Rocky Point Wetland Forest with unique plants and wildlife is now protected

Eastern Woodrat (Photo: Sturgis McKeever, Georgia Southern University, Creative Commons 3.0 License)

ROCKY POINT, N.C. (AP) — Janice Allen, who is passionate about the beauty of natural habitats along North Carolina’s coast, was excited about efforts to protect what she called a “little gem of a wetland” next to two busy highways to Rocky Point.

Allen, director of Land Protection for Coastal Land Trust, is also grateful to landowners and others for working with the organization to preserve it and not lose its unique timber or anything else.

“It’s kind of weird because you don’t usually get plant species from the Gulf Coast, coastal plains, mountains and Piedmont regions coming together at a site like this,” she said.

The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust purchased 32 acres of land in Rocky Point with a rare type of wetland known as wet marl forest that combines these unique plant species. The property near the intersection of Interstate 40 and NC 210 was purchased from landowners Diane Tutman, Cheryl Shelby and Elizabeth Hanley. Funding for the sale came from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Protection Act grant program.

“We are incredibly grateful that the Coastal Land Trust is willing to take on this valuable habitat,” said Byron, Diana Tutman’s son. “Rapid landscape change, invasive species, logging and mining are steadily shrinking the already limited range of this unique community. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of its preservation. There are no better hands in which to place the management of this area than the Coastal Land Trust. In addition to protection, we hope that preserving this land can also contribute to the restoration of adjacent lands where wet marl forest once existed.”

It is small in size, but officials noted that the preservation value of the property is significant. It is within the larger Rocky Point Marl Forest Significant Natural Heritage Site and is considered an “Extremely Ecologically Significant Site” by the NC Natural Heritage Program.

“This wet forest area made it to the top of our top 40 list because of its biological uniqueness,” Allen said.

What makes it special?

Dr. David Webster, senior associate dean of the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s College of Arts and Sciences, said the forest is home to two of the state’s rarest animals: the eastern wood rat and the rattlesnake.

“For many years I took my environmental students to this place so that we could study the soil, flora and fauna of the place. Continued protection of this site will ensure that this unique habitat and its assemblage of rare plants and animals will continue to survive,” Webster said in a press release.

Eric Bohlen, UNCW professor emeritus of biology and marine biology, added that the Wet Mal Forest showcases the biodiversity of the region and the rare occurrence of a high water table above flat limestone.

As residential and business development continues in Rocky Point, Allen said the wetlands are unattractive for construction, but there could be a threat to limestone and timber mining that would affect the area.

The area also has nutmeg hickory (the northernmost range of the species, which has its core range in the lower Mississippi River Valley), broadleaf dogwood (one of only two places it occurs in the state) and a thick canopy of dwarf palmetto, researchers said.

When you think about these isolated little properties that are surrounded by development, it can be harder for some species to be viable over a long period of time as far as movement goes,” Allen said. “It makes it a little more challenging. But we continue to work.”

Mike Schefeil, an environmentalist with the NC Natural Heritage Program, said the area at Rocky Point is not found anywhere else in the world.

“Of the high-priority, indispensable sites that were known when I began my career in the early 1980s, almost all have seen some significant amount of protection over the years,” Schafale said. “Rocky Point is one of the last to achieve defensive success.”

Since 1992, the Coastal Land Trust has preserved more than 84,000 acres of scenic, recreational, historic and ecological sites. The area at Rocky Point is one of several conservation projects in Pender County. Some of those in the past include the more than 60-acre Scotts Hill Abbey Preserve, the 177-acre BW Wells Savannah north of Burgh, and the more than 700-acre Northeast Cape Fear River Preserve near Interstate tracks. 40.

“I am confident in protecting such lands everywhere,” Allen said. “The diversity of our landscapes is very important. It is part of our mission to protect these special places. We not only preserve rare plants and animals, but also protect places for people to rest.”

Rocky Point Wetland Forest with unique plants and wildlife is now protected

Source link Rocky Point Wetland Forest with unique plants and wildlife is now protected