Feb 13, 2012

Friends Testify Before Congress in Support of Harris Neck NWR

wood storks at Harris Neck NWRAs this blog reported in July 2010, Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia is under attack as Republican Representative Jack Kingston and an organization called the Harris Neck Land Trust are attempting to remove the refuge from the National Wildlife Refuge System so it can be turned over to descendants of former land owners and developed for economic gain.

Representative Jack Kingston, who has one of the worst environmental voting records in all of Congress, has been promoting the case of the Harris Neck Land Trust and others interested in capitalizing on the attractiveness of the Harris Neck natural environment, with proposals for building a convention center on the land, among other types of development.

On December 15, Dorothy Bambach (of the Friends of Savannah Coastal Wildlife Refuges) testified before the House Natural Resources Committee in support of Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge. From the National Wildlife Refuge Association website:

“Losing Harris Neck NWR to development would be an economic, cultural and environmental tragedy” said Bambach in her prepared statement. “It would establish a troubling precedent regarding the sanctity of federal lands held in trust for the millions of citizens who use and enjoy them.”

Harris Neck NWR is located on the Georgia coast, about 20 miles south of Savannah. The refuge is home to bobcat, white-tailed deer, bald eagle, wood stork, painted bunting and swallowtail butterfly. It is designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society and is a site on Georgia’s Colonial Coast Birding Trail.

The December 15th hearing was held to shed light on a longstanding dispute between the Federal Government and descendents of former landowners who claim that land now part of the refuge was unfairly acquired by the government during World War II for use as an airfield. After the war, the land was transferred to McIntosh County before being acquired by the Department of the Interior in 1962 to be managed as a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Following the hearing, questions about the circumstances surrounding the original transfer of the land and payment on the part of the military remained, leaving the issue unresolved. The Fish and Wildlife Service maintains that all laws were followed to their knowledge, and currently doesn’t have the authority to divest the biologically important wildlife refuge.

Bambach’s testimony reiterated the important economic role the refuge plays in the local community. The 2,700-acre wildlife refuge sees between 85,000 – 90,000 visitors each year.

Read the full testimony here, and learn more about the Friends of Savannah Coastal Refuges here: http://www.coastalrefuges.org/

It’s not surprising for the House GOP and Tea Party to be interested in a case where they could actually remove protected conservation land from a federal government land system and turn it over to developers, but the danger of this type of action cannot be overstated. It poses a threat not only to refuges but also to national parks, and must be defeated.

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