Tuesday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, announced that the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur was awarded $5.443 million as part of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Fiscal Year 2018 construction projects operating plan.
“Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge plays a key role in helping to protect, manage, and restore lands and waters throughout North Alabama,” Shelby said. “I am proud that this refuge will receive over $5 million for improvements, addressing public access and management needs. I look forward to continuing to work with Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and other facilities across the state to ensure that future generations can benefit from the unique environment Alabama has to offer.”
This $5.443 million award is one of the largest funding awards in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s announcement and will increase access at the Wheeler Refuge. The funding will provide the refuge in Decatur with the ability to improve the experience for tourists visiting Wheeler from all over Alabama and beyond.
The National Wildlife Refuge System, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, manages a national network of lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife, and plants. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established on July 7, 1938, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Refuge provides for a wide spectrum of wildlife and attracts thousands of wintering waterfowl each year. The 35,000-acre refuge also manages and protects habitat for 12 federally listed endangered or threatened species.
Although Wheeler is designated as a waterfowl refuge, it also provides for a wide spectrum of wildlife. Its great diversity of habitat includes deep river channels, tributary creeks, tupelo swamps, open backwater embayments, bottomland hardwoods, pine uplands, and agricultural fields. This rich mix of habitats provide habitat for over 295 bird species to rest, nest and winter, including over 30 species of waterfowl (ducks and geese) and an increasing population of Sandhill cranes and a small number of Whooping cranes. The refuge is also home to 115 species of fish, 74 species of reptiles and amphibians, 47 species of mammals, 38 species of freshwater mussels, and 26 species of freshwater snails. The Refuge is also home to the endangered gray bat.
Wheeler is planning a new 24-mile long canoe trail that will include riverfront campgrounds, marked public access points, and directional signs of the riverbanks.
The Wheeler Wildlife Refuge is named in honor of General Joe Wheeler who fought for the Confederacy in the War Between the States and for the USA in the Spanish American War. Wheeler was also a former Governor of Alabama.
Shelby is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.