Protection efforts in the ACE Basin formally began in 1986 with the inception of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP). A cooperative venture between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, the primary objectives of the NAWMP are the conservation of waterfowl habitat and restoration of waterfowl populations to desirable levels. Because the plan identifies loss and degradation of habitat as the major waterfowl management problem on this continent, it recommends protection and enhancement of migration and wintering habitat through acquisition, protection, and management of wetlands by public and private conservation interests. Approximately 880,000 acres of wetlands and upland habitat were listed for protection from Maine to South Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture (ACJV) portion of the NAWMP. The ACJV is a cooperative effort between the Atlantic Coast states and federal agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service (Joint Venture Directory - http:\\www.fws.gov\r9nawwo\jvdir.html). Within the ACE Basin, 90,000 acres were identified for protection through this initiative.
The ACE Basin later became a "flagship" project of the ACJV. Several meetings were held during 1988, and it was decided that the program should combine science, creative action, and effective partnerships to construct a model for saving large, self-sustaining natural systems such as the ACE Basin. A landscape ecological approach was adopted to include a holistic perspective in which the management of resources such as forests, wetlands, agriculture lands, wildlife, and water are not viewed in isolation but rather as parts of a whole.
In 1988, a task force was established to coordinate efforts and provide a plan for accomplishing the overall goal of protection for the ACE Basin. The focus on partnerships culminated in the formation of the ACE Basin Task Force, consisting of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), USFWS, Ducks Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy, and local private landowners. These agencies and individuals have cooperated in the protection of ACE Basin lands through a variety of efforts. From its inception, one feature that made the ACE Basin protection initiative unique was its emphasis on protecting private lands and the interests of private landowners. Wise, scientifically-informed resource stewardship protects the ecological integrity of the ACE Basin and encourages continued traditional uses such as forestry, farming, hunting, and fishing. This is the fundamental principle underlying the ACE Basin protection initiative. Private landowners have traditionally prized the qualities of these lands and have managed them to maintain their natural character and ecological values.
Approximately 15 percent of the land within the ACE Basin project area is currently protected. Approximately 40 percent of the protected lands are designated as public land. The principle owners of these public lands are SCDNR (30,000 acres); USFWS (11,000 acres); and South Carolina Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (SCPRT) (6,000 acres). Public lands are acquired by purchase or conservation easement and are maintained for use by the general public. Approximately 30 percent of protected lands are owned by private individuals or organizations. About 60 percent of private lands are protected by conservation easements (44,000 acres), while the remainder is owned by organization ownership, management agreements, or other means (Protected Lands ). Conservation easements are legal actions by which landowners voluntarily limit certain uses of and rights in their property; organization ownership is ownership of a property by a private organization (e.g. the Nature Conservancy); and management agreements are non-binding agreements on the management of the property. Some, but not all, significant natural areas that are recognized for outstanding features are acquired through purchase or easement and become legally protected.
The ACE Basin project is an outstanding example of how government, conservation groups, and private landowners can unite to protect important natural resources. Traditional uses, which provide economic benefits, mesh with maintaining the ecological integrity of this area. Private property rights are preserved in a manner that will benefit individual landowners and the public.
For more information on managing lands along the South Atlantic Coast see Management of South Atlantic Coastal Wetlands for Waterfowl and other Wildlife.
The ACE Basin Task Force strongly supports private landowners, who control most of the lands within the study area. This continues a tradition of cooperation in resource management with the private sector that dates back to the early 1700s with the introduction of rice culture. Following the rice plantation era, most of these properties were purchased by wealthy sportsmen as hunting retreats and most continue in private management today for agriculture, forestry, and as wildlife habitat areas.
Private landowners who wish to participate in a technical assistance program offered through the ACE Basin Task Force can obtain advice on managing their lands for timber, wildlife, soil, and water conservation and recreational activities dependent upon these natural resource values. In many cases, management plans and agreements are developed on a site-specific basis. Landowner participation is voluntary and signifies a personal commitment to protecting and enhancing wildlife habitat.
