On January 25th, I spoke on behalf of Audubon SC and as co-chair of the SC Conservation Coalition at the annual Senate Briefing, alongside partner organizations from across the state. Audubon advocates sent over 150 personal invitations to Senators to attend and combined with invitations from other Coalition members and lobbyists, we had one of the highest turnouts ever. More than one-third of the entire South Carolina Senate attended this briefing to hear about the importance of clean energy, an efficient and effective permitting agency, and continued investment in land conservation to protect the natural resources that birds and people rely on in our state. If you missed the Briefing, you can watch it here on the Statehouse Video Archives page – scroll down to January 25, 10:30 am – “Conversation with the Conservationists”.
In January, we also saw the introduction of the SC Conservation Enhancement Act in both the Senate and the House. This bill would reinstate a dedicated stream of funding for the South Carolina Conservation Bank from a portion of deed stamp revenues collected by the state. This would significantly increase this agency’s ability to facilitate the conservation of private land as well as support the protection of land held in public trust. The Conservation Bank is an essential and powerful tool in conserving our state's natural legacy. Since its inception in 2002, the Bank has facilitated protection of over 338,000 acres across the state, including 2,400 acres of prime bird habitat in our Four Holes Swamp - which has been part of Audubon’s Beidler Forest Sanctuary for nearly two decades.
Additionally, Governor McMaster released his Executive Budget, which recommends spending levels for executive branch agencies. His budget recommendations included $65 million for land conservation between the SC Conservation Bank and the SC Department of Natural Resources, in addition to $200 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) federal funding dedicated to land conservation as a tool for resilience. He also proposed funding to support the study of renewable energy in the electric grid, among other investments to protect our water resources. Each of these proposals can bring benefits to birds and people in communities across the state. It will ultimately be up to the SC General Assembly to determine what receives funding in this year’s budget.
We continue to be encouraged by a growing commitment to conservation among our state leadership; however, there is more work to be done. You can see what we are focused on this year in our 2023 policy agenda and you can sign up to be an Audubon Advocate and be a voice for birds.