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Senate Budget Includes $4M To Expand Lea-Hutaff Island Wildlife Sanctuary

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A $4 million dollar appropriation in the state Senate’s budget would enable Audubon North Carolina to purchase a portion of one of the state's last undeveloped barrier islands.

“If we don't protect it now, we're not sure it will be there in the future for other generations,” said Andrew Hutson, executive director of Audubon North Carolina.

The four-mile-long Lea-Hutaff Island is an important habitat for beach-nesting birds and sea turtles, and a stopping point for thousands of migratory birds. Parts of the island are already protected, but more than a thousand acres are still privately owned. Hutson said the funding would make it possible to preserve a rare stretch of pristine beach and marsh.

“The goal for us is to preserve this island forever as open space, protecting the birds and other wildlife, and allowing for continued public recreation,” he said.

The 5,000 acre strip of sand and saltmarsh north of Wilmington is one of only two undeveloped barrier islands off the North Carolina coast that is privately owned.  If the purchase is successful, Audubon would manage the ecosystem for birds and transfer ownership of the land to the state.

Funding for the land is not included in the House spending plan, which was approved last month. Nonetheless, Hutson is optimistic.

"We're convinced that this is such a unique opportunity, and such an important piece of property - what it represents for the birds and animals and people who use it for recreation- that it will be reconciled in the committee process and the appropriation will move forward," he said.

The House and Senate are negotiating to reconcile their versions and will present a compromise budget to Governor Roy Cooper later this summer. 

Elizabeth Friend grew up in North Carolina listening to public radio in the backseat of the family station wagon. She has been reporting and producing at WUNC since 2016, covering everything from Army history to armadillos. She's also the co-founder of the beloved summer event series Audio Under The Stars. In her spare time she enjoys exploring the outside world with her family, dabbling in esoteric crafts, and cheese.
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