Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today joined a bipartisan group of Senators on Capitol Hill to celebrate recent additions to the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System. The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area of Kansas, the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area of South Dakota and North Dakota, the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge of Pennsylvania, and the Tulare Basin Wildlife Management Area of California make up the four latest units to join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's conservation system.
"Healthy lands, water, and wildlife mean a healthy economy," said Secretary Salazar. "I am proud to stand here today with these Senators to add to our nation's great legacy of conservation. From sustaining our country's ranching heritage to protecting important migratory corridors for birds, these four new units make important additions to our National Wildlife Refuge System."
During the ceremony, Secretary Salazar presented commemorative planks inlaid with the names of the new units to senators from the four states in which the conservation areas are located. Tomorrow Secretary Salazar will install the four planks in a walkway at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Vero Beach, Florida. Commemorative planks for each of the nation's 555 national wildlife refuges, wildlife management areas and conservation areas form a boardwalk at Pelican Island, the first-ever national wildlife refuge, established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Secretary Salazar was joined by senators from all four states with the new conservation areas: Senators Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), John Thune (S.D.), Bob Casey (Pa.), and Jerry Moran (Kan.). Senator Bill Nelson (Fla.) also joined the event to help celebrate over 100 years of conservation through the National Wildlife Refuge System, starting with Florida's Pelican Island.
The four new areas of conservation are:
Tulare Basin Wildlife Management Area (California): Tulare Lake, once the largest freshwater wetland west of the Mississippi, provided habitat to hundreds of thousands of migratory waterfowl annually. However, due in part to water diversions for agricultural and municipal uses, the lake and surrounding wetlands are in decline. The Tulare Basin Wildlife Management Area, established in March, 2010, will make up to 22,000 acres in Kern and Tulare Counties, in an area between Kern and Pixley National Wildlife Refuges. The WMA will serve to arrest and eventually reverse the recent decline in this important wetland habitat for migratory birds and shorebirds in the Pacific Flyway, as well as other species in California's Central Valley. Ninety percent of the land in the WMA will be conserved through the purchase of conservation easements from willing landowners.
Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge (Pennsylvania): The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially established the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge in October 2010 when the Service acquired 185 acres of land within the refuge boundary, which encompasses more than 20,000 acres in Monroe and Northampton counties. Located only 75 miles from New York City and 100 miles from Philadelphia, the refuge represents a new opportunity to connect more than 3 million citizens with the outdoors. The refuge also conserves nationally significant wildlife areas, including habitat for threatened and endangered species and a major corridor for migratory birds and bats.
Dakota Grassland Conservation Area (South Dakota/North Dakota): The Service is working with private landowners to sustain the area's ranching heritage and accelerate the conservation of native prairie -- both wetland and grassland habitats -- within the Prairie Pothole Region in the eastern parts of North Dakota and South Dakota. The refuge was officially established with the purchase of a conservation easement in September 2011. The project could ultimately protect up to 1.7 million acres of critical grassland habitat and 240,000 acres of wetland habitat through conservation easements bought from willing sellers. Key partners include the South Dakota Grassland Trust, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, and Partners for Conservation. Ducks Unlimited has already pledged $50 million for this project.
Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area (Kansas): The Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area will help maintain the integrity of tallgrass prairie wildlife habitat, stream water quality, and the rich agricultural heritage of the Flint Hills by acquiring and protecting up to 1.1 million acres of habitat through voluntary, perpetual conservation easements. The Refuge was officially established in September 2011 with the donation of one 5-acre tract. Key partners include the State of Kansas, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ranchland Trust of Kansas (an affiliate of the Kansas Livestock Association), and Kansas Land Trust.
To learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge System, please visit http://www.fws.gov/refuges/