If all goes according to a plan announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Metro Jackson area could soon be home to a new urban National Wildlife Refuge.
It could happen as soon as 2014, according to Mike Rich, manager of the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex in the Delta. The proposed refuge would be part of that complex.
“It’s all a part of a new urban wildlife refuge initiative started by the agency,” Rich said. “There are many around the country and they have proven highly successful, including refuges in Philadelphia and Minneapolis.
“What urban refuges provide is direct contact to where most people live, making them more available to a higher percentage of the population. It is a great educational opportunity, as well as a way to provide wildlife-based recreation to more people.”
The still unnamed and proposed refuge would be located in Rankin County along the east bank of the Pearl River from the Barnett Reservoir dam south to Lakeland Drive (Mississippi Highway 25) in the suburb of Flowood. It could include as much as 5,000 acres if the USFWS can obtain all the land it wants to get.
A majority of the proposed land, over 2,700 acres, would be obtained from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which bought the land to put in its Wetlands Mitigation Bank (to offset wetlands used to build roadways throughout the state). There is also one 16th Section block owned by Rankin County that would be involved.
The plan also includes reaching some kind of stewardship agreement on about 300 acres of land owned by the State of Mississippi through the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District. Under law, that land cannot be sold, but officials at PRVWSD, which operates Barnett Reservoir, have indicated they might entertain an agreement, under which the federal agency could manage the property.
A sticking point, the PRVWSD source said, would be whether or not the USF&WS would allow hunting on the property within existing regulations. Reservoir officials have for the first time opened limited deer hunting opportunities on that part of the PRVWSD property.
At this time, however, the federal agency has not finalized any proposed management plan. Hunting will likely be allowed, as will many non-consumptive forms of wildlife-related recreation.
Hunting was allowed on the land in the past, as recently as 2008 prior to MDOT’s purchase. Many local residents in neighboring subdivisions attended a public meeting Nov. 21 in Flowood, and there were mixed views on hunting.
Many, like Phillip Thomas, whose home is only a few hundred yards from what would be the east border of the refuge, said something has to be done to reduce the deer population.
“My family and our neighbors have had a few deer/car accidents and even more close calls and they are increasing in frequency every winter,” Thomas said. “If they turn this into a sanctuary for wildlife and not allow hunting, and I mean more than archery for deer, then I oppose it and would prefer leasing it to hunters. I’m telling you that between the increase in housing and the growth of business along Highway 25, with the plentiful supply of deer this area holds, deer are becoming more and more of a road hazard.”
Bill Johnson took another view.
“I live about a block in from where the refuge would be, and I don’t know that I want people in there with firearms and shooting that close to my house,” he said. “If they create a buffer zone that pushes the guns further toward the river away from houses, and maybe allow only archery close to us, then I got no problem.”
Rich said the planning process continues and expects the USFWS to have a decision by April on whether to proceed.
“It is possible that the decision could be not to proceed with the plan,” he said. “That is definitely one of the options.”
That doesn’t appear the likely direction, however.
“The area has so much to offer, so much that needs to be preserved for future generations,” said Ann Wilson of Jackson, who attended with her husband. “We have floated the river in that area several times in canoes and kayaks and we have always felt that it would be great if the entire swamp or wetlands would be open. For the Metro area to have that opportunity that close, that would be wonderful.”