October 5, 2008
Chowan Wildlife Zone Expands
By JEFF HAMPTON
By Jeff HamptonThe Virginian-Pilot
State wildlife biologist Tommy Hughes stopped suddenly on the old logging road and pointed to a three-toed impression in the sand.
"There's a wild turkey track right there," Hughes told the small group around him.
Close by were deer tracks. He's seen bobcat, bear, bald eagles and the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker here in this 6,500-acre tract added to the Chowan Swamp Game Land.
"It's wildlife rich here," he said.
The Nature Conservancy's North Carolina chapter announced Thursday it had transferred ownership of the property to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, forming a tract of swamp and uplands totaling 27,516 acres that stretches about 10 miles on both sides of the upper Chowan River.
Located in the Sandbanks area of Gates County, the site lies about two miles from one of the areas the Navy is considering for a practice airfield.
With help from state and federal agencies, The Nature Conservancy bought the land for $6.8 million from International Paper two years ago, said Debbie Crane, spokeswoman for the conservation organization.
Representatives from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, The Nature Conservancy, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Natural Heritage Trust Fund and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr's office took a boat ride upriver Thursday, where they landed for lunch and a closer look at the property. Hughes led a short hike up one of the many old logging roads.
In the sandy uplands area grow stands of long leaf pine, one of the rarest ecosystems in North America, said Fred Annand, associate director of The Nature Conservancy's North Carolina chapter, who was part of the group. Red-cockaded woodpeckers nest in old loblolly pines, he said.
Plans include burning off thick undergrowth and replanting thousands of seedlings. It takes 80 years to mature, but they have to start sometime, Hughes said.
"Unless we're lucky, none of us are going to see the fruits of these labors," he said.
Of more immediate benefit, high land that was likely destined for residential development - much like the shoreline farther downriver - is set aside for wildlife and the public, Hughes said.
Once heavily logged for boat building, the juniper, or Atlantic white cedar, grows within the tract.
A heavily wooded shoreline provides habitat that helps improve water quality, a key that could bring back river herring to spawn here by the millions as they did just 20 years ago, Hughes said.
Hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, hikers and others have free access to the land by boat or logging roads. Hunters are required to buy a game lands license, he said.
About a mile from the eastern edge of the game land, the Navy could build a runway where pilots would practice aircraft carrier landings. Local residents have strongly opposed the plan. Four other sites, three in Virginia and one in Camden County, are also on the list.
The Nature Conservancy has not opposed the proposed outlying landing field but sent a letter to the Navy requesting that an environmental study include 22 topics concerning impacts on wildlife, forests and water quality, Annand said.
Concerns here among conservationists are not as strong as they were in Washington County, where opposition forced the Navy to find other possible outlying landing field sites.
Long leaf pine stands preserved at Fort Bragg near Fayetteville are one of the few places on the continent where the red-cockaded woodpecker thrives. A study there showed that the noise of artillery fire had no affect on the birds, Annand said.
Sponsored by Burr, Congress passed a bill last year that included $3 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help purchase the Sandbanks site, according to a conservancy release. The state of North Carolina provided $3.7 million in matching funds through the Clean Water Management and Natural Heritage trust funds. Another $100,000 came from the North Carolina Environmental Defense Fund, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation. Wildlife Resources reimbursed the Nature Conservancy using these grants.
Jeff Hampton, (252) 338-0159,
The transfer forms a 27,516-acre tract of swamp and uplands that stretches about 10 miles on both sides of the Chowan. The Gates County site is about two miles from one of the areas the Navy is considering for a practice airfield. stance on the OLF
The Nature Conservancy sent a letter to the Navy requesting an environmental study that looks at the impact on wildlife, forests and water quality in the proposed proposed outlying landing field. Concerns among conservationists are not as strong in Gates County as in Washington County, where opposition forced the Navy to find other possible sites.
Originally published by BY JEFF HAMPTON.
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