Voting for the Future of Recreation: The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act
By Pamela Henman, Southface
From the Ridge and Valley to the Lower Coastal Plain and in cities and communities across our state, Georgia boasts an abundance of spaces for recreational activity. From rivers, lakes and streams, to playgrounds, parks, greenspaces, and hiking trails, the state’s great outdoors nurtures wildlife habitats and provides plentiful space for people to play. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, each year 58 percent of Georgians participate in outdoor recreation activities such as camping, bicycling, fishing, hunting, and hiking. Protecting Georgia’s limited natural resources is critical to ensuring future generations of people — and wildlife — have water and lands to live on, explore, and benefit from.
On this Election Day, November 6, Georgia voters will decide on the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (GOSA), a constitutional amendment that — if passed — will enable the state to protect our waterways, acquire and improve recreational parks and trails, and maintain and improve access to wildlife management areas.
If GOSA passes, up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax on outdoor sporting goods will be dedicated to protecting Georgia’s lands and waterways — without raising or creating any new taxes or fees. Currently, the state’s conservation needs rely on an annual appropriations process. Having a dedicated source of funding provides a reliable revenue stream, and better prepares the state to attract investment from federal, philanthropic, and private sources.
GOSA represents an investment in Georgia’s future, as over the next decade more than $20 million annually would be dedicated to benefit the state’s water, lands, and wildlife in a number of ways. GOSA intends to:
- Dedicate 75% of all tax revenue collected annually from the sale of outdoor recreation equipment for the purpose of the protection and preservation of conservation land.
- Provide for the acquisition of critical areas for the provision or protection of clean water, game, wildlife, or fisheries, or natural-resource-based outdoor recreation.
- Aid local governments in the acquisition and improvement of local parks and trails.
- Provide for the stewardship of conservation lands through maintenance and restoration projects.
Funds dedicated through GOSA could not be used for any other purpose, and only projects aligning with the state’s established conservation goals would be approved to utilize the funds.
GOSA is backed by leading conservation organizations within The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act Coalition, a nonpartisan group that includes The Conservation Fund, Georgia Conservancy, Georgia Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Park Pride, and The Trust for Public Land. The Coalition was formed in 2010 with a singular goal to balance the state’s economic and environmental needs to secure a “vibrant and healthy future” for Georgia.
The idea of a dedicated fund for water and land conservation was first proposed in 1998, as a ballot measure called the Georgia Heritage Fund. Through an increase in the real estate transfer tax, the measure would have created a funding mechanism for land, water, wildlife, and recreation. The Georgia Heritage Fund failed to pass, but the foundation was laid for what would eventually become GOSA. Over the next two decades, Georgia’s conservation community worked to reshape the initial proposal and develop new legislation, in collaboration with state entities, local governments, and nonprofit organizations.
GOSA is a great example of state leadership and non-governmental organizations working together to protect and steward Georgia’s natural resources. Southface applauds the foresight and leadership behind GOSA, and the legislation’s alignment with our vision of responsible resource use and thriving natural systems as foundations of our shared prosperity.
Southface’s October Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable on the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act featured insight from Robert Ramsay, president of The Georgia Conservancy; George Virgo, Chattahoochee River Manager at Nantahala Outdoor Center; and Bob Thompson, City Manager of Porterdale, Ga. To watch a replay of the panel, click here.