The Okefenokee is Endangered

The Okefenokee Swamp, the largest blackwater wetland and home to the largest National Wildlife Refuge east of the Mississippi, is threatened by mining on Okefenokee’s Trail Ridge.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warns that mining would destroy the structural integrity of Trail Ridge, dewater wetlands in the swamp and induce drought, and put adjacent private property and timber lands at greater risk of wildfire.

Georgia River Network is dedicated to garnering national attention on this priority issue and urging Georgia leaders to prioritize the protection of this irreplaceable natural resource.

Georgia River Network is nearly five years into the fight to protect the Okefenokee and we are not backing down. We need your help to keep up the effort.

You can help by making a donation today to support our efforts to protect the Okefenokee’s future. We can’t continue to be the voice for Georgia’s rivers and wetlands without you.

Okefenokee Protection Update

May 20, 2024

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, could set up a legal battle if Georgia approves permits for a titanium mine near the Refuge. Read more in an article by E&E News here

Georgia River Network signed a letter to support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in fully exercising its federal rights to protect the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. You can take action too by signing a petition to support USFWS in protecting the Okefenokee. 

Okefenokee Protection Update

April 4, 2024

Georgia River Network submitted formal comments to Georgia Environmental Protection Division regarding the draft permits for air quality, groundwater and surface mining for Twin Pines Mineral’s Saunders Demonstration mine in Charlton County. 

What did we say? Stop the mine. Save the swamp. 

Our comment letter includes a general comment narrative on the ecological, cultural and historical value of the Okefenokee and Trail Ridge, in addition to permit specific comments:

  • Twin Pines “demo mine” does not demonstrate true impacts to the Okefenokee
  • Surface mining rules are not followed, failure to consider groundwater impacts to Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River
  • Monitoring requirements are inadequate to quantify impacts to Okefenokee and St. Marys River
  • Additional study of mining site for archaeological discoveries is needed
  • EPD should consult with the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Read our full comment letter. 

Please submit your own comment letter of concern. Every comment counts. We have a form that makes it easy for anyone to submit a comment to EPD.

Have you already submitted your comment? We have another action for you to take… share our comment form with a friend! Share why protecting wild spaces is important to you and invite others to learn more about the Wild Heart of Georgia.

We have until April 9 at 4:30pm to oppose these draft permits!

After the public comment period, EPD will consider all public comments and may request the applicant, Twin Pines, make changes to their proposed demonstration mine to address those comments. EPD will post responses to substantive comments on the EPD website after the official comment period closes. 

Okefenokee Protection Update

April 2, 2024

The 2024 Georgia General Assembly ended last week with our legislators taking no action to protect the Okefenokee Swamp. Read on for a summary of the 2024 legislative session and about our next steps for meaningful advocacy. 

The Okefenokee Protection Act, HB 71, sponsored by Rep. Darlene Taylor and a bi-partisan coalition of more than 90 of her House colleagues, never received a vote, let alone a hearing in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. The bill would have prohibited mining along portions of Trail Ridge, the sandy rise of the land on the swamp’s eastern border that helps regulate water levels in the swamp. 

Rep. John Corbett then introduced HB 1338, a moratorium to pause mining permits near the Okefenokee for three years that included problematic language that would limit judicial review of mining permits. Georgia River Network and its conservation partners helped prevent that bill from reaching the House floor for a vote. But, the measure resurfaced in a friendlier form near the end of the legislative session when House leadership stripped SB 132 of its original language (prohibiting foreign individuals or corporations from acquiring farm land) and inserted the three-year mining moratorium, minus the most problematic language concerning judicial reviews.

Georgia River Network supported SB 132 in its new form as a measure to buy time to find more permanent solutions for protecting the Okefenokee. SB132 passed the House almost unanimously, but Senate leadership did not bring the measure up for a vote on the final day of the legislative session, citing the desire to let the state’s “regulatory agencies” make the decision about whether mining should take place next to the Okefenokee Swamp.

Georgia River Network executive director Rena Ann Peck shared an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Read her piece here.

Next Steps: Georgia River Network will continue our work with conservation partners to secure permanent protections for the Okefenokee.

The Okefenokee is still threatened by the current proposed mine on Trail Ridge! Send a comment letter of concern to Georgia EPD and ask them to oppose the draft permits for Twin Pines Minerals. The public comment period deadline is April 9.

What We Are Fighting For:

The Okefenokee Swamp, one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders; the largest blackwater swamp in North America; and a wetland of international importance, is threatened by a proposed titanium mine.

Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, an Alabama mining company with a poor track record of environmental stewardship, has asked federal and state authorities permission to operate a 898-acre heavy mineral sand mine next to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. This is the first phase of a mining operation on a 8,000-acre site. The company proposes digging 50-foot deep trenches in Trail Ridge, the very rise of land that helps regulate water levels in the swamp. These excavations would extend below the water table of the swamp and are expected to dewater portions of the swamp and headwaters of the St. Marys River.

At risk is one of the last self-contained, naturally functioning wetlands left on Earth. Among the most visited National Wildlife Refuges in the country, the Okefenokee hosts some 725,000 visitors annually who help create more than 750 local jobs and a total annual economic output of $64.7 million in the four counties surrounding the swamp.

‘Okefenokee’: our rally cry

We are proud to present the release of ‘Okefenokee’, a rally cry to protect the Okefenokee swamp from the threat of mining.⁠

Rena Ann Peck, executive director of Georgia River Network, is the voice of Georgia rivers in many ways. Rena has lifted her voice in song in her latest attempt to raise the visibility of the Okefenokee Swamp and the threat of mining to the Okefenokee  National Wildlife Refuge – the birthplace of the St. Marys and Suwannee Rivers.

