Southern Coastal Plain Forests and North America’s Atlantic Coast Wetlands have been identified as global conservation priorities by The Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy’s recent land purchases and a new conservation easement within the vast 800,000-acre Sewee to Santee conservation area, mark major advances in the conservation of internationally acclaimed longleaf pine forests and estuarine wetlands of the region thereby furthering the Conservancy’s global priorities.
The Nature Conservancy has purchased four tracts totaling 1,116 acres from International Paper Company for $6,445,000. The tracts, located in Charleston and Berkeley Counties, protect critical upland and wetland habitat as well as buffering existing protected lands of the Francis Marion National Forest, Santee Coastal Reserve and Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.
“These acquisitions have significant conservation impact both at the individual tract and larger landscape levels,” said Michael Prevost, the Conservancy’s Sewee to Santee Project Director. The Berkeley County parcel, near Honey Hill, supports limestone sink wetlands that provide suitable habitat for rare plant species including federally endangered pondberry. All four properties contain important bottomland hardwood forest of particular importance to priority migratory bird species including swallow-tailed kite, prothonotary warbler, yellow-throated warbler and wood duck.
“Similarly, each tract provides a functional wildlife corridor with adjacent lands of the National Forest. Whereas, the two tracts, bordering Highway 17 for a total of more than one mile, are in the watershed of the Bulls Bay estuary and protect the outstanding water quality of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge,” said Prevost. The Nature Conservancy will sell the recently acquired properties to the U.S. Forest Service for inclusion in the Francis Marion National Forest or to private buyers subject to conservation easements.
The Evening Post Publishing Company has granted The Nature Conservancy a conservation easement on 1,144 acres in Charleston County adjacent to Old Georgetown Road. The easement prohibits all commercial development and limits residential development to two homesites. Forest management will be guided by a conservation-based management plan that will enhance upland forest habitat through selective timber harvest and prescribed fire as well as protecting a unique wetland complex found on the property. Recreational uses allowed under the easement include hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and equestrian activities.
“This easement benefits both ecological and cultural resources of the area. The extensive complex of pocosin-like wetlands protects an important habitat type that has been dramatically reduced throughout the South Atlantic Coastal Plain. The property’s proximity to the National Forest, Hampton Plantation State Park, Santee Coastal Reserve and numerous other privately protected properties contribute to the biological integrity of one of the most ecologically significant regions of the Sewee to Santee landscape. A 200 foot wide forested buffer, provided for under the easement, along over one mile of Old Georgetown Road, protects the historic colonial period road along which lived the four South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence,” said Prevost.
“The Evening Post Publishing Company and the Manigault Family have made extraordinary commitments to the Sewee to Santee region, having now protected some 6,000 acres through conservation easements granted to The Nature Conservancy,” said Prevost.
“The easement represents a key component in the preservation of one of the state's most historic and ecologically significant corridors,” said Pierre Manigault, chairman of the board of Evening Post Publishing.
“The Sewee to Santee region, featuring 35 miles of protected barrier islands under federal and state ownership coupled with one of the highest quality remaining examples of the endangered longleaf pine ecosystem found on The Francis Marion National Forest, Santee Coastal Reserve and private lands, is unquestionably one of the East Coast’s premier ecological landscapes. These recent conservation accomplishments serve as a prime example of achieving The Nature Conservancy’s global conservation priorities for coastal forest and wetlands protection through provision of strategic linkages among public and private sector lands,” said Mark Robertson, State Director for The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina.
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.
Michael B. Prevost