Wildlife in the midstate has nearly 600 more acres to call home without fear of commercial development.
The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization, has announced the addition of 581.6 acres on the west side of the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, located about six miles southeast of Macon.
The acquisition is part of an ongoing project to provide breeding and brood-rearing land to birds that require large, unfragmented areas to sustain their population.
“Part of (the land) was acquired under migratory bird funding,” said Andrew Hammond, Bond Swamp manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “(The refuge) provides habitat for your songbirds that are migrating and also for waterfowl, like wood ducks. It’s also providing a habitat for your regular native species, like deer and turkey, and also bears that have been coming up the creek.”
The refuge currently includes about 6,500 acres of state-owned land and 1,000 acres of federal land that stretches across Bibb and Twiggs counties that are open to public use.
Currently, visitors only have access to the east side of the refuge. However, the newly acquired land will allow visitors to access the west side of the refuge by way of Barnes Ferry Road.
“One of the main things it does is give us access that will allow the public to access the whole west side of the refuge through that property,” Hammond said.
Trust for Public Land officials said the land was purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 25 for $2.36 million. Funding was provided by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenue from oil and gas drilling leases to acquire lands for recreation and conservation.
Kathy DeCoster, director of public affairs for the Trust for Public Land, said a bill recently was introduced in the U.S. House and Senate that would keep more federal money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
“Funds that are supposed to go toward land grants are spent toward other things,” DeCoster said. “There’s legislation in the House and Senate to make sure that there is $900 million in the fund every year, and that it isn’t subject to congressional appropriations.”
Sheridan Waters, press secretary for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said Isakson currently is studying the Senate bill that would guarantee funds for land such as Bond Swamp.
“He recognizes the important role the Land and Water Conservation Fund plays in ensuring the protection of the critical habitat and green space in Georgia,” Waters said. “Sen. Isakson will work to ensure that it has the funds it needs to meet its obligations to the numerous projects it funds within our state, while doing so in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Hammond said he’s not sure when the newly acquired land will be made available to the public. However, once open, the land would provide the same recreational activities offered in other parts of the refuge.
“Once we do get (the new section) open, it will open like the east side of the refuge is now,” Hammond said. “So you can go hiking, bird watching, and we’ll probably even have some hunting and fishing like we have on the east side.”
To contact writer Tiffany Stevens, call 744-4213.