Cumberland Island: A Fragile Beauty

Cumberland Island: A Fragile Beauty

June 5, 2019  |  Ear to the Sand

On Sunday, June 30, Carol Ruckdeschel and photographer Diane Kirkland will present Cumberland Island: A Fragile Beauty at the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta, Ga. from 4-6 p.m. The exhibit will feature photographs from Atlantan Diane Kirkland and illustrations and notes from naturalist Carol Ruckdeschel depicting the island’s vast biodiversity.

Don’t miss the author talk at 4:30 with Carol Ruckdeschel; it’s a rare and special opportunity to interact with the leading voice for Cumberland Island conservation.

A book signing opportunity will follow the author talk. For more information contact Carolyn Rader at


Increased development and visitation for Cumberland?

Increased development and visitation for Cumberland?

May 17, 2019  |  Ear to the Sand

The National Park Service is suggesting significant increases in visitation and development on Cumberland Island as part of their Visitor Use Plan for Cumberland Island National Seashore.  They are considering a significant development for the south end and beach to allow more boats and other watercraft to access the island. They have also proposed campsites and development on Long Point, the wildest and northernmost end of the beach The National Park service also is thinking about substantially increasing the number of visitors coming to the island daily and provide more amenities for this visitors, including more vehicle tours. The Visitor Use Plan will transition the island away from a relatively primitive experience to a more developed tourist experience.

Your comments are needed now. You can make comments online here at

Here are some key points and issues to consider addressing in comments:

No development or campground at Long Point: Establishing a campground at Long Point is definitely not supportive of the resource.  Increasing human presence on Long Point would be detrimental to the birds which use it or reside in the area.  The tips of islands are always heavily used by birds because of the usual lack of predators in the open areas.  Also, access into Christmas Creek is always changing and thus dangerous for entry.

No additional tours or vehicle traffic: All vehicular traffic on the Main Road impairs the visitor experience. Vehicular traffic on the Main Road is arguably contrary to the intent and spirit of the Wilderness Act and of the Cumberland Wilderness. Vehicular traffic throughout the Seashore disrupts the natural quiet and natural sounds associated with the physical and biological resources of the Park. Increasing camp sites on the north end of the island (Settlement Area and Long Point) may increase vehicular traffic to these areas for Park patrol purposes and should therefore be discouraged. Increasing the level of visitor activities should be avoided in the Settlement Area on the north end of the island as this will result in increased vehicular traffic.

No development of the South End Beach: NPS should preclude trespassers, particularly on the South End, and should address the inholders using the Seashore and its resources for business purposes (i.e. charging guests etc.). Prohibit all boats from landing at the South End.

No campground at The Settlement: Placing a new campground in or near the Settlement is inappropriate.  Hikers come north to enjoy the Wilderness and do not appreciate regular bus traffic.  There is also little to attract Wilderness campers in that area, where many retained rights limit access.  The NPS General Management Plan directs the Park to “ensure the Historic District does not become a high use area.”  Resource protection is important at Burbank Point for birds and other wildlife.  Human traffic should not be increased there.

Extend the Parallel Trail south to Dungeness. The Parallel Trail should connect with Dungeness to keep people off the road.

Boaters should register and enter at Sea Camp: Boaters and kayakers should not be able to enter the Cumberland Wilderness Area without previously registering with Park.   Boats with motors should not be able to enter the Wilderness Area.

Protect the island’s wildness, solitude, and quietude:  All uses interfering with the natural soundscape should be carefully considered and eliminated wherever possible. All uses for the convenience of the visitor should be carefully considered and denied as contrary to the Seashore’s purpose.

All uses in and adjacent to the Cumberland Wilderness Area which result in additional use contrary to the spirit and intent of the Wilderness Act should be denied, including increasing the numbers of people accessing the Wilderness other than by foot from a designated entry point. 

No commercial sales or stores on the island: Offering supplies to visitors will only cause more litter and the need for more people on the island to handle the sales, stocking, and money. Let the boat or the mainland  be the place for supplies.

