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Center for Environment hosts National Wildlife Refuge Association tour of state’s ‘hidden treasures’

The declining red wolf population, the impact of rising sea levels and the problem of feral hogs were of special interest to viewers of an online presentation March 4 by officials from the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA).


The event, which centered on the 11 National Wildlife Refuges in North Carolina, was hosted by the Center for the Environment at Catawba College. Geoff Haskett, NWRA president, talked about the national organization, and Mike Bryant, NWRA regional representative for North and South Carolina, offered a virtual tour of the N.C. refuges, lands Bryant calls “hidden treasures.”


He noted that red wolves were re-introduced into the wild in eastern North Carolina in 1987, and by about 2006 the population had grown to 130, but the numbers have dropped precipitously in the past 15 years. Professionals believe the wild red wolf population has dwindled to as few as 10 in the Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuges where most of them live.


Viewers were interested in what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is doing to mitigate the impact of rising sea levels and the intrusion of salt water on coastal areas. Bryant reported that the service has installed specialized water-control structures in ditches, built oyster reefs parallel to the shore and re-established salt-tolerant plantings to help mitigate the loss of land and changes in the habitat.


The destruction caused by feral hogs was another topic of interest. An invasive species, feral hogs root up the soil in a number of the refuges. Officials are trying to combat the problem, in part, by allowing hunters and contract trappers to reduce the every-growing population. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also involved in trying to reduce the destructive species.


Haskett explained the difference between the National Park Service and the National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS). The National Park Service oversees 85 million acres of designated land that encompasses 62 parks which are managed for their historical and cultural value and natural preservation as well as for recreation, Haskett said.


The National Wildlife Refuge System, on the other hand, encompasses 855 million acres and 586 refuges, which are managed for wildlife and habitat conservation and the possible reintroduction of native fauna and flora. Recreation on these lands is secondary to conservation.


Article by Juanita Teschner

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