Grant projects announced recently by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will improve public opportunities to see and learn about native animals, plants and habitats across the state. The six proposals selected by the DNR Wildlife Resources Division as 2020 recipients in the agency's Wildlife Viewing Grants Program range from Savannah to Atlanta.
The grants program, funded by the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund, helps develop and enhance wildlife viewing options, with an emphasis on State Wildlife Action Plan species and habitats. Georgia's Wildlife Action Plan (georgiawildlife.com/wildlifeactionplan) is a comprehensive strategy to conserve these creatures and places before they become rarer and costlier to conserve or restore.
The 2020 proposals, chosen from 12 applicants, include:
- Friends of Oatland Island Wildlife Center: $2,160 to buy and install commercial-grade binoculars near a freshwater pond and stork rookery at the Savannah center.
- One Hundred Miles (with St. Simons Island Sea Turtle Project): $2,445 for outreach regarding responsible viewing of sea turtles and shorebirds and involving turtle-friendly flashlights and communications.
- Lavonia Elementary School: $2,970 to create monarch and pollinator garden of native plants at the school as part of a community project.
- The city of Watkinsville: $2,885: to add bat houses, native plant plots and programs focused on bats at the north Georgia city's Harris Shoals Park.
- Atlanta Audubon: $3,000 to build a tower for chimney swifts at Atlanta's Freedom Park, as well as to help create signage and hold events that relay the importance of conserving native birds.
- Friends of Panola Mountain State Park: $3,000 to replace all boards on a popular viewing platform that overlooks a granite outcrop at the Stockbridge park.
Jon Ambrose, chief of DNR's Wildlife Conservation Section, said the projects will allow people to learn more about the state's native wildlife, including high-priority species and habitats identified in the Wildlife Action Plan.
"We hope that this will, in turn, lead to greater understanding of wildlife conservation needs and opportunities in Georgia," Ambrose said.
The grants are small - capped at $3,000 each - but the interest they tap is big. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey, about 2.4 million people took part in the wildlife-viewing activities in Georgia in 2011. The survey estimated related spending at $1.8 billion. Nationwide, the number of people involved in wildlife viewing surged from about 72 million in 2011 to 86 million in 2016, the agency reported.
Last year's grants helped restore a river swap boardwalk at the Georgia Wildlife Federation center near Covington, add a scope and platform at 4-H Tidelands Nature Center on Jekyll Island and install a viewing deck at DeKalb County's Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, among other work.
The Wildlife Conservation Section is charged with restoring and conserving nongame wildlife, rare native plant species and natural habitats through research, management and public education. The section depends largely on fundraisers, grants and donations to the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund. Sales and renewals of DNR's eagle, hummingbird and new monarch license plates are the leading fundraiser.