Category Archives: News

Add Another Rare Turtle To Brasstown Valley’s Story

Brasstown Valley Resort & Spa has woven into its identity the legend of a giant turtle that saved Native Americans. The logo of the Young Harris resort features a turtle. A hefty concrete version marks the entrance. The golf course even sports turtle-shaped tee markers.

Yet Brasstown Valley can add another celebrated, if much smaller, turtle to its story.

Rare bog turtles have been found at the 503-acre resort. That makes Brasstown Valley, state-owned and privately managed, the only Georgia Department of Natural Resources property that has North America’s smallest turtles, a species listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Following up on a chance sighting by a citizen, wildlife biologist Thomas Floyd of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section documented bog turtles at Brasstown Valley two summers ago. Floyd has since caught and tracked nine turtles there, in an area that is not being made public to protect the animals.

The find has boosted the spirits of scientists studying the species and bumped to 10 the number of known bog turtle sites in Georgia. Half are thought to contain populations considered viable long-term. Three were found within the last three years. Sites are searched out using historical data, computer modeling, aerial photos and fieldwork.

“The more populations we know of, the better we can conserve the species and manage sites,” Floyd said.

Brasstown Valley general manager Charles Burton welcomes news of the turtles.

“This is a wonderful discovery and not surprising given that Brasstown was designed by Georgia’s DNR as the environmental model of how to design a facility that protects, preserves and co-exists with the environment,” said Burton, who works for Coral Hospitality, the company managing the resort.

Even if they weren’t rare, bog turtles would be easy to miss because of their size, habitat and lifestyle. They grow only about 4½ inches long, live in mountain bogs – one of the Southern Appalachians’ most endangered habitats – and spend much of their lives buried in muck that can reach knee-deep.

Bog turtles are found in a highly fragmented range from western Massachusetts to northeastern Georgia. The most pressing threat the species faces is habitat loss, although illegal pet trade is also an issue.

DNR monitors populations each summer through trap, PIT-tag and release efforts, often using radio-tracked turtles to better understand the species and their habitats. The Nongame Conservation Section also works with partners including through the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance, a network of gardens, agencies, businesses and organizations, to monitor and restore mountain bogs.

Floyd views the Brasstown Valley discovery as promising because DNR can manage the site and it’s uncharacteristic for the species, meaning there may be bog turtles in places scientists haven’t checked.

“It does give you some hope that bog turtles are doing better than we know,” he said.

The great turtle legend has different versions. In the one featured on Brasstown Valley menus, Cherokees survive a flood by riding a massive turtle to safety at Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest natural point and only a few miles from the resort.

Bog turtles are best at maneuvering through mud and moss, and they won’t be carrying anything heavier than a tiny radio transmitter on their back. But their presence at Brasstown Valley points to a more hopeful future for conserving this storied turtle.

DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, part of the Wildlife Resources Division, works to conserve Georgia’s endangered and other wildlife not legally fished for or hunted, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The agency depends primarily on fundraisers, grants and contributions for this work.

Public support is vital. Help conserve native wildlife such as bog turtles by:

  • Buying or renewing a DNR eagle or hummingbird license plate. Most money from sales and renewals is dedicated to nongame conservation. Upgrade to a “wild” tag for only $25!
  • Contributing to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund when filing state income taxes – line 26 on Form 500 or line 10 on Form 500EZ. Giving is easy and any amount helps.
  • Donating directly to the agency. Details at georgiawildlife.com/conservation/support.

 

Learn more about nongame in Georgia:  www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation/annualreport.

KKK Step Closer To Participate in Georgia’s ‘Adopt-A-Highway’ Program

STATE OF GEORGIA ET AL. V. INTERNATIONAL KEYSTONE KNIGHTS OF THE KU KLUX KLAN, INC. (S16A0367)

The Ku Klux Klan has won a partial victory under a decision today by the Supreme Court of Georgia.

In today’s unanimous opinion, written by Justice Keith Blackwell, the high court has dismissed the State’s appeal of a Fulton County court ruling because the state Department of Transportation failed to follow the correct procedure in filing its appeal.

As a result, the Klan’s lawsuit against the State for denying its application to participate in Georgia’s “Adopt-A-Highway” program may proceed to trial.

