THE THREATS

In the book of Genesis, God sets the stage for a creation that needs work. We believe it is His intent that mankind steward and work the land.

Usher 412 Ministries’ businesses and holdings were birthed in our love of the land, but have grown largely in response to the following threats to the land we love:

  • Nationwide in the years 1992-1997, 320 acres of farmland were taken out of production every hour (Sauer 2002). During this same period, Georgia lost more than one million acres of farm and forest lands to development (NRCS 2000).
  • In Georgia 108 acres of forestland are converted to impervious surface daily (UGA NARSAL).
  • If current development patterns continue in Atlanta, 200,000 acres of tree cover or virtually all the intact forests remaining will be lost by 2020 (Sauer 2002).
  • More than 220 million acres of wetlands are thought to have existed in the lower 48 states in the 1600s. Since then more than half of our original wetlands have been drained and converted to other uses. The mid-1950s to the mid-1970s were a time of major national wetlands loss. Ironically, through a U.S. Government incentive program some of our family’s wetlands were converted to cropland 60 years ago.
  • Longleaf pine forests once encompassed more than 90 million acres across the Southeast, stretching from eastern Texas to southern Virginia. These forests represent some of the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems and are home to nearly 600 plant and animal species, including 29 threatened and endangered species. Tragically over the past two centuries, development, timbering, and fire suppression reduced the ecosystem’s range by almost 97 percent.

OUR SMALL RESPONSE

Conservation Easements

We support the Georgia General Assembly efforts to conserve the state-wide network of land and water resources and the state’s prime agricultural and forestry lands. We concur with the General Assembly’s recognition that these lands and resources are a priceless legacy that enhance the health of ecosystems, encourage working landscapes, foster natural resource stewardship, sustain a healthy economy, and promote a sustainable high quality of life for current and future generations of Georgians.

Accordingly, we have entered into voluntary legal agreements with land trust that impose permanent restrictions on the way some of our properties are used. Conservation values are protected by giving up some of our property rights in perpetuity. We give up such property rights as mining, wetlands banking, and subdividing, while reinforcing rights such as passive recreation, agriculture, silviculture, and some limited construction of farm and residential buildings.

Additional Resources:
http://georgiaalabamalandtrust.org/
http://serlc.org/
https://www.georgiaconservancy.org/
http://www.gfc.state.ga.us – Value of Conservation Easements in Georgia

Wetlands Restoration

Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) established a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. Activities regulated under this program include fill for development, water resource projects (such as dams and levees or harbor deepening), infrastructure development (such as highways, seaports, and airports) and mining projects. The objective of the CWA is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. The basic premise of the program is that to be permitted to discharge dredged or fill material into a stream or wetlands permittees must first have taken steps to avoid and minimize the impacts. If impacts are unavoidable then permittees must provide compensation. The preferred method of compensation is to purchase wetlands or stream credits from an approved mitigating bank that has restored similar aquatic resources.

Our activities include establishing and operating wetlands mitigation banks, based on site restoration activities and rules and regulations set forth by the USACE and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As of December 2014, nationally only 1,428 mitigation bank sites had been approved by the USACE to provide wetland credits and stream mitigation credits.

Additional Resources:
https://www.epa.gov/wetlands
http://www.mitigationbanking.org
http://garestoration.org/
http://www.sas.usace.army.mil/

Voluntarily Protecting Historic Ebenezer Creek

We are carefully stewarding property on Ebenezer creek, home of a diverse and productive habitat, including fresh water tidal wetlands and bottomland hardwood forest, that has been coveted for protection by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Ebenezer Creek is a Georgia Scenic River and the National Park Service lists the creek as a National Natural Landmark for its cypress-gum swamp forest. Federally listed rare species on the property include the wood stork and the shortnose sucker.

Our property is on the banks of the creek near where, on the morning of December 9, 1864, engineers for the Union XIV Corps, under Sherman’s Brigadier General Davis tragically and cowardly destroyed a pontoon crossing stranding 5,000 freed slaves on the wrong side of the creek.

This land was also home to the Uchi Indians, who were native to this part of the creek swamp and much evidence of their existence can still be found there.

Additional Resources:
https://en.wikipedia.org – Ebenezer Creek

FARMING USING BEST PRACTICES

Our family farmers grow cotton, corn, peanuts, and soybeans, using best practices. Some of our farmlands have been worked for five generations over 100 years by family members.

The Georgia Centennial Farm Program was developed in 1993 to distinguish family farms that have contributed to preserving Georgia’s agricultural history by maintaining working farms for more than 100 years.

FORESTRY USING BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Our forests are managed according to Best Management Practices (BMP) following written forestry plans administered by qualified foresters. Our forest management plans consider the potential impact on water quality. The planning process we use addresses the objectives of any proposed activity as well as potential impacts of all actions that disturb the soil surface or impact water quality.

This planning process also helps identify sensitive areas and applicable BMPs to be used during timber sales, road construction, stream crossings, harvesting, site preparation, reforestation, and herbicide applications. Sensitive areas include perennial and intermittent streams, ephemeral areas, lakes, ponds, wetlands, steep slopes, highly erosive or hydric soils, active gully systems, etc. We consider regulations and/or permitting requirements as well as location, type, timing, and logistics of each activity; additionally, we consider the history of the sites, including past land use.

Reestablishing Healthy Longleaf Forests

We fully support the vision of the America’s Longleaf Initiative, the USDA Forest Service, Department of Defense, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to “have functional, viable longleaf pine ecosystems with the full spectrum of ecological, economic, and social values inspired through a voluntary partnership of concerned, motivated organizations and individuals.” We are proud to be one of those concerned organizations who are voluntarily taking the initiative to help reverse the century-long decline of longleaf pine forest by reestablishing healthy longleaf forests on our suitable properties. We are renewing the long tradition of prescribed burning in these properties.

Additional Resources:
http://www.americaslongleaf.org/
https://www.nrcs.usda.gov – Longleaf Pine Initiative
https://www.nrcs.usda.gov – Bobwhite Quail Habitat
https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org – Longleaf Pine Ecosystem

Protecting the Savannah River

The Savannah River impacts millions of lives through providing drinking water, hydro and nuclear power, and recreational activities; and, of course, the river is home to one of the busiest sea ports in the nation. Beginning in Hart County and extending more than 300 miles to the Atlantic Ocean, the Savannah River touches 27 counties in the state of Georgia and helps create some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world.

South of Augusta we begin our efforts to improve water quality, conserve, preserve, and restore land quality. These efforts begin in northern Screven County and Briar Creek, to Effingham county Ebenezer Creek, Runs Branch, Cowpen Branch, Turkey Branch, and oxbows on the Savannah River near Clyo and into Savannah and systems from Augusta to Savannah in the Lower Savanah water shed.

Additional Resources:
https://www.nature.org – Savannah River Basin