7,000 Acres of Working Forestland Donated to Okefenokee National
FOLKSTON, GA – A broad-based coalition including The Conservation Fund, DuPont, International Paper,Georgia Wildlife Federation, elected officials and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today the transfer of nearly 7,000 acres of working forestland from The Conservation Fund to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. As part of an innovative agreement,International Paper (IP) will retain harvesting, planting and recreation rights on the property and has committed to operating the forestland under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® program to protect water quality and habitat for endangered species. The agreement also includes a conservation easement held by the Georgia Wildlife Federation that permanently protects the property from mining.
“The Okefenokee Swamp, with its world-class wetlands and magnificent forestland, is a natural wonder to be treasured by all Americans,” said The Conservation Fund’s president, Larry Selzer. “The Conservation Fund is proud to have played a role in helping our partners find a solution that will have lasting economic and environmental benefits for current and future generations.”
Taking its name from Native American words that mean “land of the trembling earth,” the Okefenokee Swamp and the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge are globally recognized for their natural beauty and are some of the best-protected freshwater areas in America.
The refuge harbors numerous wildlife species including the American alligator, black bear, wood stork and red-cockaded woodpecker.
“I am especially grateful that we have this successful conservation partnership to help conserve this land,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I also want to thank Skippy Reeves, who recently retired as the Okefenokee refuge manager, for his work in establishing the partnerships that made this day possible.”
For years, DuPont owned land immediately adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, including the parcel transferred today. After a comprehensive review by multiple stakeholders, it was determined that the land contained sensitive natural resources, making it inappropriate for development or mining. Demonstrating its commitment to sustainable growth and environmental stewardship, DuPont retired its mining rights on the property and in 2003 donated its entire holdings near the refuge (which totaled 16,000 acres) to The Conservation Fund. As part of the negotiation, The Conservation Fund agreed to donate a portion of the forestland adjacent to the refuge to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
DuPont’s gift represents one of the most significant land donations from a privately owned company in the history of the United States and largest ever made in Georgia.
"We are proud of the fact that our donation proved to be the catalyst for the expansion of the Refuge," said DuPont Special Projects Manager Craig Gilbert. "The result is the perpetual protection of an additional 7,000 acres of pristine woodlands. We are extremely pleased that we could play a key role in this outcome."
International Paper, one of the world’s largest paper and forest products companies, was instrumental in helping to find a balanced solution for the property that will benefit the local economy as well as the environment. Operating under the terms of a cooperative forest management agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, IP has committed to creating mutually beneficial links between wildlife conservation and well-managed working forests to help protect the refuge’s sensitive natural resources, including habitat for the endangered gopher tortoise, indigo snake, and the flatwoods salamander.
“International Paper is proud to partner with The Conservation Fund, DuPont, the Georgia Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups in protecting biodiversity, maintaining recreational opportunities and helping the local economy,” said Dr. Sharon G. Haines, IP’s director, sustainable forestry and forest policy. “Our partnership provides a sustainable solution that yields benefits today and for future generations.”
Additionally, the forestlands being sustainably managed by International Paper supplement the limited upland habitat inside the refuge and provide Okefenokee’s endangered red-cockaded woodpecker population with an expanded area to find food.
“The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is one of Georgia’s long-standing treasures. It is important that we continue working to protect such a valuable environmental resources for future generations,” said U.S.Senator Saxby Chambliss. “I am pleased to support this economically productive and environmentally friendly partnership and I commend all parties involved on the success of this endeavor.”
A conservation easement held by the Georgia Wildlife Federation will ensure that the forest and Trail Ridge, a natural dam along the eastern boundary that keeps water in the swamp, are permanently protected from mining or other development impacts.
“This is a great day and a winning outcome for all parties involved,” said Georgia Wildlife Federation CEO, Jerry L. McCollum. “The Georgia Wildlife Federation is proud to continue the mission set forth by our founders in 1936 of working cooperatively with landowners,industry and the citizens of Georgia toward land and wildlife conservation for future generations.”
Established in 1936 to protect the 438,000-acre Okefenokee Swamp, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge encompasses approximately 396,000 acres. In 1974, the interior 353,981 acres of the refuge were designated a National Wilderness Area to further ensure the protection of the unique ecosystem.
"The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a natural treasure that must be protected for our children and grandchildren," said Senator Johnny Isakson. "I am pleased to see this public-private partnership working together to benefit the environment as well as the local economy."
The Okefenokee is recognized worldwide for its extraordinary natural beauty and unique ecosystem and is one of only 19 sites in the United States to be listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.
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