02/19/06 — Wildlife Resources Commission seeking out land

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Wildlife Resources Commission seeking out land

By Gene Price
Published in Sports on February 19, 2006 2:13 AM

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is looking at seven parcels of coastal property totaling 13,500 acres for possible acquisition as game lands.

It would become part of some two million acres of land managed by the Wildlife Commission across the state for outdoors sporting activities.

The parcels being considered are located in the South River, Luken's Island, Turnagain Bay and Long Bay areas southwest and south of the Marine Corps Piney Island Bombing Range operated by Cherry Point Air Station.

The properties could be especially attractive to waterfowl hunters but most areas would be limited to access only by boat.

They include more than five miles of frontage on the Neuse River, Brown's Creek and Turnagain Bay which are considered particularly valuable to water quality protection. Much of it is relatively pristine, meeting standards of the Federal Coastal Wetlands Grant Program which could provide considerable funding for the acquisition.

The disappearance of wetlands throughout the country has been an ever deepening crisis.

A key player in the property acquisition project has been the N.C. Coastal Land Trust. It has been working with the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point with a view toward conserving land with environmental and military significance.

The Marine Corps' concern is to assure protection from encroachment that might compromise operations of its Piney Island range which accommodates a wide variety of training exercises.

No conflict is foreseen in potential activities under the auspices of the Wildlife Commission.

During a conference with Marine and Coastal Land Trust officials, I noted that some of the property is contiguous to a suggested alternate site for an Outlying Landing Field proposed by the Navy for Washington and Beaufort counties.

Could acquisition and the envisioned use of the properties by the Wildlife Commission compromise the viability of the "alternate" site for the OLF, I asked.

Colonel David Buland, acting commanding general at Cherry Point, responded that Wildlife Commission use would not be a factor, but that the suggested alternate site -- Open Grounds Farms -- was not acceptable because of air traffic concerns involved in bombing range activities.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is supporting grants for the Wildlife Commission to acquire the properties.

In addition to the 13,500 acres involved in the project now before the Wildlife Commission, the Coastal Land Trust and Cherry Point Air Station also are interested in conservation opportunities of another 4,000 acres adjacent to the Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge.