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.
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.”
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.”
Watch a powerful video of a loggerhead sea turtle nesting on Cumberland Island National Seashore.
The photo shows where the 88-acre development will be located in relation to Sea Camp dock, where most visitors arrive on Cumberland Island. It will literally be within a stone’s throw of the visitor center. The development property extends all the way across the island to the wild, pristine beach.
Send a quick email to the Camden County Commissioners urging them to deny the variance permit for this proposed subdivision: email@example.com
The island needs you now more than ever. Thanks for your help.
The “no bicycles allowed” sign on the Duckhouse Trail at the beach was recently vandalized — torn off. Bicycles regularly use both Duckhouse and Willow Pond Wilderness Trails. As if mocking the Wilderness, the National Park Service allows campers to bicycle with all their camping gear to Brickhill Campsite, as long as the bikes are left at the road. The strip of road was removed from Wilderness by special interests (Greyfield), and is within sight of the campground.
What exactly is wilderness? What are we fighting for on Cumberland Island and other wild places across the country? David Cole, Doug Scott, Ed Zahniser, Roger Kaye, George Nickas, and Kevin Proescholdt offer a powerful answer in the December 2017 issue of Wilderness Guardian published by Wilderness Watch, a national organization dedicated to protecting the ecological integrity and wilderness character of the U.S. Wilderness system. An excerpt appears below:
Wilderness character is fundamentally about wildness. It should be defined as the degree to which wilderness is free from deliberate human modification, control, and manipulation of a character and scope that hampers the free play of natural ecological processes.
Protecting wilderness character is about ensuring that wilderness remains untrammeled and undeveloped, without human occupation or domination. We do so by not allowing developments or manipulating wilderness ecosystems to any significant degree.
Manipulations where the intent is more to remove evidence of humans than to intervene in ecological processes, such as restoration of an impacted campsite, are not a concern. Actions that seek to modify wilderness ecosystems significantly, such as a program of herbicide spraying or prescribed fire, are much harder to justify because they degrade wilderness character.
We are not alone in believing that wildness is the central quality of wilderness character. In 1953, Howard Zahniser wrote, “We must remember always that the essential quality of the wilderness is its wildness.” In that same paragraph, Zahniser stated: “we must not only protect the wilderness from commercial exploitation. We must also see that we do not ourselves destroy its wilderness character in our own management programs.”
More recently, Jack Turner wrote that “if we fail to incorporate wildness into what we mean by wilderness we simply define wilderness out of existence.”
Doug Scott, in an article on wilderness character and the Wilderness Act, states that it is the word untrammeled that defines “the wilderness character (that) it is the duty of conservationists and land managers to protect,” a perspective repeated by Proescholdt. Howard Zahniser’s son, Ed, concluded an article on wilderness character with the statement “The wilderness character of designated wilderness is its wildness.
In 1963, Howard Zahniser discussed the stewardship implications of protecting wildness in an editorial that took issue with the Department of Interior’s Leopold Report on wildlife management in national parks. The report recommended that national parks be actively managed to restore their condition at the time they were first visited by white men, to present “a vignette of primitive America.” Zahniser wrote that “… the board’s report poses a serious threat to the wilderness within the national park system and indeed the wilderness concept itself.” It “… is certainly in contrast with the wilderness philosophy of protecting areas at their boundaries and trying to let natural forces operate within the wilderness untrammeled by man.” He concluded the editorial:
“With regard to areas of wilderness, we should be guardians not gardeners.”
Read the entire article at wildernesswatch.org.
An island family is proposing to build a new 10-lot subdivision less than a quarter-mile from Sea Camp on Cumberland Island. The land is owned by heirs who did not sell their property to the National Park Service. As a result, they own the land outright as a private inholding within Cumberland Island National Seashore.
The developers have requested a special exemption variance from the county planning and development board. You can comment on the variance by contacting Camden County’s Director of Planning and Development at firstname.lastname@example.org
The county requires that all subdivisions be fronted by a paved road. The Main Road on Cumberland is unpaved. The developers are requesting a special exemption from this requirement so that their 10-lot subdivision can proceed.
This is the only opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed subdivision. Comments must be received by December 7.
An excerpt of the letter announcing the subdivision developer’s proposal and request for a special exemption variance appears below:
RE: Special Exception Variance #ZV2016-07
To Whom It May Concern:
Glenn Warren requests a Hardship Variance from the requirements of the Camden County Unified Development Code (UDC) Sec. 501(b)(3), to allow a 10 lot split with unpaved road frontage. The request is to allow subdivision of the property into 10 lots fronting on Main Road, an unpaved road, since there are no paved streets on Cumberland Island. The Camden County Tax Map shows the property as Tax Parcel 181 006 and located in the C-P, Conservation Preservation Zoning District with access via Main Road. Lumar, LLC is shown as the owner.
A public hearing on the special exemption variance is scheduled for December 7 at 6 p.m. in Kingsland, Ga. If you are unable to attend the meeting and would like to comment, or have any questions, please feel free to contact Eric Landon at (912)729-5603 / email@example.com
Hurricane Matthew pruned and removed weakened tree from the island forest, leaving the Main Road impassable by a vehicle. The Park Service imported fire crews from all over the country to help clear the debris and open the road. In 2004, Greyfield solicited a corrupted congressman to remove the Main Road, north end, and beach from Wilderness designation. Chainsaws could then legally be used in those areas. The Park Service also used chainsaws on hiking trails within the Wilderness. This is in direct violation of the Wilderness Act.
Use of motorized equipment in the Wilderness is a recurring example of mis-management of the island Wilderness by the National Park Service, since the Wilderness was established in 1982. WildCumberland has made numerous requests regarding island Wilderness management, but to no avail. Please help WildCumberland effect proper Wilderness management by sending your comments and concerns to: Gary Ingram, Superintendent, Cumberland Island National Seashore (Gary_Ingram@nps.gov), with a copy to the NPS Southeast Regional Office (Darrell_Echols@nps.gov).
Carol Ruckdeschel provided these photos from the beaches of Cumberland Island. The first photo shows the wrack-covered beach near Sea Camp; the other three photos show the dunes near Willow Pond.