Wednesday, December 18, 2013
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Every so often, we encounter a place where time appears to have stopped. The scenic Black River, near Andrews, SC with its wide floodplain forest, hidden creeks, and quiet waters feels like a forgotten place and the remnant 1,000-year old bald cypress trees are a reminder that being forgotten is sometimes the best thing that can happen to a place.
On December 6th, six-hundred acres of forested wetlands and four miles along the scenic river was protected forever by the South Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) through a permanent conservation easement funded by a grant from the North American Wetland Conservation Act (NAWCA) Program.
The easement tract, owned by Resource Management Service LLC (RMS), is directly across the river from TNC’s Black River Preserve and adjoins over 9,000 acres of additional privately-owned lands under conservation easement with TNC and partner groups including Ducks Unlimited, Pee Dee Land Trust, and USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. These same partner groups helped to make the project funding possible by providing match for TNC’s NAWCA grant application, which scored among the highest in the country.
“RMS’s Black River Tract has been a conservation target since Mead Westvaco donated the first 1296 acres of the Black River Preserve to the Conservancy over two decades ago”, said Dr. Maria Whitehead, TNC’s Project Director for Winyah Bay and Pee Dee River Basin. “The vast industrial forest and timber investment ownership in this region has created a unique opportunity to work with timber companies, like RMS, to ensure long-term forest stewardship and protection of critical habitats while keeping the forest in private ownership.”
Conservation easements are an important tool in preserving the aesthetic, cultural, recreational, and ecological value of South Carolina’s rural landscapes while allowing for the continuation of traditional uses like farming, hunting, and timber harvest. Working with a qualified land trust, landowners establish their vision for the future of the property which helps dictate the rights they would like to reserve and those surrendered in a recorded easement document.
“By placing a conservation easement on special properties we allow future generations to enjoy the land and water as we have had the privilege to experience” says Dr. Steve Jones, a neighboring conservation easement donor with Pee Dee Land Trust. “Hopefully, easements, like these, will continue to enhance the conservation ethic among our children.”
The tide-driven forested wetlands, such as those on the easement tract, have a higher-than-expected diversity of species, and the Black River is one of the most incredible canoe and kayak destinations in the state if not in the country. Traveling along the “narrows’ section of the Black River swamp one is likely to encounter wild turkeys, wood ducks, yellow-bellied sliders, and the occasional American alligator, while bird enthusiasts seek this destination as a place to see Prothonotary Warblers, Pileated Woodpeckers, and the state-endangered Swallow-tailed Kite. In fact, the corridor is considered one of the most important breeding areas in South Carolina for Swallow-tailed Kites, an elegant black-and-white raptor that depends on forested wetland habitats for nesting.
However, one of the most striking and important species on the protected property may just be the bald cypress tree. A stand of ancient cypress trees, forgotten or passed over for timber, are brimming with both aesthetic and scientific value. As they grow, the trees fold some of the area’s history into their rings. The rings tell the story of climate, water and hydrology, and how the land has changed over the years.
Dr. David Stahle, director of the Tree-Ring laboratory at the University of Arkansas, has been studying bald cypress trees along the Black River in South Carolina for about thirty years. “Ancient trees like the bald cypress wear their antiquity on their sleeve,” says Dr. Stahle. “They predate European settlements by hundreds of years, and record a history of environmental variability.” He says there are probably only 12 species in the world that reach the age of 1000 years or older, and these millennialists are extremely important to conserve.
Through the Black River Tract conservation easement, these ancient cypress trees will be protected from timber harvest and the surrounding middle-aged wetland forest, last harvested about seventy years ago, will be allowed to return to an old-growth forest which could support future millennial trees and the species that depend on the rare older forest type.
For information on planning your canoe or kayak adventure to the protected Black River corridor and TNC’s Black River Preserve, you can find directions on South Carolina TNC’s website (nature.org/southcarolina) under “Places We Protect.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading international, nonprofit organization that preserves plants, animals and natural communities representing the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. Visit us on the Web at nature.org/southcarolina.