Mark Williams, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was joined by representatives from the Department of Defense, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other partners today at a ceremony to announce the opening of the Alapaha River Wildlife Management Area (WMA). This almost 7,000-acre tract sits north and east of the Alapaha River in Irwin County and will provide opportunities for outdoor recreational activities such as hunting, hiking, camping and bird-watching, and will serve as a demonstration site for longleaf pine restoration.
“The Georgia Department of Natural Resources consistently seeks to expand available public lands through ground-breaking or innovative partnerships such as this one,” said DNR Commissioner Mark Williams. “The Alapaha River WMA is one of the most important tracts in our state for the gopher tortoise, a species we are diligently working to protect in order to avoid the need for a potential federal listing.”
The Alapaha River WMA was once managed for longleaf pine turpentine production until the 1960s. The area was home to most of Dr. Dan Speake’s (Auburn) pioneering research on the eastern indigo snake and the gopher tortoise. Gopher tortoise research conducted at the Alapaha River WMA by the J. Jones Ecological Research Center estimated the population at 1,877 adult tortoises in 2011, one of the highest and densest populations in the state. A viable gopher tortoise population is a minimum of 250 adults.
During the 1990s, a shift towards restoring the longleaf pine on the tract began. In 2000, Mr. Hugh Lentile acquired the tract and increased longleaf pine recovery efforts in partnership with the Georgia DNR.
The availability of this area to the public is thanks to the cooperation of Mr. Lentile and to partner agency efforts, including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Department of Defense, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Knobloch Family Foundation, and the Georgia Forestry Commission.
Management of the WMA will provide continued focus on the restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem which provides important habitat for wildlife, including both game and nongame species, like the state’s official reptile, the gopher tortoise, as well as the indigo snake, the striped newt and such game species as deer and turkey.
The Alapaha River WMA opens for hunt scouting at noon on Sept. 30. Hunt opportunities begin on Oct. 1 for deer hunting. Approved regulation changes for this area are available at www.georgiawildlife.com/Hunting/RegulationChanges.