Refuge expansion sought

Published 10:32 am Monday, October 10, 2016

JACKSON – Matt Connolly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) met with the Northampton County Board of County Commissioners here Monday to discuss a proposal to expand the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge (RRNWR).

Connolly was not seeking action by the board, he just wanted to inform the commissioners about the proposed expansion.

He said RRNWR expansion is “to conserve and restore fish and wildlife habitat while helping to preserve a rural landscape, protect water quality, and support public recreational and educational opportunities.”

He wanted to emphasize that nobody’s land would be seized or taken by immanent domain or any other means.

Landowners interested in entrusting their land with RRNWR must be willing sellers.

They would be able to sell the land to USFWS or enter into an easement agreement to not make certain changes. For example, under an easement agreement the landowner might not be allowed to clear-cut an area of woodland, but could still take some trees.

He also said the only area in Northampton County that the RRNWR would be interested in would be within a mile of the river.

Connolly also said the county would be compensated for any taxes lost if landowners sell their land to USFWS.

The Roanoke River region has bald cypress and water tupelo swamp forests, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, black bear, river otter, bobcat, 214 bird species (including 88 breeding species and 44 of those are neotropical migrants), wintering waterfowl such as mallard and black duck, wood duck, 400 species of moths and butterflies, land birds (including the bald eagle, water thrush, American redstart, Kentucky warbler, red-eyed and yellow-throated vieros), great crested and Acadian flycatchers, six species of woodpecker, barn owls, red-shouldered hawks, great blue herons, Swainson’s and cerulean warblers and Mississippi kite.

The Roanoke River lands include 176 acres in Camassia Slopes Preserve in Northampton County; Devil’s Gut Preserve, 1,046 acres in Martin County; and Larkspur Ridge Preserve, 97 acres in Halifax County.

Connolly said one of the reasons for this expansion is that there are predictions much of the Roanoke River basin could be periodically submerged under water in 100 years due to rising sea levels.

If that happens he said it would have a detrimental impact on the wildlife here.

Commissioner Robert Carter asked Connolly if he would speak to the state about lifting the ban on herring fishing, especially in the Meherrin River where herring are reported to be flourishing.

Connolly said, “I can put in a plug for you,” but reminded the commissioners that scientific studies are now being performed.