The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has recognized The Nature Conservancy for recent work to protect the St. Marys River Basin and the Okefenokee Swamp.
The St. Marys River Basin and Okefenokee Wildlife Resilient Zone Acquisition teams are being recognized for “extraordinary contributions to the conservation of natural resources of the Southeast Region” of the U.S.
The awards — the 2009 Regional Director’s Conservation Award for the Southeast Region — will be presented at a banquet in Atlanta on Thursday.
The St. Marys River is a blackwater stream that starts in the Okefenokee Swamp and winds along a 148-mile path in southeastern Georgia and northeastern Florida.
“We’re honored to receive this award; what will make us even happier is if it helps draw attention to the St. Marys River Basin and the work that must be done to protect the distinct and ecologically valuable habitats within it,” said Steven Herrington, The Nature Conservancy’s Florida director of freshwater conservation and one of the award recipients.
Also receiving the award were Hallie Stevens, northeastern Florida watersheds projects manager, and Trish Gramajo-St. John, northeastern Florida community relations manager.
The work for which the Conservancy team is being recognized includes:
• Launching a conservation buyer program and direct land purchases, which have resulted in several easements and the “Devil’s Elbow” acquisition that have helped protect nine miles of the river’s corridor;
• Leading the development of the riparian counties’ septic setback requirements for protecting the river’s water quality;
• Leading a partnership for controlling and preventing impacts of invasive species in the area; and
• Collaborating with the St. Marys Fisheries Restoration Committee to identify and prioritize river corridor areas for habitat.
Located in southern Georgia and northern Florida, the Okefenokee Swamp is one of the oldest and best-preserved freshwater systems in America.
The Conservancy is being recognized for leading a partnership to acquire more than 1,000 acres of land adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
“This award acknowledges the efforts of many partners who have joined forces to protect land that is home to a host of rare and endangered plants and animals,” said Michelle Cable, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia’s director of protection. “This kind of collaboration is what makes large-scale conservation possible.”
With grant funding, the property will be purchased in the coming year, and the Conservancy will then transfer the property to the USFWS.
Additional grant funding will allow the Conservancy to work with USFWS to restore the land, planting longleaf pine trees and other native vegetation. Federally-endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers have been sited in the area surrounding this property, so once restored, this land will offer habitat for this imperiled species. Once covering as many as 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas, less than 3 percent of the rapidly disappearing longleaf pine forests exist today.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.