Date: Friday, September 16, 2022
FOLKSTON, Georgia — Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge today to highlight the Biden-Harris administration’s ongoing efforts to conserve and invest in the nation’s public lands and waters.
Secretary Haaland, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Shannon Estenoz, and Senator Jon Ossoff toured the Okefenokee Swamp, where they saw the vast habitat that supports the local economy, water quality, climate resilience, and a diverse variety of species, including the threatened and endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, indigo snake and wood stork.
Secretary Haaland and the group hosted a roundtable conversation with local and community leaders, where they heard about ongoing and future efforts to protect the swamp and its surrounding habitats and wildlife. During the roundtable, Secretary Haaland highlighted the Biden-Harris administration’s America the Beautiful initiative, which aims to conserve lands and waters through locally led and collaborative partnerships.
She also discussed how new resources from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help make critical investments in climate resilience and reduce the risk of wildland fire. The Department is investing over $1.2 million this fiscal year in Georgia for hazardous fuels management projects on 9,190 acres across the state. In Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, investments from the Law have supported over 8,500 acres of prescribed fire and 60 miles of forest restoration in partnership with the Georgia Forestry Commission.
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. The refuge conserves the unique features of the Okefenokee Swamp, the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys Rivers. It is world renowned for its amphibian populations that are bio-indicators of global health, as well as the more than 600 plant species that have been identified on refuge lands.
Today, the refuge is approximately 407,000 acres and is the largest National Wildlife Refuge east of the Mississippi River. In addition, the refuge is designated as a Wetland of International Importance because it is one of the world’s largest intact freshwater ecosystems. Each year, the refuge receives about 300,000 visitors, which translates into a contribution of $64.7 million and 753 jobs to the local economy.