Established in 1991, the Pocosin Lakes NWR now totals over 110,000 acres within Hyde, Tyrrell, and Washington Counties. The majority of the refuge consists of pocosin habitat, characterized by deep, high organic-content soils (peat) and southeastern shrub bog vegetation. A significant portion of the Refuge was ditched prior to establishment, thus artificially drying the peat soils. This drying increases the risk of long-duration, catastrophic wildfire (from the ignition and burning the soil itself); the most recent example is the Evans Road Fire which occurred in 2008. To counter the effects of drainage, in the early 1990s the Service partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a hydrology restoration plan for the most significantly ditched and drained areas comprising about 35,500 acres, or less than a third of the Refuge. That plan provides the basis for the restoration work we are implementing. Advances in technology, improved knowledge of how these systems work, and better management techniques have led to some adjustments in how we do the restoration at Pocosin Lakes. Currently we have the required rewetting infrastructure (e.g. levees and water control structures) in place on an estimated 20,000 acres, or about 18% of the Refuge. Refuge staff members and partners have been implementing the plan for almost 25 years as funding has become available and the work is still in progress.
The majority of Pocosin Lakes NWR is managed to meet biological goals outlined in the CCP including:
• Wildlife Populations: Conserve, protect, and maintain healthy and viable populations of migratory birds, wildlife, fish, and plants, including Federal and State endangered and trust species.
• Habitat: Restore, protect, and enhance pocosin wetlands and other natural habitats for optimum biodiversity. Intensively manage habitats specific to waterfowl on the Pungo Unit.
• Resource Protection: Protect and perpetuate refuge resources by limiting the adverse effects of human activities and development on refuge resources
Restoration of this unique wetland type is widely recognized for its multitude of benefits (beyond wildlife habitat) and is among the high priority actions in the North Carolina Coastal Habitat Protection Plan. The wetland restoration work at Pocosin Lakes NWR has longstanding support of other natural resource managers in the state, as evidenced by its overt mention in the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine Study’s (APES) 1994 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. The restoration work at Pocosin Lakes NWR is also highlighted in the Tar-Pamlico River Basinwide Water Quality Plan. The restoration follows the NC Division of Coastal Management’s Best Management Practices for the Hydrologic Restoration of Peatlands in Coastal North Carolina, which highlights the PLNWR project as an example in its “Restoration Techniques” section. The natural resource benefits of the project prompted a 2006 partnership between the NC Department of Environmental Quality (formerly NCDENR) and the Service to restore the hydrology in the most severely drained portion of PLNWR and directly resulted in hydrologic restoration of 9,500 acres, thereby restoring the seasonally-flooded wetland conditions associated with functional pocosin ecosystems.