After years of absence, grassland creatures such as the bobwhite quail, red-headed woodpecker, and fox squirrel have returned to their native habitat on a 600-acre parcel of land at the headwaters of the Ashepoo River.
The Conservancy first acquired the land, called Bonnie Doone, in 2007 with a plan to restore its native forests and wetlands, which had been the site of a timber operation that had supplanted its native longleaf pine trees with fast-growing, row-planted loblolly pine. The row-plantings subsequently shaded out the native grasses in the property’s wetland ponds – grasses that were essential to pond-breeding amphibians, including the federally threatened flatwoods salamander. Since then, The Nature Conservancy has cleared or thinned 250 acres of plantation pine forest and replaced it with longleaf pine and native wiregrass plantings. Regular water and vegetation monitoring indicate that the restored areas are absolutely thriving.
In November, TNC completed the purchase of nearly 100 acres abutting Peachtree Rock Heritage Preserve in Lexington County. TNC co-owns the preserve with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). DNR also manages the unique property that features prehistoric sandstone formations, the state’s easternmost waterfall, great trails, and the rare Rayner’s blueberry, which grows only in South Carolina. The new addition features a high bluff and remarkable mature longleaf pine community, which immediately will expand the longleaf footprint at the preserve.
Sewee to Santee
A two-year U.S. Forest Service (USFS) grant awarded early in 2010 enabled TNC to recruit and train an additional fire crew for prescribed fire work in partnership with USFS, doubling the Conservancy’s prescribed fire capacity in South Carolina. Despite heavy rains in January and February, reinforced TNC fire crews conducted a record 64 controlled fires in 2010, treating 37,587 acres, primarily in the Francis Marion National Forest.
Sadly, the summer of 2010 marked the departure of Sewee to Santee Project Director Michael Prevost, who retired from TNC. An 18-year veteran of the Conservancy, Mike has an undying passion for the land and waters of South Carolina. He was named Conservator of the Year by the Historical Ricefield Association, a highly deserved recognition.
On the marine front, staff and volunteers on October 25 helped build an oyster reef in TNC’s managed wetland on Dewees Island. Funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Coastal Program enabled the installation of 25 tons of fossilized oyster shell to construct a 40’x10’x2’ reef. The site will be monitored for a year to help determine whether managed wetlands are viable locations for creating sustainable oyster reefs in South Carolina.
South Lowcountry and the Savannah River
The Nature Conservancy of South Carolina’s largest land protection success during 2010 was the completion of a 5,068-acre conservation agreement in Jasper County. The land features seven miles of floodplain forest fronting the Savannah River. In addition to providing wildlife habitat to many rare birds, it also supports dozens of species of reptiles and amphibians, along with deer and wild turkey.
The property, called Recess Plantation, expands the Savannah River Preserve and connects to the Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge. Surveys conducted on the protected river frontage found it supports 14 varieties of mussels, including seven rare species. The river provides drinking water for people across Beaufort and Jasper counties, and this agreement, or conservation easement, will help protect water quality downstream.
On a related note, TNC has signed onto a national Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) to work on restoring natural flow regimes to major rivers on which the Corps operates dams or diversion facilities, including the Savannah River. TNC and several partners are developing a study agreement to explore critical flow relationships in the river, such as how much flow is needed to support both spawning areas for federally endangered shortnose sturgeon and downstream habitats for freshwater mussels.
Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment
Early in 2010, TNC established two new information kiosks at the trailheads of Nine Times Preserve and dedicated a memorial plaque to Eleanor and John Keilen along the Spring Ephemeral Trail to recognize the Keilens’ generous bequest, which supports stewardship of the preserve. To better facilitate visitor access, TNC is building a mile-long trail to connect existing logging roads at Nine Times. The trail should be completed by late spring 2011.
In September, TNC completed the purchase of Phase II of its Jones Gap State Park Expansion Project, acquiring more than 116 acres of important mountain habitat. As with the Phase I parcel purchased in 2009, this land will be transferred to S.C. State Parks for management.
Winyah Bay and Pee Dee River Basin
In the fall of 2010, TNC staff and 40 volunteers from Horry-Georgetown Technical College used 1,000 oyster castle blocks to construct 52 castle structures on South Island in Winyah Bay, officially launching the Living Shorelines Pilot Project at the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center. Funded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Coastal Program and Bunnelle Foundation, the structures, submerged during high tide, attract newborn oysters to take up residence and naturally begin building new oyster reef. Workers followed up by planting more than 5,000 salt marsh grass shoots behind the castle structures. In addition to helping grow oyster reefs, the castles and marsh grass together may prove effective in curbing beach erosion. The site will be monitored for 12 months and results reported soon after.
An exciting land protection milestone in the Winyah Bay project area was TNC’s purchase of 440 acres of mature bottomland hardwood forest with nearly a mile of frontage along the scenic narrows of the Black River. A fisherman’s and paddler’s paradise, the newly acquired land expands the existing 1,296-acre Black River Swamp Preserve, which also protects more than five miles of river frontage between Pine Tree and Pump House landings in Georgetown County.
Also Worthy of Note
The Nature Conservancy’s primary state legislative priorities for 2010 were to secure funding for the SC Conservation Bank, to pass legislation providing some liability protections for private landowners who apply controlled fire to sustainably manage their forest lands, and to advance a bill enabling a permitting system for withdrawals of surface water, particularly when water resources are shared across state borders. By session’s end, TNC had achieved two out of three goals. Lawmakers approved about $1.5 million to keep the Conservation Bank operating for one more year at a minimal level. They also passed the water withdrawal bill, which was signed into law on June 24, marking a major step forward in protecting South Carolina’s water resources. The prescribed fire bill was stalled in the Senate and did not advance. It will be reintroduced for the 2011 session.
On October 22, The Nature Conservancy co-sponsored a first-of-its-kind Clean Energy and Jobs Forum at the University of South Carolina. TNC-SC Executive Director Mark Robertson enjoyed the privilege of serving on a discussion panel with Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, USC President Harris Pastides, and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt. What ensued was a compelling dialogue about the country’s energy future, the jobs that will be created, and the need to manage the environmental footprints of both renewable and conventional energy sources. Organizers are considering making the event an annual forum.March 03, 2011