by E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow Greg Walcher
As appearing in The Daily Sentinel
The National Wildlife Refuge System began modestly in 1903, but today it is the largest wildlife conservation program in the world. It includes 562 refuges, totaling more than 150 million acres, in all 50 states and numerous islands from the Caribbean to the South Pacific.
That system just grew a bit more, thanks to a wealthy patron donating 6,200 acres adjoining the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Florida panhandle. Sam Shine spent years buying old tree farms there, harvesting the commercial trees, replanting native longleaf pines, and consolidating his holdings. He is well known in the region, thanks to his support of an even larger acquisition by the Nature Conservancy, the 17,000-acre Flint Rock Wildlife Management Area.
The Shine donation may seem small compared to the total federal holdings there. Its addition will help connect a 100-mile long conservation corridor along the Big Bend coast. St. Marks now encompasses more than 80,000 acres spread over Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor counties, including coastal marshes, islands, tidal creeks, seven rivers, and former pine plantations that once supported a thriving lumber economy.