Conservation Bank Needs Funds

Preserving land for public benefit

December 14, 2017 - 11:14 am

DECEMBER 13, 2017 BY RENEE SEXTON (South Carolina Radio Network)

Leaders from several environmental and conservation groups asked a state Senate subcommittee Wednesday to reauthorize the South Carolina Conservation Bank.

Officials from Ducks Unlimited, Audobon Society, Nature Conservancy, National Wild Turkey Federation, Conservation Boaters and Naturaland Trust spoke at the Finance Committee’s Natural Resources & Economic Development Subcommittee Wednesday, asking approval on a bill designed to extend the South Carolina Conservation Bank for another 10 years.

“Our state is growing,” Nature Conservancy Executive Director Mark Robinson told the panel. “That’s good for South Carolina and good for our people. But with that growth we still have a lot of pressure on our land resources, our water resources, our wildlife habitats, our forests, and so I think these investments make sense for the future of South Carolina.”

The Conservation Bank was founded to purchase lands from private owners that could be preserved and protected in its natural state.

“It’s absolutely critical to continue the ability of the Conservation Bank to provide funds for public access lands and for conservation easements on private lands that provide clear public benefits,” Robinson said.

Robinson told the panel forested land along rivers and streams helps maintain clean water.

“Drinking water supplies are being protected by preserving the forests along the riparian zones of the streams,” he said. “Science has shown us that this is often the most cost-effective way to preserve clean water and, in many ways, is more effective than building new treatment plants.”

Critics of the bank pointed to an audit released in February which found the agency often commits future funds it is not guaranteed to receive and does not ensure a majority of the land it preserves with state funds can be visited by the public (although it does meet the minimum required by state law).

The Naturaland Trust in the Upstate counties uses federal grants, county funds and private donations to purchase land for conservation. But the trust’s president told senators it still needs help from the Conservation Bank.

“The Conservation Bank has been the keystone of those efforts since the recession,” Frank Holleman said. “If we don’t have the bank I don’t know that we can do it.

The subcommittee did not discuss the bill or take action. Discussion and a vote will occur at a later date.

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