Advocacy group American Rivers has named the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers for 2023.

The Okefenokee is home to thousands of plants, birds, alligators, and endangered species. It also plays host to a critically important wetland ecosystem that stretches nearly half-a-million acres in size, according to the organization.

“Inclusion in this inauspicious list only confirms what we already knew,” said Rena Peck, executive director of Georgia River Network (GRN), a statewide river advocacy organization.

The GRN nominated the waterway for the annual list. The annual report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates.

Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with designations and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

The Okefenokee was also named to the American Rivers Most Endangered Rivers list in 2020.

Paddlers enter the Okefenokee Swamp via the Suwannee Canal. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge receives some 600,000 visits annually. Swamp tourism pumps $50 million into local economies annually and supports more than 800 local jobs.
Paddlers enter the Okefenokee Swamp via the Suwannee Canal. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge receives some 600,000 visits annually. Local tourism pumps $50 million into local economies annually and supports more than 800 local jobs. Credit: Supplied photo.

The waterway began earning the endangered label after a mining company proposed setting up shop at a location within three miles of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest national wildlife refuges in the eastern U.S.

“The Okefenokee is an irreplaceable and one-of-a-kind wilderness; it should not be risked to obtain common minerals that can be more safely secured elsewhere,” said Peck.

The mine would be designed to extract titanium bearing minerals, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency predicts it would result in permanent damage to the Okefenokee Swamp.

“People across the state and nation don’t want to see the swamp threatened by this mine. Hundreds of thousands, including Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, have called on Georgia’s leaders to stop this mine,” said Peck.

According to the GRN, independent hydrologists suggest the mine will lower water levels in the swamp by pumping millions of gallons of water from the aquifer that underlies the swamp and by altering the hydrology of Trail Ridge, a sandy rise of land that serves to regulate water levels.

“Swamp tourism is a major economic driver for communities in Charlton, Clinch and Ware counties,” said Peck. “Unlike the mine which will impact the economy for the short term, swamp tourism is sustainable and will support the area generations to come.”

The GRN is actively calling on Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division to deny the permits for the mine.

American Rivers 10 Most Endangered Rivers list for 2023 includes:

  1. Colorado River, Grand Canyon (Arizona)
  2. Ohio River (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois)
  3. Pearl River (Louisiana, Mississippi)
  4. Snake River (Idaho, Oregon, Washington)
  5. Clark Fork River (Montana)
  6. Eel River (California)
  7. Lehigh River (Pennsylvania)
  8. Chilkat and Klehini rivers (Alaska)
  9. Rio Gallinas (New Mexico)
  10. Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, Florida)

To learn more and take action to protect the Okefenokee Swamp, Text SWAMP to 52886 or click here.

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