Project WINGS Deadline July 15

Payments and expertise to plant utility openings in wildlife foods.

Plant it, and they will come. That is the wish of every hunter who sticks a seed in the ground. Work hard in planning, planting and managing a game food plot, then maybe your cost and sweat will pay off in increased sightings and harvest of game animals on your property. Plant it, and they will come.

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” actor Kevin Costner thought that if he built a baseball field next to a corn patch, the baseball stars of his dreams would magically appear, and the biggest baseball game of all time would take place. Nice thought and great movie, but here in the real world, we must deal with facts. Getting a good game food plot up and growing is a very real possibility with a little planning and work.

One of the best programs out there for hunters to consider is the Project WINGS program, which is the acronym for “Wildlife Incentives for Non-game and Game Species.” It is a rights-of-way management campaign designed to create new wildlife lands along gas and electrical transmission lines. It offers cash grants and professional wildlife management advice to groups and individuals committed to rights-of-way brush control and habitat improvement. WINGS is a Georgia success story for both residents and wildlife. It’s available to landowners, lessees and hunting clubs.

These rights-of-way corridors vary from 50 to 500 feet in width, cover thousands of acres and must be managed to prevent undesirable growth that could interfere with the normal delivery of power. Project WINGS is important since it helps people transform rights-of-way into productive wildlife habitat, ensuring healthier wildlife populations, while providing the safe and efficient delivery of energy to more than 10.5 million Georgians. Cooperating agencies are Georgia Power/Southern Company, Georgia DNR, Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, Georgia Forestry Commission and others.

On April 23, this writer had the opportunity to meet with Gary McCormick, a Taylor County landowner who has a Georgia Power high power transmission line running across his property, which he calls “Antler Creek Plantation.”

The Project WINGS program is a big success in Taylor County, and landowner Gary McCormick highly recommends it to anyone who has large powerlines on their property. Pictured (front left) NRCS District Conservationist Marcus Griffin, landowner Gary McCormick, executive director for Two Rivers RC&D Lance Renfrow, Georgia Power Utility Arborist Senior Scott Dawson, Tyronda Richardson with Meag Power, Sylvia Harris with Taylor County NRCS and Byron Benton, a NRCS soil conservationist. It’s obvious that Project WINGS is a team effort!

Gary has been enrolled in the WINGS program for several years and considers it a very positive incentive to properly manage his land for maximum wildlife benefits. He is an avid hunter, but he also gets much enjoyment and satisfaction from watching deer, turkey and other wildlife thrive on his land. Planting food plots with wheat, oats, clover, winter peas and other green browse is a great way to provide natural food and ensure healthy game populations. On our brief visit, we saw a turkey hen sneaking out of a food plot, and deer and turkey tracks were abundant where they were crossing the powerline.

Grant awards are based on the amount of rights-of-way to be managed, says Lance Renfroe, executive director of the Two Rivers RC&D. Monies are paid over three years at a flat rate of $50 per acre per year, for a maximum of 10 acres. Acceptable management practices include: mowing with fallow discing, annual plantings and permanent plantings. The maximum total payment for the three-year contract cannot exceed $1,500 per contract. Grants are paid within 60 days of work completion, as reported by the local National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office.

Lance says that landowners, leaseholders, hunting clubs, wildlife organizations and others committed to the conversion and management of electrical transmission rights-of-way may apply for a grant.

Scott Dawson, Transmission Utility Arborist Senior with Georgia Power, says these grants are only for the largest high-power transmission lines, and smaller, single-pole lines that only serve small areas are not eligible. Applications are accepted May 15 through July 15 of each year at all NRCS offices, so get your application in soon. Grants are awarded on a competitive basis.

Former WINGS acreage may be re-enrolled provided the original contract was completed and three years have passed since the first contract expired. Applicants can only utilize the grants for three years, but other family members or interested parties can continue the grants after the initial three-year period. Grant recipients have a three-year obligation to follow accepted wildlife practices and prevent the growth of tall brush.

Sylvia Harris, with the Taylor County NRCS, says that the NRCS develops the plan once participants selects options from a menu of typical wildlife management practices. Sylvia said the applicants can perform the work themselves as long as the practice is included in the wildlife management plan prepared by the NRCS.

For the WINGS Program, remember that the NRCS, a part of the US Department of Agriculture, is willing to work closely with you to properly manage the land under high-power electric lines or land that lies over gas transmission line rights-of-way. They have offices in many parts of Georgia, so pick up the phone and call Lance at (706) 885-0101, and he will connect you to your local agent.

For more information, go to www.tworiversrcd.org. Remember the deadline is July 15, 2018.

Plant it, and they will come!

Georgia Tree Farm and Stewardship Forest Programs

There are two other related conservation programs that may interest you if you desire to gain the most benefit from your land and preserve wildlife.

The Georgia Tree Farm program recognizes landowners who are managing their land well. As a certified Tree Farmer, a landowner receives periodic mailings of the American Tree Farmer magazine. They also receive a certificate and the familiar green and white Tree Farm sign to display on their property. The Tree Farm program provides for periodic visits by professional foresters to help the landowners keep their forests productive.

A closely related program is the Georgia Forestry Stewardship program. A forest stewardship management plan can be provided to landowners interested in managing their forestland for multiple-use purposes, such as timber, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, aesthetics and soil and water conservation. This is a detailed and comprehensive management plan written by natural resource professionals with backgrounds in forestry, wildlife biology, soil science and recreation management.

Landowners with an interest in multiple-use management begin by completing an application, which details their interests and objectives. The resource professional responsible for constructing the plan will evaluate the property and develop a management program to help the landowner reach their objectives, while improving the management of all resources.

Both of these programs are available to the public without cost.

For more information on the these programs, contact Buford Sanders at (478) 951-8238 or www.gfc.state.ga.us/forest-management.

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