Conservation easement is the most important tool in the ACE Basin protection effort. Generally, landowners agree to conservation easements (also known as conservation restrictions) to preserve the natural values of their land and to protect wildlife habitat. To date there have been conservation easements written on 27 tracts totaling over 44,000 acres in the ACE Basin. Some of the larger easements include Ted Turner's Hope Plantation (5,232 acres); Ashepoo Plantation (5,039 acres), owned by the Donnelley family; and Cheeha-Combahee Plantation (12,524 acres), owned by the partners of Cheeha-Combahee, Inc. (See Protected Lands ).
Each conservation easement in the ACE Basin is specific to the protection needs of a particular parcel of land. Terms of the easement are specific, detailed, and include documentation such as maps, photographs, and biological inventories. In general, easements limit subdivision of the properties, while allowing for continuation of traditional uses such as hunting, fishing, small-scale agriculture, wildlife management, and forestry. Private landowners generally retain hunting and fishing rights exclusively for themselves. Easements with organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited Foundation, Inc., and Low Country Open Land Trust provide for wide availability of these uses. Commercial development or concentrated residential development is normally prohibited. Mining and mineral exploration are required to be conducted in a manner that conserves the aesthetic value of the property. In most easements, new roads must be constructed of permeable material rather than asphalt.
Westvaco Corporation, a major manufacturer of printing papers, packaging, and specialty chemicals, is the largest single private landowner in the ACE Basin, holding over 17,912 acres. Through a memorandum of mutual cooperation with the ACE Basin Task Force in 1991, Westvaco agreed to support the Task Force objectives as it managed the properties in accordance with the company's multiple-use forestry principles.
Westvaco lands are managed by watersheds with special emphasis on water quality, wildlife habitat, and aesthetics. Protecting landscape features such as concave landforms, streams, intermittent streams, and wetlands is a part of its planning process. Muckenfuss (1994) cites other examples of Westvaco's ecosystem planning and management efforts and its resource stewardship in the ACE Basin.
Nemours Plantation (9,800 acres) is distinguished in the sector of private lands conservation. Eugene Dupont III left this property to a non-profit research foundation named the Nemours Plantation Wildlife Foundation. His vision was to create a model wildlife research center emphasizing the interrelationships of the plantation's diverse habitats, including the salt, brackish, and freshwater marshes.
Certain critical and fragile areas in the ACE Basin have been purchased or donated by private and public agencies for inclusion into public land holdings. Generally, these lands are considered to be of special ecological importance and most are managed to meet the diverse goals of wildlife protection, ecosystem conservation, and public recreational enhancement. Currently, 49,320 acres are held in public trust. Although some of this land was owned by the State of South Carolina prior to the inception of the ACE Basin Task Force, the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) recently acquired lands to be included in their respective programs. Large donations by private landowners made these purchases possible by providing needed matching funds for federal grants. For example, Gaylord Donnelley donated Warren and Big Islands to the Nature Conservancy. In turn, the Nature Conservancy transferred title of the islands to the South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department (SCWMRD), currently the SCDNR. These islands had a fair market value of close to a million dollars, which was used by the SCDNR to match the NOAA grant funds to acquire other lands within the NERR. Other private sector donors have also made significant contributions to lands held in public trust.
All land acquisitions by purchase are made at or below fair market value from willing sellers. In most cases, the state or federal government manages these properties and provides for public access and use. Such publicly managed lands serve to maintain and enhance present habitat diversity while improving recreational and educational opportunities. To date, over 125,000 acres have been acquired and protected through the ACE Basin project initiative (Protected lands ).
Large landscape units (more than 5,000 contiguous acres) are managed through Bear Island and Donnelley Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), the ACE Basin NERR, and the ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).
The Bear Island and Donnelley Wildlife Management Areas, located in southern Colleton County, are managed by the SCDNR Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF). Bear Island has been expanded to include over 12,000 acres and Donnelley WMA encompasses over 8,000 acres. Both tracts are managed for wildlife and public recreational opportunities, including hunting, fishing, and wildlife observation. Public access has been expanded and a number of trails and observation platforms are available in these areas.
