June 30, 2003
Senator Sessions Dedicates Newest National Wildlife Refuge: Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge
Senator Jeff Sessions, the Department of the Interior and the Department of the Army, and about 150 dignitaries from state, city and county governments, and organizations from the local area gathered today to dedicate Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge. Senator Sessions championed the idea of turning the former Army fort into a refuge, which may be one of the most significant conservation actions in the Southeast in recent history.
"Creating this refuge has been one of my highest priorities since coming to the Senate, and I am proud to see the five years of discussions with the Interior Department, the Army, the Joint Powers Authority, state environmentalists and local officials come to fruition," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). "The refuge will protect the only remaining old-growth mountain longleaf forest in the Southeast."
This dedication is especially notable as America celebrates 100 years of wildlife and habitat conservation during the Centennial of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Recognizing that the natural resources you have here are unique and priceless, your community elected to protect these lands for future generations, said David P. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. The Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to be here today as a partner in this effort. Id like to applaud this community for your efforts on behalf of Americas wildlife.
The refuge, formerly field training areas and firing ranges of Fort McClellan, is currently closed to the public. The U.S. Army, as directed by the Congress, and the Fort McClellan Joint Powers Authority are providing a total of about 9,000 acres to establish Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge (the 542nd in the nation).
"It is exciting and rewarding to participate in this ceremony where local, state and federal agencies have coordinated so well to create the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, said Geoffrey Prosch, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and the Environment. Today helps underscore the Army's commitment to environmental preservation and the successful transformation of Fort McClellan."
Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge is being established with the transfer of 7,759 acres of Army land in the mountains to the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Joint Powers Authority added about 1,250 acres already transferred to the Authority to the refuge.
"Military bases all over the world are often surrounded by spectacularly beautiful and diverse lands and for sure, the former Fort McClellan is no exception, said W. Peter Conroy, Board of Directors, Fort McClellan Joint Powers Authority. Northeast Alabama now has Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, a National Park unit, and two National Wilderness areas. I'm pretty sure that gives us a higher concentration of nationally protected natural areas than anywhere else in the country."
A large percentage of the 9,000 acre refuge was used as a firing range and has been closed to public access for a number of years. It will need to remain closed until the Service completes all safety and environmental compliance requirements. That process may take up to a year to be able to open the first portions of the refuge. Other areas will take significantly longer. The U.S. Army remains responsible for all unexploded ordnance (UXO) and environmental remediation on refuge lands. Surveys are being taken to determine the extent of unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination remaining from former military training, and clean up requirements.
Later this year and into 2004, the Service -- with ample opportunity for public participation -- will develop a management plan, that will work out the details to allow limited recreational use within areas of the refuge that are safe for the public. Drafts of these plans will be presented to the public to open a dialog, solicit ideas and garner public consensus. Possible recreational opportunities for the future include hunting, hiking, bird watching, and environmental education.
The longleaf pine ecosystem requires periodic fires to flourish, and under Army ownership, these lands burned frequently due to training-related fires which helped maintain the natural balance. When the Army stopped training in 1999, wildfires no longer occurred. The Service recognizes this rare forest system would slowly disappear without regular burnings, and has committed to ensuring it remains by implementing a prescribed fire program. Longleaf pine forests once stretched south from Virginia to Florida and west to Texas, encompassing more than 92 million acres. Today, less than three percent of this once vast ecosystem remains.
For more information about Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge, please visit: http://southeast.fws.gov/mountainlongleaf.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
NOTE TO REPORTERS AND EDITORS: Photo available of old growth mountain longleaf pine at Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge by contacting Elsie Davis at 404/679-7107. The refuge is the site of the only remaining old growth mountain longleaf forest.
NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://southeast.fws.gov. Our national home page is at: http://news.fws.gov/newsreleases/.
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