Here are some key principles to include in any comments:

  1. The National Park Service should be largely guided by the relevant controlling legislation, rules and NPS policies.
  1. NPS should appropriately define “visitor” to include only those individuals who are properly within the Park, having paid the appropriate entry fee and entered the Park at a designated point of entry.
  2.  All proposed actions which result in increased net vehicle use should be avoided, regardless of offsetting benefits; this especially pertains to increased vehicular traffic on the Main Road through the Wilderness Area.
  3. All proposed actions which in any way diminish the visitor’s full use and enjoyment of the primitive aspects of the island or the ability to enjoy solitude, peace and tranquility, should be denied.
  4. All contemplated uses which threaten future generations’ use and enjoyment of the Seashore’s resources should be denied, particularly actions which serve to impair or threaten the park’s natural and Wilderness resources.
Balloons on the Beach

Balloons on the Beach

May 1, 2019  |  Ear to the Sand

More balloons than ever are being found on Cumberland Island and other beaches in Georgia.

Dolphins, whales, turtles, and many other marine species, as well as terrestrial animals, are hurt or killed by balloons every day. With the balloon blocking its digestive tract, the animal is unable to consume any nutrients. It then dies a slow and agonizing death from starvation. The animals can also become entangled in the balloons and ribbons, making the animal unable to move or eat.

Sea turtles are particularly at risk because they naturally prey on jellies and often mistake balloons for their favorite food source.

Even balloons marketed as biodegradable or “eco-friendly” can still take years to disintegrate, meaning they’re not any better for the environment than standard balloons.

Some counties and states have enacted laws regarding the release of balloons. Please add your voice to those who are asking the Camden County Commissioners to BAN BALLOON RELEASES to protect Cumberland Island and other beaches. Please sign this petition.


The Horses Are Still Suffering

The Horses Are Still Suffering

September 25, 2018  |  Ear to the Sand

Cumberland Island faces a lot of serious threats these days—including a proposed 88-acre development next to Sea Camp, and a proposed spaceport launch site directly across from the island. While those stories have generated a lot of attention and concern, the feral horses of Cumberland Island continue to suffer and starve.

This emaciated stallion has been struggling for a few weeks and will likely not survive the winter. Females don’t have it any easier. They are cursed with bearing a foal each year, thus draining their stamina and bringing an early death.  Poor diet, parasites, and disease take their toll on Cumberland’s horses each year.

Cumberland Island is no paradise for horses. We imagine that animals confined in a pasture would be happier running free, but this assumes that those animals can thrive in a totally new environment to which they are not adapted. The notion that freedom equals utopia is a romanticized version of reality. It is the opposite of the hardships experienced by the feral horses on this island terrain so alien to them.

Thick draping manes and tails are an advantage in open grasslands, but become a liability in a tight forest environment. They easily snag on vines and briers, and many times hold fast, condemning the animal to starvation, heatstroke or dehydration.

With little nourishing grass available, the open, plains-like appearance of the salt marsh is inviting and lures horses. But to reach the grass, they must go ever deeper into the dangerous mud. When they suddenly sink so deep they are unable to extricate themselves, the incoming tide drowns them. Buried logs threaten to snap their long slender legs.

Their food supply is sparse. A close look at any open field or “lawn” reveals small amounts of actual grass. Alligators, venomous snakes and encephalitis-bearing mosquitoes all add to the daily hazards faced by island horses.

What’s the solution? Ultimately, all feral animals should be removed—for the health of the horses and the island. the National Park Service is mandated to do so. Contraception could humanely reduce their numbers, and remaining horses could be adopted out.

