Over the last year, the Trust for Public Land and Beaufort County Open Land Trust have analyzed the economic impact of land conservation in Beaufort County. Their research focused on property values, access to local food from protected farmland, the value of clean air and water, and spending associated with outdoor recreation. You can read more in a recent op-ed by Councilman Brian Flewelling, and watch an interview about the study.
The Trust for Public Land and Beaufort County Open Land Trust study highlights other benefits derived from land conservation in Beaufort County, including:
- Increased property values. Parks, trails and open spaces raise home values. Beaufort County collects more than $1 million in additional annual property tax revenue due to the proximity of conserved land.
- Cost savings. Protected lands provide natural absorption of storm and rainwater, saving Beaufort County taxpayers $27. 4 million annually in stormwater fees.
- More revenue from tourism. Nearly 10 percent of all Beaufort County visitors travel here to visit our parks and open spaces—and they spend their money here, more than $115 million each year, representing $3.46 million in local tax revenue.
- Healthier people. We all enjoy health and recreation benefits from being outdoors. Our ability to be outside, walk, run and enjoy the outdoors saves county residents an estimated $7.91 million medical cost savings.
- More farms and better food. One hundred thirty-seven farms in Beaufort County generate $28.3 million in agriculture product value. These farms, either protected themselves or supported by a rural landscape of protected properties, provide fresh food for our community and South Carolina.
- Jobs, jobs, jobs. Land conservation supports the local economy and provides jobs. Our local military bases are buffered by acres of protected land, supporting safe and long-term operations and 14,900 defense jobs.
Please note: In addition to those outlined in the study, we know of other land conservation benefits that were not identified. For example, the study did not look at traffic and growth costs reduced by land protection. Before the Mobley Tract was permanently protected, the property was upzoned in 2006 for 350 homes, which would have brought 650 cars and 6,500 car trips per day to the 170 corridor. Investing in land protection further reduces these growth pressures outside of our urban areas and preempts traffic disasters.
Our South Coast region is defined by the Port Royal Sound Watershed, saltwater rivers, healthy fisheries, rural farmland and thriving small towns. Our region is also defined by fast-paced growth and development, popular beaches and tourist attractions. To maintain balance between our natural resources, economic growth and quality of life, we must continue to invest in land protection throughout the region.
Though we have come a long way, conservation work is far from done and has never been more important. Today, we have several tools at our disposal.
The Beaufort Rural and Critical Lands Program
The Rural and Critical Lands program currently can protect land via conservation easement or outright purchase. To date, the program has protected over 23,000 acres. Easements involve working with a willing landowner, who retains ownership of the land but is compensated for reducing/eliminating the development rights on the property. Conservation easements are often cheaper than buying the land and keep the land on the county tax rolls. This is a very successful tool on farmland: an easement may allow for farming to continue but prevents subdivision into a housing development. We believe the program should continue to prioritize easements over outright acquisition in the rural areas.
Rural and Critical Lands can be a complementary tool for planning and zoning decisions. Binden Plantation and the Mobley Tract are just two examples of properties threatened by inappropriate development and annexation. At every turn, the Conservation League challenged these annexations and development plans and worked with partners to secure permanent protection. Properties inappropriately annexed and zoned are worth protecting, but they are expensive. Because of this, the program should not be a developer buy-out, a last resort if a crazy development scheme is rejected, so we will work with Council on the front-end too: cultivating a land ethic with landowners, planning appropriate land uses, and helping conservation dollars go further. We will help safeguard the monies in the program so that theyre used for bonafide conservation and not as a developer bail-out.
Relying on the “Greenprint” – a land protection priority map – and other scientific studies that analyze habitat value, prime soils, and contribution to clean waterways enables sound, science-based conservation in our region.The Rural and Critical Lands program is designed to protect our watershed and water quality – and sometimes pollutants and impacts come from upstream or adjacent properties. Land conservation is linked to maintaining and improving water quality, so we emphasize the need and opportunity to protect properties of regional significant, especially along the Beaufort-Jasper County border and waterways like the Broad River.
The S.C. Conservation Bank
In 2018, the Conservation League and our partners lobbied for reauthorization of the state’s Conservation Bank. Since 2004, the Bank has protected more than 190,000 acres of land at an average cost of only $517 per acre. State Representatives and Senators have just approved bills that would reauthorize the Bank and budgeted for the bank. We will continue to lobby Senators and Representatives to help this bill become state law. The Beaufort delegation continually stands up for land protection: Thank you, Senators and Representatives!
Private land conservation
South Carolinians have a land ethic second to none. It is abundantly clear that—as individuals and as a community—we value our natural landscape and resources. The Conservation League works with developers, wildlife experts, permitting agencies and legal teams to proactively create development plans, funding programs and zoning laws that reflect our values.
So, why does all of this matter? We work day after day, parcel by parcel, to connect protected coastal lands to form a greenbelt around south coast communities. We coordinate and leverage the work of our partners, including Beaufort County Open Land Trust, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and Lowcountry Land Trust, to engage policymakers, elected officials and advocates in the broader strategy of strategic land protection.
And it is working. Take a look at the maps below. Since 1985, more than 1.2 million acres have been protected on the South Carolina coast. The healthy coastal greenbelt contains and enhances our growing community and provides recreational opportunities, clean water and an unparalleled quality of life. We look forward to completing the greenbelt together, while we enjoy clean water and abundant wildlife today and for decades to come.