Sen. Ossoff pushing for federal funding for Georgia public lands

Georgia’s Paulding Forest Wildlife Management Area is one of the anchors of a larger conservation project called the Dugdown Corridor. (Alphonso Whitfield/WABE)

U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff is pushing for federal funding to expand parks and protected forest land in Georgia.

In a letter this month to U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, he asked the agency to prioritize two areas for money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal fund that puts hundreds of millions of dollars a year towards conservation.  

Ossoff asked the Forest Service for support in expanding the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and an area known as the Dugdown Corridor near the Alabama border.

“I grew up hiking and camping and paddling in Georgia’s beautiful wild places,” Ossoff said in an interview with WABE. “I look forward to taking my 13-month-old daughter up to the Appalachians so she can have those same experiences.”

In the letter, Ossoff wrote there’s significant demand from the public to visit the National Forest and the Dugdown Corridor, but there’s also the threat that properties that could be added to those natural areas end up getting developed, instead.

“It is urgent that these lands be secured through the LWCF,” he wrote.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created in the 1960s, but wasn’t permanently authorized by Congress until a few years ago. It’s funded from revenue from oil and gas leases.

The request for the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is for $3.5 million in Fiscal Year 2024 to buy land east of Griffin as well as a few properties in North Georgia. The Forest Service is working with The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy to add the parcels to the National Forest, which is adjacent to all of them – and in one case, completely surrounds one.

Explore the Dugdown Corridor: See videos and a map

The Dugdown Corridor stretches from the State of Georgia’s Paulding and Sheffield Forest Wildlife Management Areas to the Talladega National Forest in Alabama. The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund have been helping with that effort, as well. The funding request for that project, which would go from the Forest Service to a state program, is for $17.5 million.

“These efforts will expand public access to recreation – that’s hunting and camping and fishing and backpacking,” Ossoff said. “But it’s also a public health and an economic issue. These are assets for tourism. These are assets for responsible and sustainable forestry.”

The Dugdown project also has support from the Georgia Forestry Commission and Republican U.S. Representative Drew Ferguson, who represents West Georgia. The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest request has backing from river and fishing advocacy groups.