WILD GEORGIA: State plan guides conservation of native plants, animals

Since 2005, Georgia has had a “State Wildlife Action Plan” to guide biologists and others in protecting the state’s native plants and its more than 95% of animal species not hunted or fished. In addition, the plan outlines strategies to conserve natural habitats.

The main goal of the plan, which was updated in 2015, is to conserve populations of native plants and animals — especially rare and endangered species — and their habitats before they become rarer and thus more costly to conserve and restore.

Of Georgia’s thousands of native species, the plan lists 349 animal and 290 plant species as high priorities for conservation because of their increased vulnerability to development, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species and other threats.

Annual reports from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources provide updates on the state’s conservation activities. According to the recent fiscal year 2020 report, some of the efforts include:

— Keeping track of endangered North Atlantic right whales, whose winter calving grounds are off the coasts of Georgia, the Carolinas and northeast Florida. Researchers are trying to find ways to protect right whales from ship collisions, pollution, entanglement in fishing lines and other dangers to their survival.

— Ensuring that Southeastern American kestrels have safe nesting sites. The kestrel, North America’s smallest and most colorful raptor, has declined in recent years due mostly to the loss of its prime habitat, open pine woodlands, where it nests in natural tree cavities. The bird, however, readily uses artificial nest boxes, dozens of which have been erected on power line towers in South Georgia.

— Tracking rare plants such as dwarf sumac, Radford’s mint, Georgia aster and smooth coneflower to shepherd their restoration and protect their habitats.

— Exploring caves and culverts for the spread of white-nose syndrome, which is fatal to bats.

— Surveying streams and wetlands, from the Tallapoosa River in North Georgia to the Okefenokee Swamp, for fish and freshwater mussels to preserve Georgia’s rich aquatic life.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon is in last quarter. Mercury is low in the east around dawn. Venus and Mars are low in the west just after dark. Jupiter and Saturn rise in the east after midnight.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.