The ACE Basin NERR, designated in 1992, is the third largest NERR in the nation. Located approximately 60 miles southeast of Charleston, it encompasses over 140,000 acres, of which approximately 60,000 are open water; 70,000 acres are covered by salt marsh communities; and the remaining acreage is covered by freshwater wetlands and upland communities such as pine and maritime forests. The core area is comprised of seven marsh and barrier islands (Ashe, Beet, Big, Boulder, Otter, South Williman, and Warren) encompassing over 13,000 acres of wetlands and uplands . The buffer zone is approximately 128,369 acres in size and includes all state-owned bottoms, open waters, and wetlands but excludes uplands and wetlands now held in private ownership. It is characterized by a diverse array of natural and managed communities (Land Cover ).
The USFWS is responsible for managing the ACE Basin NWR , which was established in 1990, and has identified 11,000 acres along the Combahee and South Edisto Rivers for inclusion into the refuge. The NWR is managed to provide a complex of habitats for a diversity of wildlife. Functional impoundments and bottomland hardwoods are managed for waterfowl, non-game and endangered species, and other wildlife. Public uses such as hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, nature study, and other passive wildlife activities are encouraged on refuge properties.
The Nature Conservancy was one of the original groups that formed the ACE Basin Task Force in 1988. A primary goal of the Task Force was to maintain the natural character of the area by promoting wise resource management on private lands and protection of strategic tracts by public agencies. The Task Force began work with private landowners and members of local communities and governments to launch protection efforts necessary to preserve the integrity of the region. Primary efforts were begun to establish a NERR within the ACE Basin by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the South Carolina Coastal Council (now Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management). The reserve's core area was to be comprised of marsh islands around St. Helena Sound. To this end, Sampson Island (2,713 acres) was donated to the Nature Conservancy by Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley in 1986 and transferred to the SCWMRD (now SCDNR) in 1988 for inclusion in the Bear Island WMA of the NERR's buffer zone. Warren and Big Islands (2,170 acres), also donated to the Nature Conservancy by the Donnelleys, were likewise transferred to SCDNR and included in the NERR in 1988. Islands purchased by the Nature Conservancy for the NERR were Ashe (1,722 acres) and Beet Islands (1,824 acres) in 1989, Otter Island (1,889 acres) in 1993, and South Williman Island (2,764 acres) in 1994. The Rankin Tract (2 acres), purchased by the Nature Conservancy in 1994, and the Smith Tract (2 acres), purchased in 1996, were used to establish the NERR Field Station at Bennett's Point. The latest addition to the NERR buffer zone includes a preserve (403 acres) within a conservation-based development on Bailey Island. This preserve was donated to the Nature Conservancy in 1997 by the Fuller Street Corporation and will remain under the Nature Conservancy ownership.
Preservation efforts outside of the NERR were also begun. The Nature Conservancy conservation easements were placed on Botany Bay Island (484 acres) in 1987, Hope Plantation (5,784 acres) in 1988, Willtown Bluff (979 acres) in 1990, and Auldbrass (138 acres) and Rose Hill Plantations (1,035 acres) in 1995. Bonny Hall (210 acres) was protected privately with deed restrictions in 1993. Ivanhoe and the Great Swamp (474 acres) were donated to the Nature Conservancy in 1989 by Lucius G. Fishburne. In 1996, the Ivanhoe tract was sold to a private buyer and placed under easement with the Lowcountry Open Land Trust.
Purchases were also made of various properties for inclusion in the NWR. Those properties purchased by the Nature Conservancy were Bonny Hall Club (832 acres) in 1990, the Grove (1,955 acres) in 1991, Bonny Hall Plantation (472 acres) in 1992, and Bonny Hall/Newberry (117 acres) in 1993. The Nature Conservancy subsequently resold these properties to the USFWS. Combahee Fields Plantation (1,819 acres) and the Auldbrass Tract (1,324 acres) were purchased by the USFWS for inclusion in the NWR in 1993 and 1995 respectively, but the Nature Conservancy was the organization that actually secured the purchase option (Protected lands ).
