A recent story in Great Britain’s Daily Mail promoted the “wild” horses of Cumberland. Unfortunately, the story contains many inaccuracies surrounding the horses.
Visitors imagine that the animals are enjoying happier lives living free on a forested island, but most island visitors see only a glimpse of the life of island horses. They do not observe the struggles of equine life in this hostile island environment, nor the outcomes, since the National Park Service quickly removes dead or injured animals from sight. Turning loose the horses on Cumberland is similar to turning one’s pet dog loose in a forest and expecting it to fare well.
On Cumberland, feral mares are often impregnated at age one, long before they are fully mature. Their health quickly deteriorates, especially when food supplies are sparse, which they frequently are on barrier islands.
In addition, foal mortality is high, and environmental hazards are many. Flowing manes and long-haired tails are potentially deadly in vine-tangled forests, where the horses are often snared and held until death. The open, level expanses of salt marsh are inviting to equines, but the weight of a horse is distributed on four small points, which offer little support in soft mud. Once a horse sinks belly-deep in mud, escape is unlikely, but the tide is inevitable. Many have drowned, held fast by the mud.
And there are predators. Island horses are killed by alligators, as well as venomous snakes, and encephalitis-bearing mosquitoes. In reality, life is hard and survival is a challenge for the horses living on Cumberland Island.
Not only are the horses living a hard life, but many animals native to Cumberland suffer from the presence of feral livestock, as do the natural island ecosystems. Much of the island horse’s diet is composed of Spanish moss, which would otherwise hang to the ground, providing food and habitat for native animals. One look at the amount of horse manure on the island gives an idea of the enormity of their impact on the vegetation and water quality, and thus the ecosystems.
Preferring open areas to hazardous forest habitat, and always in search of food, horses frequent the beach and dunes to forage and escape biting flies. There they graze and trample grasses necessary to stabilize the dunes, such as sea oats. Sea oats help hold the sand dunes in place, with their deep network of roots and ability to continue growing if buried. Grazing compromises this natural protection of the shoreline and also violates state law.
It is time for us to thoughtfully address the presence of feral horses on Cumberland Island, taking into account their welfare and that of the island ecosystems. Local businesses see the horses as attracting tourist dollars. Others still have an emotional attachment to having horses on the island, without understanding the situation. Are we guilty of simply projecting our romantic notions onto suffering animals?
Recently, the National Park Service expressed an interest in non-lethally eliminating feral horses on the island. Using contraception, it is both possible and feasible through non-lethal methods, to allow the present horses to live out their lives on the island, without reproduction, thereby preventing future suffering and ecosystem degradation. In the long-term, using contraception to reduce the number of horses on Cumberland is what’s best for the horses and the island.
This is the essential book for anyone who cares about Cumberland. Carol has spent 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.
“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.
If you read only one book about Cumberland, this is it. Learn more and buy it at mupress.org.
Hope to see you there. Meanwhile, Camden County will make its final decisions about development on Cumberland tonight. Please call or email the Camden County Commissioners today.
Outraged? Let the Park Service know. They want to hear from YOU. It is time that we stepped up FOR the feral horses on Cumberland Island and left our selfish and mercenary desires behind.
WRITE: Superintendent G. Ingram, Cumberland Island National Seashore
101 Wheeler St.
St. Marys, GA 31558
Or check the Park website for other options: www.nps.gov/cuis/contacts.htm
Now is the time to stop the development planned for Cumberland Island. A coalition of environmental organizations have teamed up to create the SAVE CUMBERLAND ISLAND facebook page, and they will be spearheading efforts over the next week leading up to the county commissioner’s meeting. Public outrage is monting, but now it needs to be funneled into action. This next week may be our only chance to stop the development on Cumberland Island. Join the discussion on the new facebook page and contact the county commissioners:
The Camden County Commissioners will make an important decision on the development on June 5. Emails and phone calls are urgently needed now.
There is still a chance to stop development on Cumberland Island. The June 24 rally will be an important and exciting gathering of people and ideas.
The rally will take place Saturday June 24, at Gilman Waterfront Park next to the National Park Service Cumberland Island Visitor Center. Enjoy live music, booths and exhibits, face painting, and food trucks, and hear from key speakers and leaders working to protect Cumberland Island from development.
Hope to see you in St. Marys.
Alex Kearns wrote this response to Sam Candler, a Coca-Cola heir who is attempting to develop an 87-acre subdivision on Cumberland Island and petitioning the county to rezone 1,000 acres on the island for additional development:
Yesterday’s edition of the Savannah Morning News included a letter to the editor by the Very Reverend Sam Candler, Dean of The Cathedral of St. Philip (Atlanta), Cumberland Island landowner, member of Lumar, LLC (the “hardship” variance), and one of the individuals who are herding the County commissioners and administration toward rezoning the 1,000 acres of remaining inholdings on the Island.
Rev. Candler states “Our families would be as horrified as anyone if huge subdivisions were developed on Cumberland. Thus, we are investigating ways to limit the number of houses that might be built per year.”
Might I suggest that they stop urging the County to rezone the 1,000 acres to allow for development then? 1 house per every 2 acres (the number I’m hearing most often) would result in 400 houses…eventually. Who cares how many they’re allowed to build each year? Does it truly matter whether the Island is destroyed slowly or quickly? (It brings to mind the old Greek proverb “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”)
From the Very Reverend Sam Candler: “”The common good” is an aspiration used by many folks, too, from environmentalists and philosophers to economists and politicians. In our present world, so quickly connected by communication and travel and trade, the challenge of a truly common good – a common good for the whole world – is critical. Today, all our reflections and endeavors, whether they be religious or political or economic, will be tested by the value they bring to a common good.”
