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Monday, January 16, 2012 - 12:45pm

Georgia Receives Wetland Grant

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has awarded Georgia a $1 million grant aimed at preserving a 6,000 acre wetland on the Altamaha River.

Officials believe the tract is critical for the river's health.

Development, pollution and rising sea levels are threatening coastal wetlands.

The grant would help stem the loss by protecting Boyles Island in Wayne County.

Deborah Shepard of Altamaha Riverkeeper says, it's a large piece of land that helps support the economy.

"The river is central to the ecological and economic functions of the entire state of Georgia," Shepard says. "It receives its bounty of resources and also receives its bounty of pollutants and problems."

The money for Boyles Island in Wayne County is the largest of 24 projects funded nationwide in a federal program aimed at boosting wetlands.

Agency biologist Chris Darnelle says, fishermen and boaters helped fund the grant through taxes on tackle and fuel.

"These funds don't come from the general treasury," Darnelle says. "These are funds that are provided through excised taxes on fishing tackle and motorboat fuel and so in a sense it's a user fee."

The Nature Conservancy and state environmental officials still have to strike deals to buy the land, valued at $5 million.

The Altamaha watershed includes 1/4 of Georgia, including parts of Atlanta and Athens.