The Nature Conservancy Transfers Alligator River Property to Wildlife Commission

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Since 1985, the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy has worked to protect the biologically and economically-rich wetlands along the Alligator River in Dare, Tyrrell and Hyde counties, playing a role in the preservation of 170,000 acres over the last 17 years.

Last week that number jumped to 175,000 acres when the Conservancy transferred the 5,401-acre Cedar Ridge property to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC). The WRC will manage this property as the Alligator River Game Land, part of its two million-acre game land program.

"The WRC is very enthused about this latest game land addition," says Wib Owen, the WRC's game lands manager. "Public land acquisition is key to our goal of providing expanded sporting opportunities to the public."

In addition to providing habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker; the red wolf, which was reintroduced to the area in 1987; the American alligator which is at its northernmost reaches at the Alligator River; and a healthy population of black bear; the property contains important fish spawning areas.

According to Fred Annand, associate director of The Nature Conservancy's North Carolina Chapter, who spearheaded the project, these estuaries are important to North Carolina both environmentally and economically. "The major tributaries of the Alligator, such as Second Creek, Alligator Creek and Frying Pan are prime nursery sites for many fish species such as herring, hickory shad and striped bass. These commercial and recreational fishery resources bring in close to $1 billion in annual revenue and play a critical role in North Carolina's coastal economy," said Annand. "By protecting this property, we not only protect these important estuaries, we also insure that the water quality for the area will remain high."

The purchase was funded by a grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Restoration and protection of the area, which was under threat of continued timber harvest, will lessen and/or eliminate practices potentially detrimental to the water quality of the Alligator River which has been designated as Outstanding Resource Waters by the state of North Carolina.

The Cedar Ridge property is a critical component of a nationally significant wetlands region that encompasses 320,000 acres, and includes two national wildlife refuges--Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, as well as a state coastal reserve.

The Conservancy purchased the property from C. Ben Bass and William Jay Fields of Cedar Ridge Partners LLC. Both are officers in the Kitty Hawk-based First Coast Group, a real estate development and construction company. "We are proud to have played a role in the conservation of such a large scale project," said Ben Bass. "The Cedar Ridge property is an important link in what future generations may know as one of the largest protected wetland regions on the East Coast. We are pleased that the public will have access to this wonderful natural resource."

The property's ancient bald cypress, Atlantic white cedar and swamp black gum provide breeding habitat for neotropical songbirds including the black-throated green warbler, and Swainson's warbler.

"Although the Alligator River Game Land will provide excellent waterfowl and deer hunting opportunities, we expect black bear to be the main attraction for North Carolina hunters," says Dale Davis, one of the WRC biologists who will be managing the new game land.

In addition to Cedar Ridge, the Conservancy also played a role in the recent protection of Roper Island which will be managed by the state's Division of Coastal Management as a part of the adjacent Emily and Richardson Preyer Buckridge Coastal Reserve. Roper Island is south of Cedar Ridge in Hyde County.

The Nature Conservancy is a worldwide non-profit conservation organization. The North Carolina Chapter is a state arm of the organization. Celebrating its 25th Anniversary, the chapter and its 27,000 members have preserved more than 500,000 acres in North Carolina. The mission of the Conservancy is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive.