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Art Lander’s Outdoors: 20 years after first proposal Green River National Wildlife Refuge now a reality


(Photo from United States Fish and Wildlife Services)

Almost 20 years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) first published a proposal for a national wildlife refuge at the confluence of the Green and Ohio Rivers in Henderson County, the Green River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was officially established.

The announcement was made Friday, November 22 by U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt.

“Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, the Department of the Interior has opened and expanded nearly 1.7 million acres of land, and today we’re thrilled to add the Green River NWR to the list,” said Bernhardt. “This is not just great news for recreationists, but also for the wildlife that will benefit from this conservation effort.”

At the dedication ceremony Secretary Bernhardt acknowledged U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his steadfast dedication to the project, and leadership in shepherding it through Congress.

Sen. McConnell spoke at the dedication, saying “the establishment of the Green River NWR will preserve our natural resources for future generations of sportsmen and tourists to enjoy, and encourage growth in the local economy. I was proud to attract national attention to this Kentucky priority as Senate Majority Leader. “(By protecting) these lands we are fulfilling our responsibility as stewards of Kentucky’s natural treasures.”

Conservation Partnership Area

(Click for larger image)

The first step in the creation of the refuge was to determine the Conservation Partnership Area (CPA). Within the CPA boundary, that includes five units and a total of 52,631 aces, the USFWS will acquire 24,000 acres for the refuge by buying easements and land from willing sellers. It may take decades for the refuge to reach 24,000 acres under public ownership.

The largest of the five CPA units is the 29,627-acre Scuffletown Unit, south of the Ohio River and east of the Green River. The area is in agricultural row crops now but could be rehabilitated into a wetland complex, with the removal of tile drains and the construction of a water control system.

The Scuffletown Bottoms were first identified by Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) biologists as an area of interest in the late 1950s. Mike Morton, who retired from KDFWR after 30 years as manager of nearby Sloughs Wildlife Management Area, said there are three major drainages that run through the area.

“There’s overflow water during high river stages and heavy rainfall,” said Morton, who began looking into the waterfowl management potential of the area in the 1980s. “There’s a long history of use by shorebirds, and migrating waterfowl in the fall and spring.”

Southern Conservation Corporation Donates Land

The refuge was established with the acquisition of its first tract, a 10-acre parcel donated by the Southern Conservation Corp. ( SCC), a non-profit organization founded in 2003, in McMinnville, Tennessee.

The group’s dual mission is to assist with the acquisition of important wildlife habitats in the southeastern U.S. in an effort to protect native flora and fauna, especially endangered and other threatened species, and acquire properties that are significantly degraded and work to restore and enhance those properties in an effort to provide high quality wildlife habitats. SCC has been involved in at least four habitat restoration projects in Kentucky in recent years.

“Providing the 10-acre land donation is a unique opportunity for us,” said SCC Executive Director Jeff Jones. “We have helped a variety of partners in Kentucky secure important conservation lands for fish and wildlife, environmental education, and public use, but establishing a new national wildlife refuge doesn’t happen every day. This donation is special to us for that reason. There’s very unique habitat, a rich diversity of plants and animals, in the area.”

Preservation of Habitat

The stated purpose of the refuge is to provide habitat for migrating and wintering waterfowl, shorebirds, non-game land birds, such as neo-tropical songbirds, and bald eagles, and other birds of prey.

The area will serve as a haven for a variety of birds (Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Establishment of the refuge would preserve habitat for several species of mussel listed as endangered or threatened, many species of wildlife found in wetlands and bottomland hardwood forests, and provide nesting habitat for wood ducks.

The refuge would be a prime destination for many outdoor recreational activities, including waterfowl hunting, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, hiking, birdwatching, wildlife photography, and conservation education/interpretive field trips.

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NWR system is an unparalleled network of 568 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetland management districts. More than 55 million people visit refuges every year, creating lasting economic benefits for local communities.

Refuge Would Benefit Local Economy

The Green River NWR would add to Kentucky’s growing tourism industry, which generated $14.5 billion in economic impact during 2016, an increase of over five percent from $13.7 billion in 2015. Kentucky’s tourism industry creates more than 193,000 jobs and $1.5 billion in tax revenues.

The establishment of a national wildlife refuge in such close proximity to the downtown business district of the city of Henderson, along US 41, and the John James Audubon Museum and State Park, would further enhance wildlife viewing and recreational opportunities, and could have a substantial impact on tourism in the community. In 2016, tourism generated $63.5 million in direct spending in Henderson County.

Kentucky’s Third National Wildlife Refuge

Green River NWR is the third national wildlife refuge established in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s first national wildlife refuge, Kentucky Woodlands NWR, was established in 1938, near the town of Fenton, Kentucky, on lands between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.

Kentucky Woodlands NWR closed in 1963, with the creation of Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL). Thousands of acres of the former refuge were flooded when Lake Barkley was impounded in 1966.

For 34 years Kentucky was without a national wildlife refuge.

Then in 1997, Clarks River NWR, more than 8,000 acres, was established on the East Fork of the Clarks River, near the town of Benton, Kentucky, on one of the largest remaining bottomland hardwood forests in the region.

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Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.


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