Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Zinke Visits Okefenokee Swamp

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Zinke Visits Okefenokee Swamp

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson

FOLKSTON, GA. | Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he noticed the Okefenokee National Wildlife on a map and decided to visit the 400,000 national refuge.

"I really never heard of it, per se," said Zinke after he stepped off a boat at the end of three-hour visit that included some closed door talks with the refuge management and a tour of Suwannee Canal and Chesser Prairie near the facility's headquarters.

Zinke noted it was the first time a Secretary of the Department of Interior had visited in 15 years and said that was too long.

"I think it's important for the secretary to go out in the field," he said.

The Okefenokee Swamp is a watery field right now after the persistent late spring and early summer rain that extinguished the enormous West Mims Fire and more recently a dousing from Tropical Storm Irma.

Among the things he learned, Zinke said, is that "they're too short in the field," he said referring to funding. "The front line has to be shored up."

Zinke said the refuge is unique in a lot of ways including the habitat and the relationship with the timber-growers that surround it.

The former Navy Seal said he learned in the military that those on the front line know best.

"People who make the best decisions are at the front line," he said.

So far he has learned Interior has "great people, great lands, great treasures."

Michael Lusk, the refuge manager for two years, said, "I was impressed he was willing to spend so much time with us."

When Bruce Babbitt, secretary of Interior under Clinton, came to visit it was for only an hour to speak against a proposed mine bordering the eastern side of the refuge said after Zinke left.

Other upper level leadership from Interior had visited, but Lusk said he didn't think they were interested in what he had to say.

"They wouldn't get off their phones," he said, but Zinke listened, asked a lot of questions and seemed genuinely interested.

The visit was a manager's dream, Lusk said, "One-on-one in the boat to have that kind of access for people like me."

Lusk said Zinke offered up some good solutions. …

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