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SC Wetlands

STATE’S FINANCIAL COMMITMENT LAGS BEHIND EXISTING DEMAND & PRESERVATION EFFORTS IN OTHER STATES

FITSNews – January 17, 2007 – The numbers don’t lie.

South Carolina is eating up its natural resources at a dizzying pace on the one hand, while putting far less money than other states into land conservation on the other.

According to the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, each day South Carolina gains 144 additional residents but loses 200 acres of natural landscape. Not exactly a sustainable equation for a geographically tiny state that’s projected to add 1 million new residents over the next 15 years.

“Given the intense pressure our natural resources are facing it would be a shame not to consider some additional funding (for conservation),” Nature Conservency director Mark Robertson told a State Senate panel this morning.

That’s putting it politely.

Part of a broader “Conversations with Conservationists” event at the South Carolina State House today, Robinson’s testimony detailed how changes in the timber industry have resulted in the sudden availability of hundreds of thousands of acres of land, resulting in a rush of new development.

For example, International Paper has 600,000 acres in South Carolina either up for sale or already sold, including 39,000 acres which South Carolina was able to purchase for conservation purposes, thanks in large part to a $10 million grant from the South Carolina Conservation Bank.

Unfortunately, grant applications far outpace grants that actually get awarded, as the Conservation Bank just doesn’t have the resources to make much of a difference in South Carolina at the present time.

In fact, after going completely unfunded for three years after its inception in 2002, the fund finally received a paltry $15 million allocation in the 2004-05 state budget.

By contrast, the State of Florida is spending $3 billion over the next 10 years on conservation-related projects as part of its “Florida Forever” program, and voters in California just approved $2.25 billion for the acquisition and protection of open lands there.

It’s no coincidence that like South Carolina, both of these states rely heavily on tourism dollars to drive their respective economies.

Unlike South Carolina, however, both of these states are taking concrete – albeit overdue – steps to protect their tourism economies from the kind of mindless, debilitating growth we typically associate with the cancer cell.

Think that comparison is a stretch?

Consider this:

Since the 1970’s, South Carolina has lost over half a million acres of land in Wildlife Management Areas, and the rush is showing no sign of letting up. According to the Conservation Voters’ 2006 Briefing Book, South Carolina currently ranks 10th in the nation in the rate of conversion of farmland and forestland to urban uses.

Against this developmental juggernaut, South Carolina’s Governor, Mark Sanford, has proposed adding $20 million to the Conservation Bank, which would take its funding for the coming fiscal year up to $35 million.

Is $35 million enough?

Hardly, especially considering that Beaufort County alone just added $50 million to its conservation program – and that’s for projects in just one of South Carolina’s forty-six counties.

The governor is likely to trumpet his $20 million increase in tonight’s State of the State address as a big deal to environmental voters, but given South Carolina’s historic neglect of conservation funding and the mounting population and developmental pressures, $20 million is little more than political lip service.

South Carolina’s leaders need to recognize that land conservation is essential to protecting the lifeblood of this state’s economy – tourism. And they need to recognize it soon.

Why?

Because absent a legitimate commitment to protecting the way South Carolina looks and feels as a state, things are going to get a lot worse a lot faster for this key economic engine than any of us who live here are prepared to deal with.