Georgia River Network has spoken up for the protection of the Okefenokee Swamp since 2019 when we first heard of a proposal to mine on Trail Ridge. This earthen dam on the eastern border of the swamp serves as a dam holding water in the swamp. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warns that mining on Okefenokee’s Trail Ridge would dewater wetlands inside Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. In the coming weeks, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division will determine whether or not to grant Twin Pines Minerals, LLC a permit to mine titanium sands on Okefenokee’s Trail Ridge. 

‘Okefenokee’ was written by Rena Ann Peck, musician Michelle Malone and Jim Woodcox to capture the sounds of the swamp and to further fuel the public outcry in opposition of mining on Okefenokee’s Trail Ridge. “This is my war cry,” Peck says, “Singing it fortifies the fire in my heart to save the wild heart of Georgia, our Okefenokee Swamp.” The song is a war cry and also an old fashioned swamper’s holler, calling out to relatives across the wilderness to respond.⁠

We need you to respond and take action! Urge your legislators to sign the Okefenokee Protection Act, HB 71, to prevent future mining proposals and donate to Georgia River Network to fuel our fight. ⁠

1. Listen to a recording of the song by Michelle Malone, also available on Spotify.

2. Take action by calling your legislators.

3. Donate to Georgia River Network by clicking here.

Okefenokee Destiny  Film Tour

Okefenokee Destiny is a love letter from locals to a deeply mysterious and largely unknown swamp as it comes under pressure from a mining company that could destroy it before it gains its rightful protected place in the world.

The Okefenokee Swamp, “The Trembling Earth,” is a place unlike any other in the world. It’s the largest intact blackwater wetland in North America and a mecca for research scientists from around the world. It’s also in the heart of an economically depressed region and under pressure from extractive industries. How can the Okefenokee be conserved for future generations – and what lessons can we learn to keep from repeating our past mistakes?

Okefenokee Destiny, a 14-minute PBS EcoSense for Living documentary, explores these questions and takes viewers on a journey through the swamp while introducing them to individuals and organizations working to protect this natural wonder. Georgia River Network is taking “Okefenokee Destiny” on a tour around Georgia to help amplify the movement to protect the wetlands from mining. All screenings will be followed by a brief Q&A with experts featured in the documentary.

If you would like us to bring a screening to your business, event or local theatre, please reach out to us at info@garivers.org.

 

GEORGIA RIVER NETWORK PRESENTS:

 

Screening tour sponsored by:

 

WILLIAMS FAMILY FOUNDATION OF GEORGIA

Learn More + Resources

Charlton County Herald Notice

Okefenokee / St Marys River Named Most Endangered River of 2020 by American Rivers

Okefenokee Protection Alliance

American Rivers named the Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020. Rena Ann Peck, Executive Director of Georgia River Network, explains “The Okefenokee Swamp is like the heart of the regional Floridan aquifer system in southeast Georgia and northeast Florida. The life-force of water from the Okefenokee Swamp not only flows into the St. Marys River to the Atlantic Ocean, but also into the Suwannee River to the Gulf of Mexico.

Mining on Trail Ridge can draw down the water level of the Okefenokee Swamp and dewater headwater wetlands and tributaries and the rivers they feed, destroying natural habitat for federally listed species and providing dry peat fueling uncontrollable fires.” Read the press release.

The Okefenokee Swamp

Alligator Near Billies Lake

Photo by Tom Wilson

Covering 440,000 acres or 630 square miles, the Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in North America and one of the world’s largest intact freshwater ecosystems. The swamp was designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1937 and is the largest NWR east of the Mississippi. Since 1937 the protection has ensured the swamp remains largely unspoiled. “One of the coolest things about the Okefenokee is that it’s basically an intact ecosystem,” said Refuge Manager Michael Lusk, noting that the Everglades, while larger, had been ditched and drained. And while there once was logging in some parts of the Okefenokee, the swamp has been protected for more than 80 years. “What we have now is a large intact, functioning ecosystem and that is so rare, especially in the eastern U.S.”

Water Trails and Recreation

Today, 600,000 people visit each year to discover its amazing landscapes—including peat beds, island prairies, and cypress forests—and wildlife like American alligators, sandhill cranes, indigo snakes and gopher tortoises. National Geographic named the Swamp one of the 100 most beautiful places on the planet. In 2015, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia was also identified as one of the top 10 canoe trips in the world by Green Global Travel.

The refuge is part of the National Water Trail System, one of only 21 designated trails in the U.S., in part because it requires an act of Congress. The Okefenokee and the Suwannee River both have water trails that are part of Georgia River Network’s Water Trail System. The St. Mary’s trail is under development. To learn more about Georgia Water Trails, click here.

The swamp was formed 6500 years ago. The mining operation will last 8 years. As former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbit once said “titanium is a common mineral while the Okefenokee is a very uncommon swamp.”

Water Trail to Minnies Lake

Photo by Tom Wilson

Okefenokee Trail Ridge Mining Site & Regional Water Trails

Georgia River Network – Okefenokee Swamp PowerPoint Presentation

GRN is a Member of the Okefenokee Protection Alliance

Okefenokee Protection Alliance
The Okefenokee Protection Alliance is a coalition of more than 30 conservation organizations representing millions of members that have joined forces to save the swamp from the proposed Twin Pines Minerals, LLC titanium mine and other threats that jeopardize the integrity of the Okefenokee Swamp. Learn more at https://protectokefenokee.org/