Nine hundred acres of bottomland hardwood forest protected (OK)
Slated for harvest, critical forest land will be preserved for multitude of species and for public recreation
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.- An effort to add approximately 900 acres to the Little River National Wildlife Refuge is expected to culminate tomorrow with the transfer of key forest tracts in McCurtain County from Weyerhaeuser Company to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a nonprofit land conservation organization, negotiated the transaction. Weyerhaeuser Company, which had left the tract unmanaged for more than thirty years, last year planned to harvest the property, but agreed to enter into an option agreement with TPL, thereby giving the USFWS time to identify and secure funding for the purchase from the federal Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC).
“Weyerhaeuser has long recognized that some of its Oklahoma forestlands should be devoted to uses that differ from the company’s commercial forestry, such as habitat protection and public recreation,” said Weyerhaeuser spokesman Leon Robinette. “We appreciate the cooperation of the Trust for Public Land and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in placing these lands into public ownership and management.”
“Saving this important wetlands property took hard work and perseverence on the part of Weyerhaeuser,” said Eric Love, TPL project manager. “TPL applauds Weyerhaeuser’s patience and willingness to see this conservation project through to completion so the land can be permanently protected. We also thank the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission for its support, which was critical to the success of the effort.”
In accordance with MBCC guidelines, the USFWS applied for authorization from the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission for this project. The Commission approved the transaction on February 7, 2000, and on March 22 the MBCC authorized an appropriation for the purchase.
The property will provide numerous recreational opportunities for visitors. “We are looking forward to making this diverse habitat area accessible to the public,” said Mark Williams, refuge manager at the Little River National Wildlife Refuge. “We plan to develop programs to encourage people to get out and experience the superb opportunities for wildlife observation, photography, and hunting that this incredible area has to offer.” Many species of birds—including woodpeckers, songbirds, and birds of prey—rely on the refuge. The refuge is an important stop for many species of neotropical migrants and provides excellent nesting habitat for waterfowl. The wetlands support large numbers of ducks, herons, egrets, and kingfishers.
In addition to providing habitat for a vast array of wildlife, bottomland hardwood forests help to preserve water quality by acting as a natural filter and also serve to mitigate damage from area flooding. Because nearly 90% of Oklahoma’s bottomland hardwood forests have been lost to residential and commercial development, logging and draining, protecting the remaining forest land is critical.
“We are proud to participate with the Trust for Public Land and the Oklahoma Division of Wildlife in conserving 900 acres of the most valuable bottomland hardwood habitat in Oklahoma,” said regional realty supervisor Charles Ault. “This is one of the most valued additions to the Little River National Wildlife Refuge we’ve made in the last decade.”
Founded in 1972, TPL specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for public use and enjoyment. TPL has protected more than 1,180,000 acres, valued at more than $1.78 billion. It recently launched its Greenprint for Growth campaign to guide growth, protect air and water, and ensure a high quality of life in communities nationwide. Its land conservation projects range from community gardens and playgrounds to regional parks, historic landmarks, and wildlife areas. For more information, please visit www.tpl.org.