Ducks Unlimited National President Examines Prime Hook - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Ducks Unlimited National President Examines Prime Hook From the Air

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Ducks Unlimited President George Dunklin (Photo: WBOC) Ducks Unlimited President George Dunklin (Photo: WBOC)

MILTON, Del. - The president of the Ducks Unlimited national organization got a duck's-eye view of the situation at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge Saturday.

George Dunklin was in Delaware for an event in Kent County. He took a first-hand look from Chopper 16 of the impact on the refuge of breaches along the shore.

Ducks Unlimited has about 600,000 members nationwide.  The organization is dedicated to the conservation of wetlands, especially for waterfowl, across North America. Nowhere in Delaware is the question of what to do with wetlands more on display than at Prime Hook.

Before lifting off, Dunklin told WBOC he isn't overly familiar with the situation at Prime Hook.

"I just know that there's a local businessmen, farmers, hunters, conservationists that would like to see this repaired and fixed correctly," he said. "Apparently, this was a saltwater marsh at one time. This levy was built to make it freshwater. The breaches caused a saltwater intrusion."

That is the long and short of it. Dunklin's visit comes as the US Fish and Wildlife Service looks ready and able to put its plan for the refuge into action.

The service created a 4,000-acre freshwater impoundment in the 1980s. During the past few years those saltwater intrusions have massively impacted that area. Art Coppola, manager of Prime Hook, told WBOC recently it has become clear the system can't hold up to mother nature.

"It has proven to not be resilient and hold up with sea-level rise and the storms that have hit the coast here in the past," Coppola said in an October 25 interview.

The service wants to convert the area back to mainly a saltwater marsh and last month got $20 million to do it. That plan has a number of waterfowl hunters, including a bunch who are local members of Ducks Unlimited, upset. They worry about the impact on the refuge's waterfowl population. They want to see the freshwater impoundment maintained.

Dunklin was in the air Saturday for about 20 minutes.

"Being able to see it from the air like that gives you a chance to understand it much better even than looking at an aerial photo," he said. "I understand better. I can see the loss of habitat. I see the trees that have died from the saltwater intrusion."

Still, Dunklin says the ultimate decision on what to do with the marshes belongs to the Fish and Wildlife Service. He says Ducks Unlimited is just a partner. It doesn't control what the service does.

"Mother nature is trying to take this back to a saltwater marsh, like it was. It was being managed as a freshwater marsh. With enough money it certainly can be again. But that's up to Fish and Wildlife and its budget process. It's not up to Ducks Unlimited," said Dunklin.

The $20 million for the marsh project was the second infusion of federal money Prime Hook got this year. It had also previously gotten $19 million for beach restoration to help deal with flooding issues.

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