It was standing room only on Tuesday at Port Farms in Waterford as community members gathered to learn more about a proposal to make the French Creek Watershed a national wildlife refuge.
“The whole purpose of this public meeting was to show all the programs that already exist and let the public know,” said Mark Muir, president of the Erie County Farm Bureau.
But why worry about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposition?
Some say eminent domain and how the refuge designation will impact the tax rolls and income for surrounding municipalities are a concern.
“In an area like Wattsburg, their school taxes are higher than Union City because they have a lot of state game lands. State game lands pay a whopping $3.26 an acre. The federal government is offering $0.77 per acre,” Muir continued.
Muir added the federal government’s proposal impacts 798,000 acres — that’s a third of Erie County that can’t be touched if landowners agree to sell.
One local conservationist said that everyone knows the importance of the French Creek Watershed, but this is about finding the right way to do it.
“Just as important as protecting a piece of land in its natural state is taking good care of it. That is one of our commitments at the Foundation for Sustainable Forests, not just to conserve a property but to see it managed and have it be better than we found it,” said Annie Maloney, executive director of the Foundation for Sustainable Forests.
Maloney added there shouldn’t be a focus on property acquisition but rather overall care for the land that local organizations and community members have been giving French Creek support for generations.
“There are farms up along Wattsburg that date back to 1795 and you’re going to lose all of that?” said Muir.
Local conservation groups noted they were proud of how many people care about this issue.