a priest's musings on the journey

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Perspectives: Save the Waterfowl in NC's Pocosin Lakes Refuge: NO Navy OFL Here!

Six miles south of Columbia, NC lies the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. It was established in June 1990 when the Conservation Fund donated 93,000 acres of wetlands in northeastern North Carolina to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was established to preserve and protect a unique wetland habitat type - the pocosin -a native american word meaning swamp-on-a-hill, which is characterized by poorly drained soils high in organic material. Along with the adjacent Pungo National Wildlife Refuge, over 114,000 acres of wetlands offer sanctuary to thousands of migratory waterfowl. The refuge shelters endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers and bald eagles and provides a home for the endangered red wolf, raccoons, gray squirrels, cotton-tail rabbits, marsh rabbits, bobcats, gray foxes, red foxes, and coyote. Venomous snakes, including timber rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, pygmy rattlesnakes and copperheads; and numerous species of turtles, such as yellow-bellied slider, painted, spotted, snapping, box, mud, and musk turtles, also reside in the wetlands. There are also a variety of frogs and toads on the refuge including southern leopard frogs, American toads, cricket frogs, green tree frogs, eastern narrowmouths, spade foot toads, squirrel tree frogs, carpenter's frogs and bullfrogs.

Over 200 species of birds and waterfowl find sanctuary here throughout the year. After the first full moon of winter, tens of thousands of ducks, tundra swans, and snow geese take up winter residence in the refuge. During the Spring and Fall, the forests are filled with the brilliant colors and lilting melodies of neotropical migratory songbirds. It is a picturesque haven for waterfowl and endangered species.

In September 2004, the Navy proposed the construction of a new outlying landing field in eastern North Carolina, 3.5 miles away from the Pocosin Lakes Refuge. The Navy proposed this location because it is "in the middle of nowhere" and would reduce the noise pollution in Virginia Beach, where residents have long complained about the noise produced by the Navy's training flights. The OLF would be designed as the deck of an aircraft carrier, and training pilots would practice ‘touch-and-go’ landings day and night. The Navy estimates that the OLF would see thousands of such landings throughout the year, about one every fifteen minutes. Building an OLF so close to the refuge would have a serious impact on local wildlife and migratory waterfowl. The 30,000 acres the Navy would need to build the OLF would take away critical food resources for wildlife. Furthermore, this site is in the heart of the Atlantic Migratory Flyway, where thousands of birds, such as tundra swans who weigh between 10-20 pounds with 6 feet wing spans, risk colliding with aircraft. The Sierra Club reports that, "The Navy plans to use “lethal and nonlethal” means to exclude waterfowl from lands surrounding the landing field. Noise from constant aircraft landings and take-offs and low altitude flights surrounding the proposed OLF will disturb resting and feeding waterfowl, and affect the birds’ overall fitness. “Attempts to control the birds would require the devastation of the refuge, a globally significant natural resource,” according to Chris Canfield, executive director of the NC Audubon Society."

In addition to the impact on wildlife, this OLF would also negatively affect the community. At least 74 families would be displaced by the OLF, the tax base would be reduced, and farmers who will lose thier farmland as it is purchased by the Navy will receive no compenation for the loss of machinery and equipment.

Locals have been outspoken in their opposition to the OLF. However, a recent poll by Elon University researchers showed that half of North Carolinians are not even aware of the Navy's plans. Nonetheless, 55% of those who were aware expressed opposition to the Navy's proposition. Navy officials defend their proposition because they believe it best serves pilots at military bases in Virginia and North Carolina who need to practice at-sea landings before aircraft carriers are deployed. However, the Navy has not convinced state politicians. The proposal has drawn opposition from Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, and now from Republican U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr. In a recent letter, Sen. Dole wrote that the Navy's plan was not feasible and that it must withdraw its reccomendation to build an OLF near the Pocosin Lakes Refuge. (Her April 19th letter to Secretary Winter can be found at Jack Bett's blog.

What can be done? First, educate yourself on this issue and help raise awareness of this proposal and its implications on the economy of Washington County and the wildlife who find sanctuary in the Pocosin Lakes Refuge. Check out this short doucmentary, produced by filmsouth, to learn more.

Secondly, call or write elected officials and voice your opposition. Contact information can be found here.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 7:57 PM


Wow, there's a Columbia, NC and not just SC? I need to get better educated about my new home state. And thanks for the good info. I can share it with some of the environmentally concerned folks here.

Coincidentally, I just put up a link to a bird blog and also a very, very, completely adorable spring cheer-you-up photo. Check it out at the usual cyberplace.
Blogger Jane R, at 8:58 PM  

Add a comment