Georgia

Georgia

Partnership at Okefenokee: "We're all in this together"

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Folkston - 1994 (ongoing)

In an effort keep history from repeating itself in the form of destructive wildfire, landowners surrounding the Okefenokee Swamp/Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge came together in 1994 to form the Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners, or GOAL. The group is a true partnership and represents a cross-section of interests from private landowners to commercial timber and manufacturing companies to state and federal agencies.

GOAL members - who participate in the group on a purely voluntary level - work as a team to manage, protect and promote forest resources in and around Okefenokee Swamp.

Four years before GOAL was established, firefighters battled the Shorts Fire in Okefenokee refuge's southwest corner. The fire burned about 20,000 acres, but cost a staggering $10 million to manage. It stretched thin the staff and equipment available to fight it. The fire demonstrated a need for more coordination between federal and state agencies and adjacent landowners.

The GOAL group achieved that management objective, and even though its genesis can be traced to wildfire suppression, its actions go even further as members receive state and federal fire training and logistical support, then give back to each other by providing fire fighting resources and personnel. Many landowners, for example, have constructed helicopter dip sites on their property for during fire suppression.

"This partnership continues to be very successful with few or no problems," said Refuge Manager Skippy Reeves. "The most significant benefit for me is the sense of comradery and cooperation among the partners. We're all in this together."

National Wildlife Refuge Chief Bill Hartwig peers through a spotting scope during a fire management tour at Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to one of the nation's only all-volunteer landowner associations, which includes private, commercial and government interests. (USFWS)

National Wildlife Refuge Chief Bill Hartwig peers through a spotting scope during a fire management tour at Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to one of the nation's only all-volunteer landowner associations, which includes private, commercial and government interests. (USFWS)

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