Aided by substantial loans from the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited was able to purchase the 9,188-acre Richardson/Mary's Island Plantation in 1990. Portions of this area were subsequently sold to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps property plus that retained by Ducks Unlimited is managed by SCDNR as the Donnelley WMA.
In 1992, the Nature Conservancy designated the ACE Basin as a world class ecosystem level project under the Conservancy's Bioreserve program. This initiative is "science-driven" (i.e., decisions are informed by best available scientific knowledge) and encourages human uses compatible with the care of the environment. A field office was established in the ACE Basin to provide staff for contacting landowners, attending public meetings, working with scientists, drafting management plans, and helping with stewardship activities. Besides the need to respond to the threats on the natural components of the ACE Basin, there arose a need to work with private landowners, local businesses, community groups, and government agencies in order to ensure their compatibility with the natural systems of the Basin.
Presently, the Nature Conservancy is coordinating a community-based plan for sustainable economic development in the ACE Basin and the surrounding area. The ACE Basin Economic Forum was established in 1995 to address the need for compatible economic development. The Steering Committee for the forum is overseen by individuals not only from the Nature Conservancy's ACE Basin Satellite Office and Center for Compatible Economic Development, but also by individuals from the Colleton County Resource and Development Board, the Walterboro-Colleton Chamber of Commerce, the Colleton County Council, and the Lowcountry Council of Governments. Results of this effort will enable local citizens and public officials to gain a better understanding of the area's economic, social, and environmental conditions and of the potential options for compatible development.
After a year of broadly based community involvement and collaboration, an action agenda was created to foster job creation and business development while still protecting the area's unique natural resources and rural way of life. Three guiding principles were established for the Economic Forum:
Three separate strategies were also defined. These strategies are:
The Steering Committee continues to meet on a regular basis and push forward with the strategies defined in their action agenda. The Nature Conservancy, working together with other members of the ACE Basin Task Force and Economic Forum, remains committed to promoting compatible economic development by building working relationships between conservation partners in the ACE Basin and local communities.
Ducks Unlimited was among the original groups that formed the ACE Basin Task Force in 1988. A memorandum of agreement among the USFWS, SCWMRD, Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy provided the guidelines for new and existing conservation programs. Task Force members projected that the ACE Basin would be ideal for the ACJV, the plan by which the NAWMP would be implemented. Through the ACJV, cooperative efforts of various states have resulted in the formation of numerous regional focus areas. Nine geographic areas in South Carolina, including the ACE Basin, have been identified as focus areas by the SCDNR.
The dedication of the 696-acre Springfield Matching Aid to Restore States' Habitat (MARSH) project occurred on October 25, 1987. This was South Carolina's first project funded under Ducks Unlimited's MARSH program. MARSH monies, representing 7.5 percent of the funds contributed to Ducks Unlimited in South Carolina, were provided to the SCWMRD to acquire the site and immediately begin restoration of this valuable waterfowl habitat. This property was brought into the folds of SCWMRD's Bear WMA. The adjoining Cut Marsh was purchased in 1989 through a joint initiative with Ducks Unlimited and other Task Force members along with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. This 966-acre tract was also added to the Bear Island WMA for enjoyment by the public.
Ducks Unlimited lobbied for federal funding to support land acquisition for the ACE Basin NWR and was instrumental in securing funding for the ACE Basin NWR's headquarters at the Grove Plantation in Charleston County. Ducks Unlimited served as liaison between local government and private landowners to secure a site for the ACE Basin Interpretive Center. Ducks Unlimited and other Task Force members promoted eco-tourism for Colleton County and the ACE Basin by engaging the SCPRT Commission.