Carol Ruckdeschel nominated for Georgia Author of the Year Awards

Carol Ruckdeschel nominated for Georgia Author of the Year Awards

May 7, 2018  |  Ear to the Sand

Cumberland Island biologist Carol Ruckdeschel has been nominated for the 2018 Georgia Author of the Year Awards in the history/biography category for her book A Natural History of Cumberland Island. This is the essential book for anyone who cares about Cumberland. It is essentially a compendium of every species on the island, with Carol’s personal observations and notes from four decades of field study. It also includes comprehensive natural histories of how Cumberland was formed and why it hosts such a diversity of species. It is not just what, but how and why Cumberland became a global hotspot of biodiversity.

“To understand a place, one must live there, as Carol Ruckdeschel has done for more than four decades,” says Kenneth Dodd, Ph.d., of the Department of Wildlife and Conservation at the University of Florida. “The information in this book is not based on casual observations, but on a detailed examination of the life history of the species encountered, individual by individual, through the years. These results incorporate thousands of hours of field biology and laboratory observations, making the author a true natural historian in the best sense of the discipline.”

Having lived on Cumberland Island for more than forty years, Carol Ruckdeschel’s goal has been to document present conditions of the island’s flora and fauna, establishing a baseline from which to assess future changes. Since the late 1960s, she has witnessed many changes and trends that are often overlooked by those carrying out short-term observations. This compilation of data, along with historic information, presents the most comprehensive picture of the island’s flora, fauna, geology, and ecology to date. Carol has spent over four decades collecting data and studying the wildlife of Cumberland Island. The book includes her field observations, photos, and detailed descriptions of every species on Cumberland Island.

If you read only one book about Cumberland, this is it. Learn more and buy it at

Organizations standing together against the Spaceport

Organizations standing together against the Spaceport

April 9, 2018  |  Ear to the Sand

Wild Cumberland is standing alongside several organizations and businesses in opposing the proposed spaceport across from Cumberland Island. The Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club, St. Marys Riverkeeper, and St. Marys Earthkeeper have also been key voices in the effort to stop the spaceport, as well as Amelia Island’s Walk & Talk Tours and longtime Cumberland Island supporter Bee Natural. Interested in joining our coalition? Please contact us at






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How to Comment Effectively on the Proposed Spaceport

How to Comment Effectively on the Proposed Spaceport

April 9, 2018  |  Ear to the Sand

It is perfectly OK to raise an issue about the Draft EIS with no support for your arguments. The burden of proof is on the FAA – not you. The FAA must respond in the Final EIS to your comments. That said, if you have evidence or facts – even better. Please don’t let your “lack of expertise” prevent you from trying to comment on the environmental impact concerns you have. With that in mind, here are a few tips:

1. Do not assume that someone else will comment on the issue that concerns you. The more comments the FAA receives on a topic, the more attention to your comment will receive.

2. Objectively evaluate the project and be VERY specific. Generalities are easily dismissed.

3. Separate your concerns into clearly identifiable paragraphs or headings and keep a tight focus on each separate issue. Don’t mix topics.

4. Avoid saying “I support the spaceport, but…” – just list your concerns or your letter may be classified as a letter of support instead of addressing your concerns.

    1. 5. Consider ways to avoid impacts or enforceable ways to reduce the severity of impacts. Quantify your objections whenever possible. If a potential significant impact is not adequately identified; or if no mitigation is proposed for a potentially significant impact; or if the mitigation proposed is not sufficient, appropriate or feasible, then: a. Identify the specific impact in question;
    2. b. Explain why you believe the impact would occur;
    3. c. Explain why you believe the effect would be significant; and, if applicable,
    4. d. Explain what additional mitigation measure(s) or changes in proposed mitigations or to the project you would recommend.
    5. e. Explain why you would recommend any changes and support your recommendations.
    6. f. Whenever possible, present facts or expert opinions. If not, provide personal experience or your observations. Don’t just complain.
    7. 6. Include suggestions for making it better or offer specific alternatives and describe how they meet the requirements of the project. Your goal should be to write something that causes them to respond in a future document based on the evidence you have given.
    8. 7. Point out any inconsistencies in the document or the data. a. Compare Draft EIS statements to facts you know.
    9. b. Point out outdated information or errors in logic.
    10. c. Focus on the sufficiency (or lack thereof) of the EIS in identifying and analyzing the possible impacts of the project on the environment and public health and safety.
    11. 8. Write a comment that includes a valid name and address. Submit it before the deadline. KEEP A COPY OF YOUR COMMENTS.
    12. 9. Submit additional comments if you think of something later but submit them before the deadline.

