If not for our natural resources, we would be Iran or Detroit
by Dick Yarbrough
Columnist
March 20, 2013 12:05 AM | 622 views | 1 1 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dick Yarbrough
Dick Yarbrough
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It is a theological fact that God really likes Georgia. That is why He put mountains in north Georgia and the Golden Isles smack up against the Atlantic Ocean, and added a bunch of lakes and parks and historical sites in between. Otherwise, we could have been Iran. Or Detroit.

I stopped by last week to visit the man who is entrusted with these assets, Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources Mark Williams, to get an update. We didn’t talk religion, but I suspect his views on what God did for Georgia pretty much line up with mine.

A former state legislator from Jesup, Williams says, “I have my dream job.” He has also the qualifications, having served on the committees overseeing our state’s natural resources in the General Assembly before assuming his current post. He has to love his job to leave the friendly confines of Wayne County and spend so much time away from his family. I asked him why he does it. The commissioner says, “I love this state and I want to leave it better that I found it.” Now, that will preach.

Not only is Georgia blessed with splendid natural resources, but those resources are big business. Ecotourism — a term new to me — includes boating, kayaking, bird watching, camping, hunting, fishing and the like and brings in nearly $7 billion to the state annually. Fishing is almost $2 billion of that; hunting, $1 billion.

Our 48 state parks and 15 historic sites generate about 10 million visitors a year and a half-billion dollars. Salt water fisheries bring another half-billion to the state’s economy.

As for protecting those resources, I asked Williams about a piece of legislation, HB 42 that has had a number of people along the coast, including me, concerned. The legislation would allow certain construction inside the current boundaries established by Shore Protection and Coastal Marshlands Protection Acts with a Letter of Permission to be issued by the DNR.

Williams says the bill has been amended to allow temporary activities within the jurisdiction area — such as shooting movies — and for no more than six months. After that time, the area is to be returned to as good or better condition than when the permit was issued. Activities within the physical parameters of an existing structure can be built with only a Letter of Permission.

If the Legislature and the DNR plans to amend the Coastal Marshland Protection and Shore Protection acts next session, as I am told they may, they are going to need to do a better job of telling us what they plan to do and why. The coastline belongs to all of us.

Another bill, SB 136, which has sailed through the Legislature, concerns boating safety and is long overdue. The measure will require more stringent boater education and brings Boating Under the Influence and Hunting Under the Influence more in line with Driving Under the Influence and with more severe penalties. Too many lives have been lost because of ignorant yahoos who should never have been operating a boat in the first place.

I asked the commissioner what he would like to say to you about Georgia’s natural beauty. He says, “I would ask them to please help us with the stewardship of our resources.”

He is right as rain. Preserving our abundant resources and passing them along for future generations to enjoy is as much our responsibility as it is the 1600 employees of DNR. The state belongs to us all. Enjoy what we have. Keep it clean. Respect the environment.

As for me, Williams wanted to be sure I knew of the success of the “Go Fish Center” in Perry, which has been one of my favorite targets since it was birthed — or was it “hatched?” — by former Gov. George E. Perdue. He says the facility which is operated by his department has had more than 40,000 visitors from around the country since it opened in late 2010 and more than 6,000 children and adults have participated in education programs there. I said I would tell you that. (He plans to let Gov. Perdue know that I did. My job can be very difficult, at times.)

My talk with Williams was a good one and convinced me more than ever how blessed we are to live in Georgia with such glorious natural resources. Could you imagine having this conversation in Iran? Or Detroit? Thank you, Lord.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bell south.net or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.

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SamSeven
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March 20, 2013
Dick, normally I love reading your column. But this column made me cringe! Georgia is a beautiful state, and I love it, but is it necessary to insult others to celebrate Georgia? Additionally, Iran is a country (not a state) and Detroit is a city (again, not a state), so this is like comparing apples and oranges.

Since you are celebrating the State of Georgia (and rightly so) but not the City of Atlanta, the better comparison would be the State of Michigan, rather than the City of Detroit. Michigan, too, has abundant natural resources. Michigan has the longest coastline of any state in the union! It has over 11,000 natural lakes. (Georgia has zero natural lakes). Michigan has 101 state parks, and like Georgia, abundant national and state forests and state historic sites. I don't know how revenue is brought in by ecotourism in Michigan, but as a journalist, you could find out by contacting the Michigan Dept of Natural Resources. And even though you have, once again, insulted the people of Michigan, I have a feeling that these charming and polite Midwesterners would welcome you to come visit and check out some of the natural resources for yourself. You could go see Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Isle Royale, Pictured Rocks Scenic Lakeshore, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Mackinac Island-which has a state park with a revolutionary war fort, numerous inland lakes and rivers, you get the point. Dick, you are correct in pointing out that Georgia is a wonderful state, truly blessed by God. But shame on you for insulting Detroit/Michigan without knowing your facts. It sure is a lack of southern hospitality to give Detroit/Michigan another kick in the face, especially when you are factually incorrect.
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