By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s second poorest county will suffer even more if the federal government buys 120,000 acres of land in that area, near Memphis, all for the stated purpose of wildlife preservation, said that county’s mayor.
Lauderdale County Mayor Rod Schuh told Tennessee Watchdog Friday that his county, while poor, relies on farming and agriculture as the primary drivers of its economy.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s plan to expand the Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge, assuming it buys out as many properties as it can, will rob the county of its most valuable commodity, Schuh said.
“Primarily, almost 60 percent of the land that the government wants to preserve is prime farm ground,” Schuh said.
“They are going to let the farm land go back natural and grow trees on it. If the landowner decides to sell to the government then that’s fine. It’s their land, and they can do what they want to do, but it hurts our county in the long run because we don’t have a lot of industry, and we are primarily farm-related.”
The federal government already owns more than 60,000 acres in Lauderdale County. The 120,000 acres that the feds want to purchase encompass Lauderdale County, as well as land in Tipton, Haywood and Dyer counties.
Schuh said the federal government doesn’t pay proper tax levies on the land it does own in his county. Furthermore, Schoh said the feds don’t plant quality trees on the land they own, especially trees that are good for future lumber needs.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Randy Cook told Tennessee Watchdog the agency will compensate landowners with fair market value.
Cook also said local communities benefit when the federal government acquires lands for wildlife refuge purposes.
“There has been research that shows that having property adjacent to a national wildlife refuge would actually increase the value of adjoining properties. A lot of people want to acquire property next to the national wildlife refuges because there are lots of benefits associated with people who enjoy recreational activities coming in,” Cook said.
Cook said local counties already reap more than half a million dollars in revenue from the existing refuge. He couldn’t offer an estimate for how much more counties would receive per year if the refuge expands.
Schoh, however, argues the economic impact of the refuge has been minimal compared to what Cook said.
“It’s hard to replace land that’s producing 75 to 80 bushes per acre on soybeans. You’re talking $4 million to $5 million, but it will definitely hurt the economy in the long run,” Schoh said.
As previously reported, the refuge currently has 9,451 acres.
In a statement on its web site, Fish and Wildlife agents said the proposed expansion is designed to restore high-quality bottomland hardwood forest habitat for waterfowl, deer, turkey and many non-game species.
Contact Christopher Butler at [email protected].
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