CHARLESTON, S.C. — Some of the most ecologically significant land in the U.S. will be protected permanently from development through a conservation easement donated by Norfolk Southern to the Lowcountry Open Land Trust.
The easement is thought to be one of the largest in the Southeast and the largest ever by a corporation in South Carolina.
Norfolk Southern, through two subsidiaries, has granted an easement on 12,488 acres of its Brosnan Forest timber and wildlife preserve near Dorchester, S.C., 35 miles northwest of Charleston. The property is near the 15,000-acre Francis Beidler Forest, which is owned and operated by the National Audubon Society. Beidler Forest and the surrounding rural lands make up a 450,000-acre watershed for Four Holes Swamp within the larger Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto (ACE) Basin, one of the largest intact coastal ecosystems on the East Coast.
“The rural character, natural resources, habitat, beauty, and unique ecological character of the land will be preserved in perpetuity,” said Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Officer Wick Moorman. “With our partners at the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, all of us at NS are proud to do our part in protecting the environment.”
“Given the sheer size of this easement, this is a big win for South Carolina and our efforts to preserve and protect the quality of life here in our state,” said Gov. Mark Sanford. “This tract is incredibly significant from an ecological standpoint, both for the way it encompasses the headwaters of the ACE Basin and its proximity to Francis Beidler Forest. To that end, I would like to thank Norfolk Southern for this donation and give real credit to the Lowcountry Open Land Trust for working together over the past few years to make this happen.”
The undeveloped land is the largest corporately held and privately protected property in South Carolina. Brosnan Forest is especially significant because it provides a protected habitat for 79 groups of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker and serves as home to the largest known and most researched population under single ownership on private land.
Norfolk Southern has participated in a Safe Harbor program through the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to provide a protected nesting area for the woodpecker since 1999. Additionally, the property is designated an Important Bird Area by the American Bird Conservancy and National Audubon Society.
Brosnan Forest also includes more than 6,000 acres of longleaf pine trees. Longleaf pines can grow to 120 feet tall and live up to 500 years. The longleaf pine ecosystem, once one of the most extensive in North America, is now among the most threatened. It currently occupies about 2 percent of its original coverage.
This ecosystem is valued not only for its aesthetic appeal, but also for its outstanding biodiversity. It has a natural resistance to fire and insects and supports more than 30 threatened or endangered plant and animal species.
Norfolk Southern and its predecessors have held much of the Brosnan Forest lands for more than 160 years. The property straddles the historic route of the Charleston-Hamburg Railroad line, the first steam-powered railway in the United States and, at 136 miles, the longest in the world at that time. The conservation easement will preserve Brosnan Forest’s natural and historic value by prohibiting subdivision and development of the property.
Norfolk Southern will continue to own and manage the land under easement as well as an additional 1,900 acres that are dedicated to corporate meetings, agricultural and recreational purposes, and wildlife management and research.
Will Haynie, executive director of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, said, “This is one of the finest acts of corporate citizenship in the history of our state. Not only has Norfolk Southern been a good steward of these thousands of acres for more than 160 years, but they also are good neighbors by forever preserving the rural character of this community. The gift will benefit the residents of South Carolina for generations to come.”
“It is impossible to overstate the significance of this remarkable conservation gift toward the protection of the Four Holes Swamp ecosystem and the Edisto River watershed,” said Norman Brunswig, executive director of Audubon South Carolina and manager of Francis Beidler Forest. “I have driven past Brosnan Forest for more than 30 years hoping that it could be preserved forever, and now it has been.”
The Norfolk Southern donation brings the total easement acreage held by Lowcountry Open Land Trust to 72,429 acres during the past 23 years. The Lowcountry Open Land Trust is a land conservation organization based in Charleston, S.C., that focuses on preserving rural land in the coastal plain of South Carolina.