Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Photo Contest Focuses on Georgia Wildlife, Action Plan

The Great Georgia Photo SWAP, a new project sponsored by the Georgia Conservancy and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, was announced Monday at Panola Mountain State Park as a way to better engage Georgians in conservation efforts around the state.

The photo contest highlights nearly 30 high-priority species in all eco-regions of the state as listed in the State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy guiding efforts to conserve Georgia’s biological diversity.

Original, unaltered photos of those species submitted by citizens to swap@gaconservancy.org will be posted on the Georgia Conservancy’s Web site every two weeks (www.georgiaconservancy.org). Participants can win prizes each month. The person who submits the most photos during the one-year project will win the grand prize, a digital camera. “Species of the Week” include animals such as the painted bunting, gopher tortoise and bottle-nosed dolphin.

“Nature photography is a passion of mine, and I believe the Great Georgia Photo SWAP will help Georgians become more engaged in the diverse array of wildlife we enjoy in this state,” said Pierre Howard, interim director of the Georgia Conservancy. “Georgia is blessed with an abundance of wildlife from the mountains to the Piedmont to the coast, and it is our duty to protect this legacy for future generations. It is my hope that this project will instill in others the importance of our natural areas and the need for implementing a well-designed wildlife action plan.”

The Great Georgia Photo SWAP is a tool for educating Georgians of all ages about the importance of the SWAP, which was created to conserve the rich biological diversity of the state. By learning more about the high-priority species included in the plan, citizens will better understand the need to protect these plants and animals before expensive and restrictive measures become necessary.

Georgia is the nation's fifth-most diverse state in vertebrate animals and vascular plants. But to maintain that diversity, the state has to plan and manage it into the future, said Mike Harris, Nongame Conservation Section chief with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division.

“The more Georgians become familiar with wildlife and habitats in the places they know, the better conservationists they will be,” Harris said. “The Great Georgia Photo SWAP is a great opportunity for people to learn about some of the state's high-priority species in the animal or plant's native habitat.”

Harris urged participants to treat all wildlife with respect and to photograph them only from a safe distance.

Rex Boner, vice president and southeast representative of The Conservation Fund, said he “cannot wait to see the entries,” calling the contest an excellent way to involve the community and educate citizens on the importance of wildlife.

“In partnership with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, we applaud the Georgia Conservancy and DNR for creatively promoting awareness of Georgia’s SWAP,” Boner said. “… We also are grateful to the Georgia Wildlife Federation for their efforts to promote the SWAP in other ways.”

With funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Conservation Fund provided support for the Georgia Conservancy and the Georgia Wildlife Federation to help implement the SWAP, which resulted from a request by Congress to create a comprehensive, proactive strategy to assess the health of wildlife and habitats in Georgia. The SWAP lists 296 high-priority animals and 323 high-priority plants as well as high-priority habitats from each of the five ecological regions of the state. The plan also outlines actions and programs to guide the conservation of these animals, plants and habitats at the local and state levels.

Founded in 1967, the Georgia Conservancy collaborates, advocates and educates to protect Georgia's natural environment. Through its focus on clean air and water, land conservation, coastal protection, growth management and education, the Georgia Conservancy works to develop solutions to protect Georgia’s environment and promote the stewardship of the state’s vital natural resources.

The mission of the Georgia DNR is to sustain, enhance, protect and conserve the state’s natural, historic and cultural resources. The DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division regulates hunting, fishing and the operation of watercraft, protects nongame and endangered wildlife, and maintains public education and law enforcement programs to ensure conservation of natural resources.

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