Ducks Unlimited's Lowcountry Initiative was established in 1989 in an effort by Ducks Unlimited and its affiliate, Wetlands America Trust, Inc., to concentrate land protection efforts in South Carolina's 14 coastal counties with an emphasis on the ACE Basin. Ducks Unlimited was instrumental in purchasing several properties in 1990 and 1991 that were threatened with residential and commercial development. Marys Island Plantation was purchased from the Richardson family and two parcels, totaling approximately 1,000 acres were protected with conservation easements, and another parcel was purchased subsequently with mitigation funds from the US Army Corps of Engineers (COE). The COE portion and the remaining acreage owned by Ducks Unlimited are being managed by the SCDNR (formerly SCWMRD) as the Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, named in honor of Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley. Ducks Unlimited will formally transfer its portion of the Donnelley to the SCDNR in 2,001. Ducks Unlimited initiated the purchase of the 12,534-acre Cheeha-Combahee Plantation and then sold it to conservation minded buyers who protected the property with a perpetual easement.
Since 1991, Ducks Unlimited's Lowcountry Initiative and Wetlands America Trust, Inc., have protected 13 properties with conservation easements totaling over 31,000 acres in the ACE Basin. Furthermore, Ducks Unlimited/Wetlands America Trust serves as the secondary holder of easements to other land trusts on nearly 6,000 acres in the ACE Basin Protected lands.
Ducks Unlimited's Lowcountry Initiative has partnered with the Nature Conservancy and SCDNR to conduct Habitat Management Workshops in the ACE Basin. These workshops are directed primarily toward wetlands management on private properties. A 29-page booklet entitled, Management of South Atlantic Coastal Wetlands for Waterfowl and other Wildlife, was funded by Ducks Unlimited, Inc., and the South Carolina Plantation Society. The authors represented Ducks Unlimited/Lowcountry Initiative, the Nature Conservancy, and SCDNR.
Ducks Unlimited has participated in public awareness of the ACE Basin by providing financial support for publication of informational items such as brochures and maps related to the ACE Basin project. Recently, Ducks Unlimited and other Task Force members produced the ACE Basin Users' Guide. This publication contains an array of natural history information about the area as well as a tour map for those enjoying the ACE Basin by automobile.
The manager and regional biologist are often called upon to deliver oral presentations and slide shows to various conservation groups, wildlife enthusiasts, and school classes. As a part of our public enlightenment program, articles are written for local newspapers regarding land conservation efforts of Ducks Unlimited/Lowcountry Initiative. An article entitled "South Carolina's ACE Basin" was written for River Magazine, published in Bozeman, Montana and distributed nationally.
Staff of Ducks Unlimited's Lowcountry Initiative also provide technical assistance to landowners/managers for management of important migrating and wintering waterfowl habitat. Management plans are developed for key properties, particularly those with conservation easements.
Mitigation funds were donated to the Ducks Unlimited/Lowcountry Initiative and earmarked for repair of dikes and water control structures on Jehossee Island, a portion of the USFWS's ACE Basin NWR. This project began in October 1998.
The Ducks Unlimited/Lowcountry Initiative staff inspects each of its conservation easement properties on an annual basis to check for compliance with terms of individual easements, seeking prospective properties for conservation easements in an ongoing process. Ducks Unlimited supports the efforts of other land trusts in land protection and is an active member of the coalition of South Carolina Land Trusts. The Ducks Unlimited/Lowcountry Initiative staff also serves on the Task Force of four additional focus areas in South Carolina's coastal region.
Ducks Unlimited's Lowcountry Initiative is leading the effort to have a significant portion of the ACE Basin officially recognized under the Ramsar Convention. This convention became the first treaty in which signatory countries agreed to modify land use planning for the protection of selected wetlands within their boundaries. This designation will give international attention to the area and will facilitate funding for land conservation.
E. Wenner, SCDNR Marine Resources Research Institute
Harrigal, D. 1993. Five-year plan. Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, Colleton County, SC.
Harrigal, D. 1996. Management plan for Bear Island Wildlife Management area. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Prevost, M. 1988. Bear Island WMA Management Plan. South Carolina Wildlife and Marine Resources Department.