Cheers to Healthy Forests and Clean Water
By Dan Ryan, Director of Land Stewardship and Planning, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia
How quickly can you name your favorite Georgia forest? Are you a fan of the Chattahoochee National Forest and their majestic views of north Georgia, or the old-growth longleaf pines of Moody Forest? Perhaps the maritime forests of Georgia’s barrier islands provide your moments of Zen. Whatever your personal preference, Georgia’s 24.8 million acres of forest land are an important economic, environmental and recreational resource. They clean our air and water, buffer us from extreme weather events, provide habitat for wildlife and places for people to relax and connect with the natural world. The connection between healthy forests and our drinking water supply is vitally important.
Next time you enjoy a refreshing glass of water, know that it was probably filtered through a forest, as they filter 50% of our nation’s drinking water. If you’re a beer drinker, remember that beer is 95% water.
As Director of Land Stewardship and Planning at The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, I frequently think about Georgia’s forests and their impact on our lives. As Georgia’s population expands, now is a crucial time to ensure that our forests are sustainably managed to meet the growing needs of citizens. It’s also critically important that we restore longleaf pine forests in southern Georgia. These species-rich forests once stretched across the South, providing habitat for a variety of vulnerable species, including the gopher tortoise, Georgia’s state reptile. Today, less than five percent remains of the nearly 90-million acres of longleaf that once existed.
The Nature Conservancy works with public agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, Georgia DNR and the military, as well as private landowners, to conserve Georgia’s forests. In the Southern Blue Ridge, Moody Forest and near Fort Benning in Marion County, our fire teams perform prescribed burns to help keep nature in balance. The safe and ecologically appropriate use of fire can stimulate new growth of native plants while keeping invasive species in check and, by reducing the amount of “fuel” created by dead limbs and leaves, can reduce the intensity of wildfires. The Nature Conservancy leads and supports prescribed burns and educates landowners on this important land management tool. For example, we partner with the Georgia Forestry Commission to facilitate the West Central Georgia Landowners Association to give private landowners opportunities to learn more about forest management best practices.
Flowing from its source in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Chattahoochee River is metro Atlanta’s primary source, supplying 70 percent of the metro’s drinking water. The nearly 867,000 acres filters an average of 45 to 50 inches of rainfall per year, much of which is drained through the Chattahoochee before it makes its way to Lake Lanier and eventually into watershed management facilities for treatment.
Georgia’s forests filter rain; they shade streams and lakes from evaporation. The forest floor filters sediment. And tree roots keep soil together. Unfortunately, in Georgia and much of the country today, it looks like trouble is brewing for our forests. Between threats from pests, drought, and fire, the U.S. Forest Service estimates an area larger than Colorado needs restoration to maintain the natural benefits our forests provide. I’m proud to be among thousands of land management professionals protecting and advocating for our state’s forests.
If you care about having healthy forests and clean water, I invite you to join The Nature Conservancy’s OktoberForest campaign next month. We’ll be partnering with local breweries to celebrate the connections between healthy forests and clean water, and ways for us to restore forests that need it. Learn more by texting “TREES” to 50555 or tap into OktoberForest.org for more information.