Bill puts Carolina bay in park system

Area considered critical for wood storks, herons

By Mike Gellatly -

Brenden Jones

RALEIGH — An ecologically important site in Robeson County could come under the protection of the state park system if a bill sponsored by a representative of Robeson County gets support in Raleigh.

As deadlines for filing bills in the General Assembly approach, a variety of them have been proposed by local lawmakers.

Rep. Brenden Jones, who represents Bladen, Columbus and Robeson counties, is the primary sponsor of a bill that would bring a large tract of Robeson County under the protection of the North Carolina Recreation and Parks Department. The Warwick Mill Bay area is described as one of the state’s few remaining large, intact and relatively undisturbed Carolina bays. If approved, the bill would make the bay part of the state’s park system.

The area, nearly 1,000 acres in size, lies equidistant between Lumberton and Bladenboro and to the south of N.C. 211 near the Wisharts community. The bill provides protection to the “important economic and scientific resources” because the wetland area plays host to endangered wood storks and many other wading birds, such as herons and egrets.

“We want to make sure there are areas that are absolutely protected,” Jones said. “We are entrusted with the beauty of the state and we have got to take care of it.”

If the bill passes, Jones envisions a guide station that could be set up at the bay so the natural resource is taken care of, can be a site for tourists to visit and local residents to enjoy, and can provide an economic boost.

“A recent survey of wading birds revealed this land is far more important for bird conservation than we thought,” Curtis Smalling, director of conservation for Audubon North Carolina, said last year. “An overflight of the property by NC Wildlife Resources Commission revealed an estimated 250 breeding pairs of federally-threatened wood storks, making it one of the largest wood stork colonies in North Carolina and one of the most significant in the Southeastern United States. Protecting this land will go a long way in helping preserve this species.”

Several conservation groups were able to buy much of the bay in 2016 and are making the land available for designation as a state park. The bill also would extend the park designation to Black River Park in Bladen, Pender and Sampson counties because of the historical significance of 1,600-year-old cypress trees and to Salmon Creek in Bertie County because of evidence of 16th and 17th century colonial presence.

In other bills filed in Raleigh:

— Rep. Garland Pierce is a primary sponsor of legislation to update the Voter Freedom Act. The act allows registered voters to challenge individuals they believe are no longer eligible to cast their ballot within a specific county or district. Pierce’s update to the bill defines what specific evidence must be presented to the local board of elections to disqualify a voter. The evidence includes mail sent via first-class post that is returned with a notice that the individual no longer lives at that address. The act also would not make public the name of a contested voter until a determination has been made.

— Reps. Charles Graham and Garland Pierce are the primary sponsors of House Bill 304, which requires the Department of Transportation to maintain any private road or property routinely used by school buses.

— Sept. 11 could become a state holiday named First Responders Day. Sen. Danny Britt signed on as a co-sponsor to the bill filed by Sen Norman Sanderson, the Republican caucus leader. An online poll of of The Robesonian readers on social media overwhelmingly supported this effort.

— Pierce has his name behind a measure to give people with a criminal history a better chance at finding gainful employment. House Bill 409 would ask state employers to consider factors such as the length of time since an applicant committed an offense, the age at which the offense was committed and whether or not the offense is related to the position rather than immediately dismissing an applicant because of a criminal past. The bill also includes language encouraging local governments and private companies to do the same.

Brenden Jones Jones
Area considered critical for wood storks, herons

By Mike Gellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

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