Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today visited the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina where she met with stakeholders about their local efforts to conserve nearly 4,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat in the region.
Secretary Jewell called the effort a model of public-private partnerships aimed at collaborative, landscape level conservation and an example of why Congress should pass full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) -- an action she also called for during her recent remarks at the National Press Club on conservation.
"Seeing the patchwork of public and private lands that make up this important landscape, it's clear that collaborative efforts among federal, state, local and private partners have been and will continue to be key to successful conservation of the longleaf pine forest," said Jewell, who conducted an aerial tour of the area before the stakeholder meeting. "Congress needs to do its part by fulfilling its promise to provide the funding under the Land and Water Conservation Fund - not only for this partnership, but for the communities across the country who are trying to protect the places they cherish most."
Under the proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners would purchase or obtain easements on the 4,000 acres at Cape Romain (S.C.), Okefenokee (Ga.,Fla.), St Marks (Fla.) and Waccamaw (S.C.) National Wildlife Refuges to support longleaf pine ecosystem conservation and restoration projects. The proposal will also protect significant cultural lands within the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, an area linked to the cultural heritage of African Americans in the Southeast.
This project is part of the broader America's Longleaf Restoration Initiative to conserve an ecosystem that once encompassed more than 90 million acres across the Southeast from the Carolinas to Texas, and now covers just 4.4 million acres -- less than five percent of its historic range. The Initiative, led by a diverse 33-member Longleaf Partnership Council and supported across the range by seventeen Local Implementation Teams, has a goal to increase the range to 8 million acres by 2022 through the collaborative partnership of federal and state agencies and working in concert with a broad swath of other private and public stakeholders.
President Obama's request for Fiscal Year 2014 includes nearly $20 million for longleaf pine-focused Land and Water Conservation Fund projects, supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and U.S. Forest Service in their efforts to conserve the ecosystem.
The collaborative funding proposal is expected to expand the region's tourism and outdoor recreation economies by protecting key coastal areas and opening up new opportunities for public access. In addition, the initiative would work to support sustainable timber harvests.
"We have a moral obligation to the next generation to offset the impact of development on our lands and waters with smart investments in its conservation and restoration," Jewell said. "The partners here in South Carolina are already making a difference for the longleaf pine, but there's more work to be done. We need Congress to be a partner in conservation and keep their promise to fulfill the Land and Water Conservation Fund."
Congress passed the LWCF in 1964 to use revenues from offshore oil and gas developments to enhance parks and open spaces throughout the country. However, it has fully allocated these funds only once in the past 50 years. President Obama has proposed mandatory, full funding by FY 2015.