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250 years after Washington drained it, feds soak a swamp

Associated Press logo Associated Press 10/11/2017
In this Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 photo, Chris Lowie, refuge manager Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, surveys one of the few large cypress trees remaining in the swamp in Suffolk, Va. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to undo the damage by gradually “rewetting” the swamp. Lowie and his staff are slowly raising the water table in the swamp’s remaining 113,000 acres by capturing and rechanneling rainfall in the vast network of ditches that scar the land. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © The Associated Press In this Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 photo, Chris Lowie, refuge manager Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, surveys one of the few large cypress trees remaining in the swamp in Suffolk, Va. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to undo the damage by gradually “rewetting” the swamp. Lowie and his staff are slowly raising the water table in the swamp’s remaining 113,000 acres by capturing and rechanneling rainfall in the vast network of ditches that scar the land. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

SUFFOLK, Va. — The U.S. government is trying to undo the damage from two centuries of logging at the Great Dismal Swamp.

George Washington had slaves drain wetlands to harvest cedar and cypress trees from the swamp before the American Revolution. That logging continued well into the 20th Century.

Now a years-long project is under way to make the swamp wet again in the 113,000-acre national wildlife refuge in Virginia and North Carolina, where ditches dug to reach lumber dried out the peat, releasing climate-changing carbon and making wildfires more frequent.

Scientists say that when peat is in its naturally wet state, it holds onto carbon from plants that have died over the course of centuries. Dried-out peat, however, releases that carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

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