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Georgia conservationists meet in Waycross to protect the okefenokee from mining

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Mike Worley, CEO, Georgia Wildlife Federation welcomes Georgia Water Coalition members at the Okefenokee Swamp Park. Submitted photo Mike Worley, CEO, Georgia Wildlife Federation welcomes Georgia Water Coalition members at the Okefenokee Swamp Park.

The Georgia Water Coalition hosted its Fall Member meeting in Waycross November 8 - 10, 2023. Conservationists from around the state learned more about the Okefenokee and how to protect it from risky mining operations.



Attendees toured the Okefenokee Swamp Park, the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, and the St. Marys River. During the member meeting at South Georgia State College, Georgia Water Coalition members learned about how mining proposals along Trail Ridge threaten the Okefenokee.



“The Okefenokee touches everyone that touches its dark waters,” said Mike Worley, CEO of Georgia Wildlife Federation. “For decades, Georgia Wildlife Federation has helped introduce folks to the Okefenokee. We have worked to protect the Okefenokee from one of the most serious threats to its continued existence, mining along the adjacent Trail Ridge. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to provide a ‘refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife’ -- but it has also become a people refuge for so many to reconnect with the natural world and to see and experience the wonders of nature.”



Attendees learned that the Okefenokee Protection Act, HB 71, would provide permanent protections from risky mining along a section of Trail Ridge near the swamp. This sandy area holds deposits of titanium dioxide and other common minerals found in everyday products like paints and sunscreens. Trail Ridge also forms the boundary of the Okefenokee swamp and is critical to how water flows to the swamp.



“The St. Marys River and its headwaters the Okefenokee swamp are pristine waterways and loved by all locals,” said Emily Floore, St Marys Riverkeeper. “HB 71 would protect a critical section of Trail Ridge from future mining operations to ensure the continued existence of the Okefenokee swamp and the ecosystem connected to it. However, what the bill does not mention is that it also protects the St. Marys River. One bill can preserve two beloved Georgia waterways.”



The Okefenokee Protection Act (HB 71) was introduced in January 2023 and is sponsored by over half of the House of Representatives. The Georgia Water Coalition recently recognized the Okefenokee Protection Act’s lead sponsor, Representative Darlene Taylor (R-Thomasville) with a Clean 13 Award.



“For many of us, the Okefenokee is part of our identity. We may have different temperaments, talents, and convictions, but we are all swampers and are defined by it. We don’t want to take any risks that may put it in jeopardy,” said Josh Howard, Friends of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. “We support the passage of the Okefenokee Protection Act. We urge legislators to protect the Okefenokee for now and for future generations of Georgians and Americans. The risks of mining activities on Trail Ridge for this common mineral are just too great.”



“Beyond Trail Ridge, cities and counties in the Suwannee River Basin value the Okefenokee Swamp and the Suwannee River, and are passing resolutions supporting the Okefenokee Swamp and legislation protecting it, including the City of Valdosta and Clinch and Echols Counties,” said Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman.



People can send a message to their legislators to support the Okefenokee Protection Act (HB 71) at www.protectgeorgia.org/okefenokee.

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