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State Wildlife Action Plan

Bald eagles on nest. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Questions and Answers

Here are answers to a few questions about Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan. For more, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/wildlife-action-plan or email mary.pfaffko@dnr.ga.gov

What is the State Wildlife Action Plan?

It is a statewide strategy to conserve populations of Georgia's native wildlife species and the natural habitats they need before these plants, animals and places become rarer and more costly to conserve or restore. Often called the Wildlife Action Plan or known by the abbreviation SWAP, the plan is officially the Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy.

Although DNR leads the planning process, this is a strategy created by conservation partners and stakeholders, including wildlife agencies and organizations, academic institutions, companies, landowners and the public. Partners are critical not only to updating the plan, but to putting its conservation measures into practice.

Why does Georgia need a Wildlife Action Plan?

The plan mines the best available data to provide a comprehensive, adaptable assessment of wildlife conservation needs in Georgia, and ways to address those needs. While those lists are long – 349 animal and 290 plant species are high priorities for conservation, and 150 actions recommended – the Wildlife Action Plan is a guide that helps focus conservation efforts where they’re most needed and most effective.

An approved plan also is required by Congress for DNR and wildlife agencies in other states to receive State Wildlife Grants. This grants program is the main federal funding source for states to conserve nongame, or animals not legally fished for or hunted. Georgia receives about $1.25 million annually in State Wildlife Grants.

Why was our Wildlife Action Plan revised?

A comprehensive review of wildlife plans is required by Congress at least once every 10 years, to include new information and changing conditions. Georgia developed its initial Wildlife Action Plan in 2005..

What did the revision involve?

From 2013 through 2015, the revision involved DNR employees, staff from private and public conservation organizations, and land managers and owners in Georgia – representatives from more than 100 groups in all. An advisory committee composed of agency, organization and land management group representatives provided oversight. Technical teams addressed specific components of the revised plan, from birds and mammals to habitat restoration and database enhancements.

The draft revision underwent a public review period during summer 2015 and was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in September 2016.

What was accomplished through the initial plan?

Conservation successes included the following:

  • DNR acquired more than 105,000 acres of high-priority lands for wildlife conservation and public recreation.
  • Conservation partners and easements have protected another 290,000-plus acres.
  • Prescribed fire, invasive species control and native plant restoration have enhanced key habitats.
  • Surveys and monitoring have helped manage rare amphibians, birds, bats, sea turtles and plants.
  • The plan’s focus and direction has benefited recovery efforts for federally listed species such as wood storks, as well as landowner technical assistance programs and environmental education.

When will the plan be revised again?

The second review and revision process will begin by 2023 and be completed no later than August 2025.

Where can I find out more?

An overview, plus the 246-page draft plan, is at www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/wildlife-action-plan

How was public comment part of the plan process, and why?

The draft of the revised plan was provided for public comment from June through July 15, 2015. Options to comment were made available online, through email and at three forums held across the state July 1 (Covington), July (Perry) and July 8 (Brunswick), with notice provided to media and on social media. SWAP technical teams then review the comments applicable to their areas.

Feedback from the public is vital. The Wildlife Action Plan involves conserving wildlife that millions of Georgians enjoy and which strengthen our state economy. Wildlife-watching had a $1.9 billion impact on Georgia's economy in 2011, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public comments help shape the SWAP, ensuring that these natural resources are conserved now and for future generations.

For example, comments by landowners and others interested in managing forestlands are important in part because the Wildlife Action Plan provides key information regarding species of concern and conserving biodiversity. In turn, these topics influence forestry management. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative 2015-2019 Standards and Rules (www.sfiprogram.org/sfi-standard) references state wildlife action plans as sources involving both conserving biodiversity and species of concern. 

What are high-priority species or habitats?

These are species or natural habitats that rank highest for recommended research or other conservation-related measures. For some, it may be because of their rarity; for others, it may be because little is known about them or because they face daunting threats, such as habitat loss or fragmentation. High-priority species were assessed by six technical teams focused on these groups: birds, amphibians and reptiles, mammals, fishes and aquatic invertebrates, terrestrial invertebrates, and plants.

High-priority does not mean protected, though some species listed as high priority may be protected through state or federal laws or regulations.

Does the Wildlife Action Plan establish regulations or other controls?

No. Although regulations, policies or legislation may be recommended, any changes would go through the usual procedures for each. The plan's actions are recommendations, which are not prescriptive or regulatory. 

Does the plan involve game animals?

While focused on animals not fished for or hunted, rare plants and natural habitats, the Wildlife Action Plan does address controlling some invasive species that are hunted, such as feral hogs and coyotes, and researching, restoring and acquiring habitats that benefit nongame and game species, such as northern bobwhites and middle Georgia’s black bears. However, the plan does not address hunting, fishing or trapping regulations.

How does the plan address climate change?

The 2015 revision considers climate change an emerging issue that affects Georgia wildlife and habitats. While understanding and addressing climate-related impacts is a process inherent with uncertainty, the plan emphasizes the fact that climate change is an important landscape-scale factor that should be taken into consideration in conservation planning and implementation.

Developed involving representatives of more than 100 organizations, the Wildlife Action Plan identifies high-priority conservation actions for climate-change adaptation (or coping with climate changes by trying to moderate negative impacts and maximize positive ones). Established practices to conserve habitat quality and connectivity are emphasized, such as maintaining vegetated buffers along streams to benefit aquatic species and factoring in sea-level rise and habitat shifts into management plans for coastal lands.

Partnership efforts related to the issue are also noted, including ongoing and proposed research and conservation projects.

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