FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Vicki M. Boatwright or August 17, 1995 Diana M. Hawkins HURRICANE FELIX NOT CONSIDERED A MAJOR THREAT TO WILDLIFE
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is betting that Hurricane Felix, now poised off the coast of North Carolina with sustained winds close to 75 mph, will not inflict massive structural damage to Service facilities nor cause any major wildlife losses on 10 national wildlife refuges in that state. Since early Wednesday, August 16, 1995, winds and rain have drenched the North Carolina coast.
"If Felix proceeds west and makes landfall this week, its high winds and tides may erode some beaches on the Outer Banks of Pamlico Sound, causing minor damage to some refuge structures, but we don't expect much harm to come to wildlife or any major destruction to occur to refuge facilities," said the Service's Southeast Regional Director Noreen K. Clough.
Of these 10 refuges, the most vulnerable to Felix' potential destructive power are Pea Island, Mackay Island, and Currituck refuges, which are exposed directly to the open ocean on the Sound's Outer Banks. Also at some risk, Clough said, are Alligator River, Mattamuskeet, Swanquarter, Cedar Island, and Pocosin Lakes refuges, which are clustered around Albemarle and Pamlico sounds and nearby rivers and inlets. Less exposed to the storm are those refuges further inland, Pee Dee and Roanoke River. Despite the Service's optimism, the agency is taking no chances and has evacuated both Pea Island and Mattamuskeet refuges and has boarded up buildings at these sites while waiting to see if the hurricane peters out off the coast or hits land.
Alligator River refuge, located on Pamlico Sound's west bank, across from Pea Island, is home to 40-60 endangered red wolves and to 5-10 groups of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers. Although it's possible for a wolf to drown in a storm surge, Clough said that it has been the Service's experience from previous storms that wolves can fend for themselves and will head for high ground to escape floods. Similarly, otters, bobcats, foxes, deer, black bears and other wildlife can usually weather all but the fiercest hurricanes.
At highest risk are the red-cockaded woodpeckers, she said, whose nesting trees are very vulnerable to high winds because nesting cavities tend to weaken the trees structurally. According to the Service's Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Recovery Coordinator, Ralph Costa, in 1989 Hurricane Hugo's 130 mph winds wiped out 87 percent of cavity trees in South Carolina's Frances Marion National Forest, along with 293 woodpeckers--more than half the local bird population--overnight. An effective recovery program in this national forest has since restored its red-cockaded woodpecker population to 368 active clusters from the low of 117 that remained following Hugo.
In addition to the woodpeckers at Alligator River refuge, an additional 97 clusters are located at Pee Dee refuge and national forests and military installations in North Carolina. All these birds are likely to experience the fury of Hurricane Felix. While this storm is reported to extend over a wide area, fortunately for the woodpecker the National Weather Service is not predicting its present 80 mph sustained winds to strengthen markedly.
Sea turtle nests also can be decimated by tropical storms. High tides and pounding seas erode nesting beaches, exposing and scattering unhatched turtle eggs. Although sea turtles have been known to nest on the beaches of Pea Island and Mackay Island refuges, it is now late in the turtle breeding season and most eggs will have hatched, freeing the young hatchlings to immediately scurry toward the surf and head out to sea.
Refuges on both sides of Pamlico Sound are home to a variety of migratory shore birds, including egrets, herons, sandpipers, plovers and pelicans. Hurricane Felix is not likely to have an adverse impact on these shore birds that typically avoid bad weather by flying to safety ahead of the storm. The few birds that may tarry too long in the storm's path are usually blown inland by its strong winds, often without ill effects. Migratory songbirds and waterfowl are other species that feed on these refuges in large numbers during the winter and fall. They are rarely found here during the hurricane season, so have nothing to fear from Felix.
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1995 News Releases