National wildlife refuges are closed due to the federal-government shutdown, including one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders — the Okefenokee Swamp, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jeff Fleming.
Fleming said most of the 438,000-acre black-water swamp falls within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and therefore is under the protection and control of the federal government. Other area national wildlife refuges like Blackbeard Island and Harris Neck also are closed.
Fleming’s office sent a news release Oct. 11 that announced the cancellation of an Oct. 17-20 managed archery hunt on Blackbeard Island. This is the first time in 68 years the annual managed hunt will not take place, he said. He added the Fish and Wildlife Service simply is unable to support the hunt.
Fleming said there were nearly 100 permit holders this year for the Blackbeard Island hunt. The Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet decided whether to reimburse permit holders or offer rain checks for an alternate date. He said they waited as long as possible to decide to cancel the managed archery hunt, adding that if the shutdown ended right now, there would not be time to coordinate support for the event.
“(The refuges) are closed because of the lapse in appropriations to fund the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, its refuge system and the balance of the agency’s conservation work for the current fiscal year,” Fleming said. “The funds to pay employees and support their work have not yet been appropriated so most of them are furloughed until the government is reopened. As such, we are required to close refuges we manage here and across the Southeast.”
He said the shutdown affects about 200 field stations in the Southeast, including all of its wildlife refuges.
Fleming acknowledged that Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites website has posted a message announcing that nearly all of the state’s 56 parks and historic sites are open and mostly are unaffected by the federal-government shutdown. He pointed out, though, that Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo is in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. He said guests can use the state park’s cabins and campgrounds but not the swamp waterways, still area or nature trail.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Melissa Cummings reported that the state’s wildlife-management areas and public-fishing areas mostly are unaffected by the federal-government shutdown. She said the DNR has a similar message on its website that assures hunters and anglers that DNR-controlled properties are open. However, she also said a link from the website homepage shows Dixon Memorial WMA near Waycross is closed. Dixon WMA is in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
“The state has a budget,” Fleming said. “We don’t. My experience is that most people will pay attention to what’s closed and what’s open. (For those who don’t), most of our law-enforcement officers are on an excepted status and will be enforcing (the closure).”
He said the U.S. National Park Service is under the same budget constraints and therefore has closed its national parks. Regionally, those parks include Fort Pulaski National Monument near Tybee Island, the Cumberland Island National Seashore near St. Marys and Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island.
Nearby state parks and historic sites that still are open include Savannah’s Skidaway Island State Park and Wormsloe Historic Site, Richmond Hill’s Fort McAllister Historic Site, Midway’s Fort Morris Historic Site, Darien’s Fort King George Historic Site, Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation Historic Site and Sapelo Island Reserve, Kingsland’s Crooked River State Park and Waycross’ Laura S. Walker State Park.