Folkston, Ga. – Last week, the National Park Service announced that the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge has been invited to prepare a nomination to be inscribed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
“Now that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been formally invited to prepare a nomination package for the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge as a World Heritage Site, this represents a monumental step for both the Okefenokee swamp and surrounding communities,” said Michael Lusk, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge “Inscription as a World Heritage Site will solidify the Okefenokee’s position as a world-class natural resource, encourage conservation, and provide an enormous economic boost to the local communities and the state of Georgia. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge will soon join the ranks of the Grand Canyon and Statue of Liberty as an iconic American landscape with the worldwide recognition it deserves, and we look forward to building on that legacy for generations to come.”
The Okefenokee is the largest blackwater wetland in North America, the largest National Wildlife Refuge in the eastern United States, and is home to over 1,000 unique species of plants and animals. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is also a National Natural Landmark committed to showcasing and preserving the wildlife, waterways, and natural habitats of this world-class resource.
“We’re delighted to see Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge take the next step in its journey towards inclusion on the World Heritage List,” said Geoffrey L. Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is one of our best examples of holistic conservation in the United States. The Okefenokee swamp is intact due in large part to the establishment of the Refuge in 1937. The Swamp comprises the headwaters of two rivers, it provides habitat for a myriad of wildlife species, including several endangered species, it sequesters vast amounts of carbon in its wet, peat soils that might otherwise be emitted and exacerbate global warming and climate change — and its list of outstanding attributes goes on and on.”
This nomination brings the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge one step closer to full inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The refuge has been on the tentative list since 1982, so this is an honor that has been more than 40 years in the making. If inscribed, the Refuge would also be the first site in the Southeast designated by UNESCO in forty years, placing this American treasure on the international stage, attracting tourism and preservation efforts, and ensuring this natural wonderland is restored for years to come.