5 Reasons Why You Should Comment on the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the Spaceport

1. The public process allows you participate in a significant way in the once in a lifetime opportunity of designing a spaceport. You can have a significant impact. Your input can help shape this project in a positive way or stop it if it is bad for Camden County.

2. Even if you are not especially worried about this project, then consider that it may still be built in ways that negatively affect you, your home, your kids, your neighborhood, your financial security, Camden County, or our State. The only way to make the FAA aware of your individual, immediate concerns is to send in comments during this period.

3. Your comments to the FAA are your opportunity to address any concerns related to safety, scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental issues.

4. If you don’t think your comments will have any effect, then consider that the only comments that will not to have any impact are the ones you don’t write. Those comments you do write must be considered and addressed by the FAA.

5. If you do not comment, you forgo many of your rights to any recourse in the future.

* IMPORTANT: If you make reference to ANY document in your EIS comments (a letter or notice you received, a law in your city, a copy of a presentation you saw – even if it was provided by the FAA, etc.) you should include a full copy as part of your EIS comments. Think of your comments as testimony in a case. Any documents you are submitting in the future might be considered evidence. Do NOT assume the FAA has a copy of any document you are referencing.

* IMPORTANT: Keep a copy of your comments. Send a copy to your County Commissioner as well so they have a record of what the citizens are asking for or are concerned about relating to the spaceport.

Disclaimer: The following is intended to serve as a guide and is not intended to be legal advice. Please seek professional help from a lawyer if you have legal questions or concerns.

Email your comments to:


Mail your comments to:

Ms. Stacey M. Zee, Spaceport Camden EIS c/o Leidos 20201 Century Boulevard, Suite 105 Germantown, MD 20874

Email a copy to your Commissioner: substitute # with 1,2,3,4 or 5 Email a copy of your Comments to:

 —Steve Weinkle

Spaceport EIS disregards health and safety

Spaceport EIS disregards health and safety

March 28, 2018  |  Ear to the Sand

Here is a link to the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Spaceport directly across from Cumberland Island. There are many reasons why this spaceport’s location is a really bad idea, especially its impact to safety, access to Cumberland Island, island ecology, and the water quality of the entire region, but unfortunately, this EIS ignores those impacts entirely.


Now or Never: Stop the Development on Cumberland

Now or Never: Stop the Development on Cumberland

March 5, 2018  |  Ear to the Sand

An 88-acre private beachfront development has been proposed for Cumberland Island National Seashore, the country’s largest and wildest barrier island. A developer plans to build at least 10 large houses adjacent to Cumberland Island’s visitor center and campground.

This increased development is a threat to the purposes of National Seashore and will interfere with the visitor experience.

Wild Cumberland hopes to stop the development with legal action. But time is running out. We need to file litigation in the next few months in order to stop the bulldozers.

We have launched a crowdfunding to take legal action against the proposed development. Visit the our crowdfunding page here.

If this private upscale subdivision in the middle of a national park is allowed to proceed, an additional 900 acres of private land within Cumberland Island National Seashore may also be developed.

As an all-volunteer federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Wild Cumberland will use 100% of the funds for direct legal action to stop the development.

Donations to the legal fund can be made through our crowdfunding site here. Thanks for any help you can offer.


Cumberland in Crisis

Cumberland in Crisis

November 30, 2017  |  Ear to the Sand

Check out the latest update to the subdivision saga on Cumberland Island. Will development destroy one of the last wild islands? Or will the National Park Service step up to stop it?

Read the full story published this week in Blue Ridge Outdoors here.

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