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Wednesday, September 1, 2010 - 11:12am

Gift Expands Okefenokee Acreage

Georgia's Okefenoke National Wildlife Refuge is growing by more than a thousand acres.

The new federal land comes from a sale and donation.

The Nature Conservancy bought three tracts of former industrial pine forest on the swamp's northwest edge from timber grower Rayonier.

The non-profit used a million dollars in federal and private grants to buy the land it then donated to the refuge.

The land was scorched by the 2007 wildfires.

Allison McGee, who works in the Nature Conservancy's Darien office and helped coordinate the transfer, says the plan is to restore the natural habitat, a longleaf pine forest.

"By restoring the longleaf pine and restoring prescribed fire to these areas, then we will really begin to see the biodiversity begin to emerge again," McGee says. "So, it's very exciting."

Longleaf pine used to be the region's dominant habitat, but made way to faster-growing pine for industry.

The land will help fight wildfires by expanding the refuge buffer.

"These lands were former industrial pine plantations that were burned up during the wildfires that we had a few years ago," McGee says. "Now they're prime land for restoring longleaf pine."

Longleaf pine is a fire-dependent habitat.

Part of the grant money used to buy the land will go to replanting longleaf pine later this year.