Section 48-59-70 Section C of the South Carolina Conservation Bank Act, stipulates that Section D, which deals with the natural resource criteria values and Section E which deals with the financial criteria that must be considered in making a grant from the trust fund. Section F stipulates that while Section D and E are the major criteria that is to be considered it also stipulates that public access is to be considered as well. However, the statute clearly states that financial leverage is not required but is to be considered. Additionally, the statute is also clear that public access is not a requirement but is to be considered by the Bank as an additional positive factor in making a grant. While public access and financial leverage is not required under the Statute, The Conservation Bank considers both as significant factors in making grants. In other words, all things being equal between grant applications grants having favorable financial leverage and public access would receive higher consideration. The Conservation Bank tries to obtain as much public access as is possible where it is feasible to do so on a grant depending on the circumstances and places a significant priority on public access. It is very important to know that over 90% of land in SC is privately owned. In order to protect these habitats that in turn, protect our wildlife, we must create partnerships with private landowners. To this point in time the Bank has protected a total of 294,126 acres in 45 counties in South Carolina. Of that total, 88,070 acres has full general public access. Of this amount 66,786 acres are owned by DNR and are WMAs. Without Bank funds this would not have happened. This represents 30% of the total number of acres and 43% of our total committed funds. In fact, every grant requested by any of the three qualified state agencies or any other qualified entity which has subsequently transferred title to a grant to one of the three state agencies in fee simple has been approved and funded. These fee simple purchases all require general public access under the statute. Additionally, the Bank has protected an additional 98,688 acres that has limited public access but that also is used for hunting, fishing, youth hunts by public draw, Wounded Warrior hunts and handicapped hunts, educational research by schools and universities and other recreational activities by the landowner that serve as natural resource corridors but is not open for the public except by permission by the landowner. Other additional public benefits are open space ;natural resources protection; flood control; water quality; water quantity; agricultural and forestry products; and many hundreds of recurring jobs associated with these lands. By leaving these lands in private ownership they remain on the County Tax Rolls at the same amount of property taxes they would otherwise be listed at and since it is by the owners probably the best management the land can receive. This represents 34% of our grant acreage and 36% of the grant funding. While these tracts do not have total general public access it is nonetheless more public access than we had previously on these properties. This brings the total acreage with public access to 64% and represents 79% of our funding. This clearly indicates that the public access provided by the Bank grants is far in excess of the 10% required under Section 48-59-70 (L)(2). It is noted that 21% of our grants by funding do not have public access. Yet they account for 36% of our total protected lands indicating the fact that conservation easements are much cheaper and more efficient in protecting lands but yet providing great public benefit. Most of these grants are small family farms that would have smaller significance or interest to the general public and have liability issues for public use but are nonetheless, important to the mission of the Bank by conserving farmland which is required by the Conservation Bank Act and are critical to our economy and food supply. Additionally many of these grants are for large timber and wetlands tracts that the Bank is paying bargain rates and fractions of the value for easements, at an average of $431 per acre and in many cases 200-350 per acre, to protect land for public benefit. Of the protected acres, 186,760 acres have hunting, fishing, camping, and other public access that would never have been possible without grants to landowners and other state agencies that was provided by the Conservation Bank. The other remaining acres with general public access are urban parks; historical properties; and archeological sites. The additional acres with limited access can be utilized for class education, research, boy scouts, and other similar functions with permission by the landowner. Some of South Carolina’s finest and best outdoor recreation places have now been conserved for posterity and public use by funding by the Conservation Bank.
Additionally, the Bank is piloting a public/private agreement with DNR wherein landowners that are willing to participate can provide hunting opportunities for members of the general public as well as youth hunts by allowing names to be drawn from a public draw through the Department of Natural Resources. To date, eight of our landowners with conservation easements have agreed to provide hunting opportunities especially for youth hunts for duck hunting through an MOU with the DNR through their public draw hunts. To date we have provided Youth hunts for 161 Youths on Bank grant private lands. We are excited about these opportunities and will be trying to expand these opportunities for more public hunting on private lands.
Of high significance, Bank funds are used to create additional matching funds from other sources, such as federal land and water programs and private foundations. In many cases land trusts, soil and water conservation districts, and state agencies can’t even apply for these funds without receiving prior matching funds from the Bank.
To date the Bank has spent $135,536,422 on 265,000 acres at an average of $512 per acre. As a result of Bank grants, The State of South Carolina has received back $144,421,013 in matching funds that will get spent in our local economy. In essence we have received back more than we spent to protect these iconic and significant lands.
The South Carolina Conservation Bank has provided funding for:
Acres available for full public access: 88,070 – 66,786 acres of these lands are now owned by DNR and are WMAs.
Acres available for urban parks: 11,088
Acres available for historic sites: 730
Acres available for farmland: 1,491
Acres available for limited public access: 98,688
Acres available for campsites: 16,567
Acres available for youth hunts: 4,505
Acres available for farmland: 6,034
Total acres with public access: 186,760
64% of the Conservation Bank grants acres have significant public access. 43% of which have full public access. 79% of the Conservation Bank funds have been expended on these grants.