“To be able to know that you had a hand in protecting something like this in perpetuity – this property is always going to be here – that’s special. I can say to my kids and their kids, ‘Pop worked with TNC on that.’ “ ~Scott Lanier, USFWS
Scott Lanier remembers the first time he visited the Albemarle Sound. As a child, visiting the beach for the Lincolnton native, meant going to Myrtle Beach. “But, one year my uncle and my dad took us to the Outer Banks,” he says. “We hit Pea Island and I saw those blue goose signs (the logo for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a blue goose). My uncle explained that this was a special place set aside for wildlife. Man alive, I thought this is something else. I always wanted to get back here.” Today, he is back in the area serving as deputy manager of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.
In that capacity, he is working with the Conservancy’s Fred Annand to grow the refuge. Annand, too, has a long involvement with the region. In the early 1980s, Annand helped to negotiate the original 118,000 acre donation from Prudential Insurance, which became the core of the refuge.
Both men are pleased with the most recent acquisition at the refuge – 854 acres on the south end of the refuge that will provide a valuable travel corridor for black bear and the refuge’s most famous resident – the red wolf, which was reintroduced into the wild here in the late 1980s.
Lanier was first employed at the refuge in 1985 as part of North Carolina State University’s cooperative education program. “I was here when they brought in the first red wolves,” he says. “I never saw one in the wild until 2006 and then only that one.”
Lanier has done better than Annand, who has yet to see the elusive creatures despite their strong comeback on the refuge. Both men have seen plenty of black bear. The refuge is famous for its black bear population, which is considered to be one of the healthiest on the east coast. In December, when Annand was doing an environmental assessment on the new tract, he got a strong reminder of just how important the property is to Ursas americanus. “I saw three of them that day,” he says.
Driving through the refuge to the new tract, it is clear why it is an important piece of property. You go past acres and acres of land that have been cut over, before coming to the new tract which is covered in forest. “To have this large a tract of forested wetlands, it just provides a lot of habitat,” explains Lanier. “This was a key tract and it wouldn’t have happened without Fred.”
Lanier, Annand and other partners met a few years ago to prioritize tracts for additions to the refuge. This discussion was taking place in light of a new reality on the Albemarle Peninsula – climate change and the accompanying sea level rise. “This tract was the number one priority,” Annand explains. “It is part of a network of land that will become increasingly important as an escape route for mammals like bears and wolves as they move west from the water.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service owns and manages nine refuges in Northeastern North Carolina. Connecting the coastal refuges and creating a protected corridor westward to the furthest inland refuge – Roanoke River – is vitally important. “If we can link these refuges up, then wildlife is going to have a place to go,” explains Lanier.
The tract is also part of the watershed for Swan Creek, an outstanding resource water that flows into Lost Lake, which according to Lanier gets its name legitimately. “When you are in there, it is like you are Lewis and Clark. There are very few places like this on the east coast.”
Longtime Conservancy supporter Fred Stanback recognized the importance of the project, putting up half the purchase price, giving Annand the opportunity to provide Lanier with an early Christmas gift.
“When Fred called right before Christmas to say that the Conservancy could buy the property that was Christmas right there. That was Santa Claus,” Lanier explains.
Lanier, who has a 16-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, says saving the property also gives him a present he can pass on to them. “To be able to know that you had a hand in protecting something like this in perpetuity – this property is always going to be here – that’s special. I can say to my kids and their kids, ‘Pop worked with TNC on that.’“