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Article: Rockets Over Cumberland?

Article: Rockets Over Cumberland?

October 9, 2019  |  Ear to the Sand

Don’t miss this article from founder Carol Ruckdeschel, originally published on Blue Ridge Outdoors, on Sept. 27, 2019.

 
 

Hikers endangered by proposed spaceport next to Cumberland Island National Seashore

 
 

Hikers in the Cumberland Island National Seashore may soon find themselves setting up camp below a rocket trajectory. From a site five miles away on the adjacent mainland, private companies will be launching rockets, with no established track record, directly over Cumberland Island—the country’s largest and wildest barrier island national park and a United Nations Global Biosphere Reserve.Carol Ruckdeschel

 
 
View Article

 
 

NPS-Controlled Burn Follows Whitney Lightning Fire

NPS-Controlled Burn Follows Whitney Lightning Fire

August 8, 2019  |  Ear to the Sand

This month, the National Park Service utilized miles of firebreaks and other expensive techniques to control a naturally-occurring fire in the Wilderness Area — and then immediately proceeded with a controlled burn.

On June 29, 2019, the “Whitney Fire” (which never went to Whitney Lake) was ignited by a naturally-occurring source, a lightning strike. Over the next month, the NPS utilized resources from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Forestry, and Florida Forest Service to watch the fire. This included five (5) or more fire engines, helicopters, drones, infrared technology, and at least 70 personnel.

But as soon as the naturally-occurring fire in the Wilderness was out, they moved forward with a prescribed burn (out of designated Wilderness).  

Their logic? The original Whitney Fire provided a “boundary to support containment to the prescribed area.

Mother Nature knew exactly what she was doing. In fact, there is a naturally-occurring major burn event on the island in the scrub community every 10 – 30 years; without these, the ecosystem suffers. But the NPS’ current fire management policy interrupts the natural fire cycle and over time, may do irreversible damage.

In this particular fire event, the NPS hardly had to control the natural fire, it went out on its own between the Main Rd and the North Fraser “Cut” Rd. From that burn, they realized that conditions were not conducive to a hot burn (which is what the scrub wants, but firefighters do not). They then burned about a quarter of the scrub community south of Candler’s. That area was removed from Wilderness by Greyfield, along with the Main Rd., most of the north end, and the beach, so they could drive their commercial tours up. The park fire was ostensibly to protect the Candler compound.

Wild Cumberland isn’t opposed to a fire management plan that protects structures, but we do believe that any fire management plan should allow natural fires to burn in the Wilderness.

The National Park Service’s current fire management policy, enacted in 2015 (updated 2019) does not comply with wilderness management guidelines as they are defined by the Wilderness Act.  Also, the NPS should protect WILDERNESS CHARACTER on adjacent land. Firebreaks do not accomplish that.

Wild Cumberland continues to oppose the NPS approach to fire management for the Cumberland Island Wilderness Area. Allow natural fires — but not prescribed burns, which are another form of human manipulation. To take action, visit this link http://wildcumberland.org/?page_id=742.

 

Other recent NPS burns (outside designated Wilderness):

April 20, 2019 – debris pile located on the southern end of the island (Raccoon Key)

February 2019 – Stafford Burn

Resources:

Cumberland Island National Seashore Facebook page

https://www.nps.gov/cuis/learn/news/north-cut-prescribed-burn.htm

https://www.nps.gov/cuis/learn/management/upload/FMP-2015-signature.pdf

The Hard Truth About Horses

The Hard Truth About Horses

August 7, 2019  |  Ear to the Sand

Be sure and look for this beautiful animal while you are at Dungeness.  But better hurry — she may not be around much longer.

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. Poor diet, parasites, and disease take their toll on Cumberland’s horses each year.

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.

Okefenokee Threatened by Massive Mining Project (Again)

July 25, 2019  |  Ear to the Sand

The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is the largest wilderness area in the East, and it forms the headwaters of the St. Marys River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Cumberland Island. The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in North America and one of the wildest and most biologically diverse landscapes in the Eastern United States.

In July, an Alabama company announced plans to strip mine for titanium and other heavy minerals in an area bordering the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Twin Pine Minerals is proposing to operate its mining facility in stages on about 19 square miles along a ridge of land bordering the refuge. The total proposed area is about 12,000 acres. The titanium dioxide that Twin Pines Minerals wants to mine is primarily used to produce white pigment for paints and paper. Gopher tortoises, a threatened species that is considered a “keystone” species on which other animals depend, will be among the many species impacted due to construction of facilities and mining activities.

In the 1990s, DuPont’s plan to mine on 38,000 acres outside the refuge caused such an outcry that then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt visited the Okefenokee in April 1997 to declare his opposition. DuPont gave up its Georgia mining plan in 1999.

We need a similarly massive public outcry against this mining plan in order to stop it. Please make your voice heard. Public comments can be sent to holly.a.ross@usace.army.mil.

You can sign this petition opposing the strip mining plans for the Okefenokee:

https://www.thepetitionsite.com/331/961/490/stop-strip-mining-planned-next-to-okefenokee-national-wildlife-refuge/

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 chrader@bellsouth.net.IMG_5575

 

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 http://parkplanning.nps.gov/CUIS_VUM_Plan

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.

 

Wilderness, the Bulldozer, and the Bike

Wilderness, the Bulldozer, and the Bike

March 3, 2019  |  Ear to the Sand

Mechanical equipment such as bulldozers and bikes are prohibited in Wilderness. But that hasn’t stopped the National Park Service from clearing wide swaths along the Main Road using heavy machinery. The Main Road was officially removed from Wilderness, but the adjacent lands are supposed to me maintained for their primitive character.

Bicycles are also not permitted in the wilderness. The National Park Service has not enforced this, and bicycles continue to be used throughout the island wilderness.

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 mupress.org.

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