Nature Conservancy's First Project on the Apalachicola Celebrates 35 Years

The Nature Conservancy
Friday, 11 July 2003

The Nature Conservancy congratulates the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge on 35 years of conservation on the Apalachicola River and Bay.

St. Vincent Island was the Conservancy's first land acquisition in the Apalachicola region. In January 1968, the Conservancy bought the coastal barrier island from the St. Vincents Island Company for $2.1 million. Soon after, the Conservancy transferred the approximately 12,000-acre island to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for management as a national wildlife refuge. The Conservancy's involvement ensured the island's protection while USFWS appropriations were settled.

Since then, the Conservancy has helped the state of Florida and a local government acquire an additional 150,000 acres along the river and bay. These acquisitions include conservation lands in the Apalachicola River Water Management Area, Angus Gholson Jr. Nature Park, St. Joseph Bay Buffer, Torreya State Park and Tate's Hell State Forest.

The Conservancy owns more than 8,600 acres in the Apalachicola region. John S. Phipps Preserve was donated to the Conservancy in 1977; Jeff Lewis Wilderness Preserve (on Dog Island) was bought in 1980; and the Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, the headquarters of the Conservancy's Northwest Florida Program, was established in 1982.

Today, Conservancy efforts to protect the Apalachicola River and Bay extend beyond acquisition of natural lands.

The Apalachicola River supports the highest diversity of freshwater fish species in the state, and the bay is one of the most productive estuaries in the Northern Hemisphere producing 10 percent of all oysters harvested in the United States. Current projects on the river support restoration of slough connections, research for fish-passages and federal legislation to end dredging.

Since 1998, the Conservancy has been involved in the water-sharing agreement for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basin compact by providing scientific data to the process. The states of Florida, Alabama and Georgia have been in long-standing negotiations over water allocations for human use, agriculture, natural systems and wildlife.

The Conservancy's Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve is the site of pioneering work in longleaf pine and wiregrass restoration. To date, volunteers and staff have hand-planted more than 600,000 wiregrass plugs, 1.4 million longleaf pine seedlings and have sown over 300 acres of native groundcover seed. In addition, the Conservancy is currently helping to restore sandhills at Torreya State Park and has assisted state and federal agencies with other restoration projects.

Prescribed burns are conducted on conservation lands to mimic historical natural events. This land management tool is critical to the regeneration of wiregrass and other pineland species. The Conservancy shares three full-time employees with the U.S. Forest Service who assist both organizations with fire management. More than 17,000 acres within the Apalachicola region have been burned this year by the Conservancy and partner organizations.

For more information, or to contact The Nature Conservancy, see their website at: www.nature.org

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