265 acres along the Cape Fear River in Bladen County has now been permanently protected

Steeprun Ncclt 4031
(Photo: Coastal Land Trust)

BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — The N.C. Coastal Land Trust recently completed the purchase of 265 acres along 1.1 miles of the Cape Fear River in Bladen County, permanently protecting it.

The property, located in the small town of East Arcadia just north of Riegelwood, hosts mature floodplain forest, upland hardwood ravines, and a great diversity of wildlife.

“It is an area rich in wildlife that provides nesting habitat for wading birds like the Great Egret and federally threatened Wood Stork; waterfowl like Wood Duck and Hooded Merganser; as well as bottomland hardwood dependent songbirds such as Prothonotary Warbler and Swainson’s Warbler,”  N.C. Coastal Land Trust’s Director of Land Protection Janice Allen said.  “Rare bats like Rafinesque’s big-eared bat and Southeastern bat utilize the large trees in the swamp for roosting, and common mammals like the raccoon, black bear, white-tailed deer, bobcat, and river otter also make the swamp their home.”

This newly-protected forest includes a portion of Steep Run Swamp that has been identified as “ecologically significant” by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. This designation is due to the age and near pristine bottomland hardwood and cypress-gum forest as well as the known nesting colony of Wood Storks.

The Wood Stork, North America’s only native stork, is a relative newcomer to North Carolina. The species has expanded its nesting range northward over the past two decades.  N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologists discovered North Carolina’s first Wood Stork colony in 2005 while conducting aerial surveys for Bald Eagle nests.

According to Wildlife Commission biologist, Carmen Johnson, Wood Stork numbers are on the rise in coastal North Carolina with over 350 nests tallied in 2019 and over 690 nests in 2021.  Johnson notes, “The species nests in hardwood trees, especially cypress, surrounded by shallow water where they can find fishes, invertebrates, and amphibians to eat and feed their chicks. The storks have found ideal habitat in the mill ponds and swamps of southeastern North Carolina. By protecting the Steep Run Swamp the Coastal Land Trust is helping to ensure that these birds continue to flourish in our state.”

The other exciting bird to be discovered in Steep Run Swamp, is the Swallow-tailed Kite, a slender and elegant bird of prey.  Wildlife Commission biologist, John Carpenter who first spotted the nest in 2011 from a plane flying low along the Cape Fear, stated, “This was an exciting find as it is the first documented Swallow-tailed Kite nest in the state.”

“We are thrilled to have conserved this portion of Steep Run Swamp along the Cape Fear River,” said Allen. “It is a wild and wonderful place that supports a great diversity of birds and other wildlife, and provides a myriad of other human benefits as the upland and wetland forests on this property help store carbon critical for climate resiliency, moderate floodwaters, and filter the water.”

The Coastal Land Trust protects land for birds, other wildlife and people across 31 coastal counties in North Carolina.  This latest tract of land in the Cape Fear River basin, now permanently protected, adds to the 34,000 acres already protected in the Cape Fear basin. Overall the Coastal Land Trust has protected nearly 85,000 acres along the North Carolina coast.

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