Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office
Conserving the Nature of America

Buffers Protect North Carolina National Wildlife Refuges Against Impacts of Solid Waste Landfill


Eleven National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) are located in North Carolina, comprising over 400,000 acres of habitat for our nation’s wildlife.  Of those refuges, six are located within five miles of operational and closed landfills.  Because multiple landfill sites lie in close proximity to NWRs we manage in the public trust, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has a keen interest in mechanisms to avoid, detect and minimize the potential adverse impacts of landfills to sensitive areas (and NWRs in particular).  Our concern regarding the impacts of landfills on NWRs is longstanding and based on demonstrated impacts of landfill operations on North Carolina’s refuge resources.  Studies dating back to 1989 conducted by the Service (Benkert 1989), the North Carolina Division of Water Quality (Effects from Dare County Landfills, 2000), and the U.S. Geological Survey (Winger et al. 2005) show impacts of landfill releases to canals that drain into Alligator River NWR.  Prompted by growing public concerns regarding the environmental impacts of landfill siting in the State, the North Carolina General Assembly in 2006 initiated a moratorium on new landfill construction pending the results of a study they commissioned to assess siting, design and operational requirements for landfill in areas susceptible to flooding.  The results of that study coupled with extensive stakeholder input resulted in adoption of landfill legislation in 2007 (Solid Waste Management Act, Senate Bill 1492) that, among other provisions, included additional standards for environmental protection including sensitive area buffers for NWRs (5 mile separation from outermost boundary), State gameland (1 mile) and State Parks (2 miles).  Service technical input provided to State regulators in 2007 substantiates the need for a 5 miles protective buffer for NWRs.  These buffers provide an appropriate safeguard, allowing maintenance of healthy habitats for wildlife and preservation of aesthetic quality of our refuges for public use and enjoyment.  Given current renewed interest in solid waste management reform, we are again making our technical analysis of the benefits of landfill sensitive area buffers available. 

Solid Waste

Pollutants in landfills can harm plant, fish, and wildlife in North Carolina. Photo by OnslowCounty , NC

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Last Updated: June 25, 2012