The Altamaha River — “the Amazon of the South” — flows 137 miles across Southeast Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a little-known blackwater beauty that meanders through longleaf pine forests, cypress swamps, saltwater estuaries and barrier islands. It’s a biodiverse playground for West Indian manatees, piping plovers, eastern indigo snakes, gopher tortoises, the hairy rattleweed and dozens of at-risk species. It’s a recreational oasis, too, for deer and turkey hunters, fresh and saltwater anglers and, increasingly, kayakers, birders and hikers.
The Altamaha is also a stellar example of a “conservation corridor,” a lengthy, protected bulwark against the ravages of over-development and a warming climate. Nearly $100 million has been spent over the last dozen years buying up huge swaths of land along the Altamaha. A 40-mile-long corridor, from Jesup to Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge, has been protected — along both sides of the river.
The Altamaha corridor underscores perfectly the Southeast Conservation Adaptation Strategy (SECAS), a coalition of government and nonprofit groups aiming to protect large swaths of land, myriad at-risk species and a distinctly Southern way of life heavy on hunting and fishing. SECAS, promulgated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, enlists business, industry and the military — entities not typically synonymous with conservation — in “a connected network of landscapes and seascapes that supports thriving fish and wildlife populations and improved quality of life for people.” The network is targeted for completion by 2060. Read more about SECAS here: http://secassoutheast.org/.
By mid-century, the Southeast is projected to have lost a South Carolina-sized amount of forest. The region’s population could double. Seas and temperatures could significantly rise. The Altamaha corridor will therefore play a crucial role in protecting the region’s biodiversity. The Altamaha corridor received generous support from an alphabet soup’s worth of federal and state agencies, with the state of Georgia and Fish and Wildlife topping the list. The U.S. Department of Defense, not usually known for conservation, also plays a critical financial and environmental role in the Altamaha’s survival.
Despite the corridor’s success, more work remains. The military, for example, expects to one day link the corridor’s northern edge to Fort Stewart, an Army base 10 miles away. And the state of Georgia is cobbling together a 120-mile corridor from Florida across the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and the Altamaha River up to Fort Stewart.
“The Altamaha River fits perfectly into the SECAS mold,” said Cindy Dohner, the Southeast Region director for the Service. “It’s a wild and beautiful river corridor teeming with at-risk, threatened and endangered species as well as recreational opportunities. It’s also a testament to the power of cooperation — between the feds, the state of Georgia, the military and private landowners — to keep working lands working for the betterment of the economy.”
For more stories and videos about the Altamaha River, please visit https://www.fws.gov/southeast/conserving-paradise/.