LUMBERTON — The Audubon Society of North Carolina has been awarded a $100,000 grant to help preserve more than 1,100 acres of wetlands along the Lumber River Basin and in Robeson County.
The grant is part of a yearly $2 million in a series of payments to be awarded to environmental projects under a settlement reached in 2000 between the Attorney General’s Office and Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer. Under the agreement, Smithfield agreed to provide $50 million over 25 years to improve the environment and $15 million to North Carolina State University to fund development of new technologies for processing and treatment of hog waste.
According to Walker Golder, deputy director of the Audubon Society of North Carolina, the $100,000 will go toward the purchase of about 1,400 acres of wetlands and uplands in Warwick Mill Bay on the basin. This is the first time the society has applied for the grant.
The 1,400 acres of land, which is all in Robeson County, includes a Carolina bay, which Golder said are elliptical depressions found along the Atlantic seaboard.
“It supports a great diversity of birds and other wildlife and plants, and it’s a wonderful ecosystem in all respects,” he said, adding that it is home to different colonies of nesting birds, including herons and egrets.
What is unique about this bay is that it’s completely intact, according to Golder.
“Many of these Carolina bays have been altered and converted to other uses,” he said. “Some have been converted to agriculture; some have been filled over the years.”
The area is classified as a North Carolina Significant Natural Heritage Area.
“Having an intact Carolina bay that has not been altered is one of the reasons that the site is significant,” Golder said.
The land is privately owned, and the society has had an interest in it for about two years, Golder said. He estimated the cost to be more than $1 million.
The Lumber River Basin has a land area of 3,345 square miles, which represents 6.1 percent of the state’s land area. There are 2,283 stream miles in the basin.
Since the Environmental Enhancement Grant program began, more than $19 million has been awarded to 77 projects. So far, these projects have resulted in the closure of 183 animal waste lagoons with an additional 14 in progress and the restoration or permanent conservation of 19,794 acres of land and wildlife habitat, as well as several environmental education and research initiatives.