Wildlife refuge gets grant to buy 1,362 acres in Georgetown Co.

From the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced the approval of more than $25 million in federal grants and Federal Duck Stamp revenues to protect, restore or enhance thousands of acres of wildlife habitat in the United States and Mexico for the benefit of shared migratory bird populations.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission voted to approve the use of Migratory Bird Conservation Fund monies and North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants to acquire and enhance this habitat for waterfowl, shorebirds, landbirds, marsh birds and other wetland-dependent species.

Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, which currently manages nearly 30,000 acres in Georgetown & Horry Counties, was approved to purchase 1,362 acres, containing bottomland hardwood forests and a variety of other wetland types, in Georgetown County, South Carolina, for $2,044,000. Once purchased, this new acquisition will provide many new and exciting recreational opportunities as well as protect sensitive habitats found along the Great Pee Dee River.

"Wetlands are some of the most biologically rich habitats in our country, providing nesting and foraging ground for migratory species," Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said. "They are also facing some of the greatest threats including habitat degradation, land conversion and sea-level rise."

Thanks to hunters, conservationists and other wildlife enthusiasts, more than $6 million will be used to protect 2,200 acres of wildlife habitat that will be added to units of the National Wildlife Refuge System in California, South Carolina and Texas.

For every dollar spent on Federal Duck Stamps, 98 cents goes directly to purchase or lease vital habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

An additional $19.5 million awarded through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act will protect, restore or enhance more than 170,000 acres of habitat for migratory birds in the United States and Mexico, leveraging $57 million in matching funds. Eighteen projects in 15 United States and seven projects in Mexico will receive North American Wetlands Conservation Act funding.

More information about the U.S. Standard projects approved is available at http://www.fws.gov/birdhabitat/Grants/NAWCA/Standard/US/2013_March.shtm

Ashe lauded the commission's approval of the land purchases and conservation grants: "Protection of wetlands ensures that hunters, anglers and wildlife-watchers and photographers can continue to enjoy these precious resources," he said. "Wildlife recreationists make up nearly 30 percent of the U.S. population and contribute more than $100 billion to our economy."

The 2013-14 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, also known as the Federal Duck Stamp, will go on sale June 28. Since 1934, sales of Federal Duck Stamps have raised more than $800 million to acquire 6 million acres of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The North American Wetlands Conservation Act is the only federal grant program dedicated to the conservation of wetland habitats for migratory birds. Through the Act's U.S. Standard grants program, 3,300 partners have been involved in 910 projects affecting more than 7 million acres of habitat.