Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge makes significant gains in acreage through a strategic land acquisition partnership with The Nature Conservancy. Waccamaw NWR will grow from 18,620 acres to over 22,500 acres by as early as January 2009. The Haulover tract, a 1,292-acre parcel which is the largest acquisition this year, will close this December.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) acquired the Haulover tract in November 2007 and has been holding it for the Refuge until funding was available for the Refuge to purchase it. Funding for the purchase will come from the federal Migratory Bird Conservation Commission which approved Waccamaw NWR for the funds in August 2008. Migratory Bird Conservation (MBC) funds are generated through the sale of federal Duck Stamps and the Haulover tract is the first time MBC funds have been used to acquire land at Waccamaw NWR. “This opportunity would not have been possible without the endorsement of Governor Mark Sanford and his consistent support of the Refuge since its establishment in 1997,” said Craig Sasser, refuge manager for the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.
The Haulover tract is located on the Great Pee Dee River and consists primarily of old-growth bottomland hardwood forests, including bald cypress, cypress tupelo, red maple and a diversity of oak species. This habitat supports abundant waterfowl and is important nesting habitat for the state-endangered swallow-tailed kite, which is considered the most threatened landbird in the southeast without federal protection.
The tract is conveniently located adjacent to the Waccamaw Refuge’s new environmental education center which is currently under construction, overlooking the Great Pee Dee River and Yauhannah Lake, and will provide excellent opportunities for US Fish and Wildlife Service to enhance their recreational and educational mission for the Refuge.
“The Haulover tract is unique in that it has a good system of logging roads, and the forest has been maintained relatively intact compared to most forests with vehicular access. The roads will be improved by USDA to provide better connectivity between the floodplain wetlands and the river during flood events and eventually they will serve as nature trails for refuge visitors,” said Craig Sasser.
In addition to the Haulover tract, The Nature Conservancy is currently holding an additional 259 acres for Waccamaw NWR which will be transferred to the Refuge by the end of December. The 259 acres is divided into four parcels and was purchased by TNC in 2008 using mitigation funds from the Grissom Parkway Mitigation Bank. These tracts protect significant forested wetlands important for maintaining the water quality of the Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers, which support the federally-endangered Carolina heelsplitter and other rare freshwater fauna.
The Nature Conservancy submitted a North American Wetland Conservation Act grant proposal in August 2008 for $1,000,000 that could be used to acquire over 500 additional acres within the Refuge’s acquisition boundary. The proposal received the second highest score in the country and is in good standing to receive the federal land-acquisition funds. “The Nature Conservancy has been working diligently with the Refuge to prioritize and acquire key parcels throughout the acquisition boundary,” said Maria Whitehead, Winyah Bay and Pee Dee River Basin project director for TNC. “We hope to make this year one of the most successful for Refuge acquisitions since its establishment in 1997.”
“Currently the market is right for conservation land deals. However, funding for acquisition is very tight and competition for scarce funds is stiff nationwide,” said refuge manager Craig Sasser. “By working with partners like The Nature Conservancy, we have been able to identify the more strategic parcels for habitat protection and remain competitive in obtaining national funding sources to complete these acquisitions.”
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.
Winyah Bay & Pee Dee River
Basin Project Director