Where, sir, is the “good faith” in compromising a Global Biosphere Reserve and violating the enabling legislation of Cumberland Island? Where is the “common good” in impacting the lives and livelihoods of St. Marys citizens, sullying the experience of 60,000 people per year who visit the Island, and risking the integrity of complex ecosystems?
He states (in the letter to the editor) “Finally, of course, our families have lived there; we have been baptized and married and buried on that island. It is a holy place.”
How very fortunate they have all been to have had such a wonderland in which to vacation – and I do not begrudge them that. Some of us are born heirs to vast fortunes and some of us are not. Luck of the draw. What I do question is why that should serve as some sort of argument for rezoning: “We’ve been here for a long time so we should be able to negatively impact a national park.”
Please note: I am not attacking Sam Candler, impugning his character, or in any way “disrespecting” him. In fact, I like Sam and have enjoyed my time with him. I am simply confused by the contradiction between what he writes and his actions.
Certain Island families speak often about their contributions to the creation of Cumberland Island National Seashore, and I could not admire their past actions more. But one wonders why they would not be the first in line to want to continue that work by protecting and enhancing the wilderness nature of Cumberland. Instead, they risk tarnishing their proud legacy for all time and destroying that which they claim to consider “holy.”
This letter written by Diane Klement powerfully expresses the main concerns about the proposed subdivision. Feel free to copy and personalize this letter, and then send it to to the Camden County Commissioners today. Thanks to Diane and to all of you for flooding the commissioners with letters like these.
Dear Camden County Commissioners,
Nestled off the Georgia coast, Cumberland Island remains one of the state and nation’s greatest natural treasures. Designated as a National Seashore under the control of the National Park Service, the natural beauty, biodiversity, and inexplicable magic of the island has enchanted and inspired its visitors since 1972.
However, the Camden County Board of Commissioners plans to rezone 1,000 acres of this land to allow for residential development by Lumar LLC which represents heirs of the Coca-Cola founder and other island landowners. These 1,000 acres of privately owned, fee simple inholdings which describes land owned completely, without any limitations or conditions, cannot currently be developed for residential purposes. If this rezoning occurs, then Cumberland will be transformed into essentially an exclusive gated subdivision.
A Cumberland Island adulterated by houses and septic systems would completely contradict the legislation which established the National Seashore. This legislation states verbatim that “the seashore shall be permanently preserved in its primitive state.” Thus, how can the Camden County Commissioners and Lumar LLC disrespect this imperative? Do the Camden County Commissioners work for the Candlers and wealthy developers, or the people?
As citizens, we must remember that the Cumberland Island National Seashore belongs to us. We cannot let private interest sully the ethereal beauty, wilderness, and unique ecological state that defines this public land to so many who love it. Thus, as citizens, we must act now to preserve this land for future generations so that they too can explore the maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and marshes that define Cumberland Island.
To act, please contact the Camden County Commissioners at (912) 510-0464 or visit their website http://www.co.camden.ga.us/80/Commissioners for more information regarding Commissioner meetings, emails, and addresses. Also, follow Save Cumberland Island and the Cumberland Island Coalition on Facebook for updates and more information regarding the situation.
Regarding the public hearing concerning the Camden County Planning Commission’s decision to grant a hardship variance for a proposed subdivision on Cumberland Island, a mutual decision has been reached between the involved parties to postpone the hearing until April 4th.
Says Bill Sapp, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, “Given the numerous parties involved and in order to give the important issue of preserving the natural, wild character of Cumberland Island the time and attention it deserves, the Camden County Planning Commission will hear our appeal on April 4th. The overwhelming public response, both from local residents as well as from visitors far and wide, is a testament to this iconic island and those who want to see it protected now and for future generations.”
David Kyler, executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, wrote a powerful op-ed about Cumberland Iskand in this week’s edition of Connect Savannah. An excerpt appears below. Read the entire op-ed at connectsavannah.com.
We now face a proposal for subdividing a parcel on Cumberland Island into ten lots intended for individual homes, to be decided under the authority of Camden County and its planning commission.
If approved and built, this development would fundamentally reverse the 46-year-old agreement to safeguard Cumberland Island as America’s premier example of responsible coastal stewardship. The National Park Service must be held accountable to tax-payer obligations by implementing a plan that prevents development.
Some $100 million in federal and land conservation funds have been spent to secure and maintain a pristine future for Cumberland Island. Passively allowing the hard-won and costly national struggle for Cumberland’s protection to be negated by a careless local government decision made in disregard for national priorities would be both shameful and absurd.
Can there be any doubt that once additional real-estate development is permitted at the Cumberland National Seashore, similar proposals will further undermine the future of our unsurpassed coastal treasure? Would we tolerate such threats to Yosemite or Yellowstone – comparable national assets?
Resolutely defending the promise and longstanding public trust that Cumberland will not be developed honors our national identity and our word. It would be deplorable and demoralizing if we allowed this glorious gem of Georgia’s coast to be stripped of its enchantment. The serene experience of Cumberland must not be debased by the destructive disturbance of more residents, more buildings, and more vehicles.
If we’re truly committed to safeguarding places of exceptional natural beauty, surely we will hold Cumberland Island sacrosanct. The opportunity to experience one of America’s most magnificent places must not be lost to this and future generations.
As Americans and Georgians we must reassert our conviction that such revered natural treasures must not be irreversibly degraded in the misguided pursuit of private objectives benefitting a few at the expense of the many.
Cumberland guardians should voice concerns by contacting Camden officials via the clerk’s office, firstname.lastname@example.org .