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Wildlife refuge to buy 978 acres for new habitat

Conservation effort aided by $2.4M in federal grants by Emily Walkenhorst | April 25, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

The Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas will spend $2.4 million to purchase 978 acres of land using grant funds received last week from the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission.

Once the land is acquired, refuge staff will use existing funds in the budget to enhance the land for fish and wildlife habitat, refuge manager Keith Weaver said. Because part of the grant required a nonfederal funding match, Weaver said, an additional $2 million is being spent by five partner organizations on improvements to the Lower White and Cache Rivers Basin in the Lower Mississippi Valley in east Arkansas near the refuge. The refuge currently has more than 56,000 acres.

These improvements will help waterfowl species, Weaver said. A news release from the U.S. Department of Interior notes that the project will benefit five waterfowl species considered "priority," including the redhead duck and wood duck.

"These monies certainly help us in fulfilling our strategic conservation goals in order to fulfill the purposes of the refuge," Weaver said, adding that the refuge benefits the public as well as wildlife and local ecology.

The grant funds were part of $48.8 million in grants to the United States, Canada and Mexico announced Wednesday by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Those funds were matched by $86 million in nonfederal investments.

The grants were approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which Jewell chairs and which makes them through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, according to the news release. That act "provides the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners the ability to purchase, lease or otherwise conserve more than 275,000 acres of wetland and associated upland habitats for waterfowl, shorebirds and other birds across North America."

The Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1986, was one of six refuges nationwide to receive funds from the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, also dubbed "Duck Stamps." Duck Stamps are required by the federal government to be purchased in the hunting of ducks and geese.

From that grant, the refuge was to receive $2,391,000 of the $10.8 million awarded in total.

That amount was reduced by $1 million, Weaver said, after the refuge received $1 million of the $48.8 million awarded from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant program. That keeps the total amount of money the refuge received at $2,391,000.

The five partners for the additional $2 million in nonfederal matching funds for additional projects are the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, the Canale family and Darby's Warrior Support, Weaver said. The Canale family did an easement of property to the refuge, Weaver said, and the partners restored or enhanced wetlands in the rivers' basin.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission contributed $500,000, spokesman Keith Stephens said. That was the partial value of the commission's 2009 acquisition of 1,822 acres of land now known as the Freddie Black Choctaw Island WMA Deer Research Area West Unit in Desha County, he said.

Metro on 04/25/2016

Print Headline: Wildlife refuge to buy 978 acres for new habitat


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