Audubon South Carolina has prioritized land conservation since its creation. As a land owner and manager, we understand the importance of strategic conservation of land in our state to ensure both birds and people benefit.
One of Audubon’s top priorities at the Statehouse this session was the County Green Space Sales Tax Act, which allows county governments, upon a successful county-wide referendum, to impose up to a one percent sales and use tax to fund the acquisition of land and green spaces. Throughout the session, Audubon staff and members advocated for this bill. It was a top topic for the 2022 Lobby Day, Audubon members met with their elected officials at home in their districts, and I testified on behalf of Audubon in support of the bill when it was heard in committee. Together with our partners in the conservation community, we helped ensure the passage of this bill, which was signed into law in May of this year.
With the new state authorization in place, Beaufort County was the first county in the state to consider taking advantage of this land protection Act. Before the proposal could go to the voters, the County Council had to vote to approve the measure. In Beaufort County, this meant the proposal had to go through three separate public hearings. Local Audubon advocates sent over 500 messages to the County Council after the first and second meetings urging them to pass this proposal. It worked! On August 8, the County Council approved an ordinance to put a referendum question before the voters in November that, if approved, would put a county-wide 1 cent Green Space Sales Tax in place for 2 years that could generate up to $100 million for land acquisition and conservation in Beaufort and in parts of neighboring Jasper County.
With coastal development in South Carolina occurring at historic rates, birds are running out of places to nest and stop over during migration. Fall in the Lowcountry means millions of birds moving South along the coast, stopping in critical, high-quality habitat loaded with native plants to refuel and bulk up to continue their challenging journey South. Prairie Warblers, Swainson’s Warblers, and Prothonotary Warblers all use coastal scrub land, bottomland hardwood forests, and maritime forests for stop over locations on the South Carolina Coast. Protecting greenspaces in Beaufort County and neighboring counties like Jasper will ensure these birds have a place to go when they need to rest and refuel.
Birds like Painted Buntings and Swallow-tailed Kites also rely on the unique habitat and native vegetation in Beaufort and neighboring counties to find enough food to successfully raise their chicks. Protecting greenspace and conserving native habitat is crucial to continue to enjoy some of the Lowcountry’s most colorful and elegant species.
In addition to protecting the places that birds need, land conservation is a key tool to protect our quality of life in South Carolina now and in the future.
Now, it will be up to the voters to decide whether to dedicate these funds. Audubon staff and local advocates continue to support the effort to see this referendum pass in November. If this passes, not only will the county have a significant tool, and the financial ability, to protect and preserve iconic lands and green spaces as our state continues to grow; but those local funds can be leveraged to match state Conservation Bank or federal dollars to create an even bigger impact for conservation and local communities.
We are glad to see the impacts of state legislation so quickly coming to life and are encouraged by proposals in other counties like Berkeley and Dorchester that are using other creative means to generate funding at the local level for protecting important places and habitat.
Audubon South Carolina leverages our partnerships and the tireless efforts of our advocates across the state to secure victories like this funding. Together we protect birds and the places they need. One of Audubon South Carolina’s top priorities in 2023 is working with the Governor, legislators, and key stakeholders to advance a significant land protection bill and funding to ensure birds have the places they need to rest, nest and thrive.