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Proposed Mountain Bogs Refuge Encompasses High Country; Open House at Watauga Library on July 11

Mountain Bog Sites in the proposed Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge
Proposed Mountain Bog Sites in the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge

By Jesse Wood

June 25, 2012. The United States has more than 556 National Wildlife Refuges, and now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing one more – the Southern Appalachian Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge, which would encompass 23,000 acres scattered across 30 bog sites in Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee – including ten sites in the High Country.

Funding for the project will likely come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund which includes money collected from the sale of offshore oil and gas drilling leases.

Ten of those bog sites are located in Ashe, Avery and Watauga counties. Watauga County features sites at Pinnacle, Long Hope and Three Peaks; Ashe County sites include Bluff, Othello, Yates and Transou; and Avery sites feature Flat Top, Montezuma and Snake Den. Rick Huffines, deputy regional chief with the National Wildlife Refuge System, estimated to the High Country Press that the High Country has 10,000 acres that could be purchased or entered into a conservation easements for the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a release stating that its cooperation with willing landowners to establish the proposed refuge through fee simple purchases, conservation easements, leases or cooperative agreements with landowners.

“A 23,000-acre refuge won’t be created overnight,” said Huffines in a press release. “Many organizations have been involved in protecting bogs for years. Now we’re expanding that conversation to hear from other landowners who might be interested in helping conserve these areas. It’s going to be a long process, based on trust and a deep understanding by all involved.” He added that “willing landowners” are key to this project and that no eminent domain will occur.

The area containing the bogs and its surrounding areas is approximately 45,000 acres, however the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is authorized to acquire in fee-title or hold conservation easements on 23,000 of those acres, depending on willingness of landowners and funding. If folks do not want to sell their land, the Service will still receive technical assistance to help manage the habitat on their property. 

David Ray, a N.C. mountain programs director at The Nature Conservancy, said “Western North Carolina is blessed with a lot of conserved land. However, one key missing piece is a comprehensive approach to bog conservation.”

Although Bogs don’t exactly offer million-dollar views, they are scarce and vastly important to the overall ecosystem in our region. “The Southern Appalachian bog natural community is very rare and harbors endemic and rare plant and animal species,” said Megan Sutton with The Nature Conservancy. “They are great breeding grounds for migratory birds that are moving up and down the east coast, as they go from their wintering grounds to summer nesting mating areas. They provide food for amphibians.”

Sutton added that the benefits of protecting bogs across the landscape is often due to important species that are contained within the bogs, such as the bog turtles. “The species can’t live anywhere else,” she said. “This is their home, and they have nowhere else to go.” 

Along with the bog turtle, other endangered and threatened animals and plants residing in the bogs include Canadian northern flying squirrel, Virginia big-eared bat, bunched arrowhead, green pitcher plant, mountain sweet pitcher plant, Roan Mountain bluet and swamp pink. Other species that would benefit from the Mountain Bogs National Wildlife Refuge are salamanders and pollinators and game species such as mink, muskrat, raccoon and beaver, and game birds such as rails, woodcock, ruffed grouse, turkey and wood duck. Because other plants have withered by the time winter as arrived, bogs are a great source for fresh vegetation. 

The director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already approved the preliminary proposal of the project. By June 2013, the  director will either approve or disapprove of the project after reviewing the detailed planning. Huffines said this will give the organizations a chance to “feel the pulse” of the community and listen to any concerns or issues that come up. After that, it could take another year or two before the first easement or land-tract purchase is acquired, which would officially establish the refuge. 

The Service is currently seeking public input on the proposed refuge. People can e-mail comments to mountainbogs@fws.gov; mail comments to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 160 Zillicoa St., Asheville, NC 28801; or telephone comments to 828-258-3939. The Service is also hosting a series of open houses to receive comments and answer questions:

June 26, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Henderson County Public Library in Hendersonville, N.C.;
June 27, 4:30 pm. to 6:30 p.m. at the Ashe County Public Library in West Jefferson, N.C.;
July 10, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Macon County Public Library in Franklin, N.C.;
July 11, 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Watauga County Public Library in Boone, N.C.

For more information, click to http://www.fws.gov/southeast/mountainbogs/index.html.