Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wetlands Reserve Program Dedication

On a cool, sunny day conjured in the dreams of any event planner, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Arlen Lancaster (left) and National Audubon Society Chief Operating Officer Robert Perciasepe (right) joined other conservation-minded guest at the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) dedication at the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest.

The WRP easement will restore and permanently protect over 6,000 acres in the forest thereby adding an additional layer of protection to the Audubon property. The WRP plan will restore the natural hydrology to original pre-development conditions, before the construction of logging roads altered it. The large high-fill roads altered the hydrology by forming what amounted to dikes across sections of the floodplain. These roads were constructed to get at the valuable cypress trees deep in the swamp and were formed by piling up the spoil collected from the swamp floor alongside the road's path. Alligators now use those road-side, water-holding depressions when water is scarce elsewhere in the swamp.

The WRP restoration plan includes breaking through the old logging roads to restore the natural flow. Fords will be constructed in these breaks to allow vehicles to continue using the road as part of normal sanctuary operations, but water will be able to pass nearly unimpeded towards the Edisto River. Norman L. Brunswig, Executive Director of Audubon South Carolina, remarked, “The WRP is enabling NRCS and Audubon to repair the only significant hydrologic defects in the main body of the Francis Beidler Forest. It is a great day for conservation in South Carolina.”

After the dedication ceremony and remarks by Arlen Lancaster, Bob Perciasepe, and Norman Brunswig at the Meeting Tree, the Audubon South Carolina staff and guests retired to the outdoor classroom for a catered lunch of Lowcountry barbecue. We are happy to report that nobody left hungry and there was even some left over for lunch tomorrow! Another perk of working if we needed something beyond what is outside our office windows! But wait...there's more.

After lunch, guests followed Stephen Schabel, education director at the International Center for Birds of Prey, to Mallard Lake for the release of a rehabilitated Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). The injured bird arrived at the center on or about the same day as the initial conversations began for the WRP easement. Arlen Lancaster accepted the opportunity to release the Osprey, which quickly gained altitude and headed east over Mallard Lake and out of view.

In his remarks, Arlen Lancaster stated that he thought of his children coming to the Francis Beidler Forest and standing under the same Meeting Tree (a cypress tree around which the boardwalk wraps) knowing that he helped protect the spot and its surroundings. In fact, Mr. Lancaster's great-great-grandchildren will have the same opportunity to visit and be awed by the virgin, old-growth forest that is the Francis Beidler Forest. There is no need to wait to have children or grandchildren, you can visit us any day except Monday!

1 comment:

Amy Overstreet said...

What an awesome event! Thanks to the staff at the Audubon for being wonderfully gracious hosts, and the weather could not have been better. The forest is absolutely spectacular this time of year, and if you haven't visited this magical all means...get in the car and go!

THe partnership between Audubon SC and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service means that this large area of valuable wetland will be forever protected! Think about how happy the plant and animal life must be to know that their homes are protected under this great, and permanent, 'insurance policy'! And we're happy too, because there will always be the Francis Beidler Forest to visit.
-Amy O. Maxwell