Fayetteville Observer May 28, 2004

State buys wetlands
786 acres are part of highway mitigation program

By Nomee Landis
Fayetteville Observer staff writer

The state has purchased 786 acres on Drowning Creek from the Nature Conservancy as part of a highway mitigation program.

The property, which is in Moore and Richmond counties, will be managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission as part of the Sandhills Game Land. The state paid $830,000 for the land.

The money came from the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program. That represents a partnership between the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the N.C. Department of Transportation that was launched in July 2003.

The program’s goal is to compensate for the destruction of wetlands that takes place during highway construction. The program enables the state to ‘‘bank” higher quality natural areas for protection in advance of projects. The state looks for areas of significant biological importance as well as those that are important to drinking water sources.

The Nature Conservancy bought the Drowning Creek land in July 2003 from Bowater Timber LLC for the same amount that the state paid for it, said Rick Studenmund, the director of the N.C. Sandhills Program of the Nature Conservancy. The tract is mostly wetlands. The timber company had harvested and replanted pine trees from upland areas on the property, but the hardwood trees in the swampy areas were untouched.

‘‘It is mostly beautiful river swamp with old-growth cypress in it,” Studenmund said.

The property borders Drowning Creek for four miles and Camp Mackall for another four miles. The property also connects two important natural heritage areas in the headwaters of the Lumber River.

Studenmund said the Nature Conservancy nearly lost the property to someone who wanted to log it. Studenmund added that he knew the property would meet the state’s needs, once the Ecosystem Enhancement Program was up and running.

Studenmund said there are several other reasons why the land is important for conservation purposes:

It provides a wildlife corridor between other conservation lands owned by the Army, the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Sandhills Area Land Trust and the Lumber River Conservancy.

The acquisition pushes the total size of the game land to nearly 60,000 acres. The commission manages the game land for hunting and wildlife conservation.