Feb 11, 2008

Friends of Back Bay NWR Come to the Rescue

Back Bay NWRSpeaking of Virginia refuges that are expanding their boundaries (see Feb. 9 post), in a recent article in the Virginia Pilot, the newspaper reported on a new 47-acre addition to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in coastal Virginia. The new acreage will help create a buffer between the refuge and local development, and will also help with cleaning up Nawney Creek, which drains into the refuge.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, with so much federal money going to the military, refuges are having a hard time finding the funding and political support necessary to expand their boundaries. Fortunately, Back Bay NWR is a pleasant exception, thanks in large part to the Friends of Back Bay.

According to the Virginia Pilot:

Bit by bit, parcel by parcel, the refuge has been expanding slowly for years now, mostly west and north, where the development pressures are most fierce.

With the purchase of the Nawney Creek tract late last year, the refuge has grown by nearly 750 acres since 2000, at a cost of about $10.5 million, according to federal statistics…

The person most associated with such growth is Molly P. Brown, president of Friends of Back Bay, a conservation group based in Virginia Beach.

Organized, affable and informed, Brown has found success on Capitol Hill where others have gone home in tears.

For 20 years, she has rallied political and financial support in Congress - especially the Virginia delegation - among Democrats and Republicans alike.

There have been few years in which Congress has not appropriated money for Back Bay expansion, whether in good economic times or bad, war or peace.

For 2008, President Bush has signed a spending bill that includes $505,000 for Back Bay. Only 21 of more than 500 national refuges received such funding.

As the paper points out, in past times local residents strongly objected to any refuge expansion:

Critics urged the acquisition program be curtailed, or simply stopped. They argued that the government would condemn environmentally significant land, throw farmers and retirees off their homesteads, block all development.

None of that happened.

“It’s funny that a lot of the people who opposed the boundary expansion are now wanting to sell to us,” Brown said.

Fortunately, both the refuge and the Friends have found a wonderful partner in The Conservation Fund. The Conservation Fund is a powerful nonprofit located in Arlington, Virginia, and one of the most helpful services it offers is quickly buying up available land — much more quickly than the federal government often can — and then later transferring the land to the government for inclusion in the public land system. The Conservation Fund has been helping Back Bay with purchases since 2001.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Back Bay NWR contains over 9,000 acres, which are located on and around a thin strip of coastline typical of barrier islands found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Refuge habitat includes beach, dunes, woodland, farm fields, and marsh.

Approximately 10,000 snow geese and a large variety of ducks visit Back Bay NWR during the peak of fall migration, usually in December. The refuge also protects habitat for threatened and endangered species such as loggerhead sea turtles, piping plovers, peregrine falcons, and bald eagles.

At the refuge, visitors can find foot trails (two boardwalks leading to the beach), as well as birding, hunting, boating, cycling and fishing opportunities. Visit the Back Bay NWR website for more information.

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