our goal,” said Jason Lee. “Thirty six of the sixty five properties we have identified as suitable tortoise habitat are now under conservation easements or have been acquired fee simple. One of our most recent acquisitions, the Altama Wildlife Management Area, located on the coastal mainland along the south bank of the Altamaha River, currently has a population of 182 tortoises with room for the population to expand.  Another property just up river, Sansavilla, has 400 tortoises.”

“Our goal is to protect gopher tortoise habitat now, while lands are still available that can be managed to sustain healthy populations,” said Lee.  He explained that the investment we make today in protecting their habitat will eliminate the need for costly impact studies and mitigation that could be required in the future if the gopher tortoise is listed as an endangered species.  “We have a rare opportunity in that we have time to fix this,” he said.  “It’s good conservation.”

“The gopher tortoise habitat won’t recreate itself,” said Lee. “Management efforts will be necessary, such as prescribed burning, removal of woody undergrowth, longleaf pine tree planting, and restoration of native grasses, and there are costs involved with that.” The Gopher Tortoise Initiative includes the establishment of a fund that will be used to help cover the costs of habitat restoration.

Carl W. Knobloch, Jr., a philanthropist and major supporter of the Gopher Tortoise Initiative, who passed away in 2016, believed “the preservation of natural ecosystems is critical to the continued economic strength of the country, as well as the health of all Americans.”  The Gopher Tortoise Initiative presents the opportunity for donors, large and small, to invest in the preservation of a rare species and, at the same time, an entire ecosystem.  From co-investment in the Initiative’s land protection goals to operating support for the non-profit partners, there’s a place for everyone to make a meaningful contribution.  For a list of participating organizations, click here.

Crowdfunding an ATB: Shorebird Conservation On Cumberland Island ($6,500 In, $3,500 To Go!)

During the 2016 Conservation Donors Roundtable, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced the award of a $75,000 grant to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Non-Game Division (DNR) and several partners for monitoring, studying, and protecting shorebirds along the Georgia Coast.  Tim Keyes, coastal bird biologist with DNR, will administer the program on behalf of a partnership that includes St. Catherine’s Island, Little St. Simons Island, Cumberland Island, Jekyll Island, TNC-Georgia, VA Tech, UGA, and DNR.  Partners have committed both financial and in-kind support to the multi-year effort.

Cumberland Island will be an important venue for the project because it supports nesting habitat for shorebirds that are declining in many areas.  Up to now, only limited shorebird conservation work has been done on Cumberland Island due to limited resources.  The NFWF grant will allow DNR to place a conservation technician on Cumberland for regular monitoring of beach nesting shorebirds.  But one obstacle remains!  The technician will need an all-terrain vehicle for monitoring the nearly 18 miles of beach on Cumberland. Unfortunately, the project budget does not include funding for this equipment.

Here’s where we come in!  Conservation donors are working together to raise $10,000 to purchase the vehicle and associated equipment and, in turn, donate it to DNR for dedicated use for shorebird conservation work on Cumberland Island.  The vehicle will enable the new conservation technician to monitor critical nesting activity by American Oystercatchers, Wilson’s Plovers and Least Terns.  It is expected that the technician’s activities will include posting signs and rope barriers to keep people away from critical habitat, assisting with predator management, and helping with banding adult and hatchling Oystercatchers.  Without the ATV, it will be impossible to address these needs across the entire 18 mile stretch of beach.

Thus far, conservation donors associated with Stewards of the Georgia Coast have contributed $6,500 to the project.  In the spirit of crowdfunding, we’re calling on others within the Stewards network to contribute.  Any amount will make a difference!

The Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation has offered its Conservation Fund as a vehicle for donations. Make an online donation at or send your check to Communities of Coastal Georgia Foundation, ATTN:  Coastal Conservation, 1626 Frederica Road, Suite 201, St. Simons Island, GA  31522.