The South Carolina Senate is set to vote on a bill seeking to extend a program that preserves the state’s natural resources by reauthorizing the South Carolina Conservation Bank.
The bill, S. 219, has been introduced by state Sen. George “Chip” Campsen III (R-Beaufort) and is expected to be heard in the Senate Finance Committee in the next two weeks.
Ashley Demosthenes, president and CEO of Lowcountry Land Trust, said the bill is crucial because it is intended to extend the Conservation Bank, which will expire in 2018.
“It’s important that this extension take place because of the accomplishments that the program has achieved thus far, and the need for additional funding for conservation for the state of South Carolina,” Demosthenes told Palmetto Business Daily.
Conservation Bank is the only conservation funding program at the state level in South Carolina, Demosthenes said, and it generates money by taking a modest amount from the real estate transfer tax each year.
“It’s a very sustainable mechanism for funding the Conservation Bank, and it’s heavily relied on by conservation organizations in addition to landowners who otherwise would not be able to conserve their land,” she said. “So it’s a very important conservation legislation in South Carolina for a whole host of reasons.”
Established in 2002 to fund the preservation and public access to natural and historic areas in the state, by 2012 the South Carolina Conservation Bank had conserved 74,388 acres of isolated wetlands, 2,188 acres of Carolina Bays, and 192.4 miles of river/creek frontage, according to the South Carolina State Library.
Funding comes from the deed stamp, which is a transfer fee associated with each real estate transaction in the state. A percentage of that fee is allocated to the Conservation Bank, Demosthenes said. She believes there is broad support for reauthorization from land owners and conservation organizations that apply for the funding as a way to compensate land owners for conservation of their properties.
She said there is also support from the business community, which sees conservation as an asset and a contributing factor to the quality of life.
“Overall, the South Carolina Conservation Bank has done a magnificent job of conserving really significant resources in the state of South Carolina – natural resources, cultural resources, historic resources – and those are things that are irreplaceable, and our state has done a marvelous job of leveraging those funds with other funding sources,” Demosthenes said.
Founded in 1986, Lowcountry Land Trust aims to protect ecologically, agriculturally and historically significant Lowcountry lands and has become one of the leading land trusts in the country, its website states.
Demosthenes says conservation organizations have done a fantastic job of stretching public dollars across the state and being fiscally conservative with the application of those funds.
“It’s also been remarkable how much public access has been made available through funding from the Conservation Bank and private land conservation,” she said. “Having a balance of the two is very important to conserve natural resources at a scale that really makes a difference.”