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    Million dollar grant expands refuge

    By Charles Swenson
    Coastal Observer

    A $1 million federal grant will be used to add 580 acres along the Waccamaw River near Murrells Inlet to the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge.

    The money comes from the federal Migratory Bird Commission and will go to the Nature Conservancy. The nonprofit will buy the property and transfer ownership to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the refuge. The deal will expand the refuge to 22,931 acres.

    The Nature Conservancy also manages 9,000 acres on Sandy Island that are owned by the state Department of Transportation.

    The acquisitions include half of Longwood Island, which is between the Waccamaw River and Prince Creek. The other parcel is just north of Wacca Wache Marina.

    The property is “high swamp,” said Craig Sasser, the refuge manager. The grant funds are intended for acquiring wetlands, he said.

    “Both of those are tracts we’ve been real interested in,” he said.

    Sasser hopes the refuge will one day be able to acquire the other half of Longwood Island, which is still in private ownership.

    The partnership between the conservancy and Fish and Wildlife has helped the refuge continue to grow during times when agency funding was limited, Sasser said.

    “The Nature Conservancy has played a valuable role in ensuring the conservation of lands both within and adjacent to the refuge,” he said.

    The refuge was created in 1997 with a target area of 52,000 acres along the Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers. In December, Fish and Wildlife closed on 1,292 acres along the Great Pee Dee River adjacent to the refuge headquarters that will open this summer.

    The $1 million grant will buy land along 3.6 miles of the Waccamaw River.

    The acquisition will protect wildlife habitat and preserve opportunities for recreation along the river, said Maria Whitehead, the conservancy’s area project director.

    The conservancy applied for the grant, and was able to provide a match for the funds with conservation easements in partnership with Ducks Unlimited, the Pee Dee Land Trust, the state Conservation Bank and the Lowcountry Open Land Trust.

    The Nature Conservancy’s Winyah Bay and Pee Dee River Basin Project has protected 3,436 acres.

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