The Nature Conservancy received word on September 10th that the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) voted to support a $1 million funding request to protect habitat along the Black River in Georgetown County. The grant, submitted in March 2009 through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) Grant Program, supports the protection of important wetlands for the benefit of migratory waterfowl and other priority species.
This is the second $1 million NAWCA grant awarded to The Nature Conservancy in the past year. The Conservancy directed the previous funds toward the acquisition and protection of two tracts for the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge along the Waccamaw River and adjacent to Sandy Island.
The new grant funds will be used to acquire mature bottomland hardwood forest along the Black River to be added to The Nature Conservancy’s 1296-acre Black River Swamp Preserve. The Preserve currently protects over five miles of river frontage along the scenic ‘narrows’ near Andrews, SC.
“The Nature Conservancy appreciates the support of our federal delegation for protecting our natural resources, particularly Senator Lindsey Graham, Congressman Henry Brown, and Congressman James Clyburn," said Mark Robertson, State Director for The Nature Conservancy.
The Preserve is strategically located within a network of protected lands along the Black River corridor in Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties. There are currently 12 privately protected properties, totaling 11,815 acres, within the Black River and Mingo Creek Watershed. The Nature Conservancy’s new acquisition will help connect the growing matrix of protection along the river.
The forest in this swamp includes ancient bald cypress trees that are 1,000 years and older – some of the oldest in the eastern United States. These mature bottomland hardwood forests protect and recharge water resources by capturing and dispersing sediment, filtering runoff, and minimizing flood damage by holding vast amounts of water.
“This scenic section of the Black River is an incredible local resource for fishing, boating, and kayaking,” said Maria Whitehead, The Nature Conservancy’s Project Director for the Winyah Bay and Pee Dee River Basin Project Area. “This grant allows us to preserve additional acreage for these recreational uses, but also helps to create wildlife habitat and protect water quality for future generations.”
The grant scored sixth highest in the country prior to being awarded. Scoring is based on the proposal’s benefit to migratory waterfowl and other wetland species, demonstrated protection of declining wetlands, and match provided by conservation partners (in the form of recent, nearby conservation and additional financial resources).
One of the wetland species that will directly benefit from the award is the state-endangered Swallow-tailed Kite. “The Black River-Mingo Creek corridor is an important breeding area for this charismatic, migratory bird,” says Tera Baird, Co-chair of the SC Working Group for Swallow-tailed Kites and a Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The protection work by private land trusts, like The Nature Conservancy and Pee Dee Land Trust, contributes to a national goal to protect 100,000 acres of bottomland forests within priority watersheds and will help ensure the long-term survival of the species.”
The project is part of a larger collaborative effort to protect the river corridors that comprise the Winyah Bay drainage basin. This Basin, the third largest on the Atlantic coast, supports some of the most extensive, intact wetland complexes in the southeastern United States and offers important habitat for migratory birds, fish, and resident wildlife.
This grant was made possible through the broad conservation partnership represented in the Winyah Bay Task Force. Conservation partners offering match for the grant, in the form of cash or donated conservation easements, include Ducks Unlimited, Pee Dee Land Trust and the Thorne Foundation. In total, the match and grant tracts protect 5 parcels in the Winyah River Basin, totaling 3,925 acres, including 2,842 wetland acres and 1,083 acres of associated uplands to benefit breeding, migrating, and wintering birds. Additionally, Georgetown’s Bunnelle Foundation was a partner and contributor to the project and provided The Nature Conservancy generous support to complete the proposal-writing phase of the project.
Located within the Conservancy’s Winyah Bay and Pee Dee River Basin project area, the proposed protection project will complement the 60,383 acres previously protected by the Conservancy through public and private partnerships. A 525,000-acre project area, the boundary includes Sandy Island Preserve, Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge and DNR’s Woodbury Tract.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.