Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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Objectives of the Carolina Sandhills NWR

Longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem. Credit: USFWS

Longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem. Credit: USFWS

"The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to preserve a national network of lands and waters for the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, and plant resources of the United States for the benefit of present and future generations."
-- Executive Order 12996, March, 1996


The Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge has five primary objectives:


Restore, maintain, and enhance longleaf pine habitat...

The Carolina Sandhills NWR lies along the fall line which separates the Piedmont Plateau from the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The rolling beds of deep, sandy soils which give the region its name were once host to an extensive longleaf pine forest.

The longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem, the characteristic habitat of the Carolina Sandhills refuge, once covered more than 90 million acres across the southeastern United States, stretching from Virginia to Texas. This unique ecosystem, shaped by thousands of years of natural fires that burned through the area every two to four years, has been reduced to fewer than two million acres.

Today, only scattered patches of this once immense forest remain, with most occurring on public lands. Factors contributing to the demise of the ecosystem include aggressive fire suppression efforts, clearing for agriculture and development, and conversion to other pine types.

Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge serves as a demonstration site for land management practices which preserve and enhance the diminishing longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem.

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Preserve, restore, and enhance endangered or threatened species...

Several state and federally listed threatened and endangered species are found on the Refuge, including the pine barrens tree frog, southern bald eagle, and the red-cockaded woodpecker. Unlike other woodpeckers, the red-cockaded roosts and nests in cavities of living southern pines. "RCWs," as they are known at Carolina Sandhills, serve as an indicator species for the health of the longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem. The RCW is also referred to as a "keystone" species," having dozens of other animals use its cavity either as a convenience or as a requirement of survival.

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Provide habitat for migratory birds...

The Carolina Sandhills refuge provides stop-over or nesting habitat for many species of neotropical migratory birds and resident songbirds, including the prairie warbler, Bachman's sparrow, American redstart, and Kentucky warbler.

Several species of waterfowl may be found in the fall and winter, including mallards, black ducks, pintails, green-winged teal, merican widgeon, ring-necked ducks, and hooded mergansers. Canada geese and wood ducks may be seen in the Refuge pools year round.

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Provide opportunities for environmental education...

Environmental education programs are conducted throughout the year for school children, civic organizations, and the general public. Wildlife interpretive displays and literature may be found at the main entrance to the Refuge, and at the Lake Bee area. These materials will help the visitor better understand the Refuge and its objectives. Several of these items can also be downloaded in the .pdf format from our Publications page on this site.

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Demonstrate sound land management practices...

The staff at the Carolina Sandhills refuge uses a number of management techniques in support of its stated objectives. These include prescribed burning, which mimics the natural fires that historically burned through the longleaf pine/wiregrass ecosystem every few years. These fires suppress the growth of hardwood trees, creating an open park-like situation preferred by the red cockaded woodpecker and many other animals and plants native to this ecosystem.

Pond and lake water levels are also manipulated seasonally to encourage the growth of desired emergent aquatic vegetation and control unwanted submergent vegetation. This vegetation, if left unchecked, could degrade a pond habitat over time. Water level manipulation also provides vegetation and food for fish and waterfowl.

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Last updated: July 28, 2010