According to the facts of the case, the Adopt-A-Highway program was created in 1989 and is administered by the Georgia Department of Transportation. The program’s purpose is to enlist volunteers to help remove litter from state roadsides. Volunteers accepted into the program adopt at least a one-mile stretch of highway and agree to remove litter from both sides of the road at least four times a year for a two-year period. According to the program’s brochure, applicants include any “civic-minded organization, business, individual, family, city, county, state, or federal agency.” In exchange for the volunteer work, the brochure states that to “show the community that you are doing your part to clean up Georgia, the department will erect a sign with the Adopt-A-Highway logo and your group’s name.” In May 2012, April Chambers and Harley Hanson, members of the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, submitted to Union County an application to participate in the Adopt-A-Highway program and remove trash along a portion of State Route 515. In their application, they requested that “Georgia IKK Ku Klux Klan” be the name listed on the signs that would be placed along both sides of the highway. A County Commissioner gave them trash bags and vests they could use to begin picking up the trash. Later that month, however, they received a letter stating they needed to apply instead directly to the state Department of Transportation, which they did. On June 12, 2012, Chambers and Hanson received a letter from the then-Commissioner of Transportation, denying their application due to the Ku Klux Klan’s “long-rooted history of civil disturbance” and the “potential for social unrest.” The letter from the State said that “were the application granted, the goal of the program, to allow civic-minded organizations to participate in public service for the State of Georgia, would not be met.” The same day, the State also published a press release announcing its denial of the Klan’s application, according to briefs filed in the case.

On Sept, 13, 2012, the KKK sued the State in Fulton County Superior Court, naming the Department of Transportation, the Commissioner and Governor as defendants. The Klan sought a permanent injunction prohibiting the State from denying the Klan an Adopt-A-Highway Permit and a “declaratory judgment,” declaring that the State was wrong to deny the permit and that the Adopt-A-Highway program violated the state Constitution, as well as the Klan’s right to free speech. It sought a “writ of mandamus” to force the Department to approve its application. The State filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit on the ground that the Klan’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief were prohibited by the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity, which shields the State and its agencies from being sued. On May 31, 2013, the trial judge dismissed the Klan’s mandamus claim but allowed the claims for a permanent injunction and the declaratory judgment to go forward.
In March 2014, both sides filed motions for “summary judgment,” which a judge grants after deciding a trial is unnecessary because the facts are undisputed and the law falls squarely on the side of one of the parties. The trial court partially granted the Klan’s motion for summary judgment and denied the State’s. Specifically, the judge rejected the State’s argument that the claims were barred by sovereign immunity. In her ruling, the judge acknowledged the state Supreme Court’s recent 2014 ruling in Ga. Dept. of Natural Resources v. Center for a Sustainable Coast, Inc., which stated that sovereign immunity bars claims for injunctive relief. However, the judge held that this case was different because the Klan was raising constitutional claims regarding free speech. The judge stated in her judgment that “a denial of an application to the [Adopt-A-Highway program] for public concern related to a group’s history of civil disturbance represents an unconstitutional infringement on an applicant’s right of free speech,” and she further prohibited the Department of Transportation from “denying applications to the [program] for public concern related to a group’s history of civil disturbance.” The State then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

In today’s opinion, the high court has provided an extensive explanation of an area of appellate law that has caused tremendous difficulty in the past. In this case, it has concluded that it lacks the authority – or jurisdiction – to consider the State’s appeal.
“To invoke the jurisdiction of an appellate court, an appellant must bring its appeal in a way that comports with the requirements of the Appellate Practice Act of 1965 as amended,” today’s 33-page opinion states. If one has an automatic right to appeal under the law, he may do so by filing a “notice of appeal” in the trial court. In some cases, however, there is no automatic right to appeal and one must file an application to appeal, asking the court to exercise its discretion and grant the appeal.

In this case, the Department had no automatic right to appeal under Georgia Code § 5-6-35 (a) (1) because it involved a judgment by a superior court regarding a decision by a state administrative agency. Yet the Department failed to file an application to appeal.
“Because the Department appeals from a decision of a superior court reviewing a decision of a state administrative agency, it was required under § 5-6-35 (a) (1) to bring its appeal by way of an application for discretionary review,” the opinion concludes. “The Department failed to do so, and that circumstance leaves this Court without appellate jurisdiction. Accordingly, this appeal must be dismissed.”

Attorneys for Appellants (State): Samuel Olens, Attorney General, W. Wright Banks, Jr., Dep. A.G., Julie Jacobs, Sr. Asst. A.G., Daniel Strowe, Asst. A.G., Brittany Bolton, Asst. A.G.
Attorneys for Appellees (KKK): Alan Begner, Cory Begner, Nora Benavidez

K9 Remains Found at Daniel Peobody’s Home

The Cherokee Marshal’s Office along with the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office recovered the remains of a K9 from the former home of Daniel Peabody.  Peabody was charged with felony animal cruelty and making false statements after his K9 Officer died in a hot patrol car in June 2016.

The remains were examined by a forensic veterinarian and the remains were found to be that of a Belgian Malinois 10 plus years old – likely killed by a gunshot – and not the remains of the Yellow Lab Dale the Cherokee County School Police K9 Peabody claimed to have shot and killed.

The investigation continues.